Elder statesman and chairman, Southern and Middle Belt Elders Forum, SMBLF, Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, yesterday, slammed President Muhammdu Buhari over his denunciation of restructuring, saying the President cannot dictate to Nigerians.
Chief Clark, who spoke on phone to Vanguard, maintained that failure to restructure the country would lead to disaster, which elders of the country are trying to manage with their patriotic demand for restructuring.
Also, a cream of senior lawyers and former Organising Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Senator Anietie Okon picked holes in President Buhari's stance, insisting that Nigeria must be restructured to remain afloat.
Senior advocates of Nigeria, who spoke included Dr Olisa Agbakoba, Chief Mike Ozekhome, Olu Daramola, Norrison Quakers, Mohammed Abeny, and Mr. Afam Osigwe.
Without restructuring, Nigeria'll disintegrate - Clark
A peeved Clark said: "Without restructuring, there will be no united Nigeria, which has been the position of the Southern and Middle Belt Elders Forum.
"I was shocked and very embarrassed that Mr. President, who we thought after listening to him in the interview granted Arise Television, was mentally alert, saying few days after that there was no need for restructuring.
"Nobody can intimidate us, nobody can dictate to us. He is not running a Nigerian government, he is running a government of people who were not elected and those talking are not elected. Without restructuring, there will be no united Nigeria, it will lead to secession and breakaway.
"Mr. President should realize that there was Yugoslavia, but it has broken into five to six states; there was Soviet Union, where is it today? It has broken into several countries. Where is Sudan, small Sudan has broken into two.
"Who says that Buhari has powers to keep us together, to preside over us as slaves? We will never give him that chance. So restructuring is the way to go, without restructuring, there will no free and fair elections in the country.
"Without restructuring, there can never be a united Nigeria for everybody in Nigeria, so he should realize that.
"Nigeria will break if he continues in this way. What happened in the civil war would not happen again; they used Northerners, Middle Belt and every other person to fight the Igbo. This time, nobody will allow himself to be used.
"I want to say that as an elected President of this country, he should see himself as President of Nigeria, not President of a particular religion. Mr. President's statement is unpatriotic, he is the one who does not believe in Nigeria, not the advocates of restructuring.
"He is saying now that he does not believe in restructuring but he allowed Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, to head the party's committee on restructuring that went around the country, taking evidence from people and according to Chief John Oyegun, then APC national chairman, the El-Rufai report was received by them, APC.
"In fact, at a time the party was even blaming National Assembly for taking no action on the party's report
"So for Mr. President through the person he sent to represent him to say that he does not believe in restructuring; that those talking about restructuring are not politicians; and that they are people who could not win elections in their homes, he failed to realize that some of us talking about restructuring were elected senators, not nominated senators.
"Some of us were elected governors, the 17 governors of the South who hold this position were elected by their own people as he was elected. They are not under him, they control the land and other things in their states.
"If Buhari thinks that he can use religion to conquer Nigeria, if that is what they are thinking of, it is too late, it is either the people choose to live together or break away peacefully. It is very unfortunate.
"Nigerians are not surprised that Buhari cannot keep one Nigeria together. He cannot force people together. Nobody will accept it.
"And we are going to stop talking about people who want to secede, does he own this country alone? He either keeps one Nigeria together by restructuring or Nigeria is destroyed upon our heads together," Clark added.
Apologise to Nigerians, disavow on restructuring, Okon tells Buhari
Senator Okon urged President Buhari to apologize to Nigerians and disavow the statement credited to him that those calling for the restructuring of Nigeria are naïve and dangerous.
Okon, who is currently the President of Akwa Ibom Leaders Vanguard expressed disappointment that President Buhari spoke through someone who sounded very ignorant of such a very sensitive national issue.
His words: "It is worrisome that President Buhari whose party, the APC, set up a committee, headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, to work on restructuring the nation, more than three years ago, can now come out to say, by proxy, that those talking about restructuring are naïve and mischievous. The question is, at what point did President Buhari discover that restructuring was evil?
The president's representatives equally displayed crass ignorance and mediocrity when he said those clamouring for restructuring could not win election.
"Equating restructuring with separation or breaking up of the country has also shown that Buhari and his handlers have no business in government if they do not know the difference between the two terms. It also shows that the president or his agents do not understand what restructuring is all about.
"But since he (Shehu) was said to be representing the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on that occasion, the onus lies on the President to disavow it so that Nigerians would know that he is not taking the whole country on a wild goose chase in the current discordant exercise called constitution amendment review.
"It is imperative to warn the president and his handlers that the earlier they prepare and work for restructuring, which would make the federating units of the nation manage their own resources and contribute some percentage to the centre only for exclusive projects like security and foreign affairs, the better.
