Abuja — President Muhammadu Buhari has described calls for restructuring of the country as parochial and laced with interest, hence discussions and arguments on the matter failed to capture his attention.
He spoke, yesterday, when he received traditional rulers and the leadership of the Urhobo Progress Union (UPU) and members of the Delta State All Progressives Congress (APC) chapter.
The group was led by 101-year-old traditional ruler, His Royal Majesty, Dr. Laiyeguen, Ogbon-Ogoni Oghoro I, the Ohworode of Olomu Kingdom.
Speaking at the meeting held inside the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Buhari pointed out that some of the views being canvassed by interest groups on restructuring were not properly coordinated and did not align with constitutional provisions.
Responding to requests made by the leaders, he said his administration would not forget the Urhobo nation in its development agenda for Delta State, even as he pleaded with them to protect oil installations in their communities as they did during the 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) rule in the state.
Among the leaders' demands was the need for restructuring of the country and reclaiming of Urhobo lands, which had been given to the military, but were now being sold.
"You mentioned something, which is topical these days; the restructuring of Nigeria. Every group asking for restructuring has got its own agenda and I hope it can be accommodated by the constitution. I assure you that you are not forgotten and I am pleased you appreciate the appointments by this administration of some citizens of your kingdoms," he said.
The Urhobo nation had earlier in their address by UPU President General, Olorogun Moses Taiga, urged Buhari to ensure the restructuring of the country, saying there was serious hunger and poverty in the country that called for immediate solution.
They also demanded that Buhari appoint an Urhobo indigene in his cabinet, noting that the ethnic group is the biggest in Delta State and fifth in the country.
"We urge the Federal Government to look into the issue of unutilised lands, which we voluntarily donated to the military years ago, but which are now being farmed out in parcels and sold for non-military uses. We request that such lands be returned to the owner communities in Urhobo land," the leaders said.
They explained: "Grinding poverty is still a fact of life in nearly all our communities. Our youths are unemployed and frustrated. But we rein them in regardless, in the hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
"Hunger, despair and diseases stalk our lands and our waterways, which have been devastated and poisoned by years of oil exploration conducted quite obviously outside global best practices. But we keep the peace because we believe tomorrow will be a better day. In the past few years, our children have started asking us when tomorrow will come.
"It is in this regard that we wish to commend the initiative by the ruling All Progressives Congress for giving serious thought to the restructuring of our country and going as far as setting up a committee under a serving governor to take a critical look at it and make recommendations on the way forward."
They also sought Buhari's intervention in the development of Sapele port and in the provision of additional gas plants.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Taiga noted that the Urhobo nation would vote for Buhari and whoever attends to their cause in 2019.
Asked whether the demands were pre-conditions for their support, he said: "Well, they are not pre-conditions. They are requests. We are making requests that these are the needs of the Urhobo nation. So, once anybody is willing to do those things, as we said in our speech, we are partners in progress and will work with him to ensure continuity of the nation."
Meanwhile, security agents allegedly barred former APC governorship aspirant in Delta State, Olorogun Otega Emerhor, from entering the presidential villa.
He had been scheduled to join the Urhobo leaders for the meeting with Buhari.
The denial of access, it was learnt, is not unconnected to the ripples in Delta APC at the just-concluded national convention.
But in a telephone interview with The Guardian, yesterday, Emerhor said: "I booked the appointment and led the Urhobo delegation to the Villa. What happened was that some people got a petition ahead that I created the problem at the Eagle Square during last Saturday's APC convention. What happened was this, after the meeting with the President, Sam Adjogbe, the Executive Director, Projects, of the Niger Delta Development Commission, and I were invited by the CSO to the president, to clarify issues, after which we all entered the same bus with the kings and left. The other faction of the APC in the state wanted to make a political capital out of it, just to give an impression that I have a problem with the president. Nothing of such happened."
In a related development, Buhari declared he has no regret being honest. "I am satisfied with what I am. I am happy I have kept myself and people close to me from benefiting from government contracts," he told a delegation of the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria at the State House.