In Search of Re­gional So­lu­tions

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­abil­ity to de­ci­sively ad­dress the clam­our for re­struc­tur­ing has forced gov­er­nors to re­sort to re­gional con­sul­ta­tions to en­sure they are not caught un­pre­pared, writes Se­gun James

THISDAY - - POLITICS - Ad­di­tional re­ports by Shola Oyeyipo, Adibe Emey­onu and Ben­jamin Nworie

Fol­low­ing the ul­ti­ma­tum given to the Ig­bos to leave the north­ern part of the coun­try by a coali­tion of youths in the north, south-east gov­er­nors, mem­bers of the Na­tional Assem­bly from the zone, Ohanaeze Ndi­igbo and Igbo lead­ers met in Enugu on Satur­day July 1st. In his re­marks at the meet­ing, the Deputy Se­nate Pres­i­dent, Dr Ike Ek­w­ere­madu said: “We know very well that the toad does not run in the day­time for noth­ing; if it is not after some­thing, then some­thing must be after it.”

This proverb best il­lus­trates the se­ries of meet­ings now be­ing held by gov­er­nors at dif­fer­ent lev­els. The ag­i­ta­tion for the coun­try to be re­struc­tured and the threat by the In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra to se­cede have both cre­ated ten­sion to the ex­tent that even gov­er­nors can no longer as­sume that there is no threat to the cor­po­rate ex­is­tence of the coun­try.

Many ex­pected the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment to re­spond de­ci­sively to the is­sues but the ab­sence of Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari made it dif­fi­cult for the gov­ern­ment at the cen­tre to come out with a ro­bust re­sponse. The Act­ing Pres­i­dent ap­pears to be in quag­mire. Al­though, he is act­ing fol­low­ing the let­ter writ­ten by Buhari to the Se­nate, Yemi Os­in­bajo ob­vi­ously does not have the man­date to deal with the is­sue. He can only wish the ag­i­ta­tors will get tired and drop the cam­paign or pray for the pres­i­dent to re­turn in earnest to han­dle the is­sues.

Those hop­ing that the Na­tional Assem­bly would re­duce the ten­sion through the on­go­ing amend­ment to the con­sti­tu­tion were dis­ap­pointed when the law­mak­ers re­fused to sup­port devo­lu­tion of pow­ers to state.

In the ab­sence of such a ro­bust re­sponse from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, gov­er­nors have been meet­ing at re­gional level. Sud­denly, the gov­er­nors seemed to have dis­cov­ered the strength in­her­ent in re­gional power blocks.

After the July 1st meet­ing’s of the South-east gov­er­nors and se­nior po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in the zone, the gov­er­nors again met on July 9 again in Enugu with their coun­ter­parts from the South-south zone. The agenda was to find a com­mon ground as Nige­ria searched for so­lu­tions to se­ries of prob­lems con­fronting it. They had ear­lier met in Abuja. The gov­er­nors, at the meet­ing, dis­cussed is­sues that af­fected the two re­gions and pos­si­ble in­te­gra­tion.

The chair­man of the South­east Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum, Gov­er­nor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State said the ba­sis of the meet­ing was to share ideas on how to en­sure that gov­er­nors ef­fec­tively de­plore the re­sources of their states to ad­dress­ing is­sues of se­cu­rity, devel­op­ment, wel­fare of the peo­ple, youth restive­ness, un­em­ploy­ment, im­prov­ing the econ­omy and unity in the coun­try.

The Nige­ria Gov­er­nors Fo­rum (NGF) fol­lowed suit. After its meet­ing of July 20, the state ex­ec­u­tives gave a pos­i­tive nod to an im­por­tant as­pect of the re­struc­tur­ing de­mand by set­ting up a com­mit­tee to look at the pos­si­bil­ity of op­er­at­ing state po­lice as against the cur­rent sys­tem where the na­tional po­lice force is un­der fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­trol. The com­mit­tee was headed by the Gov­er­nor of Kwara State, Mr. Ab­dul­fa­tah Ahmed. The Imo, Delta, Ek­iti, Bauchi and Sokoto States gov­er­nors are mem­bers.

