From Joseph Obukata, Warri
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF), says it will engage with the appropriate Presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC), African Action Congress (AAC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), People’s Redemption Party(PRP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), and afterwards decide on which of the candidates to recommend to the peoples of Southern Nigeria, the Middle Belt region and indeed, all Nigerians of goodwill, for consideration at the polls in 2023.
This was contained in a communique issued at the end of its extraordinary meeting held over the weekend in Abuja, a copy of which was made available to reporters on Monday.
The meeting, which was chaired by the National Leader of SMBLF and Elder Statesman, Chief Dr Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, had in attendance Elders and Leaders from the Southern and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria, representing the respective apex socio-cultural Organisations.
Delegations of the constituent Organisations were, respectively, led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Leader of Afenifere (South West); Dr Pogu Bitrus, President, Middle Belt Forum (Middle Belt); Senator Emmanuel Ibok Essien, FNSE, National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF (South-South) and Ambassador Okey Emuchay, MFR, Secretary-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide (South East).
The meeting was also attended by former Governors, former Ministers, and former members of the National Assembly, Traditional Rulers, notable Political and Business leaders, former Ambassadors and retired top Civil Servants, Academics, Civil Activists, etcetera, from the Southern and Middle Belt regions, including His Excellency, General Lekwot Zamani rtd., His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, His Excellency, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Oba Oladipo Olaitan – Deputy Leader Afenifere, Chief ( Dr.) Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Chairman Ohanaeze Council of Elders, Her Excellency, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, former Minister of Information & former PG Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Igwariwey, former PG Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, Amb. Dr. Godknows Igali, OON, FNAH, Dr. Solomon Arase, NPM, Former IGP, Chief Barr. Sola Ebiseni, Secretary-General Afenifere, Potter L. Dabup, D.I.G (Rtd.), Eze Dr. Ibe Nwosu, Arc. Dr. Ferdinand Agu.
Other notable leaders at the meeting include; Professor G. G. Darah, Senator Inatimi Rufus-Spiff, Ambassador Eddy Onuoha, Hon. Edward Pwajok, SAN, Nze Ozichukwu Chukwu, Professor Charles Nwekeaku, Dame Betty Igbeyi, mni, Obonganwan Grace Ekong, Chief Edozie Ezeugwa, Dr. Ebun Sonaiya, Dr. Emmanuel Onucheyo, Dr. Emmanuel Akpanobong, Dr. Mrs. Esther Mangzha, Mrs. Beatrice Eze, National Treasurer Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mrs Elizabeth A. Jibrin, Debrah M. Ogazuma, Chief Mrs. Chika Ibeneme, Elder Mac Emakpore, Chief Douyi Douglas-Naingba, Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, Chief Dr. Ominimini Obiuwevbi, Hon. Vivien Ere, Chief Sir Chika Okafor, Bishop Dr. Jonathan Dike JP, Hon. Jonathan Asake, Audu Samuel Riko, Chief Henry Ihennelo, Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo, Dr. Katch Ononuju, Hon. Joshua Bawa, Caleb Osiobe, Jonathan Tsaku and Ken Robinson, among others.
The Meeting extensively discussed critical issues of national concern, including the State of the Nation and worsening insecurity, the outcome of the Presidential Primaries of the Political Parties, the prolonged ASUU strike, continuous Voters Registration and INEC’s preparation for the 2023 General elections.
Arising from the meeting, SMBLF, in a communique signed by Chief (Dr.) Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, Leader SMBLF/PANDEF, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Leader, Afenifere, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President-General, Middle Belt Forum and Ambassador Okey Emuchay, Secretary-General, Ohaneze Ndigbo Worldwide for the President-General, firmly reiterated its stance on the principle of zoning and power rotation between the North and the South, as the fulcrum on which the Nigerian Federation has, since independence, been premised.
The meeting, accordingly, commended the political parties, which in line with the need for national cohesion, equity, fairness and justice, have nominated their presidential candidates from the South.
