President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Thursday took on the 17 Southern governors, who rose from a meeting on Tuesday in Asaba, canvassing, among others, restructuring of the country.
The duo, during an interaction with reporters in Abuja, challenged governors to start the restructuring from their states.
Besides the call for restructuring, the Southern governors had also announced a ban on open grazing; demanded a national dialogue to address thorny national issues, and asked for key appointments into federal establishments to reflect federal character.
Their decisions received applause from the Southern Senators’ Forum, members of the House of Representatives from the 17 southern states of the federation, the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and the Benue State Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom.
But Lawan and Gbajabiamila expressed reservations about the Southern governors’ advocacy, saying their charity should begin from home.
Lawan said the governors should not be the ones agitating for restructuring.
He urged them to first, do in their states what they are requesting the federal government to do.
He added that leaders must come up with a holistic idea of how to make the system work.
He said: “I believe that as leaders, especially those of us who are elected into office, (we) should not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing because even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the federal level, you have done it in your state as well.
“What you may accuse the federal government of, whatever it is; you may also be accused of the same thing in your state.
“So, we are supposed to ensure that we have a complete and total way of ensuring that our systems at the federal, state and even local government levels work for the people. We must allow people to participate in governance so that whoever feels he has something to offer to make Nigeria better does so freely without any let or hindrance.”
While urging elected leaders to shun regionalism, Lawan urged all stakeholders to rally behind President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle the nation’s challenges.
He said: “The president is reaching out to all the stakeholders. And I believe that as leaders, particularly those of us who were elected at all levels of government, we should avoid partisanship.
“We should avoid regionalism. We are all leaders and we are in this together. The solutions to our challenges must come from us regardless of what level of government we are – whether at the federal, state or local government level. I believe that Nigeria is going to come out of these challenges stronger.”
He called on Nigerians to support efforts at ensuring autonomy for local governments.
He stated that the lack of autonomy by the local government councils potentially inhibits solutions as well as efforts by the federal and state governments towards addressing the nation’s security challenges.
According to him, “We are all leaders and we are in this together; the solutions must come from us regardless of what levels of leadership we are– whether at the federal level, state level, or even at the local government level.
“I also want to take this opportunity to say that we have diminished the local government system. I think we can attribute the security issues to the absence of a functional local government system.
“I think the time has come for us to take up the challenge and ensure that the local government system functions. This is as we look for ways to curb the security challenge.
“We must never neglect the local government system. We must go back to our local government system to ensure they are autonomous and functional.”
Gbajabiamila, on his part, described those championing the call for secession as misguided people who did not mean well for the country.
He said while there might be genuine agitations, elected leaders and state governors should not be among the restructuring advocates without first replicating the idea at the state level.
He, therefore, called for a national spirit of oneness, saying: “If truth be told, we all have equal shares in the blame for what’s happening today.
“Whatever challenges we have, we must all come together to make sure that we resolve these issues we’re facing. We must imbibe that spirit of oneness, togetherness, unity and love that would take us through this.”
Deji Elumoye in Abuja