Party affiliation destroys regional economic integration in Nigeria
Going by the fast pace of development in the First Republic, it was obvious that the leaders of the regional governments made judicious use of the resources sourced mainly from the regions.
The harmony and cohesion among the components that constituted the region was also laudable as all hands were on the deck by each region to outperform others.
Sadly, the collapse of regional government and introduction of federalism brought an end to the healthy rivalry among regions across the country.
But in recent times, efforts are being made by the politicians to reunite, form blocs and work for the interest of their once-cherished regions.
There have been quiet economic and regional agitations from blocs such as BRACED, the South-south regional integration bloc of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross-rivers, Edo and Delta states; Development Agenda for Western Nigeria tagged The DAWN Commission; SouthEast Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC), Northern Nigeria
Governors Forum, and Middle Belt Forum.
However, political interests and party affiliations have been top among challenges to successful regional integration and consequent development since the collapse of regional government.
While the South West Nigerian bloc under The DAWN Commission seems to be doing better than other blocs, especially with the successful formation of Operation Amotekun, its regional security outfit, to address insecurity across the region, political affiliation had earlier threatened the integration of the region.
It would be recalled that during the Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Lagos State was denied federal allocations due to the creation of additional local governments by Bola Tinubu, the then governor.
The scenario that played up then was because President Obasanjo was in the ruling party PDP, while Tinubu was in the opposition party.
However, the South West bloc seems to have overcome its differences by uniting in the establishment of Operation Amoteku despite the fact that a governor belongs to the opposition party, fights among governors in the ruling party to be closer to presidency and godfathers.
Of course, the Northern Governors’ Forum has been a force in the northern part of Nigeria, fighting and insisting on developmental interests of the north.
In spite of their strength and unity, the north has not fared better in terms of development, when compared with other regions.
Yet, issues such as religion, insecurity, especially in the North East, the killings in some states and banditry have pitched some governors against others, breeding discord like in the case of Southern Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba.
Of course, the BRACED bloc is making effort to rise, especially in making demands for the development of their oil-rich region, but political will, allegiance to party affiliation and selfish interests have made the bloc to make little progress since its formation.
The bloc is still fighting to get the Federal Government to stop deducting the 13 percent federal derivation at source before the revenue is shared out.
But the off-and-on nature of the bloc has made it a seeming toothless dog as Federal government always throws bait to the bloc, to at least, delay discussions or change its focus.
In one of the meetings, when the bloc was really agitating for its rights, Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, the host of the meeting, said: “We need to stress that in any allocation that is being done, 13 percent derivation must first be taken out of the funds that come from oil revenue before the rest of the funds is shared out. This 13 percent is supposed to be for the oil-producing states and that has not been the situation for a very long time.”
But nothing has happened since then.
During the second Annual General Meeting of the Forum of SouthSouth Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture(fossccima) in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-agege noted that ‘’For the South-south region, the need for economic growth calls for economic integration that would help set the entire region on a more prosperous growth path. I wish to make it very clear, however, that the economic integration of the SouthSouth is not a short term answer to the current socioeconomic problems of the region.”
Omo-agege also pointed out that ‘’The quest for regional economic integration in the South-south is not new. Over a decade ago, the governors of the region floated the same idea and sought to forge closer economic cooperation and integration among the six states of the South-south geo-political zone namely Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-ibom, Cross-river, Edo and Delta (BRACED).
‘’The BRACED states sought to deepen their collaboration in the areas of education, human capacity development, information and communication technology, infrastructure development, agriculture and investment.”
‘’Regrettably however, this bold attempt at regional economic integration aimed at pooling of resources together, stimulating production, trade and investment which would have alleviated poverty failed as the BRACED Commission established to drive the process remained ineffective,’’ he said.
Comparing The DAWN Commission and BRACED, the former is more coordinated and formidable in its demands or else the Operation Amotekun would have been a mere dream.
However, the problem lies with the South East bloc, which seems to be the least in terms of seriousness with the integration, setting agenda and pressuring government to get its interests met despite neglect of the bloc.
The South-east Governors Forum has never been a cohesion force, and the South-east Nigeria Economic Commission (SENEC) takeoff has not been as anticipated at the launch of the forum.
But the region, which has suffered setback from the Civil War should have been at the forefront of integration in order to lift the region, neglected over the years for obvious reasons.
The poor state of industrial development in the zone reflects the underlying lack of coordinated economic, institutional and infrastructural development, which the economic forum or bloc should ordinarily address.
So, far the South-east bloc has been under same political house for a long time, hence party affiliation has little to do with their lack of harmony and integration.
However, Rochas Okorocha, a former governor of Imo State, never agreed with his folks at the South East Governors’ Forum because of his party affiliation, so also, Hope Uzodinma, the present governor of the state, and the only APC governor in the bloc.
But David Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, and chairman, South East Governors’ Forum, has severally been accused of tilting more towards APC despite being a PDP governor, a development that has allegedly affected fruitful discussions for integration. The Anambra governor also does his things differently, neglecting the bloc, which Peter Obi, his predecessor, upheld even while in another party.
Obi believes in the interest of the region no matter the party a governor belongs.
Well, as party affiliation matters a lot to politicians, integration is only possible when governors uphold state and regional interests above party’s demand. Until then, only blocs that are ‘united in diversity’ can make progress, and the South West bloc seems to be the leading light.