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Governors of Southern Nigeria during a meeting at Government House, Asaba, Delta State on Tuesday.

Now that the South is stirring… By BolanleBolawole

Governors of Southern Nigeria during a meeting at Government House, Asaba, Delta State on Tuesday.

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They say better late than never; and that necessity is the mother of invention. If you push a sheep to the wall, as meek and toothless as it is, it will turn and bite. Napoleon Bonaparte, speaking concerning the then toothless China, warned that we heed the word of the elders and let the sleeping dog lie. The murderous Fulani killers, their sponsors and backers, being audacious, rapacious, and pugnacious, have spurned all wise sayings. They sowed the wind – and will now reap the whirlwind. They dug the pit – and will now fall into it themselves. The evil that men do not only lives after them, it also haunts them. So is the scripture fulfilled before our very eyes, to wit, that evil shall overtake the evil doers.

The South is stirring! The leaders of the South had slept, slumbered and lumbered for far too long. Like Rome’s King Nero, they fiddled while their territories were wasted and their people butchered by rampaging Fulani herdsmen, bandits, and terrorists. The South hoped on the Federal Government but again and again, their hopes were dashed. Compromised, the FG became a part of the problem. No solution could be expected from President Muhammmadu Buhari who seemingly preferred his title of Life Patron of Miyetti Allah to that of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Buhari, apparently, has diligently and meritoriously discharged his obligations to the Fulani herders than to his fellow citizens of Nigeria.

The sleeping giant stirred last Tuesday – but it is too early to say whether or not the South is fully awake. At a meeting in Asaba, Delta State, 15 governors from the South and two deputy governors representing their principals read the Riot Act to Buhari’s presidency. “Enough is now enough”, they said, if we must quote the vile dictator, Sani Abacha. The South will take no more of the impunity, audacity, and mindless bestiality of the Fulani herders, terrorists, and bandits. Like boxer Roberto Duran, Southern governors cried: No more! No more!! The South has taken too much beating from the Fulani already –and for no just cause.

The Southern governors “…reviewed the situation in the nation generally and focused on the current security situation, agitations/restructuring, prospects for inter-state collaboration and partnerships as well as on the incidence of the COVID-19 pandemic” and arrived at the following conclusions: 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; 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 life, 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; 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); 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; 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; 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 heterogeneous; resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern States and the nation at large.

“In this connection, Secretaries to the Governments of the Southern States are to work together to develop and institutionalize a mechanism to foster this cooperation which will advance the comparative economic advantages and other interests of the Southern States; 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; the meeting expressed concern on 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; 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 meeting was a right step in the right direction; it should, in fact, have come earlier than now. Some of the decisions taken were okay, such as the South-wide ban placed on open grazing; concern over the country’s deteriorating security situation; review of the federal allocation formula; the demand that federal appointments reflect federal character; support for state police; and the opposition to another COVID-19 lockdown, which was rumoured as another ploy to ferry armed Northern vagrants and foot-soldiers into the South.

The governors, however, fell into some of the pitfalls of the past. For instance, affirming the “unity” of Nigeria before anything else is what the North wants to hear. Whatever follows afterwards does not interest them. So, when the governors said they affirmed their commitment “ 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”, the North will only take “unity” and discard the others – justice, fairplay, peaceful co-existence, etc. The South should learn to emphasize and place justice, fairplay and equity over and above unity and oneness. In fact, I want to recommend that whenever we sit down – if we ever get to – to discuss the restructuring of the country (which the Southern governors also rightly supported and advocated), we should change Nigeria’s motto from “Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress” to “Justice and Fairplay, Equity and Progress”

I noticed that the governors were muted on fiscal federalism other than to demand a “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”. There can be no true federalism without fiscal federalism but how many of the Southern governors are comfortable with fiscal federalism? Without federal allocation, how many of them can stand on one leg, not to talk of two? So, the Southern states must note that they have a lot of work to do to develop their IGR. States have resources which the governors must begin to tap: Mineral resources “boku” while agriculture yearns for the right attention.

Apart from necessity, a lot of work must have gone into putting together the Southern governors meeting. Kudos! Note, however, that two governors were missing in action, even though they were “ably represented”, as they say. Gov. Hope Odidika Uzodinma of Imo State, who once threatened to sue anyone who addresses him as “Supreme Court governor”, was “unavoidably absent”; so also was the Cross River governor, Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade, whose quarrel with his Rivers State counterpart, Nyesom Wike, spilled into the open recently.

The governors wanted Buhari to address the nation: Of what use, if I may ask? This was how, after ENDSARS, some clamoured for Buhari to address the nation; he first dithered and when he finally succumbed, it was not just an anti-climax but a big flop. Buhari only succeeded in ridiculing himself as well as exposing his inadequacies. His characteristic lack of empathy caused me to ask what blood, if any, flows in his veins. It is a surprise, therefore, that the governors still think highly of Buhari addressing the nation. Similarly, their call on Buhari to convoke another national debate on restructuring will be time-wasting, energy-sapping, and cash-guzzling. The 2014 National Conference Report is there; dust it up! The APC’s own report on restructuring is also available; place it on the front-burner! Like Karl Marx said, “Philosophers have interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it”. There should be no beating about the bush trying to reinvent the wheel. We know what to do: The political will, the honesty, and the integrity to do the needful is what is lacking.

Southern legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives have thrown their weights behind the governors. From the House, the legislators said “after due considerations”, they “unanimously support the resolutions of the Southern Governors’ Forum on open grazing, the demand for true federalism, restructuring as well as the worsening insecurity in the country” They restated that Nigeria “must exist and be governed on the platform of the democratic tenets of social justice, equity, fairness, mutual respect, true federalism, rule of law, and constitutional order…” The ban placed on open cattle grazing by the Southern governors, they said, would check “the infiltration of bandits, armed herders and terrorist elements which has heightened security challenges with escalated killings and bloody attacks on innocent citizens while crippling social life, economic activities and food production in the region…” The lawmakers also backed the governors’ demand for “devolution of powers, creation of state police, review of resource control and revenue allocation formula, as well as strict adherence to the federal character principle in federal appointments in the shared interests of the federating states…”

MKO Abiola says no one claps with one hand; and the African-American activist and politician, Jesse Jackson, says a bird needs two wings to fly. So, Southern senators completed the cycle by also filing behind the Southern governors. According to them: “At this critical point of our national life when the economy was being bedevilled by galloping inflation, youth unemployment, and insecurity, food security is very crucial to mitigate the effects of these diverse evils on the citizens. Available records have shown that attaining food security status would remain a mirage in the South owing to the ravaging effect of outdated livestock grazing policy being unleashed on farmlands by some unscrupulous herders. Most appalling were the seemingly unabated kidnapping, raping, and killing of our people by suspected herdsmen who have become bandits heating up the system”

With Southern governors and Southern Federal legislators on the same page on the critical issues highlighted above, the die, as they say, is cast! Alea iacta est, says Julius Caesar! Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin, says the scripture (Daniel 5:25). Buhari and his administration have been put on the scale, they have been weighed, and have been both found wanting! Need I say more?

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