Different groups and individuals have been weighing in on what has become known as the ‘Asaba Accord’ or ‘Asaba Declaration’ – the resolutions made during last Tuesday’s meeting of the 17 Governors of Nigeria’s southern states.
Expectedly, agreement or disagreement with the accord have mostly been based on regional interest, although some groups and individuals seem to have broken ranks, albeit defiantly, from the usual.
Last Tuesday 11th May 2021, Southern Governors met in Asaba, the Delta State capital, and rolled out a communiqué based on what they called the ‘various national issues including security and restructuring’ they discussed, and the need for the President to talk to the people on the insecurity issues and what is being done.
One of the controversial but expected resolutions was the ban on open grazing of animals in all of Southern Nigeria ‘in view of the incursions of armed herders, criminals and bandits’.
The Governors also agreed that Nigeria needed to be restructured to reflect true federalism, state policing, a review of appointments into Federal Government agencies including security agencies to reflect federal character, as well as the convening of national dialogue to address greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements. They also recommended a change in the national revenue allocation formula and the establishment of ports in other states to address the congestion of the Apapa Port.
The resolutions can be said to be all-encompassing but they are basically a re-echo of what have been on national discourse in the best part of the last 60 years.
One of the first groups to respond was made up of members of the House of Representatives from the same 17 southern states, who said they “unanimously support the resolutions of the Southern Governors’ Forum on the demand for true federalism, restructuring as well as the worsening insecurity in the country”.
They said the Accord was a “firm restatement of our insistence that our nation must exist and governed on the platform of democratic tenets of social justice, equity, fairness, mutual respect, true federalism, rule of law and constitutional order, and we are ready to deploy all legislative instruments at our disposal for actualization”.
On the ban on open cattle grazing across the Southern Nigeria, agreed that the Federal Government should provide alternative and modern livestock management that does not constitute a security and economic challenge to the nation.
The platform is also in support the governors restatement of the demand for true federalism through restructuring that will lead to the devolution of power, creation of state police, review of resource control and revenue allocation formula, as well as strict adherence to federal character principle in federal appointments in the shared interests of the federating states.
Their colleagues in the Senate, the Southern Senators’ Forum also commended steps taken by the state governors from the region to stem the rise in insecurity, saying that a unanimous ban on open grazing would check those hiding under cattle grazing to unleash terror of kidnapping and killing on the residents of the region.
The Senators lamented how farmers in the region were losing millions of Naira to plundering of food crops through encroachments on farmlands thereby exposing the region to famine and acute food scarcity.
“At this critical point of our national life when the economy is being bedeviled by galloping inflation, youth unemployment and insecurity, food security is very crucial to mitigate the effects of these diverse evils on the citizens”, the Senators said.
Members of the minority caucus in the House of Representatives from the 19 northern states are also said to have endorsed the recommendations of the Southern Governors’ forum.
In a statement signed by Amos Gwamna (PDP, Kaduna), Solomon Maren (PDP, Plateau), Rimande Shawulu (PDP, Taraba), Mark Gbillah (PDP, Benue) and Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi) on behalf of the minority caucus, the lawmakers said:
“We, members of the minority from the north hereby call on President Buhari to heed the genuine advice of governors from the south and immediately address the nation to assuage frayed nerves. The president should also put machinery in place for the commencement of the process of restructuring the nation and initiate legislation to end open grazing, which has been at the centre of the lingering insecurity across the nation”.
Other groups like Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation; the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE); the Middle Belt Forum and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), have also applauded the resolution of Southern governors, with some saying the resolutions should have come earlier, especially on the areas of restructuring, open grazing, federal character and insecurity.
Even Bauchi State Governor, Bala Mohammed said that the Southern Governors were right on their claim of lopsided appointments in the present Federal Government. He is quoted as saying that there will always be problem if only one section is given positions in government, adding that self-actualisation and self-determination will always play out if there is no fairness at the top.
The Governor said: “If you are not fair and equitable in your administration, in your management, if there is nepotism where only one section is given positions in government, then there will be problems”.
However, several Northern groups and individuals have faulted the Asaba Accord, particularly as it relates to grazing.
Branches of the Miyetti Allah – the Cattle Breeders Association, including the national body, Plateau and Bauchi branches, the Kulen Allah Cattle Rearers Association of Nigeria (KACRAN), Elder Statesman Tanko Yakassai and Senator Aliyu Ndume do not agree with the Southern Governors’ resolutions, with some citing the 1999 Constitution to argue that every Nigerian can live and carry out their business in any part of the country.
However, Prof. Usman Yusuf, former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), raised eyebrows when he said the resolutions could not stand because the Southern Governors did not consult Fulani leaders before making the ‘No Grazing’ regulation.
He said on African Independent Television Kakaaki programme that the Southern governors must provide land for Fulani to graze their cattle if they want to ban open grazing.
There is no doubt that more the Asaba Accord will continue to generate more reactions and with the opposition PDP Governors Forum meeting called for today, it would be interesting if their reaction would different from those already expressed by the other groups, knowing that the Southern Governors Forum itself is made up of a combination of PDP, APC and APGA Governors who have refused to let party affiliation affect these topical issues under discourse.
The open grazing, insecurity and federal character issues are not new items on the agenda in the Nigerian space and most of the states, have, for instance passed laws on open grazing. Virtually all the states have passed that law. It cannot be said to be something that was unexpected, except by those who prefer to play the ostrich. And a linkage of the herders with the banditry, kidnapping and other insecurity issues in both North and South of the country was sooner than later, expected to bring things to a head, and attract drastic measures to curb them. Even the Federal Government cited its scheme to link SIM cards to National ID as a part of its effort to curtail the insecurity in the country as perpetrated by ‘unknown’ or ‘unregistered’ persons, using unregistered telephone SIM cards to negotiate ransom payments, which the police and other security agencies were unable to track.
The Federal Government has not responded officially to the resolutions in the Asaba Accord. On almost all the 12 points, the ball is in the court of the government in Abuja, including the call on the President the nation on the insecurity problems.
We hope we will not need to wait for too long and that things will not get worse before any response comes.