Mon­day, July 24, the gov­er­nors of the six South-west states met in Abeokuta, the Ogun State cap­i­tal. The agenda was to ad­dress the chal­lenges con­fronting the re­gion and set goals to­wards en­sur­ing the suc­cess of the re­gion. Gov­er­nors Ibikunle Amo­sun, Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, Og­beni Rauf Aregbesola, Arakun­rin Ro­timi Ak­eredolu, Sen­a­tor Abi­ola Aji­mobi and Ayodele Fayose were at the meet­ing where they talked about the devel­op­ment of the geopo­lit­i­cal zone.

Though it is the quar­terly meet­ing of the re­gion which held un­der the um­brella of Devel­op­ment Agenda for West­ern Nige­ria (DAWN Com­mis­sion), in the light of the se­ries of meet­ing al­ready held by their coun­ter­parts across the coun­try, it is ex­pected that the gov­er­nors would have also dis­cussed the po­si­tion of the re­gion on the re­struc­tur­ing de­bate.

But it is in­struc­tive to note that the South­west meet­ing was tar­geted at strength­en­ing the re­gion. A com­mu­nique that em­anated from the meet­ing read by Amo­sun stated that a joint task force and joint ac­tions would be pur­sued and sus­tained on se­cu­rity threats to guar­an­tee the safety of lives, prop­erty and pros­per­ity of the peo­ple of the re­gion. He also said that the com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage of con­stituent states would be har­nessed for sus­tain­able re­gional devel­op­ment.

“In or­der to im­prove the food se­cu­rity of

We know very well that the toad does not run in the day­time for noth­ing; if it is not after some­thing, then some­thing must be after it.

the re­gion, DAWN should con­vene a re­gional agric summit to be held in Ibadan. Ap­proval is given for the es­tab­lish­ment of a West­ern Nige­ria Ex­port Devel­op­ment Ini­tia­tive (WENEDI) to drive the ex­port po­ten­tials of the re­gion. A com­mit­tee be set up for cod­i­fi­ca­tion of our val­ues and ethos as an in­stru­ment of Yoruba unique­ness to strengthen our iden­tity and unity of pur­pose,” Amo­sun said.

In his wel­come ad­dress, Amo­sun charged his col­leagues not to al­low them­selves to be used as “in­stru­ments of di­vi­sion”. He said the cre­ation of states from the old west­ern re­gion in 1976, which should have been an im­pe­tus for devel­op­ment in the South­west re­gion, had been al­lowed to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial bound­aries be­tween the Yoruba na­tion.

“To fur­ther worsen the sit­u­a­tion, some of our peo­ple are also mak­ing them­selves avail­able as in­stru­ments of di­vi­sion be­cause of their self­ish po­lit­i­cal gains. The con­se­quence is that our peo­ple be­gin to see them­selves as a peo­ple of one state or the other rather than as a sub-unit of the en­tity of the Yoruba peo­ple,” he said.

Then on July 27, 19 gov­er­nors from the North­ern part of Nige­ria and tra­di­tional rulers from the re­gion met in Kaduna. The agenda was broad but most im­por­tantly, it was con­voked for the peo­ple to take com­mon po­si­tion on the ag­i­ta­tion for the re­struc­tur­ing of the coun­try.

The meet­ing was aimed at dis­cussing the po­si­tion of the north in the Nige­rian con­text, par­tic­u­larly as re­gards the calls for re­struc­tur­ing.

At the meet­ing, the ad­dress of Kashim Shet­tima of Borno, State, the Chair­man of North­ern States Gov­er­nors Fo­rum was de­liv­ered by Aminu Masari of Katsina State, He said the north was not afraid of re­struc­tur­ing but that the fo­rum’s po­si­tion on the is­sue would be in the best in­ter­est of the re­gion – a con­sen­sus that would at­tract pop­u­lar ac­cep­tance.

