Nigeria: Discordant Tunes Trail Southern Governors Call for Restructuring

17 May 2021

Udora Orizu writes that the recent call by 17 Southern Governors for restructuring of the country is attracting diverse views among stakeholders.

Over the years, the clamour for restructuring has been on the front burner of national discourse. Public office holders including former presidents, vice president and serving and former governors; civil societies organizations, professionals and religious leaders have all made their contributions to this national issue.

For some months, restructuring has again been dominating the political landscape with political and non political actors pushing forward their ideas. This creates an impression that people are now awake to the myriad of problems currently confronting the country and are determined to find possible ways of tackling them.

Presently, stakeholders are currently placing emphasis on entrenchment of fiscal federalism, resource control, state police amongst others. The issue became topical, following the worsening insecurity and the ongoing constitution review.

The various stakeholders clamouring for restructuring and devolution of powers are of the view that it will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; but will help to reposition mindset as citizens generate new ideas and initiatives that would make the union worthwhile. The calls to have the country restructured means that Nigerians have agreed on our unity in diversity; but that we should strengthen our structures to make the union more functional based on our comparative advantages. Leaders from the southern part of the country and some from the north believe that what can save the country from disintegration is restructuring. They are of the view that the unity of Nigeria and harmonious co-existence of the various ethnic nationalities will be strengthened by fiscal federalism and restructuring of the polity.

The current debate on the need for restructuring has generated criticisms and divergent views from various quarters. The 9th Senate and House of Representatives on resumption of office June 11, 2019 promised to review the constitution to meet the current needs of the citizens. However it was a surprise to many when last week, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan faulted the Southern governors' call for restructuring, asking them to first start the restructuring in their respective states.

The Call

Governors of the 17 southern states under the aegis of the Southern Governors Forum on May 11 called on the Federal Government to restructure the country and end open grazing in the Southern parts of the country to curb the excesses of armed herders.

The governors also called on the Federal Government to convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency.

This was contained in a communique issued at the end of their meeting in Asaba, Delta State capital. In the 12-point communiqué, the governors reviewed the situation in the country and deliberated on the current security situation, agitations, restructuring, prospect for inter-state collaboration and partnerships.

They said in the communiqué, read by the Chairman of the forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, that they resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern states and the nation at large.

Their conclusion: "We affirm 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."

Observing 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, the governors said open grazing has to stop.

"Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria," they said, noting 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, they said, it has become imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot.

The governors also recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.

They added 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 the commitment to and practice of true federalism.

Besides Akeredolu, other governors at the meeting were Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State;; Chief Willie Obiano of Anambra State; Senator Duoye Diri of Bayelsa State; Chief Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; Mr. Godwin Obaseki of Edo State; Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State; Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State; and Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State.

Others are: Prince Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State; Mr. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State; and Chief Nyesom Wike of Rivers State. However, Prof. Ben Ayade of Cross River State and Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun State were absent, while Mr Udom. Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom) and Senator Hope Uzodimma (Imo State) were represented by their deputies.

Support from the House, Southern, Northern Minority Caucuses of the National Assembly

Following the governors declaration, the Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Hon. Benjamin Kalu said the parliament supports the call by Southern governors for restructuring.

Kalu in chat with THISDAY said the House supports it as it will ensure efficient delivery of service to the people.

He said, "We are also supporting the idea of devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units, for efficient delivery of service to our people. We believe that if the federating units are made to be very strong there will be job opportunities, unity, national loyalty and so many other benefits. I'm proud of the governors who were able to come together to dialogue. The truth remains that we will achieve a lot in conflict management if we agree to sit down round the table. Everything will not be solved with brute force, some can be solved through social and economic intervention and diplomacy."

The Southern Senators Forum also encouraged the governors to swiftly follow up on their resolutions by immediately approaching the leadership of the National Assembly with a view to working with the two arms of the parliament to ensure that their well-articulated positions on the state of the nation, especially as related to restructuring, State policing and the jettisoning of archaic traditional grazing methods, are thoroughly addressed through the ongoing constitutional review exercise.