"That is the only way to keep Nigeria together, else the bogey of separation, which is their worst nightmare, would visit the nation sooner than ever anticipated. There is no alternative to restructuring."
SANs fault Buhari's position on restructuring
Reacting to the position ascribed to President Buhari, constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said he was not surprised.
He said: "I was certainly not one of those Nigerians who were shocked. I was not because as a close monitor and commentator on national and international affairs, I didn't expect anything more from him.
"My thesis is simple, not rocket science: a leopard cannot change its spots. Buhari said he did not understand what the restructuring proponents want, or what is to be restructured.
"Buhari erroneously believes that the problem of Nigeria is how to make local governments functional and the judiciary independent.
"As important as these are, President Buhari has merely seen the smaller picture, rather than the larger picture, as President of a hemorrhaging country yearning for urgent rescue.
"So, for those Nigerians who had heaved a little sigh of relief last week on the little tokenism conceded by Buhari, I sympathise with you.
"During his Democracy Day address to Nigerians on 12th June, 2021, Buhari had appeared to understand Nigerians' pains, agony and genuine yearning for restructuring.
"President Buhari's somersault in just one week has therefore shocked most Nigerians. Suddenly, in Zaria, he beat the drums of war, in a speech that is as provocative as it is un-presidential and un-statesmanlike.
"He berated those who are 'calling for restructuring and conference or what they call ethnic nationality'.
"Wrongly believing that Nigeriams and the youth who daily agitate for a better nation, including during the #EndSARS peaceful protests are simply separatist secession advocates who wanted to overthrow his lack-lustre government, and describing them as 'naive and mischievously dangerous', because they are 'ignorant of war and its consequences', Buhari challenged parents to 'try and educate their children'.
"But, Buhari sorely missed the critical issues at stake. He appeared frighteningly ignorant of the dire need for attitudinal change in his strong-arm tactics when he declared imperiously like Louis XIV of France, 'there is no way we can separate as a country.'
"Read this around: Nigerians must stay together, whether things are working or not; agitations or no agitations; disaffection or no disaffection; social justice or no social justice ;security or no security.
"A leader does not dictate to his people as to what they want. Just like the tail does not wag the dog. It is the people that tell their leaders their desires.
"Buhari erroneously believes he knows what the 211 million Nigerian populace wants. He is making a grave mistake. No ruler in history has ever perpetually dictated to, or held down his people with sheer jackboot.
"Mussolini woefully failed, just like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Stalin and Lenin. Ask the bones of Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong , Pinochet, Ghenghis Khan, Pol Pot and Kim Il Song. They will tell Buhari how and why they failed miserably to dictate to their citizens forever.
"Aside self-determination agitating groups (a concept recognised anyway by the UNO, EU,AU, etc ) , I have not seen or heard leaders of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria ask for outright balkanization of Nigeria.
"What I hear them say in the South, North, East and West ( and which I have also crusaded for over three decades), is restructuring, total devolution of powers and re-negotiation of our suffocating union, to enthrone social justice, equity, egalitarianism and mutual religious and inter-ethnic torerance and respect.
"They talk about re-engineeeing the weak fabric of Nigeria to make her stay together as a country."
I wish Buhari hadn't said that -- Osigwe
Likewise, former Secretary-General of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Afam Osigwe, SAN, said: "I think that if the President will pause for a minute and listen to different voices in Nigeria, he will know that all is not well with the country and refusing to heed to this call for restructuring will not augur well for the nation.
"Many groups and ethnic nationalities have been consistent with their position that the country needs to be restructured. Even the El-Rufai committee arrived at the same conclusion.
"The President will do best to listen to these grievances and take steps that ensure that dissenting voices are heard.
"That statement is one that I wish the President had not made and which I think he should review for the wellbeing of the country, considering what is currently going on."
Confederation, not true federalism-- Abeny
Another constitutional lawyer, Mohammed Abeny, SAN, said: "Blame Southern politicians and not Buhari. Has it not reached a point where Southern law-makers will demand: 'restructure the country or we stop legislation?'
"Yes, Buhari can afford to make such a provocative remark at a time the country is in complete disarray in all its ramifications. For me, Nigeria either restructures or ceases to exist. Not just restructuring, we have to confederate to stay together. True federalism is no longer an option."
He should remember 2015 campaign promises -- Daramola
To Mr. Olu Daramola, SAN, "the president is mistaken. There are lot of issues that need to be addressed if the country is to remain united. There is an urgent need to return the country to true federalism as envisioned in the Republican Constitution of 1963.
"The current arrangement where the Federal Government has overbearing power in allocation of resources is not sustainable. The president and his handlers will do well to remember that restructuring was one of their campaign promises in 2015 election."