Specifically, the meeting applauded the All Progressives Congress (APC), African Action Congress (AAC), African Democratic Congress (ADC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP), People’s Redemption Party(PRP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), and others who have Southerners as their presidential flag bearers.
It further deplored the insensitivity of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and other political parties, including Action Alliance (AA), Action Democratic Party (ADP), Allied People’s Movement (APM), New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) and Young Progressive Party (YPP), in nominating Presidential candidates from the North for the 2023 election, in total disregard of the time-honoured principle of rotation;
“Commits to, in due course, engage with the appropriate Presidential candidates and afterwards decide on which of the candidates to recommend to the peoples of Southern Nigeria, the Middle Belt region and indeed, all Nigerians of goodwill, for consideration at the polls in 2023”, the communique reads.
On INEC and preparation for the 2023 elections, “the Forum notes the current upsurge in youth voter registration and implores all young Nigerians who have attained the age of voting to go out in their numbers to exercise their constitutional right;
“However, condemns the haphazard manner in which the ongoing continuous voter registration exercise is being conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in parts of the country; calls for proper management of the process and even distribution of the Voter Enrolment Devices across the country, to ensure that all eligible Nigerians, in all locations, are registered to vote;
“Cautions the INEC, given certain disturbing reports, to abjure unwholesome practices that would distort the credibility of the 2023 general elections, particularly, in its application of technology through the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) and transmission of election results.
“The Meeting observed a minute silence in honour of the victims of the Owo and Kajuru attacks as well as others whose lives are daily being wasted across the country and prayed for the peaceful repose of their souls.
“The Meeting expressed appreciation to its National Leaders and Elders for their continuous commitment to the peace and unity of Nigeria, and the consolidation of democracy, equity, fairness and justice in the country.
On the state of the nation and worsening insecurity, the leaders lamented that the state of insecurity in the country is worsening by the day, with devastating impacts on the welfare and livelihood of ordinary Nigerians, thus, calling on the Federal government to take urgent steps to stem the tide and assuage the suffering of Nigerians;
The Forum denounced the spate of targeted terrorist attacks on Churches and abduction of Church leaders, in the country;
“In this connection, condemns, in strongest terms, the daring attack on St. Francis Catholic Church, Owo, Ondo State on June 5 by gunmen, killing no fewer than 40 people and injuring many other worshippers; describes as worrisome the hasty and doubtful conclusion by the Federal Government that the dastardly act was carried out by the Islamic State of West Africa Province, ISWAP;
Furthermore, it condemned the incessant killings of the indigenous peoples and decimation of Communities in the Middle Belt Region, in particular, the current escalated war on Southern Kaduna, targeting Communities and Churches in Kajuru Local Government Area of the State, with reports of helicopters dropping weapons and supplies to the terrorists in their locations;
SMBLF equally decried the continued confinement of victims of the Kaduna Train attack in the terrorists’ labyrinth after 89 days as well as several other Nigerians who have been held by terrorists and criminals for months; calls on the Federal Government and security agencies to secure the safe release of all victims;
The leaders warned that the ambiguity of the Federal Government and the failure of the security agencies to decisively deal with these situations, buttress concerns that officials of the Federal Government and security agents are complicit in the security anomalies in the country;
It warns that the continuous abdication of the Government’s primary and abiding constitutional responsibility of safeguarding the lives and properties of its citizens, is an irresistible signal to Nigerians to exercise their inalienable rights of self-defence, by all means, in deviance of extant laws, which have not deterred terrorists the use of weapons even superior to those of the security agencies;
Reiterating the imperative of State Police in the internal Security Architecture of the Federation, they urged the Federal Government and the National Assembly, to ensure the requisite legislative instrument in this regard rather than indulging in meaningless lamentations.
On the prolong ASUU strike, SMBLF expressed great concern over the continuous closure of Nigerian public universities due to the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and urged both the Federal Government and ASUU to take all necessary steps to urgently bring this situation to an end and let the students return to their lectures, in the interest of the nation’s future and development.