(Being text of a press conference by Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum on June 10, 2018 in Abuja)
Gentlemen of the Press, we welcome you to this press conference holding in the midst of the euphoria generated by the recognition of June 12 as the Democracy Day and the honoring of the winner of the freest and fairest elections in the history of Nigeria .While we of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum welcome the decision to accord June 12 its rightful place in history, we hasten to say that the gesture would truly count when we begin to re-enact the true spirit of June 12 by holding free, fair and peaceful election as a norm and not accidental occurrence in our country. We salute all patriotic individuals and organizations who made tremendous sacrifices on the issue of June 12 over the years just as we pray for the repose of the souls of Bashorun MKO Abiola and all martyrs of June 12.Their sacrifices shall never be in vain.
Overheating of the polity
We are worried about the latest overheating of the polity as politics continues to overshadow governance in our country with its attendant national embarrassment as professionalism is fast becoming alien in many of our public institutions. The latest in the serial assaults on decency in public affairs is the audacious refusal of the police to submit to civil authority and the elastic tolerance of the growing impunity of its Inspector General. It is on record that the IGP has defied the authority of the President when he refused to relocate to Benue State to restore law and order. Since the President confessed that IGP ignored his directive, there has been no evidence of his compliance with the order and no sanction has been imposed on him for this. It is little wonder that the Nigerian police under him has become accumulated indication of a source of anarchy in the land. We are gradually rolling towards anarchy, as all sense of decency and order have been eroded. We have not forgotten how the police spokesman, taking a cue from his boss, declared a state governor “a drowning man” and how the IGP has flagrantly refused to honor the Nigeria’s Senate invitation to explain why the authority has not been able to stop killings going on across the country and bring killers to book.
While we recognize and defend the right of the police to investigate crimes and interrogate anyone linked to such no matter their status, we are miffed at the conduct of the police throwing professionalism overboard by conducting media trial of the Senate President and a sitting governor without having proper investigation of serious criminal allegations. The police make itself a butt of practical joke when it flip-flops making three different statements within 72 hours on one case. First, it summoned via media, next it withdrew the summons and ask for a written response within 48 hours, and then restates the summons all over again. No serious police behave like this anywhere in the world. The police itself admitted that investigations were pending and that it had not even presented the allegations to those they publicly announced were suspects linked to the act.
We have looked at the career record of this IGP and we have not seen any outstanding performance that would make Mr President to keep such a man in such an esteemed office beyond the fact that he was the Commissioner of Police in Kano in 2015 where controversial polls took place and the Resident Electoral Commissioner who would have been questioned if there were challenge to the results was found dead with his wife and two children in a mysterious inferno. The then Commissioner of Police ,who was promoted IGP within a year with over 30 Senior officers to him having their career abruptly terminated, explained away the deaths within a few hours without any serious investigation. Discipline has broken down under this IGP as we saw in a policeman who should be guarding a bank in Lagos getting recruited on illegal duty by a politician to Ekiti where he shot at people in a campaign rally
We have also noted the resolutions issued at the end of a joint executive session of both chambers of the National Assembly on the state of the nation calling on the president to take majors steps to stop the killings going on across Nigeria and protect the lives of our citizens. We believe that the presidency should even be more interested in this more than anyone else and we consider them patriotic demands on the presidency at a time the country’s neck is between the sword and the block .There is no patriot who would want the wanton killings that have become daily occurrence to continue unhinged.
This country was engaged in a civil war for three years and there were days when there were no deaths recorded. Now that there is no war declared, we are packing body bags on daily basis. This is why what is required at the moment is for the Presidency to quickly deal with the issues raised in the resolutions.
Another flashpoint of anarchy is the growing intolerance of government to patriots who express contrary views to the misdeeds of government with strong arm tactics. The harassments that came the way of Lt. Gen T.Y Danjuma after he exposed the collision of military personnel with killer herdsmen readily come to mind as a measure of the burgeoning culture of tyranny in the country. In a similar vein, our attention has also been drawn to allegation of attempt by the Federal Government to clamp former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in order to curtail his freedom, for holding contrary political views against President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. If this allegation is found to be true, it will amount to a throwback to the unfortunate days of the Military regime of late General Sani Abacha where persons who held and canvassed contrary political views were dealt with in a Gestapo manner. We urge the Federal Government not to embark on any action reminiscent of that dark era of military rule, as we are currently in democratic era, where contrary opinions must be tolerated.
We also view the recent insensitive and provocative decision of the Kaduna State Government to convert all chiefdoms in the state to Emirates as another potential source of anarchy if not quickly nipped in the bud. This attempt in internal colonialism is bound to lead to conflicts and acrimony and it should therefore be shelved immediately in the interest of peace and tranquility. We reject directive on anti-grazing law.
In one of the loudest encouragements given to killer Fulani herdsmen yet again in Abuja last Tuesday after a meeting of President Muhammadu Buhari with the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; Chief of Defense Staff, Abayomi Olonisakin and some defense chiefs, the Minister of Defense, Mansur Dan- Ali called for suspension of anti-grazing law in states where it has been passed and operational in some states, saying the suspension of the law would reduce the tension in states where herders clash with farmers. According to a statement released by Col. Tukur Gusau, his spokesman, Mansur Dan Ali, maintained that the suspension of the law would further help in negotiating a safe route for herdsmen and their livestock. He argued thus:“There is a need for the Nigeria police and Department of State Services to prosecute all the suspects arrested in the affected states while negotiating safe routes for the herders,” he said.
