…Issues demanding President’s attention
By Onyedika Agbedo
Muhammadu Buhari has been out of the country since May 7, this year, on medical vacation and would only return on the instruction of his doctors. Although Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has been ably holding forte for him in the governance of the country, the state of the nation appears to suggest that some issues would wait for the President’s return before being resolved.
It could be recalled that Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, had said penultimate Thursday that President Buhari’s illness made Nigeria sick and called for prayers for his healing. But his statement drew the ire of many Nigerians who branded him a sycophant and argued that the nation was greater than the President. But why has the foundation of the country continued to quake in spite of the administrative prowess of the Acting President? Why are the issues at stake not getting resolved? Why has Boko Haram re-grouped months after the Nigerian Army declared victory over them? Why is the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) lacking cohesion?
In this report, Sunday Sun takes a look at some of the issues and the underlining reasons they have been defying solutions.
Restructuring/devolution of powers:
The unity of the country has been under threat in recent months and there had been calls for the restructuring of the country or devolution of powers to the federating units as the solution. The National Assembly had in the ongoing constitution amendment exercise included Devolution of Powers in the amendment bills. The Bill was intended to delineate the extent to which the federal legislature and state assemblies could legislate on the items that have been moved to the Concurrent Legislative List. Political commentators say the Bill would have formed the crux of restructuring of the polity, but the Bill failed in both the Senate and the House of representatives. The red chamber had rejected it with 90 votes against five on Wednesday, July 26. Though the bill got overwhelming endorsement with 210 votes for and 71 against at the House on Thursday, July 27, the amendment did not scale through as the ‘yes’ votes fell short of the constitutionally required 240 (two-third majority) threshold. The failure of the Bill has given fresh impetus to the crusade for restructuring.
Last Sunday, Southern leaders under the aegis of Southern Leaders Forum called on their colleagues from the North to renegotiate Nigeria. The Southern leaders, drawn from three geopolitical zones of the south, made their position known after a meeting in Lagos. The leaders had said Nigeria was approaching a terminal crisis from which it cannot recover unless it is restructured along the paths of the 1963 Constitution. They also said the National Assembly’s rejection of the proposal for devolution was against popular demand, vowing that they will press on with their demand until the issue was brought to a conclusion.
Although Osinbajo has been relentless in his efforts to douse the increasing tension in the land over the issue, he has certainly not succeeded. The demand for restructuring is very popular in the South but is largely detested in the North. The President is a northerner and it would amount to foolhardiness for the Federal Government under Osinbajo’s interim leadership take a definite stand on the issue and deploy government’s resources towards implementing it. From every indication, the issue of restructuring would wait until Buhari returns.
As a fallout of the rejection of the proposal for devolution of powers by the National Assembly, there have been increasing agitations for secession by many sections of the country. For instance, on Thursday, July 27, a coalition of Yoruba groups, the Yoruba Liberation Command (YOLICOM), declared that the Yorubas were set to secede from Nigeria to form Oduduwa Republic. The coalition included ancient Yoruba warlord, Agbekoya and Oodua Redemption Alliance, among others. Spokesperson of the coalition, Opeoluwa Akinola, had at a press conference in Lagos said Nigeria was slowing down the progress of the Yorubas, and killing and maiming the citizens for selfish interests.
Also in the Niger Delta, the Adaka Boro Avengers (ABA), a militant group, penultimate Monday said they would declare a republic in the oil rich region on October 1. The group had sometime in 2016 issued a similar threat but later withdrew it citing pleas by concerned elders, leaders and people of Niger Delta region. But they have vowed not to back down this time around.
“The October 1 declaration of a republic in the Niger Delta is sacrosanct because Nigeria has lost its unity. We the Avengers have always carried out our words. When we said we would crumble the economy, we did it. And now we are asking all northerners and westerners to leave the Niger Delta region for their own good. This is not 2016 and now we have more arsenals, more powerful than the Nigerian government,” spokesperson of the group, Edmos Ayayeibo, said.
It could be recalled that before now, it was only the South-east geo-political zone that had been pushing for a sovereign state of Biafra through the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) over alleged marginalisation of the zone in the scheme of things in the country. But even that movement assumed a new dimension recently when the leader of the Biafra Zionist Federation (BZF), Mr. Benjamin Onwuka, declared himself as the new Biafran President and announced an interim government to run the affairs of the republic. Apart from declaring himself the President of Biafra Republic, Onwuka who briefed journalists in Enugu, also named his cabinet.
