Buhari can’t restructure by fiat, says presidency

President Muhammadu Buhari (right); receiving the report of the probe panel on the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayodele Oke from the chairman of the panel, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa in Abuja …yesterday

• South south leaders caution president against use of force
• Sultan clarifies stand on polity review, okays dialogue
• Odumegwu-Ojukwu’s son confirms father’s meeting with Buhari
• Niger Delta group insists on resource control

The presidency yesterday declared that President Muhammadu Buhari has no powers to restructure the country ‎by military fiat.

It noted that restructuring and other constitutional changes are within the purview of ‎the National Assembly members who are the elected representatives of the people.

The presidency advised opinion leaders in the country to exercise restraint in their choice of words to avoid heating up the polity and causing acrimony across the country.

Defending the president’s speech on Monday on his return from a medical vacation, the presidency said to criticise Buhari for not responding to calls for restructuring of the country – ‘whatever that means’ – is completely off the mark.

The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in a statement yesterday said Buhari has no power to impose restructuring on the country ‎by military diktat.

He explained that the president is constitutionally bound to work with the National Assembly to deal with such complex issues, reminding critics that the president would not exercise arbitrary powers or bypass the legislature in taking such fundamental decisions.

According to him, calling Buhari an enemy of Nigeria is in extreme bad taste, noting that nothing in the president’s service record would justify such scurrilous language.

The presidency spoke as the Southern Leaders Forum (SLF) reiterated its position that restructuring remains the only option to resolve the problems confronting the country.

Rising from a meeting held in Lagos yesterday to study the contents of Buhari’s broadcast, the forum expressed discomfort over the president’s position that the unity of Nigeria is settled and therefore not negotiable.

The southern leaders warned that the use of, or attempt to apply military might, to subdue voices demanding restructuring may further compound the challenges of the country instead of resolving them.

In a statement issued after the meeting by Chief Edwin Clark and Chief Albert Horsfall representing South South, Chief Nina Nwodo and Prof. Joe Irukwu representing South East and Chief Ayo Adebanjo and Chief Reuben Fasoranti representing Southwest, they noted that experience worldwide has shown that any attempt to deal with dissent by force usually drives it underground, which makes it much more dangerous and difficult to deal with.

The leaders said the broadcast by the president, was a veiled threat to commence the criminalisation of dissenting opinions in national discourse.

“We should have learnt a lesson or two from Boko Haram, which was an open organisation before the state drove it underground and we are still under its reign of terror despite official claim that it has been technically defeated or degraded. We therefore appeal to Mr. President to seek solutions to problems through engagement and social engineering. Globalisation has made it very difficult to use repressive tactics to repress opinions.”

The forum also tackled Buhari over the comment that he (President) and the late Chief Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu in their private discussion in Daura in 2003 agreed that Nigeria must remain one and united.

“While we agree with them, the meeting between the two of them could not have been a sovereign national conference whose decisions cannot be reviewed.

“The fact that we agree on their conclusion that we should remain united does not foreclose discussions of the terms and conditions of the union. The claim that Nigeria’s ‘unity is settled and not negotiable’ is untenable. Every country is a daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in its life. Stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence now and then, how much more Nigeria that has yet to attain nationhood?”

The forum expressed dissatisfaction with the one sentence by the president that every Nigerian can live anywhere without let or hindrance, if it was meant to address the quit notice by Arewa youths to Igbo, saying it was rather too short to address the clear and present danger that the unwarranted threat represents.

“We acknowledge the president’s admission that there are legitimate concerns in the land. That is commendable. We however disagree with his take that Nigeria is a federation. Nigeria ceased to be a federation since 1966 after the first coup… A unitary constitution, which is not conducive for peace and development in a multi-ethnic country, is what the military imposed through the 1999 Constitution, which lied against itself with the ‘We the people,’” the southern leaders said.

The forum faulted Buhari’s position that the National Assembly and the Council of State are the only legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse. “ We insist they are not appropriate bodies to discuss the social contract that could bind us together as a nation-state.”

Other observations raised by the forum include the insensitive and clearly lopsided recruitments /appointments into all federal institutions, concentration of most of the heads of armed forces and other national security agencies in a section of the country, the president going on a global stage to say he could not treat those who gave him five per cent of their votes equally with those who supported him with 97 per cent, official indifference to the murderous activities of herdsmen against peace-loving citizens on their farms and other settlements, flagrant breach of the constitutionally enshrined federal character principle and the appointment of the legal adviser of Miyeti Allah as the secretary of the Federal Character Commission.

However, the first son of the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Emeka Ojukwu Jr. has confirmed that Buhari and his late father actually had discussions on the unity and indivisibility of the Nigerian nation.

In a statement yesterday, Ojukwu Jr. said he never granted any media interview or posted any message on social media that Buhari was wrong about his discussions with the late father. He maintained that his late father actually held the said meeting with Buhari before his demise, insisting that the Buhari’s statement in his nationwide broadcast was true.

Also yesterday, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, expressed his support for a national dialogue that will promote development. He denied opposing calls for the restructuring of the country.

At a colloquium organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Abuja, the sultan said: “If restructuring means dismember Nigeria, I am not for it but if it will make life better, much more convenient for all of us as a people, then let us sit down and discuss it and come up with solutions. I know all the groups from the South-West, South-South, North and South-East have position papers. I also know that so many things were discussed at the 2014 national conference even though people now say that conference was politically motivated, but whatever happened, Nigerians came together under that umbrella. If we can take some of those issues and take positions on them…

“I was misquoted as saying that I oppose restructuring when I did not even use that word.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators is also insisting on the restructuring of the country, saying it would guarantee a more united and prosperous Nigeria.

The group also restated its call for resource control as well as the relocation of the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and other oil companies back to the Niger Delta region.

The group further claimed that the people of the Niger Delta region where the country’s oil deposit is domiciled are practically sidelined in the allocation of oil blocs.

“After so many years of sharing, wasting and siphoning off of trillions of naira taking from the Niger Delta region, it is now time for the Niger Delta people to control their resources, manage them in a prudent manner and develop the Niger Delta region.”

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