Governors of the 17 States in the Southern part of Nigeria were expected to attend their meeting in Lagos today under the aegis of the Southern Governors Forum. In the end, only eleven Governors showed up for the meeting while four states were represented by their deputy governors. This means that some states did not show at all and it is an indication of the usual fragments that dog any kind of collaboration by leaders from this part of the country.
And do not be surprised if the absentees would be on the front row with their sharpened knives to attack the decisions of their colleagues.
Apart from Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the host of the meeting, whose State has been unanimously chosen as the permanent secretariat of the Forum, in attendance today at Lagos House, Alausa, Ikeja were Governors Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State (Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum); Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, (host of the last epoch-making meeting in Asaba on May 11); Nyensom Wike of Rivers State; Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State; the host, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State; Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom; Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; Douye Diri of Bayelsa; Seyi Makinde of Oyo State and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu.
The deputy governors that represented their principals were Philip Shuaibu of Edo State; Placid Njokwu of Imo State; Oko Chukwu of Abia State and Kelechi Igwe of Ebonyi State.
Cross River Governor Ben Ayade and his Anambra counterpart Willie Obiano did not attend, nor did their deputies or any other representative, a sign that the forum still has some work to do to mend some cracks. The two States also did not attend the Asaba May meeting which came up with a 12-point resolution that raised the bar about several key areas of national discourse.
But the absence of these States did not prevent the Governors from taking strong stands on major emerging national issues and restating their positions on the previous decisions they took last May on areas like Insecurity, State Policing, True Federalism, Open Grazing, Restructuring, Food Security, and others.
As with the previous meeting, a Communiqué was issued at the conclusion of the meeting of the governors today and emerging areas of discussion that were added to outstanding issues included Constitutional Amendment, and the topical Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
The Governors were in agreement that the next President of Nigeria should emerge from the Southern Region.
On Security, they re-emphasised the need for State Police and resolved that if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any State, the Chief Security Officer of the State, that is the Governor, must be duly informed.
The Governors frowned at what they called “selective criminal administration of Justice” and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the law and fundamental human rights of those involved.
On Open Grazing, they set a timeline of Wednesday, 1st September, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member States. They also 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.
The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Law also came into focus during the parley, with the Forum commending the National Assembly for the progress made in the passage of the PIB. It however rejects the proposed 3% and support the 5% share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House of Representatives; it also rejects the proposed 30% share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins; they do not agree with the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC). The Forum disagrees that the company be vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance but should be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of Government have stakes in that vehicle.
On democratic and electoral processes, the Forum rejected the removal of the electronic transmission of the election results from the Electoral Act as well as the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court.
With all these resolutions, there is no doubt that many long knives are being sharpened by the usual suspects who will challenge the authority of the Southern Governors Forum to take the positions they have emphasized at today’s meeting. The noise from these critics can be deafening because of the support they claim they can muster to confront the governors’ position on these national issues, especially those resolutions that seem to be at variance with position of the ruling party at the Federal level.
Questions have also been raised as to the will of the Forum members to stand by their resolutions, irrespective of their party affiliation.
The refusal of Anambra and Cross River States Governors to attend the last two meetings is also an unresolved issue. While some analysts think Obiano’s position may not be unconnected with his lame duck standing, others feel that since governance is a continuum and the next governor will have to pick up from wherever he left, there is no need for him to sit on the fence. He is yet to publicly state his aversion to the Forum’s activities.
His Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade, may still be trying to recover from his recent defection from one party to the other, but that also does not seem to be a cogent reason to stay off because the Southern Governors Forum is made of members whose states are controlled by three different parties and there does not seem to be a tilt towards any of the major parties that should affect positive discussion that will benefit the states concerned.
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist, writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.