The Defense Minister has always defended and shielded the herdsmen against arrests and prosecution in what has become a cardinal program of this government and which has heightened the fear of conflict of interest between the constitutional role of the President to defend the lives of property of all Nigerians and his self-assigned duty of being the Grand Patron of Miyetti Allah. The shielding of Fulani killer-herdsmen remains the strongest flashpoint of invitation to chaos and anarchy in our country as people would not continue to fold their arms forever as they are being killed with government unwilling to lift a finger in their defense. It would be recalled that in January this year, the Minister of Defense blamed passage of the anti-grazing law in some states as the cause of killings by herdsmen. His latest statement is capable of being interpreted to mean that the herdsmen would not stop their killings until all states embrace once again the barbaric culture of open grazing of cows in this age and time.
We insist that under Federalism, the central government has no right to ask states to void laws validly made by the federating units. Any person or group that has any grouse with any such law can only proceed to the law court to seek redress. This is the imperative of the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria as the defective structure of the country is what the killers and their enablers rely on to make life unbearable for those who are vulnerable and unprotected, by a unitary state being deployed for the defense of parochial and primordial interest. This narrative purportedly in the interest of security is most illogical as Zamfara state for example without anti-grazing law has more official attacks and deaths than states with anti-grazing law. We hope this policy is not an attempt at territorial conquest.
It is our submission that the announcement by the Minister is an overreach and a further indictment of the Federal Government of aiding and abetting the terror being perpetrated against farmers by Fulani herdsmen in what has been mischievously tagged “farmers-herders clash”. It is very instructive to recall Mr. President’s statement some time ago when he said that killer herdsmen rampaging in Benue another were Gadaffi’s men from Libya. How come the defense minister is now asking our state to suspend their laws so that foreigners can continue the killing spree? We demand the immediate withdrawal of this obnoxious directive and for the Federal Government to stop the killings going on and promptly arrest those behind the killings so far for immediate prosecution. We once again ask for rejig of the security architecture of the country to reflect the diversities, sensitivities and sensibilities within the polity. The current situation where 16 out of the 17 Service Chiefs are from a section is not healthy for inclusivity in a multi-ethnic state. We demand the removal of INEC boss.
As we move towards the 2019 elections, there are accumulated indications that there are efforts to manipulate the result in forth coming election rig the elections which Nigerians must be vigilant to and thwart. Apart from keeping the current Service Chiefs who ought to have retired, retaining them in conjunction with the choice of INEC chairman is very suspicious an in tandem with the narrative that they are poised to play partisan roles in favour of the incumbent. We have fears that the Independent National Electoral Commission may not be able to deliver free and fair election as the bug of nepotism and sectionalism that this administration is renowned for has also eaten up the leadership of the commission. From 1960 till date only President Muhammadu Buhari has been audacious to pick only people who are either his relation or of the same ethnic stock with him to lead the Electoral a Body. The Balewa Government headed by a Northerner appointed Prof. Eyo Ita Esua from the South who was in charge of Federal Electoral Commission from 1960-66. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba man set up the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) under Micheal Ani (1976-1979). President Shehu Shagari from the North appointed Victor Ovie- Whiskey (1980-1983) from Bendel State as Electoral boss. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) under Gen Ibrahim Babanguda (1987-1993) had Eme Awa (1987-1989), Humphrey Nwosu (1989-1993), Okon E. Uya (June 1993- Nov. 191993), all from South as Chairmen. The National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NEC) under Gen Sani Abacha (1994-1998)had Chief Sumner Dagogo-Jack, from South-South, as Chairman .The Independent National Electoral Commission under General Abubakar Abdusalami from the North West had Justice Ephraim Akpata (1998- Jan. 2000) from South -South as Chairman. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the South West appointed Abel Guobadia from South -South (2000-2005) and Prof Maurice Iwu (2005- April 28, 2010). When Dr Goodluck Jonathan came in from South-South, he appointed Prof Attahiru Jega from North West (June 2010- October 2015).It is only President Muhammadu Buhari who first appointed his relation from the North West, Mrs Amina Zakari as Acting Chairman when he became President in 2015 before he appointed Prof Mahmood Yakubu from North East, as Substantive chairman. The relationship between the powerful Amina Zakari and the INEC chairman is so strong that it has the tendency to influence the outcome of election in favour of the incumbent.
Our fear that the current INEC chairman may not be able to discharge his functions impartially because of hailing from the same region as the President is not unfounded .Only recently we saw the scandal of underage voters during the Local Government elections held in the North West state of Kano, a replay of the 2015 elections abnormally in large number. Responding to the public outcry of the saga, as INEC is the only body that registers voters, the INEC Chairman set up a committee to look into this gross violation of our law which stipulates that only citizens 18 years and above can be registered to vote. As we address this press conference, the Chairman of INEC has refused to release the report of the committee. We therefore strongly demand the replacement of the INEC chairman with a man/woman of integrity from another zone in order to restore public confidence in the electoral body as it prepares for the 2019 elections.
Leah Sharibu and the Chibok girls
We must express our fear and anxiety about the continuing holding of Leah Sharibu, one of the abducted Dapchi girls who remains in the captivity of Boko Haram. We recall that the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed told the country that there were negotiations between the government and Boko Haram that led to the release of the other girls. We challenge the Federal Government to release the contents of the negotiations and explain to us why Leah was negotiated out. We demand the immediate release of Leah and the remaining Chibok girls still in the custody of Boko Haram.
Chief E K Clark
Chief Ayo Adebanjo
Chief John Nwodo.
Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (Rtd)