By Eric Elezuo
The 1th of May 2021 marked a new beginning in the annals of Nigeria’s politics. On that day, the combined forces of governors that make up southern Nigeria gathered in Asaba, Delta State, ostensibly to take their future into their own hands. The 17 governors of the three regions that make up southern Nigeria has independently agreed that the issue of neglect, nepotism, killings and general insecurity ravaging the regions, and orchestrated by the dreaded Fulani herdsmen was getting out of hand. They also came to terms albeit individually that the Commander in Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari was treating the matters with kid’s gloves thereby feathering the nest of the killer herders and causing the people to live in perpetual fear.
Consequently, the Asaba retreat, hosted by the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, brought the governors together, with the singular objective of speaking as one voice and taking concrete steps to addressing the issues that have so far polarised the country, majorly among them a stand on open grazing and lopsided appointments, particularly that of heads of security agencies, which in their thinking, did not reflect federal character.
At the end of proceedings, the governors, without losing sight at the unity of the country, agreed collectively that time has come to stop playing second fiddle in the scheme of things, and play more active role at least in the interest of the people who elected them. As a result, they Nigerian resolved as part of 12 other resolutions, to ban open grazing of cattle in their states.
It would be recalled that open grazing of cattle has caused fatal conflicts between host communities and migrant herdsmen, resulting in several deaths in many states including Enugu, Ebonyi, Ondo, Oyo and others. The case is even more prevalent in North central states like Benue, Plateau and Taraba states.
Not only that, most of the herdsmen have also been accused of committing other criminal acts, including armed robbery, high profile kidnappings and murder.
When the forum met in May, 15 out of 17 governors were in attendance. They were Delta State Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Nyesom Wike (Rivers), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos).
Others were Douye Diri (Bayelsa), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), David Umahi (Ebonyi), Willie Obiano (Anambra).
Imo and Akwa Ibom States were represented by their deputy governors, at the meeting while governors of Osun and Cross Rivers States were absent.
Another weighty demand made by the governors was a call on President Buhari to “convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency.” This, to many observers, is believed to be an avenue to usher in a much needed debate to determine the indivisibility of Nigeria or otherwise in the wake of separatist groups clamouring for separation from the country, in addition to urging Buhari to “address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity…”
In totality, the governors made the following recommendations:
i) Affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity;
ii) Observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.
Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria;
iii) Noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot);
iv) Recommended that the Federal Government should support WILLING States to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems; agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism;
vi) Recommended that in view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency;
vii) Recommended that in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is need to review appointments into Federal Government Agencies (including Security Agencies) to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogenous;
viii) Resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern States and the nation at large
ix) Expressed concern on the continued gridlock on the Oshodi Apapa Expressway and the chokehold it has exerted on the nation’s economy being the sole outlet from Apapa Wharf. The meeting therefore recommended the activation and establishment of ports in other States of the federation to create new jobs and promote socio-economic activities in the country;
x) The meeting expressed concern the economic implications of another lockdown on the country, and therefore suggested greater coordination and cooperation between Federal and State Governments in evolving strategies for dealing with the pandemic
xi) Expressed very grave concern on the security challenge currently plaguing the nation and strongly urged that Mr. President should address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity and restore the confidence of our people
The 12th agenda in the list of recommendations was a note of gratitude to Governor Okowa for hosting the gathering.
The major take from the event was the unequivocal refusal of open grazing, thereby banning it in all southern states.
The decisions, however, instead of uniting the country, further polarised it. While many hailed the decisions of the governors, especially those from the south, some others condemned both the governors and the decisions. Most of those that frowned at it were from the North and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
Among notable voices that condemned the southern governors were the Presidency, which spoke thorugh media aide, Garba Shehu, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General. Abubakar Malami, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and many other individuals and groups.
A part of the Garba Shehu’s statement read:
“It is very clear that there was no solution offered from their resolutions to the herder-farmer clashes that have been continuing in our country for generations.
“But the citizens of the southern states – indeed citizens of all states of Nigeria – have a right to expect their elected leaders and representatives to find answers to challenges of governance and rights, and not to wash their hands off hard choices by, instead, issuing bans that say: “not in my state.”
“It is equally true that their announcement is of questionable legality, given the Constitutional right of all Nigerians to enjoy the same rights and freedoms within every one of our 36 states (and FCT) -regardless of the state of their birth or residence.”
Undeterred and emboldened by their May 11 declaration in Asaba Delta State, the 17 Southern governors again converged on Lagos on July 5 to ratify the decisions just as critical stakeholders were beginning to think that the meeting was a “mere gathering” where empty threats or resolutions are made. The meeting was hosted by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the State House, Ikeja.
