By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Following the clamor for restructuring of the Nigerian federal system of government, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade and Chairman of the Southern Senators Forum, Senator Hope Uzodinma have said the National Assembly is in the best position to drive the country forward or backwards.
The trio stated this in Calabar on Friday at the opening ceremony of the Southern Senators Forum with the theme; “National Unity And Restructuring” where each said the national legislature is best placed constitutionally as the lawmaking arm of government to improve the lot for Nigerians.
Mr. Saraki in his address to declare the event open, said that countries around the world are faced with internal challenges and Nigeria should not see the issue of restructuring and the agitations as peculiar situations.
He said the ability to dialogue is what will make the situation and posited that the legislative arm of Government was best positioned constitutionally, to handle the agitations.
He said that: “Firstly, today, there is no group of people better placed than members of the 8th National Assembly to steer the debate on the way forward, because they are political leaders elected by the people.
“Secondly, by virtue of our constitution, no restructuring can take place without the National Assembly. By the grace of God, lawmakers will define the Nigeria of tomorrow and many generations to come.
“So, how do we do this? How do we deliver on the task entrusted in us at this critical time? As I see it, the only way is for us to see ourselves, first and foremost, as Nigerians. Not as a language – or tribe – or religion – or region – or any other consideration out there that serves to deflect our attention from the quest for national unity. We must see ourselves as Nigerians first.
“In seeking to carry out any reform or restructuring, it is worth bearing in mind that the founders of our country, in their wisdom, had laid down some guidelines, making clear that it cannot be done by a simple majority, but rather by a two-thirds majority.
“To this end, we must all be on the same page. We cannot bully or browbeat others into accepting our point of view or positioning. Whatever we do, must be by consensus, with the buy-in of all critical stakeholders in the debate.
“To my mind, what stops us from striving for consensus is the fear of the unknown. But we cannot allow ourselves to be ruled by fear; it only drags us backwards, impeding our march towards greatness. If truly we love this country, then we must overcome that crippling fear of the unknown.
“Distinguished colleagues, it is our responsibility as legislators to find the clarity to allow substance to override parochial consideration and crude sentiment. Whatever makes sense, to transform Nigeria as a country, must of necessity override the fear of the unknown. Always, we should be thinking of the good of Nigeria – that should be our guiding principle. Doing nothing is not an option.
“It is worth reminding ourselves that the kind of democracy we practice is built around compromise. It is my hope that in participating at this very important retreat, you will all come away with enhanced skills that will enable us achieve that which is good for Nigeria, and birth the spirit of compromise in us all. I have full confidence that Southern Senators Forum members will come back to Abuja with a strategy capable of securing the buy-in of all our people; and meet their needs and aspirations, while also reassuring them.”
For Ayade, the unity of the country is non-negotiable and posited that: “The way Africa is driven is a function of our leadership and governmental structure which is what we are to discuss today restructuring. Therefore, you are in position in history to make or mar Africa because Africa is looked through the windows of Nigeria.”
“In all of these great expectations, none of the efforts will work if the subject matter of restructuring becomes a thing that can cause catastrophe in the country. Therefore, consistent with the philosophy and policies of the president, Nigeria’s oneness is non-negotiable.
“I believe that as elected officers of this country, we have a responsibility to give a direction and give a focus and an identity. Africans look up to Nigeria and Nigeria looks up to the leaders, the National Assembly. You have responsibility in history. The society had unfortunately over time taken over the responsibility and that is why I am happy that we are here today discussing restructuring,” Ayade said.
Continuing, Ayade who hoped that the resolutions from the meeting will help in reshaping the nation, said that: “Going forward, Africa must be united and the perception of the black man will change depending on what you do. The public and general good is being compromised and the restructuring of perception has to be done. This forum, leading the light on the subject-matter of restructuring must articulate the issues in a way.
“The world must begin to see that we are ready to take Africa away from the perception already built in the minds of the people. We have a perception of greed and that has to change and it is only with restructuring concept that we will change the perception.”
In his remarks, Senator Hope Uzodinma said that the speakers selected for the event so as to provide the roadmap for the discussions and debates even as he hoped that it will go beyond resolutions and wondered whether the disregard for Section 15 sub section 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended was the reason there were many agitations in the country.
“We believe that their papers will avail us with the essential patriotic roadmap that can strike the balance between the sustenance of national unity and the necessary restructuring of the federation.
“We believe also, that given their rich, diverse backgrounds and well known nationalist credentials, their submissions will provide profound illumination on how a restructured Nigeria can indeed guarantee national unity alongside, equity and justice in national affairs.
“By so doing, they would have provided the compass for a strong united Nigeria where the majority and minority nationalities of the country shall live side by side in peace, trust and harmony as equal partners in Project Nigeria.
“These are our expectations and I am confident that these eminent resource persons here gathered shall not disappoint us. Our duty is to collate their views into resolutions which will serve as strategic pointers to the way forward for restructuring Nigeria.
“However, as legislators, we hope to go beyond mere resolutions. We believe we can, and should, attempt to translate these resolutions into a legislative product. It is clear to all that in the present federal arrangements, only the legislative arm of government can make changes on our federal structures. We envisage a situation, therefore, in which the rich products from this retreat will serve as veritable stimulants and energizers for us in the pursuit of our legislative duties,” he said.
Quoting the constitution, he said that: “Can anyone argue in all honesty that we have kept faith with the spirit and letter with this section of the constitution? Could it be that the breach of this section 15 sub section 2 of the constitution, whether wittingly or unwittingly, is a contributory factor to the pervasive feelings of alienation and apathy by different segments of our dear nation?
“If this section of the constitution had been implemented zealously as it should and the nation had become truly integrated and united as a result, would we be talking about restructuring and national unity today? I will leave you to your consciences in finding answers to these questions?
“Let us hope that the restructuring we desire shall make the implementation of this provision mandatory and not merely leave it at just actively encouraging national integration.”
Section 15, sub section 2 of the constitution states that: Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of Origin, Sex, Religion, Status, Ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited.
The event is expected to wrap up on Sunday, November 26 with a total of 50 Senators in the 17 southern states of the country expected to attend.
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.