The Forum consisting of ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Senators as well as their counterparts in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Young People's Party (YPP), commended the governors from the region for outrightly taking a firm position on burning national issues, including call for the restructuring of the nation and ban on open grazing of cattle.

A statement issued and jointly signed by the SSF Chairman, Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti); Secretary General, Matthew Urhoghide (Edo) and Publicity Secretary, Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu), hailed the governors for ruminating on the expediency and the need for speedy restructuring of the highly lopsided Nigerian nation.

Also, the platform of Southern members in the House of Representatives threw its weight behind the clamour for the entrenchment of true federalism in the country. The lawmakers drawn from the 17 southern states argued that the measure would 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.

The group, led by the House Minority Leader, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, affirmed that measure remains the only guaranteed way to ensure fairness, justice, equity to engender national stability, productivity and peaceful coexistence in the country.

The members of the Minority Caucus from the North in the House of Representatives also declared their support for the Southern Governors' resolutions.

The caucus called on President Muhammadu Buhari to heed the genuine advice of governors from the South and immediately address the nation to assuage frayed nerves.

The caucus said it was happy that the Southern governors has finally come to terms with the negative effects of open grazing, which states in the North Central and other parts of the North have been battling with for decades.

In a statement issued and jointly signed by Hon. Amos Gwamna (Kaduna), Hon. Solomon Maren (Plateau), Hon. Rimande Shawulu (Taraba),Hon. Mark Gbillah (Benue), Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf (Kogi) and Hon. Usman Sokodabo (FCT), the caucus stressed that the decision of the governors was apt.

For Lawan, the Southern Governors are Encouraging Regionalism

While various stakeholders expressed support to the Southern governors, the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, faulted the governors resolutions.

He said elected leaders ought not to champion such calls but rather concentrate on working hard to first restructure their states before asking the Federal Government to do so.

Lawan spoke with State House correspondents, in Abuja, last week, after observing the Eid-el-Fitr prayers at the forecourt of the Presidential Villa.

He said, "I believe that, as leaders, especially those of us who are elected into office should not be at the forefront of calling for this kind of thing (restructuring). Because, even if you are a governor, you are supposed to be working hard in your state to ensure that this restructuring you are calling for at the federal level, you have done it in your state as well. What you may accuse the Federal Government of, whatever it is, you may also be accused of the same thing in your state.

"So, we are supposed to ensure that we have a complete and total way of ensuring that our systems at the federal, state and even local government levels work for the people. We must allow people to participate in governance so that whoever feels he has something to offer to make Nigeria better does so freely without any let or hindrance."

The Senate President further said, "The President is reaching out to all the stakeholders. And I believe that as leaders, particularly those of us who were elected at all levels of government, we should avoid partisanship.

"We should avoid regionalism. We are all leaders and we are in this together. The solutions to our challenges must come from us regardless of what level of government we are. Whether at the federal, state or the local government level. I believe that Nigeria is going to come out of these challenges stronger."

Gbajabiamila Calls for Oneness

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, also called for a national spirit of oneness, saying that "If truth be told, we all have equal shares in the blame for what's happening today."

He said, "Whatever challenges we have, we must all come together to make sure that we resolve these issues we're facing."

Both statements from the principal officers of National Assembly generated widespread criticisms, as many Nigerians took to their social media to condemn it.

While Lawan is yet to react to the criticisms, Gbajabiamila on the other hand has corrected the notion that he's against restructuring and ban of open grazing.

Gbajabiamila clarified that he did not oppose the southern governors' resolutions.

The House, in a statement issued by its Spokesperson, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, insisted that the online and traditional media's publication that the Speaker is opposed to the Southern governors' call for restructuring is false and misleading.

