EndSARS protests as stimulus for regionalism, restructuring
Southwest urges review of security architecture
The issue of restructuring came up strongly recently when different geopolitical zones met with a delegation of President Muhammadu Buhari to find answers to some underlying causes of the #EndSARS protest and its violent aftermath.
The decision for disparate meetings with various geopolitical groups, particularly from the Southwest and Southeast, was seen as an afterthought, because it happened after the outrage that greeted the meeting of Northern States Governors Forum with traditional rulers, lawmakers and the Inspector General of Police in Kaduna.
Although the meeting was seen as a feeble attempt to rebuild the broken walls of the once monolithic north, the leaders not only thanked their youths for not torching and damaging critical infrastructure, but also condemned the #EndSARS protests, while recommending regulation of the social media.
The resolutions released by the Plateau State governor, Simon Bako Lalong, buttressed that perception.
Part of the 20-point resolution read: “(Meeting) commends the roles of His Eminence, Royal Highnesses and other Royal Fathers in ensuring that the EndSARS protests did not escalate significantly in the North by adopting sentimental issues, such as ethnicity and religion. The Forum resolved to continuously engage with their Royal Highnesses in addressing this challenge.
“Meeting noted and appreciated the far-reaching efforts of Northern States Governors’ Forum in taking proactive measures to address the EndSARS protest in the country and the north in particular. Equally, forum notes with satisfaction the actions taken by the Governors to revive the economic fortunes of the region particularly during the post COVID-19 period.
“Forum appreciates the roles of National Assembly in engaging the youths and other critical stakeholders of the nation in resolving the EndSARS conflicts.
“Forum appreciates Mr. President and his cabinet for the quick intervention in meeting the demands of the EndSARS protesters and resolved to give him the maximum support as he roles out measures to address the lingering challenges of youth unemployment, banditry and Boko Haram insurgency in the country.
“The Forum also appreciates the roles of the youth for their response to the EndSARS in curtailing the spread of hooliganism, thuggery and other separatist tendencies. Forum appreciates the major reforms going on in the Police Force and pledges to support Mr. President on this course.
“The Meeting resolves to support the Nigerian Police Force to serve the country better and calls for the strengthening of trust between the people and the Police.”
Expectedly, the backlash that trailed the recommendations, especially the policing of the cyberspace, was spontaneous and across geopolitical divides. From the same north, outraged citizens wanted to know the rationale for the one-sided approach, while other voices of dissent from South and Middle Belt, deplored the attempt of the northern leaders to speak for the entire country as if they owned Nigeria.
GOING by the Northern Governors’ support for the blanket regulation of the social media, could it be that the governors and the Presidency found a common ground to avert public demand for accountability? Although the northern leaders linked the #EndSARS protests to misinformation in the social media, stakeholders believe that it was an attempt to distract from the major issues, especially police brutality and insecurity.
For instance, second republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, urged President Buhari to reconsider his continued stay in office if he cannot take decisive actions to secure the country and provide good governance.
Southern and Middle Belt leaders accused the northern leaders of chasing the shadow, stressing that the main issue about Nigeria’s socio-political stability and development revolve around equitable distribution of opportunity and fairness.
The Southern and Middle Belt leaders excoriated the northern leaders for their evasive manoeuvers towards restructuring of the country, saying that the north should recognise that it does not speak for the entire country anymore. One of such issues frowned at was the northern leaders’ suggestion that traditional rulers be given formal roles in the governance architecture of the country.
The northern leaders had stressed that the meeting endorsed the indivisibility, indissolubility and oneness of the nation, and that it was in furtherance of its resolve to further engage with critical stakeholders in the region.
The meeting took note of the devastating effect of the uncontrolled social media in spreading fake news, which disposed them to supporting “calls for major control mechanism and censorship of the social media practice in Nigeria.”
Prominent dignitaries that attended the meeting, which held at the Council Chamber, Sir Kashim Ibrahim House, Kaduna, were: Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase and other members of the National Assembly, the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Abdullahi Mohammed; the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed: the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Principal Officers of the National Assembly, and Chairmen of the Northern States Traditional Rulers Council led the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, amongst others.
The leaders called attention on “the need to keep strict watch on the Federal Capital Territory to guide against unwarranted and destructive protests to safeguard critical assets of the nation.”
A cursory look at the resolutions reached at the Northern leaders’ meeting showed that without knowing it, the leaders gave the impression that they prefer a united Nigeria that manifests two ideological systems, one for the north and the other for the south.
Although some commentators expressed the belief that the Kaduna meeting was a preparatory session for the northern leaders to engage with the rest of the country, it was apparent that the leaders were more interested in insulating their region from the socio-political liberties of the south.
That conclusion was evident in the following: The meeting resolved that there was the need for regular meetings of that nature and called for further engagement with other critical stakeholders such as religious leaders, business community, and youths leaders, among others.
Secondly, the meeting approved the setting up of two major engagement committees that were to commence work immediately, namely, committee on roles of traditional rulers and committee on Youth and Civil Societies. Interestingly, and perhaps to underscore the feudal inclination of the region, the two committees had Emirs of Lafiya and Zazzau as chairmen.
The northern leaders expressed concerns over the low level involvement of relevant stakeholders in the implementation of government programmes and called on the relevant agencies to review implementation strategies to make for maximum impact and benefits.
North’s future, fears of restructuring
It would be recalled that prior to the November 2, 2020 meeting, Kaduna State governor, El Rufai, had, in his welcome remarks at a Public Lecture to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Arewa House, on October 31, 2020, called attention to the tenuous situation of the north as it concerns possible restructuring of the country.
