BY OLA AlA YI, IBADAN
THE three-day legislative summit on regional economic integration organized for the chieftains and leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria in the South West in Ibadan , started like any other workshop on Monday, with various speakers suggesting ways of economic rejuvenation of the zone. At the end of it all, it was glaring that the assemblage of many think-tanks in the zone was beyond mere political gathering.
All the speakers attested to the fact that the zone is merely relishing in past glory. When some of them compared the current economic and political status of the zone with what it was in the era of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, they nearly broke into tears. They all concluded that until the zone retraced its steps to the good old days, any efforts made in the rejuvenation of the economy of the zone would be a mirage.
AT the beginning of the summit, the calibre of participants made one think that the gathering was not a political gathering as such. Though, they did not say they represented their party, some of the members of the Peoples Democratic Party were in attendance.
Among the leaders in the zone at the summit were the National Chairman ofthe Action congress of Nigeria, Chief Bisi Akande, General Adeyinka Adebayo(rtd), the former governor of the old western state, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, former Governor of Ogun State, Governors of Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Dr. Kayode Fayemi respectively, Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, Olubadan ofIbadan, Oba Samuel Odulana who was represented by Osi Olubadan, High Chief Lekan Balogun, former Governor of Ekiti, Otunba Niyi Adebayo. Also in attendance were Senators, past and present, honourable members of the House of Representatives and their counterparts from our states Houses of Assembly,
Some of the governors were not in attendance at the opening ceremony of the summit which was coordinated by Chief Bisi Akande. The absentee governors were Babatunde Raji Fashola of Lagos State, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun and Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State. But, scores of participants from these states were in attendance.
Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo stressed the need for the summit to come out with blueprint that would take the zone back to the days of economic buoyancy that distinguished the zone and made its cynosure of attention in the country.
Osoba’s keynote address :Aremo Osoba who presented the keynote address underscored the importance of integration of the zone.
According to him, the purpose of the summit was to discuss economic integration and of the Southwest. He said, achieving regional collaboration for developmen! suggested that they must pay attention to achieving economic growth which will translate to marked improvement in the lives of the people.
He condemned the flawed federalism that the country is practicing lamenting the absence of progressive leadership and productive economic policies at the center where, he said, a self indulgent federal government resides.
“Our country is at a crossroads. And the problem is a troubled federal system that rather runs like a unitary one. So, instead of different parts of the country and component parts of the federation to maximise their own resources for own growth and development, a fat centre sits on these huge resources and delivers general poverty, instead of prosperity”.
He further stressed that anyone who wants to know what most ails Nigeria, he should just go to Abuja’” where he noted that one would find “a profligate central government that siphons money from the national well and spends it as if pouring water from a well. Evidently, it is pouring water onto nothing but sand. When you task government to show or explain what it has accomplished with the nation’s resources, what we get back in response is a cold silence and empty stares from those in power”. He warned that there are clear danger signs of a malfunctioning federation; that delivers mass penury instead of mass prosperity. It is also clear that leaving such a system uncorrected will eventually ruin all of us. The adverse effects of mal-administration, he added, had produced ethnic militias like Boko Haram, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta and the rest.
He reiterated that the time
to pursue a South West regional economic and political integration is now. He shared the vision of the governors Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Edo states, who had earlier met in Abeokuta, Ogun State sometime in February this year on quick devolution of power to the states to take on more responsibilities and, as a result, jack up their earnings from the Federation Account, vis-a-vis the share of the Federal Government’s, revival of the derelict federal roads in the South West, with special reference to the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the Benin-Ore Expressway. At the end of his address, he proposed the establishment of working secretariat for Southwestern Cooperation and Integration that would be manned with only a handful of dedicated people whose primary function is to make sure the several state governments work toward the fruition of these ideas and do so in harmony.
Ajimobi’s contribution . In his own contribution, the host governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi said as laudable as their ideas are, they have been roundly condemned by the opposition party entertaining the fear that if such people find themselves in power, they will never pursue the integration agenda, in spite of its immense benefits. Ajimobi, who hinted of his administration’s resolve to establish university in his state by September, said, for the actualization of the lofty ideas, the states in the zone must literally collapse all the walls that militate against integration and development. He affirmed that the quest for regional integration should include educational and cultural integration of the people in the zone. He suggested that universities in the zone should come under the same roof of a South West University. Aregbesola’s electrifying speech
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who electrified the summit with his speech, said the leaders of the party are unyielding in their conviction that the summit will produce an enduring economic rejuvenation in the regIOn.
Describing the summit as a courageous attempt at spinning the wheels of regional economic integration, he there can’t be any more auspicious time than this for them as a people to discuss issues that are undeniably germane to their survival.
As a way out of the quagmire of arrested development that is evident in the region, he said called for the support of the participants and other well-meaning people to share the dream for a better region.
Template of development
If the agenda is well implemented, he reasoned that it is likely to turn out as a template of development for the other geopolitical zones in the country.
For the people in the zone, he stated that their quest for regional economic integration for sustainable •.. development is not altogether a Herculean task as such because they already have many things in common and a lot of things to share one with another.
Aregbesola called for a review of the structure of university ownership explaining that the existing structure where each state has its own university and some even having two is insupportable.
The communique: At the end of the summit, a
27-point communique was issued. They explained in the communique that the regional integration was not to break up Nigeria but to renew the Nigerian federation and deliver its capacity to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number of Nigerians, in the six geo-political zones. According to them, regional integration formed the pillars of true and fiscal federalism, aimed at weaning Nigeria from centralised sharing of resources, which they claimed, has created mass poverty.
They stated further that the regional integration would bring about a new’ Constitution, to reorder Nigeria’s malfunctioning federal system.
The National Assembly, they stressed, cannot give the country a new Constitution noting the job of writing a new constitution was for a Constituent Assembly, after which the constitution would be subjected to referendum or plebiscite.
They resolved further that
issuing from this premise, the states in present Political South West of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti, as well as the contiguous Edo, are better off integrated into an economic zone, sharing resources and attaining economies of scale for economic growth and development.
Political driving force
Though integration is on the surface economic, they noted, its basis and driving force is political. Therefore, the present ruling progressives in the South West and Edo states must make the people the centre-piece of their policies and programmes. That will ensure they retain political power and continue to drive the South West integrated regional agenda.
The 27-point communique also stated that “but beyond politics, winning or losing power, there must be a robust legal framework for South West regionalisation, so that the laudable agenda is not reversed”. They called for a South West Consultative Assembly, made up oflegislators in the South West states and their members in the National Assembly, to serve as clearing house for such legislations and give adequate advice to the legislatures in the South West states. For the regional integration agenda, they said the Legislature is key. “So, the South West Executives must closely work with the Legislatures, both in the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly, to achieve the desired goals of the agenda”.