There were long list of is­sues on their agenda. The meet­ing spoke about the ag­i­ta­tion for the cre­ation of Bi­afra. They were par­tic­u­larly not favourably dis­posed to groups such as IPOB and MASSOB mak­ing in­cit­ing state­ments un­der the guise of ex­er­cis­ing right to free speech. They col­lec­tively agreed on the need to re-in­vent pol­i­tics, re-en­gi­neer so­ci­ety and re­di­rect the en­ergy of the youth to ex­ploit their po­ten­tials. They were also unan­i­mous in their ac­cep­tance that the pros­per­ity of the North and Nige­ria de­pended on an­nex­ing agriculture and tal­ents of the peo­ple.

They talked about the need to pro­vide pol­i­cyframe­work, fund­ing, en­ergy and give di­rec­tion on how to set up ur­ban and ru­ral agro-based in­dus­tries to raise pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity and keep the youth busy. On the is­sue of farm­er­sh­erds­men clashes, their po­si­tion was that the con­flict must be han­dled with care to avoid a sit­u­a­tion that it con­sumes the na­tion. Is­sues of in­sur­gency, the Al­ma­jiri sys­tem, devel­op­ment of the re­gion, en­sur­ing last­ing peace in the coun­try and other prob­lems con­fronting the re­gion were dis­cussed. The north­ern gov­er­nors wanted a re­gional, con­sen­sus on re­struc­tur­ing.

While dis­miss­ing the gen­eral no­tion that the north was against re­struc­tur­ing, Shet­tima said: “It is of vi­tal im­por­tance to ar­rive at such con­sen­sus po­si­tion be­cause it is cru­cial to dis­pel the er­ro­neous im­pres­sion cre­ated and dis­sem­i­nated by cer­tain in­ter­ests in this coun­try that the North is op­posed to re­struc­tur­ing.

“It is im­por­tant to do so, not only to ac­com­mo­date the main­stream of North­ern pub­lic opinion, our pri­mary con­stituency, but also counter the spe­cific ver­sions of re­struc­tur­ing which gen­er­ally seek to place the North in a po­si­tion of strate­gic po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic dis­ad­van­tage, but por­trayed as the only ver­sions that can work for the na­tion.’’

Al­though the mid­dle belt are ge­o­graph­i­cally lo­cated in the north, it is not quite clear whether the re­gion shares the same view with the rest of the north when it comes to re­struc­tur­ing the coun­try. No one should be sur­prised if there a meet­ing of mid­dle belt gov­er­nors’ fo­rum in the near­est fu­ture.

At the end of their meet­ing in Enugu, south­east gov­er­nors and Igbo lead­ers of thought stated in the com­mu­nique they is­sued: “That Igbo lead­ers lend their full sup­port to the re­struc­tur­ing of the Fed­eral Repub­lic of Nige­ria on the ba­sis of fair­ness and eq­uity. We there­fore call on the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and all Nige­rian lead­ers to com­mence a process of di­a­logue among Nige­ri­ans on the modal­i­ties of achiev­ing this press­ing ques­tion within a rea­son­able time frame.”

A com­mon fea­ture of all th­ese meet­ings is re­gional in­te­gra­tion. Why Now Why are all th­ese meet­ings now that ag­i­ta­tion for re­struc­tur­ing is at its loud­est? Is a mere a co­in­ci­dence? Or are gov­er­nors ag­i­tated by the pres­sure? Why an­swers to th­ese ques­tions may vary, no one should be in de­nial of the fact that even gov­er­nors have be­come un­com­fort­able with the ag­i­ta­tion.

Un­til proved oth­er­wise, the wide­spread per­spec­tive on the mat­ter is that gov­er­nors are re­sort­ing to re­gional meet­ings prob­a­bly be­cause they are threat­ened by the sus­tained ag­i­ta­tion for re­struc­tur­ing, which seems to be gain­ing wider ac­cep­tance among Nige­ri­ans.

The re­al­ity is also that gov­er­nors need to act now oth­er­wise, they would lose the ini­tia­tives to ag­i­ta­tors. This is al­ready hap­pen­ing in the south-east where Nnamdi Kanu now com­mands more fol­lower ship than some of the gov­er­nors in the re­gion.

