By Charles Kumolu

TROUBLED by the   unwholesome activities of herdsmen on its Eastern flank, destabilised by the actions of militant groups in the South and disappointed at the perceived failure of its leaders, the southern part of Nigeria seems to be in distress.   Of the 11 states in the region that is split into South East and South South geopolitical zones,   only a few appears to be succeeding while others are struggling to attain key parameters of governance.

•Members of the South East/ South South Professionals with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo after a meeting with the the VP.
•Members of the South East/ South South Professionals with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo after a meeting with the the VP.

With the situation creating the feeling of despair among the indigenes of the two geopolitical zones, a group of professionals who originated from the region, have taken it upon themselves to ensure that these myriad of challenges are fixed.

To this end, the group which is known as the South East/South South Professionals, SSP, paid a courtesy visit to the corporate headquarters of Vanguard Newspapers, where the points of provocation in the area were ventilated with a view to ensuring   meaningful growth. Led by its President, Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju and Mr. Albert Iyorah, Mr. Dagogo Karibi-Whyte and Mr. Charles Iyore, the team principally spoke on the issues of security, economy and governance as they presently stand in the zone.

On militancy/state of the nation

‘’Nigeria is very unstable and it has been confirmed that we are in a state of recession. Politically and economically we are not in a situation where we should be. For SSP we have where we think our people should be. That was the reason we came up with our development agenda which is a 20-year plan. Of course, we know we can realise that agenda if the country is not working. And that is an issue for us. It becomes more critical for us now that we have the Niger Delta crisis. The crisis affects the both regions and also the rest of the country. The South East/South South feels the pain so much.

‘’ We are interested in seeing the Niger Delta crisis resolved so that we can focus on our development agenda. But the way we see things, the crisis might not be resolved if someone thinks it will come through threat or force.   The mistake people make is to think that the current militancy is about people carrying guns. It has shown a determination by those behind it to     ensure that oil production gets to zero level.   And this is not what requires force. We want to alert the nation that it will be self-destructive if violence is pursued having reached a consensus for dialogue.

‘’We will give kudos to the current Minister of State for Petroleum Resources who is ensuring that the crisis is resolved through dialogue. As SSP we are saying that nothing can be achieved by force and if that is done it will take us so many years back. And before we will get to where we are now it will be difficult. Therefore, the opportunity for dialogue should not be thrown away.

We are also involved in the issue of dialogue because at the first meeting we had in Abuja with the NSA, Edo State governor, Minister of State for Agriculture, Minister of the Niger Delta, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Special Adviser on Amnesty Programme, the SSP was there. And we created a template for dialogue.

‘’ We also agreed that all the stakeholders come together and commence dialogue but unfortunately there has been a way of ensuring that dialogue did not take place. It is important to state that we are not partisan but we deal with issues that affect the region and the country. The government should perish the thought of using force because it will be a loss-loss situation. The government should handle the issue of equity and justice to be able to deal with the criminals in the region. But the absence of equity and justice provides an umbrella for criminality.

On mismanagement.’’

Nigeria has to be restructured ‘’The reality is that the country has to be restructured. It is when you restructure that we will begin to see prudent management of resources. The South East/ South South that we are going to have may not be realised without restructuring. We will have more transparent and accountable governments if the country is not restructured.

We have also decided to set up a fund for the South East/South South regions.   If we don’t have a fund, we may not have our economic development plan realised. All our people can invest in the South East/South South fund that our people can benefit from. When we are able to raise $1 billion dollars, we can get $20 billion through counterpart funding. The essence of the fund is that we don’t have to wait for the governors. With the fund, we can construct roads and embark on other developmental projects. The fund will, however, be a catalyst for the development of the region.’’

On Fulani herdsmen, security

‘’For us, the main thing is where do we think the people of South East South will be in the next 2O years because the problem we normally have is that we only think of today and not tomorrow. But we are saying   that we want to know where we will be in the next 20 years. Based on knowing where you want to be, you can start looking at what you have done in the past that you are not doing well.

The issues raised are more of how things are at the moment. In Enugu state there is the issue of Fulani herdsmen, in Imo state there is the issue of having four or more working days, in Abia State, we know that the issue of insecurity in Aba area is tensed, Ebonyi has its issues and Anambra seems to be getting it right especially in the area of security. Anambra is the most secured state in the South East and South South using any parameter available.   There is a lot of insecurity in most of the states in the South South. Even Cross River that used to be peaceful is having some level of militancy and kidnapping. That is the way it is at the moment.