With a determined resolve to get out of the second fiddle class, the Southern Governors Forum at the end of the meeting reviewed the situation in the Country with a focus on the current security situation, constitutional amendment, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
They agreed on the following:
1. Re-affirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, fairness, justice, progress, and peaceful co-existence between and amongst its people.
2. The Forum reiterates its commitment to the politics of equity, fairness and unanimously agrees that the presidency of Nigeria be rotated between Southern and Northern Nigeria and resolved that the next president of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.
a. The Forum reviewed the security situation in the country and commends security operatives for their relentless efforts in restoring security and safety and commiserates with families and loved ones of those who have fallen in the line of duty;
b. Re-emphasised the need for State Police;
c. Resolved that if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any State, the Chief Security Officer of the State must be duly informed;
d. The forum frowns at selective criminal administration of Justice and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the Law and fundamental human rights;
e. Set a timeline of Wednesday, 1st September, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti open grazing law in all member States; and
f. Resolved that Funds deducted from the Federation Account for the Nigeria Police Security Trust Fund should be distributed among the States and Federal Government to combat security challenges.
4. Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Law:
i. The Forum commends the National Assembly for the progress made in the passage of the PIB;
ii. The Forum rejects the proposed 3% and support the 5% share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House of Representatives;
iii. The forum also rejects the proposed 30% share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins;
iv. However, the forum rejects the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC). The Forum disagrees that the company be vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance but should be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of Government have stakes in that vehicle.
5. In order to consolidate our democracy and strengthen the Electoral process, the Southern Governors’ Forum reject the removal of the Electronic transmission of the election result from the electoral act; and also rejects the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court.
6. The Forum unanimously chose Lagos State as its permanent secretariat and appreciated the Governor of Lagos State for the wonderful hosting of this meeting while commending him for his good work in the State.
The second leg of the gathering received commendations from stakeholders among them, according to Guardian reports, were former Chief of Defence Staff, General Alani Akinrinade (rtd), General Secretary, National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Mr. Ayo Opadokun and spokesman, Middle Belt Forum, Dr Isuwa Dogo. They hailed the governors’ determination to meet and take a stand, especially at this uncertain period, while tasking them to go beyond making resolutions.
They also said the governors should deploy better strategies by involving their representatives in the National Assembly, engage the State Houses of Assembly and also seek collaborations of socio-cultural and political organisations, to get their aim and objectives achieved.
Akinrinade, for one, commended the forum for having the courage to reconvene, noting that the present challenges confronting Nigeria would linger till the next century “except something urgent is done. He urged them to “remain resolute in the demand for restructuring.”
He called on the Forum to go a step further and impress it upon the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and all other southern legislators to kickstart the debate on how to restructure the country.
But The Boss has learnt that northern lawmakers are keeping tabs Gbajabiamila and may initiate an impeachment motion against him if he tries anything they perceive to be against the interest of their region.
In their separate views, Dogo and Opadokun said the governors should deploy tactical strategies to get their demands achieved while persuading the National Assembly and their various States Assembly to implement and recognise the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference.
“If they are serious, they can also get support from States like Adamawa, Plateau, Taraba, Southern Kaduna, Sokoto, Kwara and Kogi. They should mobilise all the socio-political and cultural bodies to support restructuring and how to implement the conference report. By the time they do this, President Buhari will have no choice than to adhere to their demands.”
Meanwhile northern caucus as a forum and has individuals have come down hard on the southern governors for their calls on ban on open grazing, restructuring, the need for southern president come 2023 and many more, dismissing them as selfless lots, who do not care of matters of national interest but more preoccupied with regional politics.
But more attacks trailed the governors declarations. The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) rejected the position of the forum that the South should produce the President come 2023, saying it would not be compelled into yielding a democratically elected office.
The forum’s Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, observed that as far as the North was concerned, the idea that it would be indirectly threatened or intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office which ought to be settled democratically is not acceptable.
“We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest.”
He stressed that the democratic rights of Nigerian citizens to vote for a candidate cannot be snatched by threats or intimidation, adding that politicians were becoming very lazy to think they will be given leadership in a manner that suggests an ultimatum.
The southern has already penciled September 1 as the deadline for the promulgation of the law on ban on open grazing in all concerned states. As at press time, Ogun State has become the first of the states to enact the law. It therefore, remains to be seen the efforts that would be put in place to ensure that the presidency comes down south in 2023.
But for now, it is obvious that the southern governors are done with playing second fiddle!