For some, like the north­ern gov­er­nors, they need to cor­rect the im­pres­sion that the present ar­range­ment works only in their favour and that they were op­posed to re­struc­tur­ing. Many be­lieve that the north is gen­er­ally against re­struc­tur­ing. For the south­west, the gov­er­nors sim­ply don’t want to be caught nap­ping.

There is also the po­lit­i­cal as­pect of the move­ment. The clam­our for re­struc­tur­ing is gain­ing stronger mo­men­tum; it is get­ting more sym­pa­this­ers and there are clear in­di­ca­tions that the ac­tions and in­ac­tions of po­lit­i­cal of­fice hold­ers on the mat­ter may bring about their water­loo in fu­ture elec­tions whereas the fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­pears not to be do­ing enough to ad­dress the ag­i­ta­tion.

Hence, to avoid a sit­u­a­tion where they are caught un­pre­pared, the gov­er­nors want peo­ple they govern to see that they are tak­ing con­crete ac­tion on the mat­ter.

Not to be left out, the rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) had also set up a com­mit­tee on to de­fine re­struc­tur­ing.

The party’s Na­tional Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­tary, Mr. Bo­laji Ab­dul­lahi, said the de­ci­sion to set up the com­mit­tee headed by the Kaduna State Gver­nor, Mal­lam Nasir el-Ru­fai was reached after the reg­u­lar joint APC Na­tional Work­ing Com­mit­tee (NWC)/APC gov­er­nors meet­ing held in Abuja recently.

“With var­i­ous ag­i­ta­tions on re­struc­tur­ing, the con­cept has as­sumed sev­eral dis­parate mean­ings. In the light of this, at the fifth reg­u­lar joint APC Na­tional Work­ing Com­mit­tee (NWC)/APC gov­er­nors meet­ing on 19th July, 2017 a com­mit­tee was set up to ar­tic­u­late the Party’s no­tion on re­struc­tur­ing,” the party noted.

Gov­er­nors Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State; Ab­dul­lahi Umar Gan­duje of Kano Sate; Si­mon La­long of Plateau State, Ibikunle Amo­sun of Ogun State and for­mer Edo State gov­er­nor, Oser­heimen Osun­bor, are mem­bers of the com­mit­tee.

How Nige­ri­ans See It When asked for his view on the sec­tional meet­ings by the gov­er­nors, a for­mer mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives who rep­re­sented Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu fed­eral con­stituency in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­tween 2003 to 2007, Duro Me­seko said it was good and equally bad, de­pend­ing on the agenda of the meet­ings.

Me­seko said: “The an­swer is a two-edged sword. Those sec­tional meet­ings have their ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages. Num­ber one, at this point in our po­lit­i­cal evolution history, what we need is a united stand. What we need more is the Nige­ria Gov­er­nors Fo­rum (NGF), not the South­west Gov­er­nors, North­east Gov­er­nors Fo­rum and so on and so forth. Be­cause right now when there are sec­tional ag­i­ta­tions all over the place and gov­er­nors, be­ing prin­ci­pal stake­hold­ers in this en­ter­prise called Nige­ria, I think it would have been more ex­pe­di­ent for the gov­er­nors to thread with cau­tion, es­pe­cially as re­gards those sec­tional meet­ings that seem to have as­sumed life in the polity.

“The other as­pect of it is that of course, those sec­tional meet­ings are also good for re­gional in­te­gra­tion. It de­pends on the agenda of the meet­ings, really. For in­stance, from re­ports, the South­west gov­er­nors met per­haps to dis­cuss eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, how the South­west can ben­e­fit from each other, synegise and col­lab­o­rate to make life bet­ter for the peo­ple. Such sec­tional meet­ing, of course, one will not be able to fault it.