Buhari needs to feel the peoples' pulse -- Quakers
Also speaking, Mr. Norrison Quakers, SAN, said: "It is not surprising that the President would make such a remark. He has shown that he is not on the same page with the proponents of restructuring.
"Perhaps, he is in self-denial against the backdrop that it is during his tenure as President that the quest for restructuring has assumed national height, cutting across the geo-political zones in the country and largely due to his lopsided, ethnocentric appointments and nepotism in governance.
"By his statement, he clearly has lost touch with reality. He needs to feel the pulse of the people across the nation to appreciate the reason for the clamour."
How to save Nigeria - Agbakoba
On his part, Dr Olisa Agbakoba(SAN), who shared his thoughts on five issues said: "The constitution amendment process is welcome and important as it is designed to create a stronger constitutional framework.
"The National Assembly Constitution Review Committee highlighted 17 issues for consideration.
Legitimacy, Referendum and a New Constitution
"There is a strong perception that the Constitution is not legitimate because 'we the people' was enacted by General Abdulsalami Abubakar's Military Government.
"To legitimize the Constitution people have called for a referendum and a new constitution. If this is not possible, the legitimacy question may be resolved by amending the "We the people" military clause in the Constitution and reenacting it as "We the people," as amended by the National Assembly.
"This may help the legitimacy issue and cool down calls for a referendum and a new constitution.
"Legitimacy can also be conferred on the Constitutional reform process by full involvement and incorporation of the leaders of our traditional and ethnic nationalities
"The constitution reform process will gain very strong imprimatur and legitimacy by coopting these leaders. Prof. Ben Nwabueze has indicated that ethnic nationalities are the true representatives of Nigeria.
"To quote him, 'Nigeria has no territory other than the traditional territories inhabited by its constituent nationalities from time immemorial - Yorubaland, Igboland, Hausa land, Tivland, Kanuri, Ijaw etc.
"'It is the ethnic nationalities that ceded or granted sovereign powers of government over their territories to Britain which makes them (i.e. the ethnic nationalities) the original and primary stakeholders in the Nigerian state'.
"I believe that giving a prominent seat to the leaders of our traditional and ethnic nationalities will be a substitute for yet another wasteful national conference.
Supremacy of the Constitution
"Our Constitution has always been weak. The Constitution must be supreme and inviolable, otherwise our democracy will never be strong.
"Prof Ben Nwabueze has suggested that a Declaration of Invalidity in respect of constitutional infractions, should be included as a new sub-section1 (4) of the Constitution which deals with the Supremacy of the Constitution. The new section 1(4) will provide a drastic consequence for constitutional infractions.
Independent Institutions Consolidating Democracy
"Our democracy will always be fragile without strong and independent institutions. South Africa enacted chapter 10 of its constitution titled: Institutions consolidating democracy, to guarantee the independence of critical institutions.
"In our case, the closest we have to chapter 10 of the South African constitution, is Section 153, but it falls short of the South African model. We need to amend Section 153 of our constitution to provide for independent institutions such as the EFCC, Police, Accountant General, INEC, Judiciary etc. The strategy is that these institutions will be completely independent of Executive control.
Restructuring and Devolution of Powers
"Calls for restructuring have in my personal view become a catch-all phrase that has introduced more confusion than solution.
"I believe the simple way to go is by regional autonomy. Regional autonomy refers to the governance and administration of a federating unit in the interest of the local people, according to their aspirations.
"Nigeria is made up of multi-ethnic nations managed by a central authority. This model has proved unsuccessful. Europe understood that diversity is best managed by regional autonomy.
"Switzerland has four ethnic groups. Each of them shares the Presidency through four cantons that make up their federating units.
"To Prof George Obiozor, even though Quebec is the only fully French-speaking province, yet Canada is bilingual for the sake of Quebec. On the other hand, Yugoslavia mismanaged its diversity and the result was the emergence of six distinct countries.
"The same fate befell Czechoslovakia, now the nations of Czechs and Slovaks. The same is true of the centralized Russian Federation that splintered into more than 15 nations.
"Ethnic nationalism, the basis for successful nation-states, finds full expression in the reunion of Communist East and Capitalist West Germany.
"This is a perfect case of similar ethnicities easily living together. On the other hand, different ethnicities must live in balanced diversity. Regional autonomy resolves our diversity challenge.
"Devolution of powers is a related concept to regional autonomy. Devolution means transfer of powers from one level of government to another and vice versa.
"There is no question that a transfer of power is needed in our country from the federal to the states. The Federal Government is over-burdened with legislative powers and must shed some to the federating units.
"I suggest three new legislative lists as follows -the Federal list, State list and Shared list. Nigeria operates on the principle of cooperative federalism. The shared list will accommodate cooperation between federal and state governments."
Vanguard News Nigeria