Over 17 northern groups met in Kano State yesterday to fuse divergent political views with the aim of addressing the insecurity challenge, unemployment, corruption and, above all, returning power to the north in 2015.
This is coming on the heels of efforts by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) to strategize on how best the opposition parties could have a successful merger.
Addressing newsmen shortly after the close-door meeting held at Danmasani's residence, Dawaki Road, Kano, the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Meeting, Professor Ango Abdullahi, said the meeting was aimed at finding a way for these various groups to speak with one voice and represent one common interest, which is the emancipation of the northern region.
Ango Abdullahi said that many thorny issues disturbing the region that were discussed at the meeting represented the core worries of all the three geopolitical zones and would, in turn, be blended into the common voice of the north.
He said this particular meeting surpassed previous northern elders' meetings because the various groups were now working beyond any other religious, tribal or political party interest.
On the security situation in the region, Prof. Ango reiterated his previous stance that there are three types of Boko Haram: the criminal Boko Haram, those taking advantage of the Boko Haram, and the state Boko Haram (federal government) and they are doing all they could to bring the region to its knees.
He criticised President Goodluck Jonathan for not doing enough to rescue the region and for his slow response to many issues disturbing the region that are before him, including the report of the northern elders recently submitted to him.
Ango also described the meeting as purely political, considering the fact that it is only when power is restored to the north that there would be a holistic measure to address the problem of the region.
Dignitaries at the meeting were the former presidential candidate of the NRC, Alhaji Bashir Uthman Tofa, Yusuf Maitama Sule (Dan masanin Kano), Senator JKN Waku representing the Arewa Consultative Forum, Evang M. O. Owojaiye of Northern Christian Elders Forum, Capt. Bashir Sodangi of Arewa Elders Forum, John Dara of Middle Belt Forum, Ambassador Yahaya Kwande of NEF, Air Marshal A.M. Daggash, Prof Idris Muhammad and Prof. Dandatti Abdulkadir of Kano Initiative, and Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmad of GDE, among many others.
The meeting lasted many hours.
Meanwhile, the ACN has indicated how opposition parties could make the coming merger talks successful. The national secretary of the opposition ACN, Senator Lawal Shuaibu, told our correspondent in an exclusive interview in Abuja that the success of the talks will depend on the approach of the participating parties. He said: "Everything depends on the conclusion of the discussion by the participating opposition parties. The terms of reference have been set for each of the committees set up by the opposition parties that are going for merger. So how we merge depends on how the discussions end up. Are we going to fuse into one new name? Are we going to adopt one name? Are we going to take colours from each party and make up our logo? Are we going to create a name out of the various names of the parties that are participating? Everything depends on what is agreed on at the discussion."
He added: "The media is not aware of the meetings because that was the mistake we made the first time. We laid everything bare before the media, and the PDP government penetrated through its agents and they ensured that the merger did not work. We cannot repeat that mistake. This time we are getting it right."
Senator Shuaibu also described the presidency of Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as the most corrupt so far. It is the coming together of the opposition to wrestle power from him, he said, that could stop an imminent revolution.
He said: "PDP has failed in the area of fighting corruption. All these things we are talking, all the problems we are talking about emanate from corruption, corrupt practices. The current government led by President Goodluck Jonathan is the most corrupt government that Nigerians have ever experienced. We can't shy away from this fact.
"The international community is quite aware of it. Look at the rating of Nigeria by Transparency International. It is not that we don't have capacity to fight corruption but the government is not prepared to empower and fund the anti-corruption agencies. And they subject them to scrutiny. EFCC is there, ICPC is there and indeed the police is there; that is the biggest anti-corruption fighter under normal circumstances but nothing is being done."
Senator Lawal identified poor funding of the anti-graft agencies as one of the ways by which the federal government is hindering the war against corruption. He cited the attendant problems on the state of infrastructure in the country.
"Law enforcement is very expensive, especially when it comes to the issue of fighting corruption. To enforce the law by the anti-corruption agencies is very expensive; you have to fund them. Otherwise the staff of the agencies would be attracted by the criminals. But fund the agencies, give them independence, they would work; don't interfere.
