From Noah Ebije, Kaduna

In a communique issued on Saturday after their meeting with other ‘Northern Leaders of Thought’, the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) said zoning of the presidency as advocated by some political parties is anti-democracy.

The Elders therefore advised that the 2023 presidential contest should be left open to every region of the country for the best candidate to emerge.

The Communique was signed by Chairman Communiqué Drafting Committee, and former Vice Chancellor, Plateau State University, Professor Doknan Danjuma Shenni

“The Fundamental rights of all political parties to field candidates of their choices, and the right of voters to freely exercise choices over who leads them cannot be compromised. Northerners have equal rights to aspire to all offices but they must raise competence, evidence of personal integrity and commitments to the rule of law above all other considerations. Northerners should ignore provocative statements from groups in the South of Nigeria who appear to believe that Command Democracy in which threats and hate campaigns are their hallmark or defining elements will work in Nigeria. North should vote for the best Leader.

“The Meeting notes the desperate condition of the economic existence of most Northerners, poses additional threats to security and the democratic process. It recommends that leaders should avoid pushing the population into deeper poverty and desperation with challenging economic policies and a lack of empathy. Government at all levels should consider a form of the structured welfare system to alleviate poverty in the populace.

“The Meeting advises the Federal Government to postpone the planned 2022 National Census in view of the large numbers of displaced Nigerians and the proximity of the census to the 2023 elections.

“The Meeting urges the National and States Assemblies to prioritize constitutional amendments currently being processed. It further urges President Muhammadu Buhari to accent to the proposed amendments to the Electoral Act, as this will improve the quality of elections, starting from 2023.

“The Meeting urges key Northern Groups to engage groups from the South to improve understanding, lower tensions and contribute to the creation of an atmosphere that allows all Nigerian to live in peace with each other;

“The Meeting recognizes our ethnoreligious diversity in the North which is a source of strength that should be celebrated. The Meeting further observed that all faiths teach us to imbibe the spirit of tolerance and not hate or attack those who worship in a different way. Our religious differences should be an invaluable asset, not a liability or a potent weapon in the hands of our desperate and failed leaders.

“The Meeting advises Northern Groups to visit and engage President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss with him on ways in which the security and economic condition of Northerners can be improved.

“The current state of insecurity in the North is unprecedented and unacceptable. While commending the efforts of the nation’s defence and security forces in rolling back sundry threats that have weakened the Nigerian State and made life almost valueless, the meeting advises the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Governors and Legislators to revisit and re-prioritize spending on security and addressing the scourge of poverty. We recommend the increase in recruitment of security personnel.

“The Meeting recognized that education in the region has never been more imperiled than now. Insecurity has exponentially increased the number of out of school children. School abductions closures and excruciating poverty have set back education in the region for many generations. The Meeting calls on the state and Federal Governments to protect all our schools and rescue all our children from the hand of bandits, and insurgents.

“The Meeting notes the disconnect between citizens Vs Leaders: The Meeting observed the widening gap and disconnect between the citizens and their elected representatives as an existential threat to the security of this nation. The meeting therefore calls on all strata of our leadership to reconnect with the citizens.

“The Meeting notes the widespread insecurity, poverty and discontent with the leadership has resulted in serious voter apathy that is unhelpful to our fragile democracy. It calls on all Nigerians particularly the youth not to despair but to register to vote for a leadership that can change the fortunes of Nigeria.

“The meeting recommends the need to have a working partnership with government agencies and other non-government organs to restore and re-instate the traumatized and displaced communities (IDP) to their villages as we initiate trauma healing sessions for them as well as de-radicalization programmes targeting the youths in the affected areas,” the communique read in part.

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