The theme of the lecture was, ‘Unfinished Greatness: Towards a More Perfect Union In Nigeria.’ While observing that perfecting the Nigerian union “is a matter that is surely on the mind of every patriot,” Governor El Rufai said he “is passionate about what constitutional framework will best enable the promise of this country to manifest.”
He recalled that he was chairman of APC Committee on True Federalism, which membership cut across the political and demographic spectrum, to lay out the party’s roadmap for Nigeria’s greatness.
In its report, that committee defined the values that, in its opinion, promote and connote true federalism and proposed a clear roadmap for implementing the recommendations.
He stated: “It is a matter for regret that for some reasons, the consequential action by the APC leadership to adopt and implement the report has not happened since it was submitted in January 2018.
“The urgency of our challenges dictates that we should move fast with a sense of purpose to remove the structural bottlenecks that hobble our country. There is very little time left to secure and begin to implement the necessary constitutional amendments.”
The governor disclosed that while the committee’s report was well received, some people complained that it was coming too close to the 2019 elections. He noted that the “electioneering calendar presented only a narrow window for significant and consequential action to reform the political and structural framework to enable the rapid, peaceful and inclusive development of our country.”
With APC occupying majority seats in the two chambers of the National Assembly, critics have accused the governing party of insincerity towards the issue of restructuring, stressing that if the El Rufai committee’s report came close to the electioneering period, nothing stops the party from taking action immediately after the poll.
Allusions have been made to the 2014 National Conference report as evidence of President Buhari’s aversion to restructuring, which goes to show that the reluctance to implement the El Rufai committee’s report could be traced to same reason.
According to the Kaduna State governor, “as its report shows, the APC Committee on true federalism produced clear recommendations to strengthen federalism and achieve national cohesion and healthy subnational competition. The committee also made efforts to accelerate the implementation of its recommendations by producing draft bills that incorporate the recommendations either as proposed amendments to our Constitution or our national laws.”
He recalled some of the salient recommendations in the report, including that “the federation be rebalanced, with more powers and responsibilities devolved to the states.”
“The committee also clarified that the federation is a relationship solely between the states and the Federal Government, and that each state should be allowed to operate the system of local government that best suits its circumstances, culture and diversity.
“It was the committee’s considered opinion that in a country as diverse as ours, one size or structure of local governance does not fit all. The Committee’s recommendations also cover how the states can generate the resources that will fund their envisaged expanded burdens, responsibilities and authority.
“This includes a holistic review of the share of federation revenues accruing to the states and federal government. Our report also upheld the derivation principle as a primary component of fiscal federalism and recommended that control of mineral resources be vested in the states, which will then pay applicable royalties and taxes to the Federation Account for distribution between all tiers of government.
“To make this work, we proposed and drafted the amendments of extant laws such as the Petroleum Act, the Nigerian Mining and Minerals Act, the Land Use Act and the Petroleum Profits Tax Act. Our report regarded derivation as being applicable as well to hydropower, solar, wind and other forms of renewable power generation.
“The APC committee on true federalism proposed significant devolution of powers between the national government and the 36 States, and recommended further devolution of responsibilities between the States and Local Governments depending on local circumstances, culture, capacity and capability,” he narrated.
One of the items the APC committee recommended for transfer from the Exclusive, to the Concurrent List, is interestingly the Police, thereby enabling the establishment of State police, and clear demarcation of their responsibilities vis-à-vis the Federal (Nigeria) Police.
Going by the revelations of the Kaduna State governor, it is left to imagination why the meeting of Northern Governors and traditional rulers decided to fixate on the constitutional role of chiefs and Emirs as well as call for the policing of the social media.
The obvious imputations from the foregoing are that two tendencies exist in the North, namely those for and those against restructuring. It could be these divergent opinions that precipitated the withdrawal of Middle Belt from the attempt to rebuild the walls of feudal and monolithic north for a forced and unproductive union.
From the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting with Southwest leaders, it was gathered that the stakeholders agreed that the country’s security architecture requires adjustment to adequately address threats and realities of insecurity. The leaders noted that more police presence is required in communities within the Southwest states.
Part of the communiqué read: “A comprehensive programme that addresses youth employment and empowerment should be prioritised; closer coordination and complementarity between states and the Federal Government.
“Curricular of tertiary institutions should be reviewed, with emphasis on skills acquisition and entrepreneurship. We recognise the damaging and negative impact of fake and false news, and we worry about its destructive and dangerous potency. We call on the Federal Government to use the instrumentality of existing laws and regulations bench-marked from other countries to provide safeguards against the spread of fake news. The 2015 Cyber Act must also be fully used.”
President Buhari said the political class must go beyond lip service and equip young people with skills that would make them competitive.
“The vice-president and governors are designing an engagement framework through the National Economic Council that will be rolled out across States of the Federation. Chief among them is police reform across all its dimensions. Community policing as an additional layer that can resolve some of our security issues.”
On his part, Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo governor and chairman of the South-West Governors’ Forum, expressed dismay that the assets, which sustained the region, were destroyed by hoodlums.
Akeredolu said the assets are still vulnerable and that measures should be put in place to protect them.
“Before our very eyes, what started as a peaceful demonstration turned to the different thing that became a threat to all of us, who are regarded as elite,” the governor said.
“What we witnessed in the violence shows that something needs to be done to address the underlying issues and come out with solutions. We must be able to sustain the peace in our region at all cost.”
The Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, expressed unhappiness over the failure of the political class to consult with traditional institutions in decision-making.
The Ooni said dialogue would bridge the gap of communication between political leaders and traditional rulers.
Also speaking, HRM Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, Alaafin of Oyo, blamed the “unitary system” for the violence that occasioned during the protests against police brutality.
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