THE October 22, 2017 meeting of governors from the southern part of the country hosted by Lagos State could not have come at a better time. For about 12 years, the Southern Governors Forum had remained in virtual limbo and inertia occasioned by the vagaries of politics and divisive tendencies. Virtually all the issues bordering on the attainment of nationhood, the fulcrum of its advocacy, are still begging for serious attention. The issues have persisted in spite of the immense capacity and opportunities available for the country to truly gain an eminent position in the comity of nations. Thus, it has been difficult to ensure that the welfare of the citizenry is neither compromised nor trampled upon.
It is clear that Nigeria currently practices a convoluted federalism. The country has a centre with awesome powers, beggarly constituent units called states, weak institutional frameworks, unitary command structure and centralised policing system, all of which run against the principles of federalism and have blighted its image as the world’s largest black nation. The point has to be made that it was the advocacy of the Southern Governors Forum on special allocation to oil-producing states that crystallised in the existing derivation formula of 13 per cent for such states. Also to the credit of the forum is the nullification, by the Supreme Court, of the Federal Government’s practice of deducting money from the Federation Account as a first line charge for the funding of Joint Venture Contracts, the NNPC priority projects, servicing of external debt, the judiciary, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other federal obligations.
The timing of the latest meeting of the forum is particularly auspicious given the current state of the efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution. The amendments carried out by the National Assembly will soon come up for scrutiny at the state Houses of Assembly. The forum should be ready to muster the necessary political courage to boost the ongoing advocacy for the “practice of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law” in the country. We also commend the governors for realising the need to build synergy and collaborate towards taking the full advantage of the tremendous and diverse opportunities to drive the economies of the South. Indeed, the move should have commenced long ago. The socioeconomic and political indices in all the 17 states of the South make the push imperative. The chairman of the forum, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State; the co-chairmen, Governor Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa State) and Governor Dave Umahi (Ebonyi State) and indeed all their colleagues in the forum must work hard to actualise this dream if they hope to etch their names on the pages of history.
With others before them having been able to rise above narrow interests and conduct a series of successful meetings in the past, the current governors must appreciate that major battles are won through the collective spirit, unity of purpose and uncommon sacrifice. They should be dispassionate in their judgment of what is in the overall best interest of the people in their immediate constituencies within the ambit of national politics. While being compassionate and visionary in thinking and action, they should not lose focus on what binds them together as a political entity. They must address the developmental needs of their people, particularly the collapsed infrastructure.
It is indeed heartening that the governors are prepared to address the country’s warped federal allocation formula, skewed population calculus and arithmetic, foolhardy policing system with endemic hiccups, the poverty conundrum and the deep-seated anger across the country over the present federal arrangement. There is no doubt that the country needs to be saved from possible implosion. The meeting shows the governors’ appreciation of the concern frequently expressed by most elders and progressive forces in the South and North about the precarious situation of Nigeria. We hope that they will not only sustain the tempo of their interaction, but also reach out to their counterparts in the North on the imperative of unbundling those encumbrances and obstacles that have continued to impede and stall national cohesion, stability and progress.
As the nation looks forward to its next meeting scheduled for Port Harcourt, Rivers State, we hope that the forum will uphold the spirit and reason behind its evolution, which is to liaise with other genuine stakeholders in the Nigeria project to evolve a new Nigeria where every citizen will have a sense of belonging.