By John Okoh
Southern and Middle-belt leaders rose from a meeting in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory and demanded that the country be restructured under a Federal system to pave way for peace, equity and justice in Nigeria. They also urged President Mohammadu Buhari to deploy the police rather than the army to quell civil cases in the states across the country.
In a communiqué read by Professor John Dara, the leaders said: “In furtherance of the successful meeting of the leaders from the South and Meddle Belt of Nigeria held on July 15, 2017 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, 2017, 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 communiqué; 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-centralised, 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.
It called on the National Assembly to leave up to its promise to revisit the last Conference report conducted in 2014 and deployed the ” 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,” while calling “ 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.
Prominent leaders in attendance at the meeting include, Ijaw leader and former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae; former Information and Orientation Minister, Professor Jerry Gana; former Presidential candidate, Professor John Dara; former NADECO leaders, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, and Air Commodore Dan Suleiman. Others include former Military Administrator of old Bendel State, Brigadier General Tunde Ogbeha (retd), Senator Stella Omu; Senator Barnabas Gemade; Afenifere spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, and Professor Banji Akintoye, among others.