The Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum has accused President Muhammadu Buhari of intimidating Nigerians with the spate of military operations being undertaken across the country.
The group rose from an extensive consultative session in Abuja, yesterday, with a stern warning to the president to desist from the act.
It particularly condemned the recent Operation Python Dance, a show of force carried out by the military, in the South East. During the excercise, members of the now proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) in a bid to forestal alleged plan to arrest their leader, Nnamdi Kanu, clashed with troops in Umuahia, Abia State.
The Forum said: “We call on the Federal Government to always exercise restraint in the deployment of troops in quelling civil agitations, which is the responsibility of the police in any democracy. Consequently, we call on the Federal Government to reconsider similar operations that the Army is embarking on in the South West and South South zones, which are peaceful areas.
“We do not need these exercises, which are seen largely as sheer intimidation and barring of fangs. Under federalism, you do not deploy troops to the federating units without the invitation of the affected local authorities. The Federal Government must also employ dialogue above raw force in engaging dissension.”
While passing a vote of confidence on the clamour for restructuring, it challenged Buhari to urgently initiate processes to actualise the idea through the National Assembly.
In a communique read by John Dara, the Forum equally appealed to the National Assembly to as a matter of urgency revisit its decisions on restructuring and resolve the matter in a way that could usher in a new fiscal formula for Nigeria as against the current over dependence on oil and gas revenue
The communique declared: “In furtherance of the successful meeting of the leaders from the South and Meddle Belt of Nigeria held on July 15, 2017 to lay out an orderly process of finding viable solutions to the rising agitations for a fair, just, equitable and balanced restructuring of our federal system, a follow up meeting was successfully held on October 5, 2017, with delegates from the South West, South East, South South and from the Middle Belt States comprising, Plateau, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kogi, Kwara, Taraba, Adamawa, Southern Kebbi, Southern Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Southern Borno and FCT.
“After an extensive consultative session, delegates resolved to issue the following communique:
“ We remain convinced that as a multi-ethnic country, Nigeria can only enjoy lasting peace, development progress and happiness under a federal system, which allows all the federating units to develop at their own pace under full cultural expression. We, therefore, restate our commitment to the Federal Republic of Nigeria as one entity under God.
“However, we firmly believe that Nigeria as it is, is not a proper federation, as the structure is over-centralised, unjust and anti-development and therefore unacceptable. There is no gainsaying the fact that this is at the core of the many agitations across the country with some delving into separatist feelings.
“Nigeria must, therefore, be grateful to those of us speaking in demand of restructuring of the federation for the restoration of the federal principles enshrined in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions as a middle course between those who want to sustain the present unjust structure that is driving Nigeria into the edge and consequently attracting agitations for break up and those who are calling for break up of Nigeria.
“Forum noted that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari in his independence anniversary broadcast made some good shift by admitting to the legitimacy of the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria.
“We call on him to move a step forward by initiating processes that should lead Nigeria towards confronting its structural challenges through the legal instruments of the National Assembly and the representatives of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.”
However, the Forum expressed regrets that the National Assembly did not make maximum use of its last constitutional amendments exercise by voting down devolution of powers and functions to the federating units.
“We believe tension would have gone down considerably across the country if the National Assembly had decided to vote for reform.
“We call on the National Assembly, to as a matter of urgency, revisit its decisions as promised by the senate president and the Speaker of the House of Representative and resolve the matter in a way that we can have a new fiscal formula that will move Nigeria away from the current overdependence on oil and gas revenue to a diversified economy where all section of Nigeria are encouraged to develop their abundant natural and human resources for regional and national development with all constitutional impediments removed.”
In the communique, the Forum also deplored the recent developments in the South East, which led to deployment of troops against agitation in the region by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which sparked tension in the region and led to avoidable loss of lives. It flayed the designation of IPOB as a terrorist group and its consequent proscription.
While expressing concern on the insecurity in the country, the Forum noted: “We are worried about the spate of systemic kidnappings, rapes and extortions across the minority areas of northern Nigeria, which has become a major threat after the militia herdsmen menace.
“The fact that these kidnappers are allegedly arrested without trials and non-revelation of their contacts/sponsors and details of their activities suggests possible shielding from the law and a sinister agenda behind their operations.
“In the same vein is the troubling spate of abductions, forced marriage and conversion of underaged girls in non-Muslim communities in violation of section 38 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We equally strongly condemn the incessant invasion by the herdsmen militia, which we believe is aimed at dispossessing our agricultural lands for their settlements and grazing. We call on the Federal Government to immediately take urgent measure to put an end to these crimes.”
The Forum commended the Yoruba for the successful conference on restructuring held in Ibadan on September 7.
The Ibadan Declaration was recommended as a blueprint for all federalists in Nigeria,” it declared.
The Forum, which comprises delegates from the SouthWest, South-East, South-South and Middle Belt states had in attendance elder statesmen like Prof. Jerry Gana, Banabas Gemade, Ayo Adebanjo, Olu Falae, Dan Suleiman, Edwin Clark, Mrs. Stella Omu, Idris Wada, Tunde Ogbeha, Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike, Ferdinand Agu, Chief Chigozie Ogbu among others.