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South reaffirms claim to presidency in 2007
    • Denies link to alleged third term plot
      By Kodilinye Obiagwu and Clifford Ndujihe

      STRIDENT opposition in the North notwithstanding, the leaders of Nigeria's southern geo-political bloc yesterday reaffirmed their resolve not to yield grounds on their claim to the presidency in 2007.

      The office, as affirmed recently at the Southern Leaders' Conference in Enugu State, should be occupied by a Nigerian from either the South-South or the South-East, they added.

      The chairman of the Southern Forum, the name adopted by the leaders at the Enugu meeting, Chief Matthew Mbu, yesterday said that the resolutions of the group were the basic minimum requirement for fairness in the country.

      Mbu, a former foreign affairs minister, at a press briefing yesterday in Lagos, also dismissed insinuation that the group was a part of an alleged plot to extend President Olusegun Obasanjo's tenure.

      Mbu said that it was pure conjecture for the forum to be linked to the speculations of the third term, which he claimed is even still hypothetical.

      He noted that there was nothing in the works to suggest that the constitution would be amended to support a third term agenda just as no one in the group is working for the President.

      Mbu said: "Our demand for the presidency to remain in the South-East or South-South is based on equity, fairness and justice."

      He noted that Southern leaders had met at three separate meetings in Owerri, Lagos before that of Enugu State, where they unanimously agreed that the presidency should go to either of the two zones in 2007.

      Northern leaders have consistently argued that the office of president should go back to their zone after Obasanjo, since a southerner would have occupied it for eight years by 2007.

      But the Southern Forum in Enugu argued that northerners had held the office for 35 out of Nigeria's 45 years. Mbu, however, said that the decision to boycott future elections was not conclusive.

      Cautioning against undue worry, he asked: "Suppose that the constitution is reviewed in a manner that it should be, do we have a reason again to boycott any election? No."

      He noted that the forum was aware of the dangers of boycotting elections, but it would consider the option if "what we have put forward is not considered."

      Mbu announced that the forum would soon inaugurate a working committee to give effect to the decisions it took three weeks ago in Enugu State.

      The decisions are that the South-East or South-South should produce the president in 2007, the constitution must be reviewed to ease the way for true federalism and the revenue allocation formula emphasis on derivation.

      Other decisions are the inclusion of ethnicity and religions in the data for the census and the creation of an additional state in the South-East.

      The conference had decided that if other zones refused to let the South-South or South-East to produce the next president, the entire South, including the West, would boycott future elections or opt for a confederacy.

      On how the forum believed that it could address the issues, which could not be resolved at the National Political Reforms Conference, Mbu said that it was arguable if the work done at the confab was in futility or not.

      He said: "I would reserve the judgment to posterity. We did our level was a worthwhile exercise. We have sent our report and recommendations to the Presidency. I understand the President has forwarded the request to the National Assembly. It is now up to the National Assembly to give effect to our recommendations; accept some and reject some or reject them in totality."

      Mbu added: "There are over 110 items listed for consideration... we cannot anticipate what they will finally come out with."

      On the anticipation of difficulties for the South-East and the South-South to produce a common presidential candidate, Dr. Dejo Raimi, the secretary general of the forum, allayed fears.

      He said: "The South-West had already asked to be left out of the race, let the South-East and South-South bring out one presidential candidate and we shall support him. With that kind of maturity, which nobody has ever exhibited before, I can assure you that if you give the two zones one week, we will come out with a candidate."

      On a live television programme in Lagos yesterday, Mbu also said that it would not be difficult for the southern zones to agree on a consensus presidential candidate. Mbu, who is also chairman of the Board of Trustees of the South-South Peoples Assembly (SSPA), said the leaders of the South-East and South-South zones had reached an agreement to produce a credible presidential candidate.

      "For proper sense of belonging in the country, if the agreement was reached, it should be reviewed to accommodate our fair and just demand. It is not fair that a region that produces the bulk of the resources that sustain the nation has not had a chance to rule," he said.

      On next week's National Assembly public hearing on amendment of the constitution, he said: "We should not work against the constitutional amendment because of third term," which he described as a conjecture.

      "If we don't carry out constitutional reform, we cannot move forward. The National Assembly has a duty to carry out the amendment. Let us wait and see what they will do; we will cross the bridge when we get there. We need to carry out basic reforms to move the nation forward," he explained.

      On the issue of resource control, Mbu said: "Let us go back to the 1963 Republican Constitution that enshrines 50 per cent derivation to the regions and 50 per cent to the centre. In a true federation, the states have a fair control on the affairs of the nation."

      On the census, Mbu said: "It is important because it has to do with national planning. Demography is important. Population distribution of the world tends to be heavy in areas of heavy rainfall and forest and less in arid regions. In Nigeria, the reverse is the case."


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