The Department of State Security (DSS) had recently vowed to deal with any group or individuals pursuing divisive and separatist activities that threaten national security. But the agency has so far not taken any visible action in that regard. Nonetheless, the issue of secessionist agitations is very complex and requires a discreet approach. If mishandled, it could lead to full conflagration, which might sound the death knell on the country. So, the security agencies might have been waiting for Buhari to return and show the direction to go, as he certainly does not wish to be the last President of Nigeria.
Niger Delta crisis:
Indications that there might be resumption of hostilities in the Niger Delta region emerged recently when the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), a coalition of elders and leaders of the region, asked the Federal Government to meet its 16-point agenda by November 1, 2017, or risk its withdrawal from ongoing negotiations that had calmed nerves in the oil-rich zone in the last one year. At a press conference in Abuja recently, PANDEF’s National Leader/Convener, Chief Edwin Clark, had warned that: “If at the expiration of November 1, 2017, ultimatum the Federal Government either fails or refuses to accede to these lawful and legitimate demands of the Niger Delta people, PANDEF may consider pulling out of the ongoing peace process in the Niger Delta.”
Already, the Niger Delta Revolutionary Crusaders (NDRC), in a statement last Monday by its spokesman, Mr. Izon Ebi, has threatened to resume attacks on oil facilities on September 31, 2017, even as it urged PANDEF to stop all talks with the Federal Government.
Recall that PANDEF submitted a 16-point demand to the Federal Government on November 1, 2016. The agenda includes matters like the continuation of the Presidential Amnesty Programme and the institutionalisation of such lifetime thing as fiscal federalism. It also wants the Federal Government to ensure the immediate take off of the Nigeria Maritime University in Okerenkoko; the erection of a deep seaport in Gbaramanu; the demilitarisation of Niger Delta; the resumption of the establishment of Export Processing Zone comprising Gas City project at Ogidigben; progress in Ogoni clean up and environmental remediation; inclusive participation (of Niger Delta people) in oil industry and ownership of oil blocks; building regional infrastructure; regular power supply; restructuring and funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); enforcement of law/justice; security surveillance and protection of oil and gas infrastructure; amelioration of the plight of internally displaced persons; economic development and empowerment of the people of Niger Delta and resettlement of Bakassi internally displaced people.
There is no gainsaying the fact that Osinbajo has been very pragmatic and reassuring in his efforts to restore order in the Niger Delta, but some of the issues in the list require long term planning and implementation. The President would definitely return to face those ones.
Boko Haram insurgency:
After some months of fragile peace and order in the North-east following the gains recorded by the Nigerian Army against Boko Haram insurgents, there is every indication that the insurgents have re-grouped and are back to the trenches. Apart from bombing soft targets and killing hapless citizens in the act, the July 25 ambush of some staff of the University of Maiduguri and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on an exploration spree for crude oil around the Lake Chad Basin area of Borno State is a pointer that the war is far from being over. Reports had it that nine soldiers, four UNIMAID staff and 14 others were killed in Boko Haram ambush. The UNIMAID chapter of ASUU had also confirmed five staff dead while four were missing. A recent video released by the insurgents showed three of the abductees alive with one of them, Dr Solomon Yusuf, calling on the media to help in the campaign to free them from the hands of their captors.
Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, last Tuesday confirmed that Boko Haram insurgents had killed 31 fishermen at Baga in Kukawa Local Government Area of the state. Also last Wednesday, the insurgents reportedly killed seven people in an early morning attack on Midlu village of Vapura ward in Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
Alarmed by the fresh wave of attacks, the Acting President recently directed military service chiefs to move back to the Command Centre in Maiduguri. They have quite complied with the order and have been working hard to again turn the tide against the terrorists. But how did the Army lose steam in the first instance? It could be that they were tapping from the experience of the President as a retired army officer in waging the war all these while and lost focus in his absence. So, even though the service chiefs are back to Maiduguri, they may not make much gain in the battle until the President returns.
The house of the ruling party is obviously not in order even if they don’t admit that. But the leadership appears not to have a solution to the issues because the President, who should provide direction, is on medical leave. The party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun has not called for a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in recent times while the National Convention of the party has also been put on hold, all waiting for Buhari’s return. Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State had admitted recently that the illness of the President was behind the inactivity in the party.
“We have been on this matter of convention but you know that the President is the leader of this party. One, before getting to the convention, there is some kind of process, the National Working Committee (NWC) must agree on the time and at the same time we have to adopt the report submitted by the NWC to the larger NEC members which the President must be in attendance as the leader of the party and you know the situation of our President,” Yari said.
So, amid the burning national issues which the absence of the President is delaying their resolution, even the APC is waiting for Buhari. And Nigerians are waiting for Mr. President.