‘’ For us as professionals and advocacy group, we want to leverage on things that we can leverage on to make a difference . We had our second Southeast/South Development Forum in April in Pourthacourt   and the main purpose was to look at our development agenda and what needs to be   done to start doing things immediately. One of the key things we touched upon as a critical enabler was the issue of security and that was when the Niger Avengers had not commenced their activities.

‘’Insecurity is something that we are very much aware of and we need to do what we need to do. We are to push the government in that regard. We have talked to Rear Admiral Okojie and we will go Rivers State to see the governor. There was even a recent incident where a young lawyer was killed. We were touched. Even though we had taken a decision before the incident, we will meet other stakeholders in Port Harcourt to say that enough is enough. We have to ensure that there is security in the both regions if not we can’t have that development that we are looking for.’’

On state governors

‘’At the moment the governors have a lot to do because they are in charge of their states.   A governor is virtually the overall manager in every state. When a governor is not doing well, the state is not doing well and when the governor is doing well, the state tends to do better. We will pride ourselves that we are a group that can always confront the governors and tell them where they are doing wrong and right because most of us are independent unlike what happens in the states where people depend on the governors for their livelihood. We have that luxury of trying to engage them.

We were at Asaba   recently for the Delta State Economic Summit and we used the opportunity to engage many of the commissioners.   From what we could see, we hope that going forward, Delta will be different from what it was in the past because people who visit Delta often say there is nothing much to show for all the money they got in the past. But from what from what they have on the ground we were impressed. We will be available to make that plan work. We understand the situation and we are engaging. But we don’t have the powers to tell anyone to go away.

On   governors not paying salaries

‘’The fact is that most states in the region are grinding to a halt. It is not only in the region but about 33 states in Nigeria can no longer pay salaries. Even when they pay salaries for the mainstream workers, the local government workers and pensioners are not paid. Even contractors are not being paid. So it is not just a challenge that affects both regions.

A situation where you spend 90 percent of your money on 15 percent of your population, things don’t work.  The challenges in the country are not just about South East/ South South, it is a general thing.   The main battle in the country now is to set the economy on the right path.   A situation where the exchange rate is volatile is not tenable. That is why we are concerned about how to set agenda for the economy. It is not about governments in the region coming to a halt, even the federal government is coming to a halt because it can not pay its bills.

Black market economy

‘’The reason why the country’s economy has not totally collapsed is because of the efficiency of the black market economy. The formal sector is disorganized now while the informal sector is currently sustaining the economy. Something must be done to save the formal sector. It can become so bad if not addressed. We agree that some of the governors in both regions have not done better though Obiano has performed better, but what really can he do when the tide is against him because we are bound by a common currency?

The reason why the Naira is losing value on a daily basis is because we don’t use what we have to achieve what we want. So, that must be addressed for the entire nation. The Anambra model is worth replicating because things work there now. In fact, all the kidnappers and other criminals who were in the state have relocated to neighbouring states because the governor made the state hot for them.

States should replicate Anambra model

‘’Now, Anambra is a model of security in the South East and we are saying that it was not done through rocket science. We are now saying that all the 11 states in the region should strive to get to the level of Anambra and study what they are doing right. In Rivers State where the number of small arms   is alarming, the state should do more than what Anambra is doing. We are saying that all the states in both regions should replicate the Anambra model and where there are challenges, we will assist in making things work. It was because of the insecurity that we have decided to go to Port Harcourt and Enugu.

On restructuring

‘’A young man over four decades ago decided to create 12 states and suddenly small regional towns became state capitals with development. In a situation where you have only one town in the country that has economic value, there would be   problems that need to be addressed.   Immediately they created Abuja, Kaduna died, Kano died, Sokoto is not in existence and Jos is no more.

That says much about our system. A system that can allow anyone to steal to N530 million every month, who is to blame? Is it the person or the system? Some of these challenges are common to both regions, but it is a national challenge. An agenda must be set to better the system. So many fundamental things are wrong in the country and those issues that are germane to us are no longer prioritised and that is the reason   these things happening.   Let us not deceive ourselves, once there is inequality in the system, people will agitate and that is what is happening now. So, the system must be restructured to bring about equality and meaningful growth.’’

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