Okowa, House Members Knock Lawan's Stance

Reacting to Lawan's statement, Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, condemned the Senate President's stance, saying, "If your people are talking and you're an elected person but you shy away from giving further voice to their voices, then, you ought not be in the position that you occupy."

Okowa, who spoke at an empowerment scheme by the minority leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, over the weekend in Asaba, Delta State, also said it was utterly wrong to vilify the southern governors for heeding to the voices of the people and seeking to promote unity in the country.

Okowa noted that restructuring has been talked about for so long, with voices of PDP and APC endorsing it, saying that Nigerians must gather at a table to discuss for the good and future of the country.

While agreeing that there might be different views and approaches to restructuring, the governor opined that when they sit at a table to dialogue, they would be able to agree best on what's good for Nigeria.

He warns that if the leadership continued to shy away and ignores the voices of the people, it would give room for further crisis.

Okowa said, "Unfortunately, I read in the papers that somebody (Lawan) said we ought not to talk about certain things being elected people. If your people are talking and you're an elected person but you shy away from giving further voice to their voices, then, you ought not be in the position that you occupy.

"So, I must thank our people in the House of Representatives, who have responded to the speech made by their colleague in the National Assembly. All the things that the southern governors discussed, nothing is against the unity of this country.

"As elected governors, we believe in the unity of our country, but it will help us also to advance the need for certain things to be done in order to give strength to that unity. That cannot be a reason for us to be vilified. So, I thought that it was time for other leaders across the country to thank the southern governors for uniting to give a voice to the conversations, because all those conversations coming at large level and it is given in the interest of larger majority of the people that we can have a truly united nation in which there's fairness and equity and trust amongst our people and the leadership. I urge that all leaders in the country, stakeholders to log into the good salvations that have been put forth by southern governors and it's time to embrace it as a people."

Also some PDP members of the House of Representatives berated the Senate President for opposing the call of the Southern governors for restructuring and true federalism.

They said that Lawan through his utterances has shown biases, technically killing the constitutional review committee.

Speaking on the matter, the members exonerated the Speaker, Gbajabiamila from the matter, saying his statement was misconstrued.

Hon. Serguis Ogun on his part said Lawan has technically killed the constitution review committee with such utterance.

He said, "The Honourable speaker, is not opposed to the southern governor's call for restructuring. If he is let him go to lagos and say it. The senate president says the state governors should go and restructure their states, my governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki of Edo State is restructuring our state and he doesn't need the permission of the President of the country or that of the senate to do that.

"That is why some of us are asking for devolution of power, how will the man from Yobe State know what's happening in Edo or Bayelsa? It's better for the man that has the mandate of the people to be given the resources to deliver the dividends of democracy to the mandate givers. The President of the Senate who's the chairman of the National Assembly has technically killed the constitution review committee as he showed his bias through his verbal deluge.

Hon. Kingsley Chinda on his part said, "You cannot continue to do the same thing the same way and expect a different result. Perhaps, they will also tell Nigerians that they are satisfied with the state of the country. As public office holders, we tend to forget that there is life after office and that Nigeria is bigger and more important than any individual or group of citizens.

"I am aware that the Speaker has taken positions in the past assemblies that support both fiscal and administrative restructuring like State Police and review of revenue sharing formula. He has an inalienable right to shift position but with respect, I disagree with our Presiding Officers and I support an urgent restructuring for a more efficient public service in Nigeria."

Will President Buhari Heed to the Governors Declaration?

While Nigerians are waiting to hear the President's thought on the governors resolutions, Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, has said there is no chance in hell that President Muhammadu Buhari would ignore the resolutions by Southern Governors.

Akeredolu who spoke on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspaper, said he was sure that Buhari would examine the issues raised by the governors and act appropriately.

Will the President choose rhetoric or take decisive actions?

QUOTE

Chairman of the forum and Ondo State Governor, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, that they resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern states and the nation at large. Their conclusion: "We affirm 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. Observing 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, the governors said open grazing has to stop. Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria," they said, noting 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, they said, it has become imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot

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