By Bola Bolawole
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The 17 Southern governors met again last Monday in Lagos to discuss and or respond to national issues of common interest to them and their people. At the end, they issued a communique which was well measured and apt, addressing all the germane issues in a mature, responsible, and responsive manner. The communique, I dare to say, hallmarked civility without compromising virtues. The North and its uncouth, irascible, rambunctious leaders and self-appointed spokespersons have a lot to learn from the Southern governors. Despite provocations and assaults from the North, the Southern governors have kept their cool and have refrained from losing their head. Presidential spin doctor, Garba Shehu, disrespected them; they kept their cool. Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federal Government (not of the Federation!) insulted them; they kept their cool. Cattle rearers, Miyetti Allah, Sheik Gumi and many other busybodies and meddlesome interlopers from the North poked their fingers in the face of Southern governors; they kept their cool. The president himself needlessly, unjustifiably, and unpresidentially lambasted the Southern governors; still, the governors kept their cool. They could have fired back because it is said that respect begets respect. On the occasions that the Southern governors have responded to the tantrums and provocative statements of Northern leaders, they have done so with decorum, showing proper home training and good upbringing. Kudos! As Nelson Mandela demonstrated to that erstwhile racist lecturer of his trying desperately to embarrass the latter-day Black Pimpernel, no one gives what he does not possess. And as the Yoruba will say, “Bibiire ko se f’owo ra” Oh yes, neither proper home training nor good upbringing is purchasable in the marketplace!
The Southern governors’ Lagos communique said it all – nothing to add and nothing to subtract! It “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; reiterated their 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; reviewed the security situation in the country and commended security operatives for their relentless efforts in restoring security and safety and commiserated with families and loved ones of those who have fallen in the line of duty; re-emphasised the need for State Police; 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; frowned at selective criminal administration of Justice and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the Law and fundamental human rights”
Perhaps, revisiting its Asaba meeting of May 11, 2021 (the first of its kind), the governors “set a timeline of Wednesday, 1st September, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member States; and 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”. Despite the Asaba declaration, I have witnessed continued open grazing in all the South-west states – Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo. Some reports say Federal authorities are bent on sabotaging the initiative.
On the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Law, the governors commended the National Assembly for the progress made in the passage of the bill but “rejects the proposed 3% and support the 5% share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House of Representatives; rejects the proposed 30% share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins; rejects the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC); disagrees that the company be vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance but should be held in trust by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of Government have stakes in that vehicle… In order to consolidate our democracy and strengthen the Electoral process, the Southern Governors’ Forum rejects the removal of the Electronic transmission of election results from the electoral act; and also rejects the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court”
Take note that the Southern governors premised the so-called “non-negotiable” unity of this country on the proviso of “equity, fairness, justice, progress and peaceful co-existence between and amongst its people” Where these are lacking – as they are today – then, your guess is as good as mine! The ONLY basis for One Nigeria has been stated clearly and unambiguously by the Southern governors – the very basis that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has thrown to the dogs. Buhari must beat a quick retreat to those hallowed principles, his tail between his legs, or else… Well spoken, Southern governors!
Space constraints will not allow me to treat the communique item by item. Let me, however, single out the Southern governors’ decisions on rotational presidency and state police. Whenever the presidency is in the South, the North screams “rotation” but the moment it is in the North, they speak “the best candidate”! Ironically, they have produced the worst leaders this country has ever had – be it military or civilian – minus, possibly, JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi. The pervasive insecurity straddling this country today is not only self-inflicted, it is also orchestrated, designed to achieve a hidden agenda, which is why the Northern cabals are opposed to State police. They want the South exposed and left defenceless so that the land-grabbing Fulani herdsmen can overrun it. State police will do a lot to frustrate that agenda. Having put their foot down on State police, the Southern governors should now go ahead to match their word with action. Buhari cannot pretend not to know that the various state security outfits in the North carry sophisticated weapons. He cannot, therefore, continue to deny the South the same rights and or prerogatives. Both political and legal action should be taken by the Southern governors to wrest this concession on their fundamental rights to life and to self-defence from the president.
The 1999 Constitution makes a governor the Chief Security Officer of his state but in practical terms, he is a toothless bulldog. Governors cannot control or command the police or DSS in their state. What baffles me is that the governors still go ahead to fund the selfsame security outfits! They say he who pays the piper dictates the tune – not so, governors! They pay the piper but Abuja dictates the tune, most of the time to the chagrin of the governors themselves! There must be some logic behind this illogicality that is hidden from the public! Until they started to speak out in measured tones, none of the Southern governors raised their voice over the lop-sidedness of Buhari’s security architecture. We did not hear them speak anytime qualified Southerners were bypassed for less qualified Northern Muslims/Fulanis, be it in the Police, Army, Navy, Air Force, the paramilitary agencies, the Judiciary, Civil Service, name it. This is baffling! Now that they are crying over spilled milk, let’s see how far they can go. A saying is that it is too late to cry when the head is off.
Another saying, however, is that it is better late than never! Let us hope this setting sun is still vibrant enough to dry the clothes the Southern governors are hurriedly spreading out on the lines. For far too long, Southerners had respected the North and allowed them to get away with blue murder again and again. Each audacious move and act of impunity emboldened the North the more; to the point they started to think it is their birthright to ride roughshod over everyone else. No more! Southern governors must now challenge the audacity of the North. Their impunity rankles! Enough is now enough! Southern governors must lead the battle to demand the South’s fair share in appointments and resources being poured into the North to the chagrin of the South. Under the Buhari dispensation, the entire South has been marginalized and not as much as a whimper was heard from the governors.
But they, too, must also look inward for redemption! There is so much the Southern governors can do under the present system, skewed as it is, that they are neglecting to do in the areas of education, agriculture, mining, job creation and youth empowerment, etc to increase internally-generated revenue and lessen their dependence on Abuja. They must begin henceforth to set their priorities right and take good governance seriously. Why, for instance, should Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, whose state owes salaries, be planning a new N2 billion Governor’s Office? If the billions wasted by ex-Gov. Ayo Fayose on a new Governor’s Office and an overhead bridge that started nowhere and ended nowhere had been invested on Igbemo rice and the abandoned ranches and farm settlements of the Awo era dotted all over Ekiti, that state would have been the better for it. Away with grandiose, vain glorious, white elephant, personal aggrandisement and “sekarini” projects! Let Akeredolu make do with what is available! Otherwise, he should work from his own personal home! Alhaji Lateef Jakande did so in Lagos to applause. After all, Owo, Akeredolu’s home town, is just a stone throw away from Akure, the state capital. Akeredolu leads the other Southern governors; let his charity begin from home! Leaders must show good examples. Let Akeredolu pay full salaries and pensions as at when due. Since he is a Christian, Akeredolu would have come across the scripture that says: “For the scripture saith, Thou shall not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (1 Timothy 5:18). Deuteronomy 24:15 says “At his day thou shall give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee” In Hadith 20, the Prophet Muhammad commanded: “Pay the worker his dues before his sweat has dried up” I am from Ondo state and I have firsthand knowledge of the suffering of the workers there and the unbearable pressure they put on those of us outside the state – pressure from family members, relations, friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers who happen to chance on your phone numbers. That has got to stop! Akeredolu cannot fight for freedom outside (and rightly so) but enslave and oppress his own people at home! Time for his charity to begin from home is now!