In­side power moves at South­ern Gover­nor’s Fo­rum

Weekly Trust - - News - Nu­rudeen Oye­wole, La­gos

The press brief­ing ad­dressed by the South­ern Gov­er­nors Fo­rum (SGF) of Nige­ria at the La­gos Gov­ern­ment House on Oc­to­ber 23, 2017 raised so much sus­pense that jour­nal­ists who be­sieged the venue lit­er­ally sat on the edge.

It was a four-hour wait­ing game. And for the jour­nal­ists, that was re­ally not a tood­if­fi­cult price to pay for a fo­rum that went mori­bund 12 years ago, barely four years af­ter its in­au­gu­ra­tion. With so much at stake, the ex­pec­ta­tion was high.

But when the gov­er­nors even­tu­ally emerged from their meet­ing to de­flate the high ex­pec­ta­tion herald­ing their con­ver­gence, not a few were taken aback that their brief com­mu­niqué, read in two min­utes by the La­gos State Gover­nor, Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode, left be­hind a yawn­ing gap.

“The south­ern states gov­er­nors at its meet­ing of 23rd Oc­to­ber 2017 held in La­gos House Ikeja re­stated their com­mit­ment to a united and in­di­vis­i­ble Nige­ria,” Am­bode read from a pre­pared pa­per.

“The sum­mit also re­it­er­ated its be­lief in true fed­er­al­ism and devo­lu­tion of pow­ers. They re­in­stated their com­mit­ment to col­lab­o­rate with one another for the growth and de­vel­op­ment of their economies. The sum­mit em­pha­sized pri­or­ity on se­cu­rity of lives and prop­er­ties of its cit­i­zens. The sum­mit also em­pha­sised the need for ef­fec­tive link­age on good in­fras­truc­ture within the space of south­ern Nige­ria. The sum­mit unan­i­mously ap­pointed Gover­nor Ak­in­wunmi Am­bode as chair­man and gov­er­nors Se­ri­ake Dick­son of Bayelsa and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi as co-chair­men. The next meet­ing is sched­uled to hold in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.”

Brief and di­rect, the La­gos State gover­nor de­liv­ered the mes­sage as sent by his col­leagues. But mo­ments ear­lier, his aides had made avail­able to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who joined jour­nal­ists in the Canopy Hall, the pro­gramme of events which also con­tained the gover­nor’s open­ing ad­dress which Am­bode did not even­tu­ally read to the gath­er­ing.

While laud­ing his pre­de­ces­sor, Sen­a­tor Bola Ahmed Tin­ubu who pi­o­neered the ini­tia­tive, Am­bode was also quick to list what he termed the fo­rum’s “land­mark achieve­ments ob­tained through the pres­sure ex­erted by this fo­rum in the past”. He cited the ded­i­ca­tion of 13 per­cent rev­enue al­lo­ca­tion to oil pro­duc­ing states by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as the first feat achieved by the fo­rum through “col­lec­tive ad­vo­cacy”.

“Another ma­jor vic­tory won to­wards strength­en­ing the coun­try’s prac­tice of true fed­er­al­ism was the dec­la­ra­tion by the Supreme Court in 2002 that the then preva­lent prac­tice of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­duct­ing monies from the Fed­er­a­tion Ac­count as a first charge for the fund­ing of Joint Ven­ture Con­tracts, the NNPC pri­or­ity projects, ser­vic­ing of fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ex­ter­nal debt, the ju­di­ciary, the Fed­eral Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory (FCT) and other fed­eral obli­ga­tions was il­le­gal and un­con­sti­tu­tional.

But in a tone that could be in­ter­preted as ac­tivism blended with sub­tle de­fi­ance of the sta­tus quo, Am­bode told his col­leagues that they can­not re­main beggars who al­ways go cap in hands to Abuja every month to get to­kens they will use to run their states.

“All too of­ten, states are dis­par­aged for al­ways car­ry­ing beg­ging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. This is a func­tion of our present na­tional con­sti­tu­tion that bur­dens the fed­eral gov­ern­ment with ac­tiv­i­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that rightly fall within the province of states.

“The pro­duc­tiv­ity and rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­i­ties of most states are sti­fled, thus turn­ing them into no bet­ter than street beg­gar states in­ca­pable of even meet­ing rou­tine obli­ga­tions of pay­ing work­ers’ salaries and pen­sions with­out fed­eral sup­port,” the gover­nor said.

Though Am­bode said the whole idea of re­sus­ci­tat­ing the fo­rum was geared to­wards form­ing a united front to deal with is­sues of sim­i­lar in­ter­ests and be able to “com­pre­hen­sively look at the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments with a view to work­ing with our re­spec­tive Houses of As­sem­bly, to en­sure a co­or­di­nated re­sponse on our part,” there are po­lit­i­cal pun­dits who have started con­nect­ing the dots be­tween what they per­ceived as “the sud­den re-ac­ti­va­tion of the SGF” and the po­lit­i­cal ma­neu­ver­ings tak­ing shape ahead of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion.

