Says ‘you can’t blackmail Buhari out of power’
•Asks them to wait for 2023 polls to test their popularity

From the Presidency came, yesterday, a stern warning to secession agitators to cease fire and wait for the 2023 polls to test their popularity or the acceptance of their agitation.

Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, said on Channels Television that opposition elements were out to blackmail the federal government by trying to exploit the security challenges across the country.

But he vowed that government would not succumb to such antics.

Chieftain of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who also featured on the programme, Sunrise Daily, dismissed Shehu’s view which he said was a clear indication that government has run out of ideas on how to tackle the problem of insecurity in the country.

Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi said at a separate forum that while concerns in certain quarters about the future of Nigeria were legitimate, the contentious issues were transient and could be resolved through active engagement of all stakeholders.

His Interior counterpart, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, told agitators of balkanization to desist, saying their mission is costlier than they think.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) said it was wrong of government to regard every complaint about the way Nigeria is being governed as a means of blackmailing it.

The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) called for a referendum to determine the wish of the generality of Nigerians about the future of the country.

Garba Shehu described secession agitators as charlatans on the payroll of some people to bully the government in the hope that the ministration would bulk.

But he said the Buhari government would not be stampeded out of office.

He said the agitators should, instead, wait for the 2023 polls to test their own popularity and the acceptance of their agitations by the majority of Nigerians.

His words: “I want to assure Nigerians that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is addressing multiple challenges that are facing the country especially in dealing with security and yet we are still making progress in agriculture, economy, anti-corruption.

“It is sad for the country that opposition is exploiting some of these things. It is quite unfortunate and I want to assure that the President remains focused in preserving the security and unity of this country.

“We accept that dissent is allowed. This is a democracy and people have a right to tell truth to government. But we must be careful in doing that.

“Nobody can bring down the government because this is a government elected democratically.

“Government in a democracy comes through periodic elections and if we have a government in office as we have, sponsored by political parties to win the elections, it is telling you that that confidence of the public is still there.

“People with strong ambitions, wait till four years, in fact, in our case, two more years to go to election and President Buhari will not be a candidate in that election.”

Garba Shehu said “nobody can bring down the government because this is a government elected democratically.”

He spoke against the background of recent agitations for sovereignty in the South West and the South East.

The Presidential spokesman also said the Aso Rock Villa was embarrassed by the mass abductions of students in the country.

Presidency has run out of ideas – NEF

Spokesman of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who featured on the same programme, said Garba Shehu’s comment was a clear indication that the Presidency has run out of ideas on how to secure the country.

“Listening to Garba, to be honest, I just think that the Presidency has run out of ideas,” he said.

He added: “Hearing him speak in this manner, I’m more depressed than I was when I came into this studio. This is how the spokesperson of the president will respond; just telling people arrests are being made?

“We don’t see anybody being arrested. If they are arrested, why are they not being prosecuted? Yes, he’s right, banditry and kidnapping has become an industry.

“When they’re confronted with a very serious challenge, they go around looking for all sorts of diversions and excuses. Nigerians don’t want to hear any of this. We want a stop to the kidnappings.”

Baba-Ahmed said kidnapping has become a big industry, saying: “This thing has grown into a big industry right under the nose of the president. There’s no way you can deflect attention from this

“How do you explain the grown sophistication of the criminals in this country?

“We can’t have a president that is just sitting there and then blaming everybody else for the woes of the country. That is not what we elected him for.

“If every time Nigerians complain about being marginalised, we (presidency) don’t want to hear this and you dismiss it as this is just the opposition, then these problems will grow, because even if it is the opposition, it is your job to deal with the opposition.

“Ascribing problems to the opposition doesn’t solve them, because it is the job of the opposition to make you look bad, it’s your job to make the opposition less effective in making you look bad.

“If the only response of the presidency is that every criticism, every complaint, every grievance that the people say the government is not working, we don’t see the result of work, and you say that is just talk, then clearly you are not dealing with the problem.”

“This is a country that is facing unprecedented levels of insecurity from all angles and we don’t see any sign that they are doing anything different from what they have done in the last 3, 4, or 5 years. You cannot keep doing the same thing and expect to get different results.

“Please do something about how insecure we are. Every single day, our lives are getting worse. We cannot wait for the President to get round to fixing things. He was supposed to hit the ground running from day one and he hasn’t, and consequently, things are just getting worse.”

Concerns about Nigeria’s future are legitimate but… —Amaechi

Nigeria’s future was also the focus of the 34th Convocation Lecture of the University of Calabar which was delivered yesterday by Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi.

Speaking on ‘Beyond our Imperfect Union: The National Question and Nigeria’s Future’, the minister said concerns about the future of Nigeria are legitimate, but stressed that the difficulties are transient and can be resolved through active engagement of all stakeholders.

The concerns “are indications of great patriotism and love,” he said.

