Northern elders on Wednesday said the various challenges facing Nigeria must be fixed before the nation could hold a general election in 2023, warning that except that is done, the country would become weak and vulnerable to internal strife.
Speaking on The Morning Show, a breakfast programme on ARISE NEWS Channel, the Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said there is an urgent need for a genuine conversation around the country’s challenges as well as how to resolve them in order to reduce the threats to the general election.
“We need to meet to address our collective challenges like the decentralisation of power before we get to the 2023 general election,” he told ARISE NEWS, explaining: “If our challenges are not addressed before the 2023 elections, we will definitely have a weak country struggling to address monumental challenges.”
He said the election has become a distraction as politicians have focused on it rather than tackle the crises of insecurity and the rising quest for the decentralisation of power among other demands for the review of the subsisting power relations in the country.
“The truth about it is that 2023 is instrumental to our challenges because politicians are already planning for 2023 elections without first considering fixing the insecurity challenges of the country,” Baba-Ahmed said.
Suggesting that politicians in power and government are resisting the political demands for a review of the prevailing structure, he was sure that no president or politician would agree to restructure the country and whittle down the powers of the presidency and the National Assembly members, which he argued represent a threat to the country.
“No president, no governor, nor legislator, nor politician will agree to change the situation that they are benefiting from and this is the reason why we need to meet and fix the challenges before 2023 general elections,” he emphasised.
This stumbling block role and what he called the utterances of politicians, he said, pose more potent threats to the security of the nation than banditry and insurgency, adding that Nigerians must meet through various fora to discuss the insecurity and political challenges facing the country.
He cautioned politicians against unguided utterances targeted at Northerners, which he said, were threats to the sovereignty of Nigeria.
“The real threat to Nigeria is not just coming from bandits and protesters, but from our politicians who swore to protect the country, because of their utterances,” he stated.
On Saturday’s attack on Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom, he said insecurity was worsening because of the vacuum created by ineffective leadership in the country.
He described President Muhammadu Buhari’s governance style as too slow, adding that Nigerians cannot wait for him to fix the county at his own leisure.
He, therefore, called for the immediate prosecution of all those involved in the attack on Ortom, especially the group that has claimed responsibility for the attack.
He stated that the Northern Elders Forum would not condone criminality and would not protect any criminal, even if such a criminal is of Fulani extraction.
According to him, the nation’s insecurity has become a threat to the people, the state and the nation, adding that the major threat is coming from politicians and leaders like Ortom.
Baba-Ahmed said: “Politicians who are planning for 2023 election, without thinking of how to fix the insecurity challenges of the country must be told that they are planning in the wrong direction.
“The country is in danger and we have never been in this kind of situation before that has to do with insecurity and threats to lives and property. We have equally not seen a government that is too weak and ineffective to address our collective challenges.
“The future of Nigeria is being threatened by criminals and our leaders.”
He expressed dissatisfaction with the raging clamour for secession, sovereignty and self-determination by disparate groups, saying that Nigeria has never had this kind of clamour before.
He raised the alarm that the situation is worrisome to all Nigerians, including the Northern elders.
“As Northern Elders Forum, we have played our roles to uphold the unity of Nigeria to the level that will serve everybody’s interest, and we will continue to play that role,” he said.
He complained that the elders had seen situations where people singled out the North as the only obstacle to them, stating that the profiling stood rejected.
“We will like to sit with Nigerians from other regions to address our collective challenges as a nation, if only the other regions are willing to discuss with us. Most Nigerian leaders and politicians who are supposed to rise up and speak against the ills of the society, are not doing so because they have lost their political ground to millions of Nigerians,” he stated.
He accused politicians of deploying inciting rhetoric to cause tensions in the country.
“A good example is the utterances coming from South-west politicians that are supposed to be one of the enlightened people in Nigeria. They are truly enlightened people that had always said they stood for progress, yet they make statements that are worrisome and targeted at the North, and we are worried about such statements. The North will not join issues with them and we appeal to responsible Nigerians not to sell the country to brigands and lawbreakers,” he said.
Baba-Ahmed regretted that the Yoruba, who are the most sophisticated people in the country, are not coming out to speak against the ills in the society, pointing out that Nigeria is one country and that what happens in Borno State affects other parts of the country.
He accused both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of grounding the economy, adding that members of both parties are not willing to change their strategies because of their personal interests, which they placed above national interest.
He added that they are not paying attention to the welfare and security of the people because their interest is not about the people.
On the solutions to the many challenges of the country, Baba-Ahmed said: “Nigerians must rise to take strong initiatives as citizens of Nigeria since the country can no longer rely on President Muhammadu Buhari or the governors of the various states. Not even members of the National Assembly can address the challenges of Nigeria.
“The truth is that there is enough reason to question the efficacy and the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, in terms of its commitment to protecting the people of Nigeria. The way to go about it is to talk to each other even though we have some Nigerians that are scared to say the truth in the face of daunting challenges.
“From the Northern Elders Forum group, we are already talking to other groups and people in the country to re-engineer some forms of consensus that will move Nigeria forward.”
He also urged Nigerians to discuss constitution amendment and the decentralisation of power to reduce the overbearing powers of the federal government.
According to him, the federal government controls the police, the military and all the security structures of the country and Nigerians must find ways to decentralise power at the centre to strengthen the states.
“People who think the solution lies in the National Assembly are mistaken because the National Assembly is made up of people that represent the people of Nigeria from various constituencies, but they have drawn a line between national interest and personal interest. At the National Assembly, there are no activists to address fundamental issues about the federal system and we must go beyond this by making Nigerians to meet and talk to each other to address our collective challenges. When we meet, we will be engaging the National Assembly with some useful documents that will help address the challenges of Nigeria,” Baba-Ahmed said.
When asked what he would do if he has an opportunity to advise Buhari on insecurity, he said he would question him about the insecurity and let him know that something was fundamentally wrong either with him or with the people he entrusted with governance.
He said: “I will let him know he is too slow and indecisive in taking decisions that affects national security.
“If I have an opportunity to speak with the president, I will say: ‘Sir, please wake up and smell the coffee, this country is falling apart. It is in very serious danger; it is going down under your watch. You swore in 2015 and again in 2019 that you will protect the citizens, the territorial integrity of Nigeria. Sorry, sir, you are not doing that, doing it well or you are not doing it at all. And one of the things you should do is to call about 200 to 500 Nigerians, without any preconditions, and say: ‘ladies and gentlemen, I believe that this government will benefit from some quality advice in terms of the way forward.
‘Two, take your governors more into confidence, speak to them. They are very important people. They have responsibilities under the constitution and they are able to carry out those responsibilities, particularly on matters of security. What do you want? What can we do together? What can I do for you and what can we consider a legitimate idea or a crazy idea?
‘Thirdly, please ask real questions about what is going on with the security in this country. Something is wrong. You keep changing things but we see the same result.’
Emma Okonji and Nosa Alekhuogie in Lagos and Chuks Okocha in Abuja