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Northern Governors: Regime change slogan

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Lalong

There is the compelling need to suspend the airing of my thoughts on Citizen Journalism this week as there is an urgent call to sink my teeth into the raging subject of the moment. When the heavyweight collection of northern Governors, Legislators, traditional rulers and other power wielders met last week in Kaduna the nation expected an explosive burst of hope from their decisions. In the last few weeks the country has been thrown into the abyss of grief when the peaceful protest organised by our young people was hijacked and turned into an orgy of unanticipated violence. The expectation was that the gathering of the northern power elite would produce a viable road map for our democratic governance that would reduce the frictions, insecurity and disunity in our polity. When their communiqué which was signed by their leader and Governor of Plateau State, Mr Simon Lalong was read it received only a muted applause.

The communiqué was more significant for what it didn’t say than for what it said. It said: “The meeting rejects and condemns the subversive actions of The EndSARS protests, the agitations and other change regime actions outside the ballot box. Some took advantage of the peaceful protests, to push their separatist agenda.” They never addressed the major issues of the day affecting their region or the country. Their concerns were the curbing of social media and the glib rhetoric about regime change.

However, it is comforting to note that the Coalition Of Northern Groups (CNG) has condemned the position of their leaders. The Spokeman of the CNG Mr Abdulazeez Suleiman said: “The CNG and indeed the vast majority of the cultured northerners are disappointed that such a meeting of northern governors, traditional rulers, elected representatives and top federal government officials from the north should find it more important to dwell on EndSARS and social media and neglecting the more serious issues of security, youth restiveness, unemployment, poverty, dwindling fortunes of agriculture and general economic decline.”

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All of the issues mentioned by Suleiman are dominant issues in the country but even more so in the north. The looting in some states in the north a few weeks ago indicates that where there is poverty good manners are lost. The corollary to that is that when poverty enters the door, love leaves by the window. It is a pity that these heavyweights missed the message of the protests. It was not simply about police brutality.

It was largely about bad governance in all its ramifications. Police brutality was simply the trigger. Their communiqué showed that they are out of touch with what happens in their region or even in the country. Nigeria, right now, with steam-rising frustration has gone into a holding period. Anyone who thinks otherwise is missing the writing on the wall.

We are living precariously with an ocean of grievances from various segments of our population. They are all waiting for these grievances to be resolved quickly and peacefully for the benefit of the country.

People want to be brought into the conflict-resolution process. They want their voices heard, their input respected and their problems solved. Did the northern governors get that message? I doubt if they did.

Their push for more curbs on the social media is disturbing because there exists a 2015 law that regulates the internet. During the 8th National Assembly Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah tabled a bill that was intended to regulate further the operation of the social media. It was vigorously discussed in the public space.

The bill was killed and buried but some people with vested interests led by Mr Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information (and Propaganda) want it resurrected. They need to prove to the public that the social media is the major reason why our country is wobbling.

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More people have been killed in the north by Boko Haram terrorists, bandits, kidnappers and armed robbers than in the south. No one can honestly dispute this. In his opening statement at the meeting the host and Governor of Kaduna State, Mr Nasir El-Rufai referred to the unimplemented report of the APC initiated restructuring project under El-Rufai. These leaders failed or refused to address the issue of implementing those recommendations which included State Police. They prefer to do whatever they want with their security votes while the criminals take over their states. When they talk glibly about regime change they forget that their regimes have been changed already by bandits and other criminals. They have made Abuja their refuge, their internally displaced persons’ home. Insecurity at home is the reason some of them spend more time in Abuja than in their states. As for their remarks about regime change at the centre that is a piece of cheap blackmail fit only for the trash can. It is partisan propaganda at its basest. It is a very eccentric thesis fit only for the consumption of the hoi-poloi, the SAI Baba population because it is despicable, dishonourable and wretchedly untrue, unthinkable and undesirable. Most Nigerians prefer democracy even with all its imperfections to the authoritarianism of military rule. That is why they troop out at election time in their millions, stand in the sun and rain to mess up their fingers in the voting process. Eventhough some politicians have made nonsense of the major plank of democracy, namely elections, the preference of most people is unmistaken, unequivocal and undiluted.

Many people are of the view that if the soldiers had not terminated our democratic governance on December 31, 1983 our democracy would have been deepened far better than it is today. If there are people who prefer military rule to democracy it means they were not around during the long tussle we had with the audacious eccentricity of military rule or they are not students of history. The military suspended our constitution, bound our courts hands and feet; shut down media houses at will; detained journalists and other persons for indefinite periods without trial; backdated laws and got people hanged or shot; sent journalists to jail for publishing the truth; awarded all kinds of fake contracts on toilet paper; made corruption a fashion item.

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When Yakubu Gowon’s government was overthrown in 1975 an investigation instituted by General Murtala Muhammed found 10 out of the then 12 Governors guilty of corruption. Today, we are still combing the world in search of our money squirreled away by General Sani Abacha more than 20 years ago. So where is the sainthood in military governments? Military personnel are no saints. They are as Nigerian as civilians, as corrupt as civilians. Their angelic status is unproven. Even if this democracy is imperfect, it is a lot better than military authoritarianism. Most thinking Nigerians who sat through the holocaust years of military rule have no reason to look forward to anything other than a fair and humane civilian democracy.

Most Nigerians simply want our problems solved, not regime change; we want democracy institutionalised; we want people’s rights respected; we want people’s lives protected and people’s living conditions improved. Those desires constitute the irreducible minimum that most Nigerians, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, expect from their governments. The attempt by the gathering of the northern governors to reduce the federal power held today by President Muhammadu Buhari to a northern property is unacceptable. People voted in every state for Buhari. That is why he won. Even if southerners complain about the lopsidedness in appointments in strategic sectors in favour of the north, their complaint should not be dismissed as the rantings of the disgruntled. You cannot have a stable country except you put into it a high dose of fairness, equity and justice, in line with the constitution of the country.

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When Buhari said at his inauguration that he belongs to nobody and belongs to everybody we all clapped for him in the hope that if he translated those words into action those words would be the equivalent of the building blocks of a fair country. By hindsight those words sound hollow.

So when the northern governors talk about the indivisibility and inviolability of Nigeria it sounds like a huge joke. You do not achieve inviolability and indivisibility just by mouthing it. You must work to achieve it. If southerners perceive that the Federal Governments’ appointment are lopsided in favour of the north and to their disadvantage how do you achieve the lofty goals of indivisibility, indissolubility and inviolability? At that point they remain just lofty, unachievable ideals, just elegant words on paper. This country is very deeply divided. I am happy that the President is sending out teams to dialogue with various segments of the population. If the views of these groups are respected and taken on board we will be on the way to addressing our knotty existential problems. Regime change is not the answer. Problem-solving is.

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