SMBLF To Weighs In On FAAN, CBN Relocation Monday

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The last may not have been heard about the Federal Government’s directive for relocation of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Headquarters, and some units of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to Lagos State, as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF) members, are expected to meet Monday (today), in Abuja, where they will take a definite stand on the contentious issue.

An internal memo issued by FAAN’s Managing Director, Olubunmi Kuku, Nigeria’s Aviation Minister, Festus Keyamo, had directed the relocation of FAAN headquarters to Lagos.

In the same vein, CBN had detailed a decongestant action plan designed to optimise its operational environment by relocating some key units to Lagos.

Some of the departments of the apex bank relocated to Lagos are the Banking Supervision, Other Financial Institutions Supervision, Consumer Protection Department, Payment System Management Department, and Financial Policy Regulations Department.

The decision was vehemently rejected by a cross section of Northerners, who alleged that the move was part of a plot to further under-develop the region.

One of the the first persons to kick against it was the Chief Whip of the Senate, Ali Ndume, who said it was influenced by ‘political cartels’ within the government.

Ndume, the senator representing Borno South, said the ‘cartels’ were offering wrong advice to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to mislead him on implementing some wrong policies, threatening that if the president failed to reverse the move to relocate the two agencies to Lagos, it would brew a political crisis in the country.

Stated Ndume: “They are not doing any favour to Mr. President because this will have political consequences”.

Prior to the Senator’s assertion, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) had condemned the relocation of the two government agencies, claiming that the decision was to further under-develop the northern part of the country

Similarly, the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) also threatened legal action against the Federal Government if the relocations of the offices were not reversed.

The controversy extended to the Southern part of the country, with the regional groups taking different positions.

On Sunday, it was gathered that members of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), were expected to meet on Monday, February 5, 2024, in Abuja to deliberate on the matter.

In the meeting to be attended by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, as well as South-South and Middle Belt leaders, they are expected to state their common position on the lingering controversy.

A source, who sued for anonimity, but familiar with the meeting, said leaders in the three geo-political zones had decided to deliberate on the matter and take a unified position.

Volunteered the source: “As you know, Nigeria doesn’t belong to just Yoruba and Northerners. We are all citizens of the country so our voices should also matter in the decision making.

“We are going to thoroughly talk about this matter and other pressing issues that bother on national unity”.

Expressing worry with the stance of some Northern leaders, the source said the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), headquarters ought to be relocated to any of the oil producing states.

Reacting to the relocation move, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), a prominent youth organisation in Northern Nigeria vowed that any attempt to interfere with the original plan of the nation’s capital would be fiercely resisted.

AYCF president-general, Yerima Shettima, said that the planned relocation “posed a significant threat” to Abuja’s status as the capital city and could have negative implications for the nation as a whole.

Shettima expressed concerns that the FG’s decision could trigger potential consequences, emphasising that it “risks undermining national unity, disrupting operations, causing economic setbacks, and perpetuating regional imbalances”.

He stated that Abuja was “deliberately chosen as the capital to promote national unity and decentralise power”.

Said he: “Any agenda that seeks to tamper with this arrangement will be fiercely resisted by AYCF and its supporters”.

Shettima further expressed his disappointment with the “complicit silence of the Northern elite regarding these provocations”, stressing that the Northern elite “must not be silent when the political and economic viability of Northern Nigeria is at stake”.

The AYCF called on the relevant authorities to reconsider the proposed relocations in light of the “potential harm they may cause to Abuja’s status as the capital city and the nation as a whole”.

He urged decision-makers to prioritise national unity and ensure that any actions taken did not perpetuate regional imbalances or compromise the political and economic viability of Northern Nigeria.

Added Shettima: “We remain committed to our mission of promoting unity and development in Northern Nigeria and the nation as a whole.

“We will continue to advocate for the preservation of Abuja’s status as the capital city and to resist any attempts to undermine national unity”.

Chucks Ibegbu, a chieftain and immediate past Deputy National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide held that there was structural and social injustice against the people of the South-East.

Noted he: “There is no federal presence in the South-East. We are always treated as a conquered territory. The North and West are treating us as if we are conquered people.

“South-East has the least number of states and local governments. What is wrong if the FG relocates at least one of the ministries or agencies to Enugu?

“Is Enugu, Aba, Umuahia not in Nigeria? They claimed that there is an international airport in Enugu, there is no evidence of an international airport in Enugu, only one restricted airline.

“The government should relocate the FAAN to Enugu, CBN to Aba. There is nothing wrong with that. We are also part of the country.

“The truth is that there is social, political and structural injustice against the South-East.

“Some of our politicians here are only interested in their pockets; they don’t fight for their people and that is why the North and the West are taking advantage of us.

“North and the West have been rotating even the presidency within themselves as if those in the South-East are onlookers. The truth about it is that we are not treated well in this country”.

Chucks, however, said Nigerians should channel their grievances to more pressing issues bedevilling the nation, lamenting the hardship birthed by the removal of fuel subsidy.

Added he: “The problem with Nigerians is that they leave the substance and pursue shadow. The relocation of FAAN headquarters and parts of CBN to Lagos has nothing to do with food on our table.

“Since the fuel subsidy was removed many people have been dying but they are not talking about that”.

Alex Ogbonna, Ohanaeze spokesman, on Saturday, declined speaking on the matter, saying the position of South-East would be made known after the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum meeting on Monday.

Said he: “I don’t want to preempt what they will be saying during the meeting.

“By Monday morning, we will state our position on that and we will make our position known to the general public through a communique”.

Amid the controversy shrouding the FG’s move, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural and political organisation, Afenifere, has said that relocating the FAAN headquarters and CBN units to Lagos was in the best interest of Nigerians.

The Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi said that there was nothing wrong with the decision of the FG.

Said he: “To us in Afenifere, we don’t see anything wrong with it. The Federal Government has not done anything wrong by trying to relocate FAAN headquarters and CBN units to Lagos State.

“The relocation matter didn’t just start in Tinubu’s administration. It all started from Muhammadu Buhari’s regime but it was not completed. Tinubu should be commended for not abandoning projects that started from the previous administration”.

He held that those opposing the decision were those who are afraid of moving from their comfort zone in Abuja.

Noted he: “It is not peculiar to Nigeria. If you go to South Africa, you will understand that the judiciary, the legislature and the executive are not in one location.

“It is not about who is in power, we want the administration to succeed so anything that will make the country work, we are ready to support it.

“If it was something that would harm the country, we would say it without considering whether the president is from our region or not. We will even be the first to condemn such a move”.

However, the Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development, Festus Keyamo, last Wednesday, declared that there was no going back on the decision to move the headquarters of FAAN to Lagos.

Said Keyamo while addressing the controversy when he appeared on Channels TV: “We are going ahead. The directive has been given”.

“The whole issue was compounded with the fact that FAAN is not yet digitised and so, in one year, they spend half a billion Naira on a flight ticket between Lagos and Abuja alone.

“You see them flying every day to-and-fro Abuja to get one file signed. They fly back and forth. In one year, they spent close to half a billion Naira on flight tickets. N450m on flight tickets alone”.

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