Posted by Habibu Umar Aminu, Katsina | 24 December 2017 | 2,600 times
The silence of Northern Senators Forum on the 2019 presidential election during their just concluded two-day retreat in Katsina has raised more questions than answers for political observers and pundits.
Though most of the 42 senators present at the meeting belong to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), none spoke about the 2019 presidential election directly or indirectly which many speculate to be a sign of divided loyalty amongst them.
Although the forum’s leadership had visited President Muhammadu Buhari and had talks on the eve of the commencement of the meeting, his name did not come up during discussions ahead of the 2019 election.
This has led political observers to conjecture on the sudden silence on the issue. Many saw the meeting as a platform for the senators to show allegiance to any of the political gladiators from the region.
Others believe that the recent decamping of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar may have forced the senators’ silence, giving alleged secret allegiance of some senators to him.
The absence of some key senators also raised concerns. Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Bukar Abba were conspicuously absent. No reason was given for their absence.
This is the first time the Northern Senators Forum is holding a meeting in a long while and the Senate President Bukola Saraki was present. The meeting also had in attendance five state governors of Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto, Borno and Katsina. The Sultan of Sokoto led traditional rulers.
Giving the level of attendance, many assumed that the meeting, which for the first time coincidently held in the president’s state would nail the coffin with the endorsement of Buhari as their sole candidate.
The forum’s inability to reach a firm stand on some of the key thematic areas of their meeting, which include security, 2018 budget and restructuring debate, was one of the meeting’s weakest links.
At the opening session, the forum’s chairman Senator Abdullahi Adamu set the ball rolling by saying that the north was uncharacteristically silent about restructuring as if the other parts of the country were merely indulging in unproductive labour.
“We as senators, representing our people have not taken a stand on it either. Our colleagues from the other zones find our silence disturbing. It is as if we are sleeping on duty,” he said.
Adamu suggested that the three issues be rigorously examined, with informed stand taken on them. He also said it was unfair to ask President Muhammadu Buhari to implement former President Goodluck Jonathan’s conference report, which he (Buhari) was not privy to its underlying philosophy or primary objectives.
Sen Adamu said even President Jonathan who convened it did not believe in it.
He said those calling on Buhari to implement it as the surest way out for the restructuring debates are not aware of what the report entails, noting that the report is a fallacy borne out of ignorance and has nothing radical about it.
“Although it treats restructuring extensively, it actually fell back on the status quo. It is mealy-mouthed about fiscal federalism,” he said.
“At the conference, the clamour for state police was deafening yet what does the conference say about it?, it merely recommended what it calls second tier policing in the country with the modalities for implementation worked out between the centre and the constituents units of federations,” he added.
Adamu said, “We must also interrogate the legitimacy of the conference itself. Was it convened in accordance with the extant laws of the land? Was it intended to usurp the constitutional functions of the National Assembly?”
According to him, the senators must speak up with one voice so that the people they represent will have a sense of belonging, noting that aside making laws senators are leaders and the followership look up to them for guidance.
However, a look at the meetings communiqué showed that the senators reached no definite stand on restructuring. The Northern Senators just realigned themselves with the provision of the 1999 constitution that “the North they represent as a region is not afraid of any sensible and meaningful arrangement provided it guarantees justice, equity, fairness and the unity of all Nigerians irrespective of religion, region, age and sex.”
They said restructuring is just a term used by the political elites from the other region to intimidate the north and paint it as a weak link, parasitic and an unproductive region that brings nothing to the table.
“The idea of restructuring is ambiguous even to its proponents without clear terms and direction on how to go about it,” they said.
This reaffirms the stand of the leader of the Northern Delegates to the 2014 Constitutional Conference and chairman Arewa Consultative Forum, Ibrahim Coommassie, who in his paper at the 2014 Constitutional Conference ‘the political and security implication for the Northern Region’, said the three zones in the north went to the conference with no common stand on issues unlike their counterparts from other regions.
He suggested the need to fast-track efforts at unity through all NGOs fighting and struggling for the north and its people, saying the time has come for all Northerners to accommodate differences, bury grudges and misunderstandings, and work very hard for the interest of the people.
“We should not forget that the Niger Delta on the platform of self determination is bent on declaring their republic if they do not get 100 percent derivation from oil, the South West and Biafra are waiting on the wings, we should not be caught pants down,” he said.
Other issues raised include the need for the Northern states governors to work together to fashion out a Northern Agenda that will take care of all the various interests in the region as well as to mobilise all people of the North to develop the areas of comparative advantages to forestall any eventuality.
For the Senate President Bukola Saraki who is seen to be having a political squabble with the presidency, it was an opportunity to come clean at the ‘President’s Home’.
Saraki drew applause from the gathering when he acknowledged Katsina as the ‘home of power’. The Senate President’s statements were with caution since he was an umpire in the debate.
Restructuring for good or for ill, Saraki admits is the front burner issue in the polity presently. “I have intimated elsewhere that one problem with all the talk about restructuring is that the discussion is not being framed properly – and certain precepts are missing. I have said, and it is my firm conviction, that we must give precedence to the unity of Nigeria at all times, and put the interests of the country first. We must not be afraid to think outside the box. We must not be afraid of reform,” he said.
According to Saraki, while Nigeria seems to be in a dilemma over the agitation for restructuring, our situation is hardly unique, noting, “I am convinced that the only way we can fulfill this great responsibility is for us to see ourselves as Nigerians first. Beyond language, religion, region or whatever consideration – we must be Nigerians above all else. It is my hope that this retreat will infuse us with the spirit of compromise necessary to make the required leap. It is only fitting, seeing as our democracy revolves around this same spirit of compromise.
While admitting that the North has been on the receiving end of considerable vitriol in the course of some national debates, Saraki said, “We have had to endure some severe bashing from those who question what the North brings to the table, even going as far as to suggest that we are parasites on the body of the Nigerian nation. Let us see the vilification – undeserved though it may be – as a challenge to us as leaders to redouble our efforts, and strive to put in place far-sighted policies that will transform the region and silence the naysayers.”
Another important landmark for the meeting was the senators’ admittance to the fact that the prevalent ethno-religious crises bedevilling the region were mostly politically motivated in nature.
Senator Sahabi Abdullahi who read the retreat’s communiqué, said the crises have little or nothing to do with religion, adding that the traditional institution from the region and security outfits have a role to play in ensuring peaceful coexistence.
“The high level of unemployment and poverty led to increased insecurity, the 1999 constitution shall be amended to accommodate traditional institutions by prescribing specific roles and responsibilities for them,” he said.
While commending the efforts of security agencies in tackling insurgency, the forum said it is worried over the resurgence of violent attacks in the North East with daily reports of suicide bombings and other forms of attacks leading to loss of lives.
The senators may have met but the teething issues were only raised again without a firm stand taken. (Daily Trust)
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