He said: “We all treasure this country and are anxious that it transforms into a better place for all of us. This overwhelming wish for a better Nigeria far outweighs the doomsday predictions of a few pessimists.”

He was of the view that the destiny of Nigeria “can only be best actualised in the context of one indivisible and united nation.”

He said: “What is required is for us to continue to work towards a nation in which the doors of opportunity are open to all our citizens irrespective of ethnicity, creed, class or circumstance.

“I agree with those patriotic voices who have cautioned that we need to do everything to arrest the general drift towards un-governability and state failure.

“Nigeria should not queue up behind nations that have allowed these nascent forces to threaten their very existence or overwhelm them. We should instead face up to the challenges with maximum will.

“It is in this context that we need to appreciate the valiant efforts being made by the Buhari administration to ensure our national survival through the restoration of security, rehabilitation and expansion of national infrastructure and the alleviation of desperate poverty.

“In times of desperate social and economic challenges, identity politics resurfaces in ferocious ways. This is why we now have these calls for restructuring backed by increasingly militant regional and ethnic nationalism.

“The rhetoric of anger usually drips of hate and divisiveness. The politics of desperation plays up ethnic, regional, religious and other primordial instincts to advance its cause. This, in my view, is the background to the current wave of insecurity, hate rhetoric and divisive politicking in the nation.”

On the way out, he said: “We need to quickly replace the politics of impressions and personalities with the politics of issues and ideas.

“We must seek common ground on broad national issues on a bipartisan basis, not on the basis of personalities or geo political zones, tribes or factions.

“The common ground must be based on a dispassionate grasp of national problems: how do we educate our children, heal the sick, give hope to those in despair, provide succor to the needy and find work for the unemployed?

“How do we build infrastructure that will quickly transform and modernise our economy for the good of all Nigerians?

“Above all else, we must give justice to all our citizens who seek justice and feel left out in a land they call home. We must give meaning to democracy so that every Nigerian can find a place and a voice in a land of free men and women.

“We must deploy our diversity to increase our strength. We must make our streets and highways, and now forests and farmlands, safe again for all Nigerians to fulfill their individual dreams of a good life so that, together, we can actualise the manifest destiny of this blessed land.”

Aregbesola: Balkanization more expensive than agitators think

The agitation for sovereignty in some parts of the country was similarly discussed by Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola at an event in Ibadan yesterday.

Aregbesola said balkanizing Nigeria is an expensive venture; more expensive than its agitators think.

He spoke at his investiture as the grand patron of the Southwest Zone of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Ibadan.

The former governor of Osun State said the energy being expended on agitation for separation, should be used to build strength, progress and development of the country.

His words: “The call for separation is expensive and can be disruptive. It takes a great toll on development.

“The creative energy and scarce resources of the people calling for separation are dissipated in what may turn out to be a fruitless effort. Some of the agitations have been going on for centuries and they are not closer to it than they were at the beginning.

“Besides, those who take the precipitate action of resorting to armed conflict often plunged their land and people to ruin from which there may not be an exit option.

“Nations are often locked in civil wars of mutually assured destruction in which peradventure one side wins, the victory will turn to ashes because the cost of victory is the loss of everything that was fought for.

“Wars can also be so devastating that when it ends, the people are set back by not less than a hundred years. Worse still, as it is well established in the revolutionary literature, revolution often consumes her own children. Those who engineered popular uprising may be consumed by it.”

He admitted that Nigeria’s current political configuration holds down the country and called for the adjustment of “our structure, both politically and economically.”

“Nigeria needs to ensure maximum exploration and use of the resources by the constituent parts of the Federation with a view to encouraging healthy competition and broadening the space for mass participation in wealth creation.

“Nigerians need to create a Nigeria where individuals can find fulfillment in life, even as they tread the narrow path of honesty, hard work and sincerity.

“They need to create a nation where justice reigns and no man is oppressed, where merit can elevate to the top and the content of a man’s or woman’s character is enough guarantee of enjoying the benefits of a prosperous federal society.”

You can’t break Nigeria without war, ACF warns

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said the consequences of the agitation for separation are quite enormous.

The ACF said Nigeria has experienced war before and does not want a repeat of the bloodshed.

National Publicity of the group, Emmanuel Yawe, told The Nation by phone that it was in the best interest of every component part of the country to stick together.

He said: “Nigeria is a free country and everyone is entitled to his opinion. We at ACF don’t believe in secession and we don’t want to engage in argument with those who believe in secession; there is no meeting point, we believe in one Nigeria. They don’t, so how can we engage them?

“We don’t want secession, they want it, so let them go ahead with it. But, I don’t know how they want to achieve it. What we know is that the way Nigeria is, it is very difficult to break away without a war and we don’t want war.

“Because we know it is going to be a messy affair dividing Nigeria, it is going to lead to bloodshed, we don’t want it.

“We have experienced war before, we don’t want it again. The suffering, the human waste, the material waste are not out desire.

