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
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