On Tuesday, May 11, 2021, the governors of the Southern states of Nigeria gathered in Asaba the capital of Delta State to find lasting solution to Nigeria’s political crisis.
The south of the country has seventeen states. So, in the meeting were the seventeen governors of the two major parties, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, All Progressives Congress, APC, and All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA. Although two governors did not attend. No reason was given. Two also elected to send their deputies.
PDP is the opposition party while APC is the ruling party. The omnibus meeting shows the urgency of the conerence and explains the dire situation in the country. Bipartisan meeting in Nigeria is few and far between. It has to do with the acrimonious political culture of the country. This one was actually called by the Secretary of Sothern Governors Forum and governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. It was sponsored by one of the business moguls of the country, an indigene of the state.
The meeting came out with a 12-point resolution.
Perhaps, the first declaration was a source of consolation to those who feared that the country would split in the obvious alarm being raised in all the media both traditional and social. The governors’ resolution had a different tone, saying they “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.”
In line with the loud outcry from the Middle Belt to the South of the country, the governors emerged with a populist resolution that says they ‘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.’
And more importantly, the governors “demanded that the country be restructured, a review of revenue allocation formula in favor of the sub-national governments, and creation state police.”
A critical evaluation of these resolutions reveals that the governors were not willing to take responsibility for the security challenges. They passed the buck to the federal government. The governors ought to have come up with practical steps in dealing with the current difficult situation. Buck-passing cannot take the country to the Promised Land. This is Nigeria where federalism is in the pages of the country’s constitution but not in practice.
It was equally astonishing to discover that the governors did not declare what role the regional security outfits they have set up should play in tackling non-state invaders who have held their people hostage or prevented them from engaging in farming and other legitimate business activities.
Many opinion molders have said that the southern governors have re-ignited the call for national dialogue, saying they “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.” This is a crucial suggestion. But the last one was done in 2014 and nothing has come out of it. The North refused bluntly to abide by the outcome of the National Conference. Millions of dollars expended on the conference were wasted for nothing.
The demand presupposes that the governors are not satisfied with the role being played by the National Assembly, a supposed representative of the people, in the midst of the chaos in Nigeria. Members of the National Assembly have demonstrated such docility that they are not taken seriously by the Executive at the federal level and even state governors. With an effective legislature, there should be no need for a national conference.
The national Assembly is a reflection of the government they serve. It is a rubber-stamp of the federal government. Already there are deafening voices from political and religious leaders of the North as well as leaders of thought from the region against the humble and patriotic resolutions of the Southern governors. The presidency has already summoned some of its governors in the meeting to the presidential villa for questioning, accusing them of anti-party activity and insubordination.
The North has its own Governors Forum. It has met several times to make decisions that would favor the Northern region mainly. Any cry against the Southern governors meeting and its resolutions is a cry against the unity of the country and a push for more ethnic crises in Nigeria.
Both parties promised during their campaigns to restructure the country if elected. An APC governor in the North was even the chairman of his party’s commission on restructuring. He promised that the country needed restructuring but now, he has reneged on the promise, saying Nigeria doesn’t need any restructuring. He was among the first to abuse the southern governors for initiating the meeting.
For those who opposed the governors’ demands, the lop-sided structure of the country should not be dismantled. It serves the North better including infesting the country with terrorist groups – Boko Haram, Islamic State of west Africa Province, Fulani Herdsmen, Fulani Bandits, etc.
Nonetheless, the public wants the governors to go beyond mere declaration by taking the issues raised at Asaba to the National Security Council meeting. It is feared that at such meetings governors, in an attempt to be politically correct, fail to frankly tackle vital issues, but return to their region to make populist statements. This does not do the country any good. It amounts to playing to the gallery.
Nigeria had similar experience in 1967. Prior to the full crisis, leaders of the Federal Government and their counterparts from the Eastern Region met in Aburi, Ghana to have a dialogue to resolve the crisis. The meeting was initiated by the then Ghanaian Head of State, Gen. Joseph Ankrah.
The Nigerian civil war of 1967 – 1970 that claimed the lives of more than 2 million citizens of the country was a consequence of non-implementation of the resolutions reached at the meeting known as Aburi Conference. And it produced a popular slogan in the East at the time, “On Aburi We Stand”. We hope there won’t be a repeat of that ugly experience again after 54 years. On Asaba We Stand!