“So, we don’t want secession and we don’t want to argue with people who want to break up the country. We want the country to remain as one,” he said,

Contrary to the Presidency’s argument that secessionists should wait till 2023 and test their popularity, ACF spokesman said the Forum does not agree with such position.

The ACF spokesman said: “No, we will not agree with anybody who wants to divide Nigeria. We don’t even want to have a political argument with people who want to divide Nigeria.

“If they are to address a rally if they stand election, our members will not want to be there because we believe their message is toxic. They should go away with their message.

“We don’t want to listen to people who want to break up this country because we have seen the consequences of an attempt to break up this country and we don’t want that to repeat itself.”

On the allegation that the secession agitators were sponsored to bully the President out of office, the ACF Publicity Secretary said: “We don’t know anything about it. Buhari’s government has so many critics; people criticize him for different things and different reasons. They have their reasons for criticising him.

“I’m not sure it is only the people calling for secession that are criticising him. Some people criticise him for his economic plan, some criticise him for his appointments, some criticise him for his security records and all of that, and everybody criticizes for different reasons. So, we don’t see criticising him as blackmailing him. Even ACF criticizes him and we have our own reasons for doing so.

No government is perfect. Therefore, if you are in government and you see people who are criticising you as blackmailing you, it is unfortunate.”

It is not only agitators that are complaining, says Olajide, YCE scribe

Similar sentiments were expressed by the Secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr.Kunle Olajide.

He told The Nation that it is not only Nigerian youths that are complaining about the government.

“Many Nigerians are disappointed with the situation of things,” he said.

“I think what the federal government should do is to simply listen to the complaints and agitations and address them.

“The youths are worried that their future is no longer secured. The state of insecurity is of serious concern to everyone, young and old.

“The current agitation is a confirmation of the severe polarization of the polity. And the current constitution and government are to blame. That is why we are requesting a people’s constitution.

“While we appreciate the difficulties of the youth. We as elders will like to tell them to still be circumspect in their anger. The young ones are angry because they think their future is at stake. We feel their pain. The situation in the country today is saddening. Nigeria can be made to work, but only by a leadership that is just and fair.

That is not what we have now. But (South West activist Sunday) Igboho and others must not agitate outside the provisions of the laws of the land. Whatever they are doing, it must be within the ambit of the rule of law. We recognize the rights to agitate but it must be with caution and realization that we are still governed by a set of rules.”

Let’s have referendum —IPOB, MASSOB

The proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) said Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder and called for a referendum to determine the wish of the majority of the people on the future of the country.

IPOB described Garba Shehu’s statement as garbage.

Its spokesman Emma Powerful said: “Garba Shehu, the presidency spokesperson, must understand that he can keep his Nigeria till 2023 because the IPOB family members across the globe have decided that they cannot stay in Nigeria again.”

He reiterated the groups’ call for a referendum or plebiscite to “determine the fate of people in Nigeria whether they like Nigeria to remain one or not.”

Leader of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign state of Biafra (MASSOB), Uchenna Madu, said there was nothing to show that government was prepared to salvage the country.

He said government’s ‘pact with some southern political leaders’ will never be achieved.”

Govt’s spokesmen triggering more tension, confusion – Arewa Youth leader Shetima Yerima

Chairman of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Comrade Shettima Yerima, described the agitation for secession as an act of cowardice while expressing concern about what he described as provocative comments by minders of the government.

He said: “I am a pan Nigeria and I strongly believe in this country. Despite the ups and downs, I am one of those who are optimistic that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

“I do not share the view of those who feel, at some point, that they are marginalised or that things are not right that secession is the answer.

“However, those are challenges that naturally could have happened to any other place. But I am of the view that it is an act of cowardice for anybody to think that the best they can do is to break away from the country.

“Those managing the affairs of the government as regards to their spokesmen, go far to triggering more tension and confusion in the country. Some of them must be mindful that this is a country and nothing is impossible.

“That somebody feels that he is being marginalized does mean he should be incited to continue doing what it’s the best for him. Let us continue to be diplomatic in the ways we are handling issues because already the country is sitting on a keg of gunpowder.”

Shettima called for collaboration against forces bent on seeing that country disintegrates.

He said: “On one hand we have foreign forces working to make sure the country disintegrates. Internally they have their collaborators. All hands must be on the deck and see how we can save the country. It is only when there is a country you can think of ruling but when there is no country, nobody would govern anybody and there would be anarchy.

“Once there is anarchy anybody can be a victim. Let us be mindful of our utterances pro or against. This is time for total sober reflection. Yes, the country is sick but let us find a way to diagnose the problem of the country and find a lasting solution that would make all of us go back home with joy and sleep with our two eyes closed.

“The secessionist should have a rethink. Some of them don’t understand what it takes and ignorantly doing it as if it is a joke.”

The Nation