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Row over South’s governors call for dialogue, restructuring

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A huge division broke in the country yesterday over the call for restructuring and an urgent national dialogue by South’s governors to fashion a way out of the worsening insecurity.

Tuesday’s bi-partisan meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, was the first collective meeting of governors from the South since President Muhammadu Buhari took office.

The meeting also decided that the President should address the nation. It reaffirmed the ban on open cattle grazing and movement of cows from the North to the South “on foot”.

Senators and House of Representatives members from the South threw their weight behind the governors’ decision.

Prominent Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) did not only support the governors, they also urged them to back their words with action.

The Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) also expressed it support.

But prominent North’s Senator Ali Ndume, Labour leader Isa Aremu and a former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Prof. Usman Yusuf faulted the governors.

The lawmakers called on the governors to “swiftly follow up on their resolutions by immediately approaching the leadership of the National Assembly” to actualise their demands.

The statement by Southern Senators Forum (SSF) Chairman, Opeyemi Bamidele; Secretary-General, Matthew Urhoghide and Publicity Secretary, Chukwuka Utazi, reads: “At this critical point of our national life when the economy is bedeviled by galloping inflation, youth unemployment, and insecurity, food security is very crucial to mitigate the effects of these diverse evils on the citizens.

“Available records have shown that attaining food security status would remain a mirage in the south owing to the ravaging effect of outdated livestock grazing policy being unleashed on farmlands by some unscrupulous herders.

“Most appalling were the seemingly unabated kidnapping, raping and killing of our people by suspected herdsmen, who have become bandits heating up the system.

“With this uniform resolve by our governors to initiate no-open grazing policy, the region will return to its peaceful and agriculturally self -sufficient status it had assumed even long before Nigeria’s amalgamation in 1914.”

They also saluted the governors for seeking restructuring of “our highly lopsided Nigerian nation.

The lawmakers said restructuring “ will also help to remove the venom that had permeated the land on account of alleged neglect of certain sections of the country.”

In the House of Representatives, members from the region urged the Executive to hearken to the governors by convoking a national dialogue.

In their statement, members of the House insisted that the ban on open grazing across the country is a sure step towards checking the infiltration of bandits, armed herders and terrorist elements that heightened insecurity.

The statement was signed by Minority Leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu; Deputy House Leader, Peter Akpatason; Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu and Deputy Minority Whip, Adesegun Mujid Adekoya.

Other signatories were Dolapo Badaru, Jimoh Ojugbele, Femi Fakeye, Segun Odebunmi, Mayowa Akinfolarin, Olufemi Bamisile, Oluwole Oke, Victor Nwaokolo, Kingsley Chinda, Essien Ekpeyong Ayi, Fred Agbedi, Francis Charles, Patrick Asadu, Lynda Ikpeazu, Sylvester Ogbaga, Nkem Abonta and Jerry Alagboso.

The statement partly reads: “The platform of Southern members in the House of Representatives supports our governors restatement of the demand for true federalism through restructuring…

“We also support the recommendation that the Federal Government should provide alternative and modern livestock management that does not constitute a security and economic challenge to the nation.

“As lawmakers, our platform assures of our readiness to deploy our legislative instruments to ensure speedy achievement of the reforms and constitutional amendments that will guarantee a restructuring towards the practice of true federalism in our country and we are rallying our colleagues from other parts of the country in this direction.”

PANDEF noted that the meeting, though long overdue, was a welcome development.

It added that such gestures could not only foster cooperation, but strengthen democracy

The group, in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said, “their resolutions re-emphasised our positions, particularly, on restructuring, open grazing, and the alarming state of insecurity.”

It noted that with rising insecurity, many Nigerians now live in fear and unable to pursue legitimate livelihoods in the country.

On skewed appointments into federal agencies, PANDEF said that its National leader, Chief Edwin Clark, and 15 other prominent Nigerians, are in court with the Mr. President over the serial breaches of the federal character in appointments by this administration.

It expressed happiness that the governors discussed many issues agitating many citizens in the South, stressing that the positions by the governors are in tandem with the “thoughts and expectations of the people of Southern Nigeria.”

Ndume, Aremu, group lash out at Southern governors
Two prominent Nigerians and a group of stakeholders faulted some of the demands of Southern governors at their Tuesday meeting in Asaba, Delta State.

The governors among others, demanded urgent national dialogue, a quick end to insecurity, full enforcement of the ban on open cattle grazing restructuring of the country and a review of appointments into government departments/security agencies to reflect diversity.