“So long the agenda is not parochial or too po­lit­i­cal. If it is for eco­nomic rea­sons or if it is for devel­op­ment rea­sons, why not? It can be en­cour­aged. But what one is say­ing is that at least for now, ten­sion seems to be very high in the polity, re­gard­ing ag­i­ta­tion by the var­i­ous re­gional group­ings; IPOB, MASSOB, Arewa youths and all that for re­gional and eth­nic supremacy. It would be mis­read by the gen­eral pub­lic, if the gov­er­nors keep meet­ing un­der the guise of re­gional gov­er­nor­ship set­ting.”

But for a die-hard ag­i­ta­tor for re­struc­tur­ing and true fed­er­al­ism in Nige­ria, the Na­tional Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­tary, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odu­makin, there is noth­ing bad about the re­gional meet­ings. He said it was best that the peo­ple were able to drive their devel­op­ment within the con­text of the cul­ture and tra­di­tion. Though he un­der­scored the meet­ings as in­di­ca­tion that Nige­ria had never been united.

“The re­gional meet­ings have just shown that in­spite of our na­tional pre­tense, we are in the age of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Each po­lit­i­cal zone is meet­ing based on its iden­tity and there is noth­ing bad in it! Be­cause for those of us who are call­ing for a fed­eral sys­tem we are talk­ing about the need for us to have a cul­tural democ­racy in terms of al­low­ing peo­ple to use their iden­tity to project and pro­mote their devel­op­ment within the over­all na­tional devel­op­ment. And it is clear that what we need in Nige­ria is a salad bowl sys­tem.

“When you take a salad bowl, you can see all the dif­fer­ent ingredients; egg is egg, it does not lose its iden­tity; tomato is tomato, it does not lose its iden­tity, let­tuce is let­tuce, car­rot is car­rot, but it’s a blend of all th­ese ingredients that make the salad. So, Nige­ria must agree to be a salad bowl democ­racy where ev­ery in­gre­di­ent is not meant to lose its iden­tity but the com­bi­na­tion of th­ese ingredients is what will make up Nige­ria. So, there is noth­ing wrong in it (the meet­ings),” he stated.

Recently, dur­ing an in­ter­ac­tive ses­sion with jour­nal­ists in Lagos, the Pres­i­dent, Oo­dua Peo­ple’s Congress (OPC), Dr. Fred­er­ick Fase­hun, was how­ever em­phatic that Nige­ria needed to be re­struc­tured. But also in his views, Nige­ri­ans must work hard to­wards the unity of the coun­try. He opined that the coun­try, with all its ad­van­tages should not be al­lowed to crum­ble on the ba­sis of sec­tional ag­i­ta­tions.

Fase­hun, who is also the Na­tional Chair­man of Unity Party of Nige­ria (UPN), said im­punity was the root cause of many of the po­lit­i­cal prob­lems in the coun­try. He said Nige­ri­ans needed to rise up and de­mand for good gov­er­nance.

“Those say­ing Nige­ria should break are just wast­ing their time be­cause Nige­ria is too strong to crum­ble. No­body is go­ing is to break Nige­ria. Nige­ri­ans are too in­ter­wo­ven to al­low the coun­try to break. Nige­ria is where it is to­day be­cause after the fight against the mil­i­tary and strug­gle for democ­racy, we left vic­tory in the gut­ter for old politi­cians to come and start the dam­age from where they stopped.

“We al­lowed fail­ures to be re­cy­cle in pub­lic of­fice. We have be­ing re­cy­cling old fail­ures and we keep re­cy­cling them. Nige­ri­ans should de­sist from re­cy­cling old politi­cians; they have not done us any good,” he sug­gested.

As things stand to­day, ag­i­ta­tion for re­struc­tur­ing is tak­ing the cen­tre stage. Gov­ern­ment seems to be un­der im­mense pres­sure to do some­thing about it be­cause in pol­i­tics, when you have no op­tions left, you may as well bow to the in­evitable. That seems to be the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try right now.

The re­gional meet­ings have just shown that in­spite of our na­tional pre­tence, we are in the age of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Each po­lit­i­cal zone is meet­ing based on its iden­tity and there is noth­ing bad in it.

Umahi.. chairs the South-east Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum

Shet­tima... chairs North­ern States Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum

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