An EXCLUSIVE interview by The Punch with the Spokesperson for the Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman.
The Coalition of Northern Groups in a lawsuit before a Federal High Court in Abuja asked that the people of the South-East be allowed to secede, what are the details of this suit and what stage is it?
We need to make a slight clarification here. We never asked the court to allow the Igbo to break away. Essentially, we approached the Federal High Court in Abuja to seek an order for the National Assembly to suspend the constitution review and provide a framework for the conduct of a referendum to determine the fate of Biafra and other self-determination agitations and to determine what constitutes Nigeria’s territory and who populates it. The suit, filed by the CNG and its leaders, Nastura Ashir Shariff, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, Balarabe Rufa’i and Aminu Adam, joined the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami; the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and the National Assembly as defendants.
What are the issues for determination?
One of the issues for determination in the substantive suit has to do with the legal obligation of the 2nd to 4th defendants/respondents to provide a framework that will pave the way for the self-determination of the south-eastern states and any other enclave that wants to go so as to leave the geographical entity called Nigeria before any further step is taken to review the constitution. We have already filed our originating summons; it contains our arguments and our points of view. In the wisdom of the court, we believe if it (court) listens to the provisions of the African Charter, particularly Article 20, which provides the right to self-determination, and Nigeria being a signatory to that charter, having ratified provisions of the charter under our laws by the National Assembly, it becomes law, also operative in Nigeria by the member states. We came by way of motion on notice; we decided it does not become ex parte, because we want all parties to respond to the motion on notice seeking injunction to restrain the National Assembly from taking further steps with respect to the issue of constitution amendment. The argument is simple; some people are saying they are not interested in the country and you are amending the constitution to create states in areas that are trying to say ‘we are not interested in the union’. So, we felt the right thing to do was to ask the National Assembly to stop the constitution amendment to address this issue in the overriding interest of the country. The issue of self-determination is not an issue of opinion; it’s the general view of the people concerned. Everyone is a stakeholder, most especially in the enclaves that are interested in self-determination and having their own country. Every adult has a right to vote on where their opinion lies because we keep having counter-arguments. Some are saying ‘we want to go’, some are saying ‘we want the presidency’ and some are saying ‘we want to stay’. The best way to get a general view on the matter is to allow people to express their right under the law.
What informed your decision as a group to institute this suit?
As bona fide citizens of Nigeria, we have the right to approach the court to seek redress or interpretation of any matter that concerns us as individuals or potentially affects the well-being of our country. Significantly, we have taken stock of events unfolding in Nigeria since 2016, noting especially the unrelenting disturbances created by certain interest groups in the South-East in the form of the agitation for a separate State of Biafra which eventually turned violent. The agitation was ignited and incessantly fanned into a raging fire by the Indigenous People of Biafra and other authors of mindless violence and separatism who see it as their duty to actualise what their fathers started in 1966, namely to bring about the realisation of a separate State of Biafra through the force of arms and terrorist tactics. As representatives of the various interest groups from northern Nigeria and in the best tradition of the cultured north, we watched and studied these events carefully, with considerable restraint and maturity to the point of condoning and accommodating several unreasonable and unacceptable actions that have been perpetrated against Nigerians collectively, northerners in particular.
From your assessment of the way Nigeria is governed, would you say the country is truly democratic?
What we are running is indeed a democratic system of government run by undemocratic people. But it is democracy, and with commitments we can make it work.
We have had the regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), for almost six years, how would you rate his performance?
It is a failed administration in all respects especially in the vital area of providing security for lives and property of citizens. Every other thing is secondary.
The Senate recently approved a fresh set of loans of $16bn for the Buhari regime amid rising debts and increasing poverty. What is your take on this?
It is part of what we have consistently referred to as failure of leadership if you look at it in the context of other fundamental questions that have pushed the Nigerian nation to the merging of decadence, decay, irrelevance and inconsequence. What the administration is doing is enslaving the coming generation of Nigerians in the bondage of intolerable debt. It is time to go beyond rhetoric and rise to challenge this and other inadequate, ineffective and unfocused policies of this administration.
