The Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum, comprising delegates from the South West, South East, South South and Middle Belt States rose from an extensive consultative session Thursday warning President Muhammadu Buhari to stop intimidating Nigerians with military invasion of some part of the country.
This is the largest coalition of Nigerians from various regions calling for a change in the structure of the country and also saying no to the method of frequent deployment of the military to parts of Nigeria by the federal government,
The Forum, which met in Abuja had in attendance elder statesmen like Prof Gerry Gana, Banabas Gemade, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae, Dan Suleiman, Chief Edwin Clark, Mrs. Stella Omu, Idris Wada, Tunde Ogbeha, Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike, Ferdinand Agu, Chief Chigozie Ogbu among others.
While condemning the Python Dance operation in the South East geo-political zone, the forum equally told President Buhari to urgently initiate processes for the restructuring that will lead Nigeria towards confronting its structural challenges through the legal instruments of the National Assembly.
A communique read by John Dara, the elder statesmen, equally appealed to the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency revisit its decisions on restructuring and resolve the matter in a way that can create a new fiscal formula to Nigeria away from the current over dependence on oil and gas revenue
Condemning tagging the Indigenous People of Biafra as a terrorist group, the forum said: “In furtherance of the successful meeting of the leaders from the South and Meddle Belt of Nigeria held on July 15, to layout an orderly process of finding viable solutions to the rising agitations for a fair, just, equitable and balanced restructuring of our federal system, a follow up meeting was successfully held October 5, with delegates from the South West, South East, South South and from the Middle Belt States comprising, Plateau, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Taraba, Adamawa, Southern Kebbi, Southern Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Southern Borno and FCT.
“After an extensive consultative session, delegates resolved to issue the following communique; We remain convinced that as a multi-ethnic country Nigeria can only enjoy lasting peace, development progress and happiness under a federal system which allows all the Federating Units to develop at their own pace under full cultural expression. We therefore restate our commitment to the Federal Republic of Nigeria as one entity under God.
“However, we firmly believe that Nigeria as is, is not a proper federation, as the structure is over-centralized, unjust and anti-development and therefore unacceptable. There is no gainsaying the fact that this is at the core of the many agitations across the country with some delving into separatist feelings.
“Nigeria must therefore be grateful to those of us speaking in demand of restructuring of the federation for the restoration of the Federal principles enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions as a middle course between those who want to sustain the present unjust structure that is driving Nigeria into the edge and consequently attracting agitations for break-up and those who are calling for break-up of Nigeria.
“Forum noted that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari in his Independence Anniversary broadcast made some good shift by admitting to the legitimacy of the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria.
“We call on him to move a step forward by initiating processes that should lead Nigeria towards confronting its structural challenges through the legal instruments of the National Assembly and the representatives of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
“Forum was full of regrets that the National Assembly did not make maximum use of its last constitutional amendments exercise by voting down devolution of powers and functions to the federating units. We believe tension would have gone down considerably across the country if the National Assembly has decided to vote for reform.
“We call on the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency revisit its decisions as promised by the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representative and resolve the matter in a way that we can have a new fiscal formula that will move Nigeria away from the current over dependence on oil and gas revenue to a diversified economy where all section of Nigeria are encouraged to develop their abundant natural and human resources for regional and national development with all constitutional impediments removed.
“Forum deplored recent developments in the South East, which led to deployment of troops against agitation in the region by IPOB leading to avoidable loss of lives. We equally reject the hasty tagging of IPOB as terrorist organisation in the face of contrary evidence.
“We call on the federal government to always exercise restraint in the deployment of troops in quelling civil agitations, which is the responsibility of the police in any democracy. Consequently, we call on the federal government to reconsider similar operations that the Army is embarking on in the South West and South South zones, which are peaceful areas.
“We do not need these exercises, which are seen largely as sheer intimidation and barring of fangs. Under federalism, you do not deploy troops to the federating units without the invitation of the affected local authorities. The federal government must also employ dialogue above raw force in engaging dissension,” the Forum warned.
While expressing concern over insecurity in the country, the forum noted: “We are worried about the spate of systemic kidnappings, rapes and extortions across the minority areas of northern Nigeria, which has become a major threat after the militia herdsmen menace.
“The fact that these kidnappers are allegedly arrested without trials and non-revelation of their contacts/sponsors and details of their activities suggest possible shielding from the law and a sinister agenda behind their operations.
“In the same vein is the troubling spate of abductions, forced marriage and conversion of underage girls in non-Muslim communities in violation of section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.