The Loud Echoes of the Southern Governors
Twice they have spoken, twice they have shaken the polity. First, it was in Asaba, Delta State (last May 11) and just last Monday, they roared again, this time in Lagos, the city they have declared as the permanent secretariat of the Southern Governors’ Forum.
Only the naïve can either dismiss the 17 governors of Southern Nigeria or trifle with the points they have made. The message from the governors is as clear as crystal. And it is not far from declaring that the status quo cannot be allowed to continue. And this does not have anything to do with party affiliation or a warped sense of loyalty to some insensitive political leader. Both governors elected on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or even All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). The resolve seems to be like saying, we cannot be slave to party loyalty at the expense of the lives and safety of our people. This has been expressed on all fronts.
Only dull-brained people will not see the dangers ahead. Perhaps what is even more frightening is the fact that the federal government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, does not seem to appreciate or correctly interpret the implication of the gathering clouds.
For a long time, the governors of the southern part of Nigeria have not had such a rousing consensus on national matters and concerns. But pushing all their partisan differences apart, they are all agreed on the issues of the safety of their people. What else is governance all about if it does not accommodate the interest, safety and well being of the people?
Under President Buhari’s administration, too many things have gone wrong and unchecked in a way that they now seem to be like the normal. I am sure the southern governors were simply tired of waiting for things to change. It is even doubly worse for the APC governors. How can they convince their people that the man whom they voted for is in power and they are under the heavy burden of insecurity and hunger? How can they explain that farmers can no longer go to their farms, or that people can no longer travel freely on the highways without being harassed, kidnapped or even killed by Fulani herdsmen? How do they engage the people on any governance discourse and not talk about such danger in the polity?
Yes, Nigeria is an amalgam of disparate groups and people. Since independence, it has been the responsibility of all leaders to effectively manage
those differences in a way that there is a semblance of a united Nigeria. But sadly, the present administration has not been brilliant in this regard. And the consequence is that the fault lines in the country are not only getting heavily defined, but are getting bolder and deeper. There is now so much deference to primordial considerations like region and religion. There is now no pretence about fostering the narrative of a united Nigeria.
That is why the Southern governors were manifestly regional in their advocacy and demands. Charity, they say, begins from home.
The president has been repeatedly and publicly accused of nepotism, and rightly so. But that has not changed anything. The malaise of ethnic superiority among the Hausa/Fulani, for instance, is no longer a mere feeling, but a practical, bitter experience in the Nigerian system. It is there in the Nigerian civil service, it is there in the Army, Customs, Immigration, Airforce etc., just everywhere. A friend told me very recently that in her parastatal (under the Ministry of Transport) there are no middle-level southerners at all. What that means is that when the present crop of senior officers retire, the parastatal will be completely in the hands of people from a particular section of the country. Yet, there is an entire section of government meant to manage and project the ethos of regional balancing, called Federal Character Commission.
It is instructive that the Southern governors have been forced to get united, courtesy of the dare devilry of bandits and herdsmen who have literally seized the peace and quiet of the region. Now, the fire has been lit. the flame can only be managed, not quenched.
Now, irrespective of whatever the position of the various political parties, the 17 governors of the south have resolved that the presidency must come back to the South in 2023. Interestingly, some of the Middle Belt governors plus Governors Abdullahi Ganduje and Babagana Zulum of Kano and Borno States respectively, have endorsed the position of the Southern governor. This as some of the governors in the North have not only called Ortom, Ganduje and Bulum as sell-outs, they have argued that the principle of rotational presidency is not in the Nigerian constitution.
Indeed, governors like Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), AminuTambuwal(Sokoto),formerKano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso and even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar have all been warming up for a shot at the presidency, even as a northerner would have occupied the seat for eight full years (by 2023). The north needs the south as much as the
South needs the north. But there is a vexatious sense of arrogance among the northern political elite that seems to suggest a sense of entitlement in the Nigerian federation. The Southern governors, by their declaration, last Monday in Lagos, have declared that such cusp of arrogance can no longer be accepted.
The Southern governors also declared that the new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) being passed by the National Assembly is not only offensive to good thinking, but also inconsiderate to the host communities. They rejected the ownership structure provision infused into the Bill. How can it be explained, for instance, that states where the petroleum pipelines pass through would automatically be regarded as Oil-producing states, just so they can benefit from the proposed five or three per cent equity holding in Host Communities Trust Fund? This is hilarious and vexatious! This is not to even mention the reluctance, if not refusal of the upper chamber to raise the equity holding for host communities to five per cent like the Lower Chamber did. Yet, a wholesome 30 per cent of the fund is approved for exploration of oil in far away dry zones like Borno and behind the deserts. Some of the provisions of the PIB seek to undermine the collective intelligence of the Niger Delta region and its people. The National Assembly cannot afford to cut their nose to spite their face. Nobody tests the depth of a river with both feet at once.
Rightly too, the Southern governors have argued that if indeed, they are the Chief Security Officers of the various States, as the constitution merely ascribes them, then they should be in the know before federal security agencies carry out operations in their various states. This is believed to have arisen from the dawn attack of the residence of Sunday Igboho, about a week ago. How could the DSS, for instance, have carried out such a massive attack on the home of Igboho, without the governor of the state (Oyo) having a wink of the operation?
It was so heartwarming that the Southern governors have also resolved that all state Assemblies of the Southern States would have passed a law banning open grazing in their various states. The ban is expected to take effect September 1, 2021.
This is regardless of the President’s search for colonial gazette of ancient grazing routes in the country.
ll, the Southern governors have squared up to the president, looking him eyeball-to-eyeball, and saying, No More! This is a delicate curve in the journey to nationhood. How well Mr President negotiates this bend will determine how well the ship of state will sail therefrom. We watch. We Wait!