"If we can address the corruption in this country, everything would fall in place: things would work, we would get electricity, we don't even need to waste 16 billion US dollars. With just one quarter of that, electricity would flow all over the nation. Our roads would be tidier; we would install electric train, not locomotive after spending billions of naira to operate just from Lagos to Kano so that the PDP government would give Nigerians a New Year goodwill message that we operate a locomotive train from Lagos to Kano. It started from Lagos 1pm and got to Kano the next day by 8pm -- for 30 hours -- and you want to use it for campaign."
He tasked the National Assembly to adequately fund the anti-graft agencies if indeed the lawmakers are not encouraging corruption like the executive. He recalled how the lawmakers increased their own allocation despite the stiff opposition of the presidency and asked them to do the same for the EFCC and the ICPC.
"National Assembly does not need to revisit the law, even during our time, the law was working. What is needed is don't interfere with the activities of the anti-corruption agencies and ask them to do their work, let them go after any corrupt person, it doesn't matter whose ox is gored but here with this government it matters and I can tell you that the National Assembly has the powers contain in the constitution to ensure effective law enforcement. If agencies are not adequately funded whose fault?
"National Assembly is there to ensure good governance and fighting corruption is part of ensuring good governance, if they are really serious and they want good governance, they would tell the executive no, we have to adjust the budget of the entire anti-corruption agencies but they don't do that, instead they only adjust the budget of the National Assembly where the President figures that do not favour them, they adjust it themselves and he has to sign otherwise they would threaten they would pass into law on their own. Why cant they do that with the budget of the anti-corruption agencies if fighting corruption is on their table? So, let us not be too shy about saying the truth, National Assembly has the biggest role to play in fighting corruption in this country."
But when Shuaibu was asked if a bloody revolution is not imminent, he disagreed saying that "the opposition would not allow revolution because Nigerians have resolved to come together under an umbrella that has capacity to fight PDP and remove PDP from government and then correct all anomalies."
ACN to FG: Nigeria must use electronic voting in 2015
It is time for the country to embrace electronic voting in order to ensure the integrity of its elections, the ACN has said.
In a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by its national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said with electronic voting, the overall cost of elections would be far less, there would be stability in the polity, the atmosphere of war usually associated with elections would disappear and the involvement ofthe security agencies would be de-emphasized. Elections would be given back to Nigerians instead of the judiciary, the party added.
It said though section 52 sub-section 2 of the Electoral Act bans the use of electronic voting "for thetime being", the National Assembly should move quickly to amend that part of the law, while the federal government should provide INEC with all the resources needed to make electronic voting a reality.
ACN stated: "We assure INEC of our full support towards using electronic voting in 2015. We also appeal to all other political parties, civil society organizations and indeed all Nigerians to join us in pushing for a system that will eliminate the role of thugs and sideline vote thieves during our elections, in addition to making our elections free, fair and credible.
"While electronic voting is not a magic wand, it is the surest way yet for Nigeria to join the league of countries that have wiped out electoral fraud, which is the worst form of corruption.
"It is also the best way to hand over Nigeria's elections back to Nigerians, instead of having the judiciary determine who wins what contest. Two years is a long enough time to achieve this."
The party said even Ghana, which has organised perhaps the best elections in this part of the world, has realised it can no longer continue with manual voting, hence it did not wait for troubles associated with electoral malfeasance to break out before embracing electronic voting during its last general elections in December. "It is not just enough for us to sit back in envy while the world hails our neighbour Ghana for being a model in electoral rectitude and participatory democracy. Let us ask ourselves what we need to do differently to shed our toga of electoral fraud and brigandage.
"Yes, there were some hiccups during the last elections in Ghana, which were conducted with electronic voting. But Ghana quickly moved to correct whatever problems came up. The system also allowed Ghana to extend voting without fearing that ballot boxes will be hijacked or stuffed," it said. "One result of Nigeria's successive failed elections is that it has brought corruption to the judiciary. It is time to free judges to do their duties and allow Nigerians to play more role in determining who governs them."