By Laleye Lashore
The current dislocation in the Nigerian economy is an opportunity for re-orientation and rehash of old profitable values. It was therefore not a surprise when the six governors of the South-west came together in an effort to re-enact the lost glory of the region as espoused by the leadership of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, when he was Prime Minister of the region.
During that period, the region was noted for being the fastest-developing part of Nigeria. It was blessed with unique agricultural resources that enabled it run a virile economy. Through prudent management of resources, Chief Awolowo was able to embark on massive education of the people of the region through the universal primary education (UPE) programme of his administration.
The era also witnessed unprecedented development: The region was able to establish the first television station in Africa; Cocoa House, which was one of the tallest buildings in Africa; the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan; and the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, just to mention but a few. The region was the envy of other regions in Nigeria. All these happened in the first republic.
Following political upheaval in the region and the eventual military take-over of governance in Nigeria, the lot fell on the military to administer the region, just like other parts of the country. And, finally, four states were created out of the region, viz. Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Lagos. Osun and Ekiti states were later created to bring the number of states in the region to six.
It was in this period of military rule that the price of crude oil rose in the world market and the so-called oil boom began. Coupled with the unitary system of government under the military, the constituent states of the South-west could not sustain the fast pace of development which the region had hitherto enjoyed. A vestige of the old Western Region however remains in the Odua conglomerate, an investment outfit that coordinates certain investments of the old Western Region Government. This outfit keeps the region together.
After so much pussy-footing, the decision of the six states to embark on concerted integration and cooperation is coming a little bit late as other regions have beaten the South-west to the initiative The Arewa, for example, has made tremendous achievements in the advancement of the cause of the Northern states. At least one of the regions that used to struggle to catch up with the South-west is on the verge of generating its own electricity.
It was, therefore, a thing of joy when, on Monday, February 13, the governors of the six states of the South-west gathered in Ado-Ekiti to further advance their decision to once again raise the socio-economic life of the people through regional cooperation and integration, which had served it well before military intervention. The Ado-Ekiti meeting was not their first, it was sequel to the last one held in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
There is no doubt that the region needs such cooperation at this time to address the socio-economic hardship confronting the people; chief among which is mass unemployment of youths. Another is marginalization. Chief host, Ekiti state’s Governor Ayo Fayose, dwelt on the issue of marginalization of the region: “For instance, in the 2017 federal government budget, the South-west is one of the least beneficiaries”. He specifically mentioned the allocation of a paltry N250 million to the Akure-Ado-Ekiti road as capital allocation that Ekiti will benefit from in N7 trillion budget and noted that the allocation was a far cry from what would be needed to reconstruct the road. He was of the view that the region should set up a technical committee that would address the incessant issue of marginalization of the zone in federal budgets.
Highlighting other areas of possible cooperation, Fayose mentioned agriculture, education as well as trans-border security and infrastructural development. He specifically called for a common curriculum among schools in the region. Emphasizing the sanctity of the unity of the Yoruba race, the chairman of the Ekiti state Council of Obas, who is also the Ologotun of Ogotun Ekiti, Oba Samuel Oyebade, lauded the motives behind the meeting and urged the governors to forge ahead. Secretary to the Ekiti State government, Dr. Modupe Alade, who welcomed the governors to the meeting, stressed that it would also serve as a peer review forum where the governors can compare notes and benefit from the experience of one another.
Speaking with journalists at the end of the meeting, participants, including traditional rulers from Ekiti state and senior government officials who accompanied the various governors, stressed the desirability of the meeting and called for continuation of regional cooperation and integration of the South-west.
It is hoped that the technical committees set up by the governors would push forward well-thought out and actionable plans that would activate the agenda of rapid economic development of the region.
Present at the meeting were the host, Fayose; Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo state; Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo state; Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos state; Rauf Aregbesola of Osun state while Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun state was represented by his deputy, Mrs. Yetunde Abosede Onanuga. Mimiko’s attendance was his last as governor of Ondo since his tenure terminates soon. Fayose said the meeting was specially targeted for the forum to bid Mimiko farewell while urging him to continue his commitment to the ideals of the forum. The next meeting of the forum is slated for Ogun state in April.
The meeting of the governors rekindled hopes of a better and brighter tomorrow in a people nostalgic of the olden days when the Southwest was the trail blazer in Nigeria. Will this set of governors deliver? Will they succeed where others before them failed? So far, so good but ultimately, time will tell.
Lashore can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org