Southern Governors’ Summit: Moving from Talk to Action

Governors from the southern part of Nigeria under the aegis of the Southern Nigeria Governors Forum (SNGF) met in Asaba, Delta State on 11 May 2021, to proffer solutions to the spate of killings, kidnapping, and other security challenges bedeviling the country.

13 governors were present at the meeting. Gov. Hope Uzodimma of Imo State was represented by his deputy, Prof. Placcid Njoku, while Udom Emmanuel of Akwa-Ibom State was  represented by his Deputy, Mr Moses Ekpo.

Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State and Ben Ayade of Cross River State were absent.The Forum reviewed the general situation in the country ranging from insecurity to agitations for restructuring, as well as prospect for inter-state collaboration and partnerships. The COVID-19 pandemic was not left out.

The Governors in a 12-point communiqué read by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State, raised several issues of national importance. They are summarised as follows:

“Commitment of Southern Nigeria to the country’s unity; banning of open grazing across Southern Nigeria; developing alternative ways for livestock management; restructuring the Nigerian Federation in commitment to the tenets of true federalism; convoking a national dialogue to douse tensions and nationwide agitations; review of appointments to properly capture Federal Character; resolve to create a forum of Southern Government secretaries to develop economic growth mechanisms; creation of new ports in other states to reduce the load on Lagos; robust cooperation between states and FG in managing the COVID-19 pandemic; and finally for the President to address the nation on the insecurity issue.”

This was not the first of its kind as Southern Governors have always been meeting albeit on a zonal basis (southwest, southeast and south-south).

Though long overdue, the governors have been commended for the bold step in forging a common front so as to help in stabilising the country.

It reveals the resolve of the southern governors to find a lasting solution to the present threat of insecurity and the persistent calls for secession.

To further prove the political unity of this move, the Southern Forum of the Nigerian Senate, a day after the meeting, expressed support and solidarity with the resolutions of the meeting.  The statement read:

“As insecurity continues to take a toll on the country and subjecting many to kidnapping and killing, the Southern Senators Forum (SSF), has commended Governors from the region for outrightly taking a firm position on burning national issues”.

The Forum encouraged the governors to swiftly follow up on their resolutions by immediately approaching the leadership of the National Assembly with a view to working  with the two arms of the parliament to ensure that their well-articulated positions on the state of the nation, especially as regards restructuring, state policing, and the jettisoning of archaic grazing methods are thoroughly and decisively addressed through the ongoing constitutional review exercise.

The resolutions of the meeting as laudable as they are would remain mere paperwork if there is no launching pad that would set in motion series of serious steps that can bring them to fruition.

With the southern region deeply engulfed in diverse forms of separatist agitations occasioned by the deteriorating spate of security in the region, distrust and lack of confidence in the motives and actions of the Buhari-led government has continued to fester.

In the Southeast, there is the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) whose members have maintained that they want a total breakaway from the country and an establishment of their own independent nation following perceived grievous marginalisation of Southeast indigenes.

There also exists various Yoruba groups who accuse the Federal Government of offering tacit and covert support to marauding herdsmen making incursions into their region.

These groups have  been sounding the drums of violent resistance and war, promising to do all it takes to protect their homeland from invaders.

The grievances extend to the Niger-Delta where displeasure is expressed to the constant neglect, worsening environmental degradation, and poverty in the region, despite providing the  oil and gas resources that account for the largest proportion of Nigeria’s revenue.

With such challenges, it is evident that Southern Nigeria is sitting on a keg of gunpowder that may explode into all our faces sooner than later.

With nowhere to hide anymore and seeing the pressing exigency to address these critical needs, the Southern Governors found it germane  to set aside political differences and convene this strategic meeting.

On the issue of open grazing, sufficient powers lie with the states to treat the issue with urgency as the Federal Government has shown repeatedly that it has no plan to issue an executive order to that effect.

Various agricultural schemes such as the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP) is still not fully acceptable to most observers who noted it was designed by the Federal Government as a repackaging of the initial widely-rejected Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) scheme: a programme meant to create reserved areas in each community where herders will live, grow, tend their cattle, and undertake other activities associated with the cattle business, without having to move around in search of grazing lands for cows.

There were agitations in many quarters that the policy will make such communities to be overrun and dominated by the herders eventually which saw the end of the RUGA program.

State Governors must muster courage and be decisive on the ban of open grazing. There should be robust engagement with their respective National Assemblies and laws must be made to domesticate this ban, while also providing means to develop alternative and modern ways for livestock management.

There are precedents to this as some states such as Ekiti have previously banned open grazing. Governor Ayo Fayose, made the groundbreaking move in May 2016 to deal with the endless menace in collaboration with the Ekiti State House of Assembly.

Governor Samuel Ortom followed suit in May 2017 by signing into law the Anti-Open Grazing bill which came with severe penalties for violators.

 The entire South can use this as a nucleus to create a robust anti-open grazing law to suit the dynamics and peculiarities of each state and pass it into law. This will go a long way in minimising the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country.

The issue of restructuring and its major attachments (State Police, Devolution of Power, Fiscal Federalism, etc.) have always been on the front burner of national discussions in Nigeria with many politicians using it to drum up sentimental support for their political ambitions.

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Proponents and dissidents of the restructuring theme have always backed their support or non-support for the implementation of the various components. State Police, for example, is highly expedient in the face of Nigeria’s heightening security lapses which indicates that it may be more effective than the current Central Police system we operate. But there are more salient issues that may make state policing fail in spite of its many benefits.

One of such is the fact that Nigeria is grossly under-policed, and the Nigerian Police is currently due for a comprehensive overhaul. Modern policing techniques and intelligence-based security are virtually non-existent in our force.

Before state policing is enforced, pertinent questions need to be asked. Can the states who rely virtually on federal allocations and currently owe civil servants up to five or six months in arrears effectively fund the police? Will a police force with unpaid six months’ salary not metamorphose into a gang of bandits and extortionists?

The Southern Governors forum should go beyond re-asking for restructuring and seek an audience with Mr. President to inquire about his plans on the subject.

In their communique, the Southern Governors Forum advocated for the urgent convening of a national dialogue in the form of a conference. This is in view of the widespread agitations among various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements.

From past experiences, these kinds of conferences are typically money-gulping and with the current fiscal austerity and cash crunch we are facing, this is not a wise call.

It will be recalled that the Obasanjo administration convoked a similar conference called National Political Reform Conference in 2005 with an attendance of about 398 delegates from all parts of the country. Obasanjo proposed N932million for that particular event, though estimates concluded the eventual amount spent was more than that.

Majority of Nigerians nonetheless maintain that the 2014 Confab under the immediate past administration was the best the country has ever had, and that its recommendations hold the key to unlocking the door to a new level of greatness and prosperity for the country.

In light of this, is it not wise for the Southern Governors to push for a small committee that can revisit all previous reports instead of advocating for avoidable spending on another jamboree?

 No doubt, southern political actors have set a good antecedent with this meeting and the subsequent resolutions. It is hoped that the sustained cooperation and harmony needed to pursue these recommendations to satisfactory accomplishment will not be truncated or impeded by political agenda.

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