Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari and the Senate President, Olusola Saraki, yesterday disagreed over the issue of restructuring of the polity.
While Masari argued that north was not scared of restructuring of the country, Saraki called for economic empowerment of the region.
“We are not afraid of restructuring. I am not afraid of it and we should not be afraid of it. We are not poor in the north; what we have is a challenge of leadership and we should not allow anybody to look down on us,” Masari declared.
On his part, the senate president described the ongoing national discourse on restructuring as triviality in the face of overwhelming socio-economic problems plaguing the country along with endemic poverty, especially in the north.
Saraki who argued that an economically strong and vibrant north is better placed to negotiate on restructuring, charged northern leaders to first tackle the ravaging poverty and insecurity in the region before talking of restructuring.
They both spoke at the opening ceremony of a two-day retreat of the Northern Senators Forum in Katsina.
The issue of restructuring, according to Masari, is being interpreted on what each person wants.
“When the issue came up in Katsina, we invited our leaders and elders and we set up a committee. The committee went to the three senatorial zones in the state and also visited Abuja, Kaduna and Kano to seek the input of Katsina indigenes resident in those places.
“We are going to make the report available to the Northern Senators Forum and the National Assembly, through our representatives.
“We believe that there should be devolution of powers without weakening the powers of the Federal Government. We believe that our problem is not the creation of more states or local governments because by so doing, we are not addressing the fundamental issues.
“The amalgamation of Nigeria took place in 1914. At independence, we had three regions. There was additional Mid-West region and under Gowon we had 12 states.
“Under Murtala Mohammed, we had 19 states and under Gen. Ibrahim Babangida we had 21 and later 30 states. Under Abacha, we had additional six. So, we have 36 states including the FCT and 774 local government areas and we are still asking for more.
“So, the issue is not the creation of states. The issue is not about the creation of additional local government areas. The issue is about addressing the fundamental issues of the needs of the people.
“For example, how do we unify the salary of a councillor in Katsina State with that of the councillor from Lagos State or Rivers State? That cannot be possible when our earnings are different. Restructuring is not about proliferation of states but about addressing the fundamental issues. In the north, we are backward in education because we have not addressed the fundamental issues. Even if you have 1,000 states and one million local government areas, they will not address the fundamental issues facing our country.
“If you see poverty in Nigeria, it wears a northern face and unfortunately, even in the northern states, it is more in the North-West. Why? It is because we have failed to address the fundamental issues…
“Unless we address our peculiar issues, the issue of restructuring, which started in Nigeria since 1914, will not solve the problem. If it had not solved the problem, then what is the problem?
“Until the states and local governments are empowered through the Constitution, I think our problems will continue to be the same and the north will be the worse for it.
“As a governor, I have the same authority with the governors of Lagos and Kaduna states but I cannot do what they do because they have more resources than I have. As leaders, we have to change our priorities and operate within the means and resources available to our states.”
But Saraki, who lamented the reported tagging of the north as “parasitic” in relation to other parts of the country, insisted that the people of the north must go beyond the rhetoric of often repeated clichés and transform the area for the better.
“My idea of restructuring is when we work towards economic development in every part of the country, so that we can all take pride of place in the Nigerian project, and no region is seen as a weak link,” Saraki said.
“Few will disagree with me when I say, therefore, that a north that is economically strong and vibrant is better placed to negotiate on restructuring. We have had to endure some severe bashing from those who question what the north brings to the table, even going as far as to suggest that we are parasites on the body of the Nigerian nation.
“Let us see the vilification, undeserved though it may be, as a challenge to us as leaders to redouble our efforts, and strive to put in place far-sighted policies that will transform the region and silence the naysayers,” he noted.
“My own restructuring is when we oversee the budget process to ensure equitable spread of critical infrastructure in every corner of the country, so that no region is left out of the gains of economic recovery.
“My own restructuring is when we create jobs and enhance food production so our people do not go hungry.
“As we sit here today, we know that a number of challenges confront our region, one being the situation in the North East, on which a lot still needs to be done.
“It is with that eye on the future that I call our attention, once again, to the estimated 12 to 15 million children not currently in the education system – the highest number of out-of-school kids in the world.
“Nigeria’s ignominious distinction in this regard is not only regrettable, it is a weakness in the human assets of this country and poses a serious threat to national security.
“It is a stain on our collective conscience that such a huge demographic number is without education in the 21st century.
“We simply cannot abandon millions of Nigerian children to the trap of ignorance and poverty.
“It behooves us, therefore, to come up with policies that will lead to a significant decrease in the out-of-school population, and improve on the numbers as we go along.
“The crisis in education also manifests itself at tertiary level. We need to change the game, to empower our people to compete on equal terms with the rest of the country, and the world.
“My own restructuring is when we educate our children so that they can realise their full potential and partake in the promise of the future. This is a time for courageous leadership, strong enough to change the narrative of Northern Nigeria.”
Earlier in his welcome address, Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, equally decried the poverty level in the north when compared with other parts of the country as well as the Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east.
As Adamu put it, “poverty sits rather pretty in the north and this is unacceptable.
“We have been contending with the murderous Boko Haram insurgency since 2009 and it has turned the north eastern parts of the country into killing fields.
“Despite the determination of our security forces to cage them, they still roam at will, killing and maiming innocent people particularly in Borno and Adamawa states.”
He said that the retreat would discuss the 2018 federal budget, the agitation for restructuring as well as insecurity especially in the North-East, among other issues.