Dr Dele Si­te­olu, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist with the La­gos State Univer­sity (LASU), will not say em­phat­i­cally if the re­con­ven­ing of the SGF 12 years af­ter was an­chored on po­lit­i­cal as­pi­ra­tions of cer­tain po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights within south­ern Nige­ria. How­ever, that is a pos­si­bil­ity he will not dis­miss ei­ther.

“I do not have the fact as to the vi­a­bil­ity of us­ing the South­ern Gov­er­nors Fo­rum for the pres­i­den­tial am­bi­tion of any in­di­vid­ual. It is not im­pos­si­ble though bear­ing in mind that the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC) lead­ers in the South­west met in Ibadan about two weeks ago. I re­call that th­ese lead­ers re­solved that any mem­ber of the party can con­test for the pres­i­den­tial seat in 2019 and for me that is quite telling,” Si­te­olu said.

In­deed, at the meet­ing in Ibadan be­ing ref­er­enced by Si­te­olu, Chief Bisi Akande, a for­mer Na­tional Act­ing Chair­man of the APC, was em­phatic when re­spond­ing to jour­nal­ists’ en­quiry that the de­ci­sion on Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari ‘s re-elec­tion would be taken at the ap­pro­pri­ate time and that the pres­i­dent hasn’t said any­thing about re-run.

Yet, the South­west APC lead­ers’ meet­ing was the sec­ond of its kind to be hosted in Ibadan within one month. On Septem­ber 7, 2017, lead­ers across po­lit­i­cal par­ties, groups and so­cial lean­ings within the geo-po­lit­i­cal zone had gath­ered at the Obafemi Awolowo Sta­dium, Adamas­ingba, to pro­claim what is now known as “Ibadan dec­la­ra­tion” on po­lit­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing. Un­til that day, five of the six gov­er­nors within the geo-po­lit­i­cal zone who are of the APC and had been re­served in show­ing open sup­port for the re­struc­tur­ing ag­i­ta­tion also de­clared their sup­port through their rep­re­sen­ta­tives. But a lead­ing con­vener of the Ibadan dec­la­ra­tion sum­mit and spokesper­son of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba so­cio-po­lit­i­cal group, Yinka Odu­makin, dis­agreed that the con­ver­gence was called for po­lit­i­cal schem­ing ahead of 2019.

But for Joe Ig­bokwe, the spokesper­son of the APC, La­gos chap­ter, there is noth­ing wrong if the re­con­ven­ing of the SGF is for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons be­cause “po­lit­i­cal power and eco­nomic power are Si­amese”. He ex­plained that any­thing ca­pa­ble of re­view­ing the coun­try’s rev­enue al­lo­ca­tion for­mula is no doubt po­lit­i­cal.

“We can­not talk about eco­nom­ics with­out pol­i­tics. Both have link­ages. And I can sense the move for bal­ance of power in the sum­mit be­cause up till now, the North­ern Gover­nor’s Fo­rum still meets. So if we agreed that the po­lit­i­cal power of Nige­ria is in the North, I think it is only right to af­firm that the coun­try’s eco­nomic power is in the South. So, that is the bal­anc­ing I’m talk­ing about,” Ig­bokwe said.

Si­te­olu was how­ever, of the opinion that any can­di­date be­ing pro­moted by the south­ern lead­ers must have na­tion­wide sup­port to emerge as a pres­i­dent.

Michael Arubayi, a La­gos based so­ciopo­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, agreed with Si­te­olu on the po­ten­tial can­di­date’s coun­try-wide ac­cept­abil­ity but also added that if in­deed there were schem­ings to use the SGF to pro­mote a south­ern can­di­date that will square up against Buhari in 2019, the fact that some of the gov­er­nors have ro­bust re­la­tion­ship with Abuja should worry the pro­mot­ers.

Aside Gover­nor Am­bode and Gover­nor Em­manuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State, the La­gos sum­mit was at­tended by the gov­er­nors of Ogun, Sen­a­tor Ibikunle Amo­sun; Oyo, Sen­a­tor Abi­ola Aji­mobi; Rivers, Nye­som Wike; Osun, Og­beni Rauf Aregbesola; Ebonyi, Dave Umahi; Edo, God­win Obaseki; Ondo, Arakun­rin Oluwaro­timi Ak­eredolu; Abia, Okezie Ik­peazu; Enugu, Ifeanyi Ug­wuanyi; Bayelsa, Se­ri­ake Dick­son and Ek­iti, Ay­o­dele Fayose.

The Gov­er­nors of Cross River, Anam­bra and Delta were rep­re­sented by their deputies - Mr. Evara Esu; Dr. Ikem Okeke and Mr. Kings­ley Otu­aru re­spec­tively. It was only the Imo State Gover­nor, Rochas Oko­rocha, who did not at­tend and did not send a rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

South­ern gov­er­nors

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