But the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume; a frontline labour leader Issa Aremu, a former Executive Secretary of the national Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Prof. Usman Yusuf and the Integrity Friends for Truth and Peace Initiative (TIFPI), accused the governors of hypocracy, insensitivity and playing to the gallery.

Ndume accused the Southern governors of engaging in a blame game by calling on President Muhammdu Buhari to address security lapses in the country.

Ndume told reporters in Abuja that as the Chief Security Officers of their respective states, governors ought to know what to do to stem the growing tide of insecurity.

He said: “As far as I am concerned, this blame game will not solve the problem. Governors are the chief security officers of their states, so, why are they talking about the President without talking about themselves?”

The lawmaker called on President Buhari to stop the salaries of legislators and civil servants if that is what is required to enable the government to concentrate funds in fighting insecurity.

He also argued that if the government could borrow to finance infrastructure, there was nothing wrong in using loans to fight insecurity.

Ndume also faulted the ban on open cattle grazing, saying the governors deviated from the real issues.

“The problem is not about open grazing. The problem is security. Most of the security problems confronting Nigeria is not in the bush.

“We have four different types of security challenges-insurgency, farmer-herder clashes, secession calls, and banditry- in the six geo-political zones. The most important thing is for the security agencies to be provided with the basic equipment to confront these challenges.”

The Borno South senator also commended the military for stopping Boko Haram insurgents from infiltrating Maiduguri on Tuesday night.

In Ilorin, Kwara State, Aremu said the clamour by the Southern governors for restructuring amounted to “hypocrisy and double standard”.

He argued that it was ironic that some of the governors who ”unacceptably resisted simple autonomy for Houses of Assembly, the judiciary and local governments,” are calling for restructuring

Aremu, at a Ramadan lecture by the Kwara State Council of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in memory of his wife, said while Nigerians can accommodate “more discussions,” the country should not be turned into “a debating society.”

He added that what Nigerians needed now “is a performing Republic” that guarantees sustainable peace and development.

He said: “Many conferences had interpreted Nigeria’s problems, additional summit is one too many, too wasteful and too diversionary.

“It is time to walk all the talks. Governors should collaborate across regions, across parties, not divisive regional platforms, initiate marshall plans of economic renaissance to lift 100 million out of poverty as envisaged by President Buhari and get youths off crimes.”

On the ban ‘on open grazing,’ the labour leader said governors are not elected “to oppose” but “to propose and implement” alternative measures that would ensure food security.

Aremu observed that the insecurity in the country is “a legacy problem of non-inclusive governance and underfunded police force by past military regimes.”

The TIFPI said the communique issued by the governors was fraught with irregularities and misconceptions of real issues.

Executive Director of the group, Livingstone Wechie, said in a statement in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, that they were disturbed that at a time the country was on fire, the governors were asking for a national dialogue.

Wechie said: “It is worrisome that at a time when the rooftop of the union is on fire and the foundation is bleeding, the streets are burning with escalating tension and violence, our governors are talking about national dialogue, which historically has never been taken seriously by the government as per implementation.”

He said the communique showed that the understanding of Southern governors on the subject of restructuring and the current situation began and ended with state police and revenue allocation.

He said: “Why can’t they ask, ‘why do we have separatist and secessionist groups? What are the root causes and how do we engage to resolve to save the implosion? Why can’t they be on the same page with all ethnic structures which they govern on these issues?’

“Can you ban open grazing through a mere communique and how do you enforce that in a beggarly manner without addressing the unending ethnic agitation for land ownership which rights are sequestered in the disputed 1999 constitution and unrighteous Land Use Act?

“They must realise that this is a crisis for the self-determination of a people, who feel enslaved by a fractured system, held bound by the fault lines of a disputed constitution that took all their lands, resources, and political rights from them.”

The NHIS boss, Prof Usman Yusuf, said the ban on open grazing was irresponsible and dangerous.

Yusuf asked the governors to provide free land for herders to graze their cattle.

“Gathering in one hotel and giving a blanket ban on open grazing is irresponsible and will get us nowhere,” he said while featuring on an Africa Independent Television (AIT) programme.

He added: “Southern governors need to provide places where these Fulani will graze their cattle because they (governors) own the land.

“We saw that in Zamfara. The governor is trying to build big ranches in each of the three senatorial zones for these Fulanis to settle and graze their cattle. For governors to ban people from that place is dangerous.

“Ask all the 17 governors that met in that hotel, was there any Fulani leaders consulted? They (governors) are there making laws for people they have not consulted. This is the problem of government – disconnected, out of touch with the reality of the people.”

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