The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum as well as the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. John Nwodo, have disagreed with President Muhammadu Buhari’s stance on the restructuring of the country, saying that the only way to go is for the federal government to restructure the federation and devolve powers to the states.
The president had in his New Year broadcast Monday said that the problem with Nigeria was not with its structure but its processes.
Buhari argued that the country had tried many systems of governance in the past and had jettisoned them because they failed.
He explained that if things were done properly, the country would perform better.
However, disagreeing with the president’s stance on the thorny issue, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum insisted that restructuring was the only way to go to save Nigeria from imminent collapse.
In a statement signed by Yinka Odumakin for the South-west, Senator Bassey Henshaw for the South-south, Prof. C. Ogbu for the South-east and Mr. Isuwa Dogo for the Middle Belt, the forum insisted that powers must be devolved to the states.
The group said: “We cannot become a productive country under a 1999 Constitution which keeps 68 items on the Exclusive List including mineral resources which abound all over the country but which the states whose governors are constitutionally vested with authority over land cannot touch.
“We need to give authority to the federating units over their resources for self-sustenance and paying all necessary dues to the federation to sustain common services.
“We must devolve more powers and authorities to them to have effective state administrations.
“The federal police has shown it lacks the capacity to deal with crimes in a multi-ethnic society like ours, the imperative of state police has never been more urgent than now.
“Restructuring means nothing else than the above.
“It is a call for the return to a Nigeria that worked under federalism as against the failing state we are becoming under a unitary structure.
“Nigerians must organise, mobilise and work towards building an inclusive and productive country in 2018 using all democratic and peaceful means.
“It is a year to battle for the soul of the country by the forces of federalism and upholders of a suffocating unitary system.
“May victory be on the side of those who seek the progress of Nigeria.”
Continuing, the forum said the president could not resolve Nigeria’s problems by either running away from it or ascribing it to the wrong source.
“Unfortunately that is what we are doing as a country by playing down our crisis of ‘structure’ while on a wild goose chase about ‘process’.
“This is akin to a man going to Benin City while driving towards Benin Republic. The faster he runs the farther he is away from his destination.
“The truth of the matter is that our nationhood crisis has peaked and there are no further opportunities to guarantee opportunities for our citizens no matter the good intentions of leaders or even unrealistic promises packaged to offer them false hope.
“In 1983, when the Shehu Shagari administration was overthrown, its budget for a country of 80 million people was $25 billion. Thirty-five years after, the Buhari government has just proposed a $23 billion budget for about 180 million people!
“The above clearly shows that there is no way out of our systemic crisis except we resume productivity which was our hallmark in the years that we practiced federalism as an entity.
“We have exhausted all possibilities of a rentier and sharing economy and all that is left is unemployment, hunger, gnashing of teeth and conflicts among nationalities over shrinking opportunities,” the forum added.
It welcomed Nigerians into the New Year after a “gruelling and harrowing 2017 in which our people went through untold hardship as the crisis of our dysfunctional structure took its worst toll”.
According to the forum, it was a hellish time when “suicide” became the “man of the year” as many citizens found life unworthy of living and jumping into rivers or hanging from ceilings became the order of the day.
It noted that the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported a loss of four million jobs in 2017 with millions of those employed working without pay for several months.
The forum also stated that many citizens who fled abroad because there was no hope for them at home were subjected to all manner of degrading and inhuman treatment as the horror tales from Libya where Nigerians were auctioned for $400, turned to sex slaves, and subjected to extreme violence, continue to abound.
“On the home front, life is becoming short, nasty and brutish as death and violence are now common place in the hands of AK 47-wielding herdsmen, armed robbers, kidnappers and enraged spouses.
“It is a time when we should be having national introspection to know where the rain began to beat us, how to dry our clothes, and ensure that we are no longer exposed to rainfall.
“Unfortunately, we are not addressing the cause of our affliction and only trying to rationalise our needless failure, passing the buck and running from the solutions to our problem.
“We are in a period where empty platitudes are being offered our people instead of concrete assurances on reasoned prescriptions,” the forum said.
Nwodo, said that he was yet to read the president’s speech but with Nigerian’s main source of income from crude oil threatened, government must unleash Nigeria’s potential by devolving powers to the states.
He warned that the world’s demand for oil was receding and that it might even further decline substantially in the next seven years, with implications as the main stay of the nation’s economy.
“Unless we begin to develop alternative sources of revenue our country will cease to exist. The only way to avoid this is to release our potential by devolution of powers.
“Until the government is nearer to the people and the people take their destiny into their hands the country cannot progress.
“We never agreed to be a country where the federal government will be a united policeman for the whole country. We are not running a federation, we are running a unitary government and we cannot escape this,” Nwodo said.
Meanwhile, a former governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, in his reaction to the president’s stance on restructuring, called for the country’s economic restructuring to ensure the delivery of good governance.
Musa made the call in a phone interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Monday.
The former Kaduna governor said the problem with Nigeria has always been leadership rather than its structures, explaining that the regional system failed because leaders were pursuing a secessionist agenda.
Although he aligned with the president’s position that the process of governance needs to be improved upon, he faulted the economic system being operated currently.
Musa said the economy was in the hands of the private sector, hence the impoverishment of the masses, and suggested the restructuring of the economy to ensure that the government plays a greater role.
“The economy should be restructured. What we are operating now in which the economy is in private hands cannot help us.
“We should restructure the economy so that government can play a greater role for sustainable development,” he said.
The former governor agreed that saboteurs were behind the current fuel crisis and urged the government to address the situation.
He also called on Buhari to form a government of national unity in the New Year for all-inclusiveness, adding that Nigeria would be better off in 2018 if people subordinated personal interests to the public interest.
In his reaction, the publicity secretary of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) in Lagos State, Shakirudeen Olofin, commended the president for restating the government’s commitment to the fight against corruption.
He, however, advised that the president should ensure that all pending corruption cases are speedily resolved to serve as a deterrent to others.
Olofin urged Buhari to be decisive in dealing with the fuel crisis, especially persons suspected to be responsible for the situation.