Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s claim that he set up the North East Development Commiserated (NEDC) as a reward for the massive votes he obtained in the zone in the 2011 and 2019 presidential elections, foremost South South leader, Chief Edwin Clark has accused him of discrimination.
He has also disputed the President’s appropriation of the commission as his idea, saying that the 2014 Constitutional Conference, whose report Buhari has consigned to the archives, was indeed the originator of the NEDC idea.
Recall that while inaugurating the commission last Wednesday, Buhari had asserted that the establishment of the Commission was in appreciation of the massive electoral support he received from the Zone in 2015 and 2019 general elections.
He said it was also in fulfilment of the pledge of his administration to the people of the North East Geo-Political Zone and as part of the strategy for regenerating the socio-economic potentials of the Geo-Poiitical Zone after the devastation of the Boko-Haram insurgency.
But while addressing a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday, the elder statesman said the President’s claim was outrageous, alleging that the remark over the commission was akin to the 97% and 5% statement he made in his first year in office also seen by his critics as discriminatory.
The President had suggested then that he was not likely to treat the constituencies that did not vote for him as good as he would treat those who provided him with massive votes.
Clark observed that this may be responsible for why the federal government has failed to make advancement on projects in the Niger Delta including the Ogoniland clean-up and the East West road.
Clark stated: “This reason to my mind, is outrageous and reminds one of a similar statement Mr. President made on 2nd July, 2015 at the United States Institute of Peace when Dr. Pauline Baker, the President Emeritus of the Fund for Peace, United States in posing a question to him said ‘My question relates to another area of Nigeria that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention during this trip and that is the Niger Delta. It’s a challenge that you are going to face. I wonder if you would tell us how you intend to approach it with particular reference to the amnesty, bunkering, and inclusive development?’
“President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to her was ‘I hope you have a copy of the election results. The constituents, for example, gave me 97% (of vote) cannot in all honesty be treated on same issues with constituencies that gave me 5%. I think these are political reality.’
“These statements credited to Mr. President (in 2015 and presently in 2019) is politics taken to the mundane and absurdity, and very unpatriotic. Chapter VI, Section 130 of the 1999 Constitution states that: (1) There shall be for the Federation a President. (2) The President shall be the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation
“Section 132 (4) of the 1999 Constitution states that: “For the purpose of an election to the office of President, the whole of the Federation shall be regarded as one constituency. Therefore for Mr. President to base development of the country on political patronage, is most unfair and unacceptable.
“If the President pronounce that the signing and inauguration of the North East Development Commission is a reward for the massive votes he got in the North East, let it therefore be likely concluded that negligence of his Government to the development of Niger Delta region is as a result of the people of the region choosing to vote in accordance with their conscience.
“For instance, the non-commencement of the Ogoni clean-up and other equally damaged Oil and Gas producing areas, the non- completion of the East West Road, and other long deprived economic activities of the region is a punishment a punishment for the people of the Niger-Delta for choosing to vote according to their conscience.
“This also can be attributed to Mr. President’s refusal to dialogue or execute the South-South Leaders 16 point programme.
“We strongly therefore advise Mr. President not to abandon the goose that lays the golden egg, because, it is a case Mr. President telling Nigerians that if the people of the North East had not voted for him massively he would not have signed the Bill for setting up of the NEDC and inaugurated the Commission.”
In disputing Buhari’s claim to the idea of the NEDC, Clark who is also the leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) added: “I emphatically wish to state that the decision for establishing the NEDC was not the original idea of President Buhari, it did not originate as an Executive Memo from him to the National Assembly.
“The historic National Conference of 2014 which Mr. President Muhammadu Buhari had no regard for was indeed the originator of the idea for setting up of the NEDC.
“The credit should go to the 2014 National Conference, for its patriotic thoughtfulness, and to the National Assemblys for initiating the bill for the establishment of the Commission.”
Clark maintained that the level of devastation, killings and poverty had become the lot of the North East Region, “which is indeed a problem, hence it was discussed at the 2014 National Conference.”
According to him, “If President Muhammadu Buhari had not wanted the Report of the 2014 National Conference ‘to go into the so-called archives,’ as stated by him during his first year anniversary as President and Commander-in-Chief, but read and implemented it, he would have appreciated the usefulness of the enormous work done by the 492 delegates drawn from all the segments and strata of our great country, Nigeria.”
The elder statesman further stated: “Today, nobody talks about the increase in the 13% Derivation and 5% allocation for mineral resources development in states. It is not enough to talk about diversification of our economy, as if it is only agriculture that is a viable sector in the country
“Presently, Nigeria operates a multi-party system. This system is recognized by the laws of the land, and it means that people can vote in accordance with their conscience.
“But the law states that once someone is declared the winner, for instance for the office of Presidency, he becomes the President of all, those who voted for him, those who did not vote for him and even those who did not vote at all.
“Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari should be reminded that he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and as such, President of the entire country, including political opponents and supporters, all religions, atheists, etc. And as such, he should not discriminate against perceived or imagined opponents in the dispensation of social amenities and lawful patronages, including development projects, appointments, privileges, social welfare and otherwise.
“The entire Country is his constituency as stated in Section 132 (4) of the 1999 Constitution.”