As eminent citizens converged in Minna, Niger State yesterday to proffer solutions to national issues, including insecurity, southern and Middle Belt leaders kept their vow not to attend the parley called by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd).
On Sunday, the leaders, under the aegis of Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), disclosed that they had bought air tickets and concluded arrangements to travel by air to Minna. However, they said they were compelled to reject participation in the peace talks in a last-minute decision when they discovered the inclusion of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) among those invited.
The leaders expressed displeasure at the inclusion of MACBAN, which they considered a mere trade association for cattle herders and whose members have been accused of various violations of human rights, including the right to life, across the country.
In a statement, leaders of the SMBLF, Chief Edwin Clark of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF); Chief Ayo Adebanjo of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; Chief John Nwodo of the Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo; and Dr. Pogu Bitrus of the Middle Belt Forum also considered sitting with the cattle breeders as a grave insult to their bodies and coming to a roundtable with the group would mean acquiescence to the narrative that put them in the same bracket with those wielding illegal AK-47 all over the country and inflicting terror on fellow citizens. They promised to participate in the talks if Gen. Abubakar would agree to remove MACBAN from the list of participants.
However, two former Chiefs of Defence Staff, Generals Alani Akinrinade and Martin Agwai were among top military officers who were in Minna yesterday to brainstorm on the lingering insecurity and other challenges bedevilling the country. The two-day roundtable put together by the Abdulsalam Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development was also attended by retired Generals Ishola Williams, I.B.M Haruna and Haliru Akilu.
Other eminent citizens present included former Minister of External Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi; former Nigeria’s Permanent Representatives to the United Nation, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari; Prof. Awalu Yadudu; Prof. Ango Abdullahi; Ambassador Yahaya Kwande; former Military Governor of Rivers State, who is also the Amanayanbo of Twon Brass in Bayelsa State, Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, and the Emir of Minna, Alhaji Umar Farouq Bahago.
Gen. Abubakar, the convener, in his opening speech, said the roundtable was the centre’s contribution to the search for solutions to issues and matters around coexistence and security in the country. He said that the country was going through a period of trial amidst growing tension and resentment all over the country. “There is anger in the land and the voices of reason are drowning very rapidly,” he noted. The former head of state said the situation required that the elders who the nation attaches so much value to must stop it from total collapse.
“We are all here as Nigerians who share responsibility for the state of our nation. Therefore, if any forum can help in accurate identification of the problems and solution for a united and peaceful Nigeria, let us be counted as a veritable one,” he said. He said the participants were carefully selected, adding that everyone invited was eminently qualified and represents interests and perspectives of the nature of the issues as well as the solutions needed to resolve them.
In an interview with journalists on the sidelines of the roundtable, Gambari averred that there was the need for the review of the approach in the fight against insecurity, pointing out that there could hardly be a military solution to the menace in the magnitude Nigeria is currently experiencing it. He advocated dialogue to solving the problem. “Dialogue should not be seen as a soft measure but a tough option. Peacebuilding has to be hand-in-hand with conflict resolution,” he explained.
Gambari said there was the urgent need to focus on the peculiarities that unite all the segments of the country, rather than those that divide them. He urged those advocating the Balkanisation of the country to learn from the India and Pakistan experience. Agwai spoke in the same vein, saying from his experience in the peacekeeping operations in Sierra Leone and Darfur, the military only created the enabling environment for dialogue to take place. “I have seen from both sides and I can tell you that the military cannot solely solve the problem, especially that it is political. What we did in Sierra Leone was to bring everybody to the table before disarmament could take place,” he said.
To Akinyemi, the solutions to the current insecurity could be found in the recommendations of the 2014 national conference report. He urged President Muhammadu Buhari to take a holistic look at the document. Meanwhile, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Fouad Oki, has expressed support for the refusal by the SMBLF members to attend the meeting but disagreed with the reasons adduced for not going.
“If I am in the same shoes as the forum, I wouldn’t have attended such a meeting on the condition that whatever would be discussed in such a gathering cannot influence anything in the country since it could only be passed to the Federal Government in the form of suggestion or advice and nothing more.”
Oki also queried the capacity in which Gen. Abubakar summoned the meeting: “As for me, I will not attend because I do not know in what capacity the former head of state is summoning a roundtable to which the Federal Government or any of the state governments is privy. I could not see any serving security officer at the event.
“Another point is that Nigerians are gradually losing confidence in some of our leaders, including most of the retired generals we have around. Do I expect those leaders to go and sit for another jamboree? I don’t think so.”However, a source who did not want his name mentioned, said it would have been better if the forum had attended the meeting at least to hear from the cattle breeders.