By Folarin Emmanuel, Abuja
Bukola Saraki, Senate President, has listed five ways the National Assembly can help restructure the country for the overall benefit of all Nigerians.
Saraki, who spoke while declaring open a retreat organized by the Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF), in Katsina on Tuesday, also harped on the need to keep the country united while working to ensure that all regions get their rightful share of developmental programs and projects.
In a statement by Sanni Onogu, his Chief Press Secretary, the Senate President also urged the NSF to commit to providing worthy leadership that would help mitigate the pains inflicted by insurgency, most especially on how to ensure that the estimated 12 – 15 million out of school children in the area, return to the classrooms.
On the five ways the National Assembly can help bring about equitable restructuring of the country, Saraki said: “My own restructuring is when we work towards economic development in every part of the country, so we can all take pride of place in the Nigerian project, and no region is seen as a weak link.
“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.
“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.
“My own restructuring is when we place a premium on delivering good governance, fight against corruption, valourise honesty and live to serve the people – without betraying the trust reposed in us,” he stated.
He stated that these were his own idea of a restructuring “that is not merely cosmetic, but has the power to truly transform lives.”
“And so, what do we expect from the Northern Senators Forum in this talk of restructuring?,” Saraki asked. “Permit me to suggest that we need you to pay close attention to the (restructuring) debate, having regard to the various shades of opinion on the matter.”
He added: “Thereafter, we look to you to distil from the debate a coherent message that perfectly articulates the position of the North. We have full confidence in you.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we, as leaders, need to do a lot more work; we need to carry out analyses and research – to be able to pick the substance from the sentiment.
“I say this because, during the last Constitutional Review, there were items that were rejected, for example, Devolution of Powers. But upon reflection, we realised that it was actually not inimical to the interests of the people.
“It is my hope that in the quieter atmosphere of this retreat, such issues can get the clear-eyed consideration they deserve. In terms of security, our region has suffered the most, due to the insurgency and other crises.
“It is in our interest, therefore, to strengthen and reform the security architecture of the North. The onus is on us to provide worthy leadership. We must be focused. We must be prepared to correct the mistakes of the past.We must always be conscious of the need to weigh sentiment against value. More importantly, we should not be afraid of change.
“Leadership is also the ability to carry out those constitutional reviews that are needed to bring the North, and Nigeria, firmly into the modern age. Let us always remember that our positions are held in trust for future generations. History will not be kind to us if we fail. This is a time for courageous leadership, strong enough to change the narrative of Northern Nigeria.”
He noted that although restructuring is the front burner issue in the polity at the present time, the one problem with all the talk about restructuring is that the discussion is not being framed properly – and certain precepts are missing.
Saraki said: “I have said, and it is my firm conviction, that we must give precedence to the unity of Nigeria at all times, and put the interests of the country first. We must not be afraid to think outside the box. We must not be afraid of reform.”
He further urged the NSF to continue to focus priority attention on diversification and with greater emphasis on the need to boost the North’s agriculture and mineral resources sectors, especially food production.
He said: “We must be the food basket of the nation – and we must do so in reality, not by some oft-repeated cliché. We must be the source of substitution for the food importation that currently amounts to an annual bill of 4 to 5 billion dollars for the country.
“That self-sufficiency that is central to the economic diversification ethos, must come from the North, must be guaranteed by us, because we have what it takes to make it a reality.”