There have been many talks on which region should produce the President come 2023. Some have said the presidency should come to the South. Do you agree with that position?
The CNG has, after due consultation with stakeholders, leaders and elders categorically aligned completely with the position taken by the Northern Elders Forum as expressed by Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed and that of the Northern States Governors’ Forum that zoning of elective positions is unconstitutional, undemocratic and must be jettisoned. We find the renewed desperation by the South to threaten the northern people’s right to franchise as a deliberate attempt to bastardise democracy, cause greater instability in the guise of contentious undemocratic power shift arrangement. This is unacceptable. Although some northern governors and a bankrupt section of the region’s elite may be disposed to endorsing power shift to the South, the CNG and a vast majority of the cultured North collectively fault such calls.
You said in a recent report that the North would reject any aged, weak candidate as it had learnt its lessons. Do you think Nigerians are about to get their first youth president after a long time?
That certainly is what we hope to see and it is what we are fervently working for. It is time the class of elite that has monopolised the available activities in the country since independence was retired to make room for fresh, productive, dynamic participation.
Do you think Nigeria needs a third force or the two major political parties might remain at the forefront for long?
This too may not be necessary if the new force will in the end be taken over by the same set of unfocused and self-serving political actors who think power is an end in itself. What is required is a complete paradigm shift.
The Federal Government said it was considering an out-of-court solution to the issue of Value Added Tax. Do you think this is a welcome development?
The VAT controversy, as far as we are concerned, is unnecessary and diversionary in the first place. But at the moment, it would be subjudice for us to further comment on it since it is pending in court. However, a country that is neck deep in debt should reasonably be thinking of better ways of economic recovery and wealth sharing than engage in fights over interpretation of which organ should control VAT.
Many have referred to the Buhari regime as a northern regime, especially since he approved the rehabilitation of 14 roads in the North as against seven in the entire South in 2022. What is your take on this?
This cannot be correct. Everyone knows that Buhari was not the candidate for the North in 2015. He was packaged by southern political forces right from the APC contraption to his victory at the primaries. When he was presented by the South as the only alternative to Jonathan, the North, which was groaning under the burden of Boko Haram’s bombs and bullets at that time, was left with no option. We all can testify that the North has been the major casualty of the policies of Buhari’s administration while the South is the major beneficiary. As far as the North is concerned, Buhari was not the candidate for the North but an arrangement made by the South to suit certain interests.
The Buhari regime has also seen the appointment of northerners into critical national positions, don’t you think this may be the reason why the rest of the country feels this way about the regime’s perceived bias for the region?
This cannot be a yardstick for judging a people’s development or prosperity. If that is the case with all the propaganda about the lopsidedness in Buhari’s appointments into key security positions, why is the North facing the severest security situation than all the other regions? Being a northerner in office does not translate to preference in terms of service delivery. For all the North cares, these positions could as well be occupied by any other person from anywhere but the North.
There have been issues of herders-farmers’ crisis especially in the South-East and South-West and this has made some southern lawmakers to promulgate anti-open grazing laws. What do you think about these laws?
There may not be anything wrong with the laws, including this one. The problem is the motivating force and enforcement. So long as in the implementation of the anti-open grazing law, the southern enforcers would recognise the marked difference between cattle herding as a profession and crimes committed in the name of that profession, there would not be any need for quarrel. But it will not be acceptable to profile an entire ethnic group irrespective of whether its members are part of a crime or not. The fact is that not all Fulani are herders and not all herders are Fulani.
What is the position of your group on the resistance by some southern chieftains to include Bauchi, Ogun and Lagos states where oil was recently discovered to in NDDC member states?
This too is part of the reasons why we are pushing for a referendum to determine the possibility of an enduring, united Nigeria. If for more than 60 years, we cannot see opportunities and problems from the prism of one Nigeria, the union is certainly ripe for renegotiation no matter what others think about it.
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