By Clifford Ndujihe, Politics Editor
FOR the third time in 21 years, governors of the 17 southern states of Nigeria are locked in efforts to chart a common course on issues affecting the region.
Fifteen of the 17 helmsmen met virtually, yesterday, to discuss the state of the nation, in what became the 11th time such parley would be held since the historic and carnival-like first gathering held in 2001 at the Akodo Beach Resort, Ibeju Lekki, Lagos.
Catalysed by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was then the governor of Lagos, the 1999 set of Southern Governors Forum, SGF, held series of meetings, nine in all, across many southern cities such as Enugu, Benin, Port Harcourt, and Ibadan. The last of the first phase of the meetings was held in Lagos on Friday, February 25, 2005.
Gains of the first coming
In their first coming, southern governors constituted a significant voice on matters of critical importance both to the South and to the country as a whole.
Some of their achievements included advocacy for implementation of the 13 per cent derivation to oil producing states; and getting the Supreme Court in 2002 to stop the Federal Government from deducting monies from the Federation Account as a first line charge for the funding of Joint Venture Contracts, NNPC priority projects, servicing of Federal Government’s external debt, the judiciary and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other federal obligations before sharing whatever was left with the states and local governments.
In spite of these modest achievements, some of the lofty projects conceived by the SGF are still on the drawing board. One of them is constructing a coastal highway running from Lagos to Calabar. The plan was for each state to construct the highway within its territory up to the border of the next state. This project has not been done.
Thereafter, there was a 12-year hiatus after the bulk of the 1999 set left office. There appeared to be a lid on what was a southern response or copy of the age-long Northern Governors Forum.
Although, the governors of the three geo-political zones of the South met variously on the banner of South-East Governors Forum, South-South Governors Forum, and South-West Governors Forum, the need for an all-embracing southern front remained yawning.
Expectedly, the need led to the second converging of the southern governors on October 23, 2017 in Lagos seeking to forge a southern coalition in the areas of socio-economic development, commerce, and industrialization among others.
At the 2017 parley, the governors chose then Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode unanimously as the chairman of the SGF. Governors Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) and David Umahi (Ebonyi) were appointed as co-chairmen.
Devolution of powers, fiscal federalism
At the 2017 meeting, the southern governors to work collectively, in pushing for devolution of powers and achieving fiscal federalism.
Reading the communiqué Governor Ambode said they would work assiduously to drive a robust and connected infrastructure, that will accelerate the economic development of the states in the Southern belt.
According to Ambode, “Lagos State had fought and won several legal battles since 1999 that have systematically strengthened her autonomy and enhanced her fiscal viability. These victories belonged, not only to Lagos, but also to other states.’’ He added that, if Lagos could achieve so much by fighting alone, the Southern Governors’ Forum will accomplish more through collective planning and strategy.”
However, little or nothing was done thereafter as the 2019 electioneering campaigns took over. The next meeting slated for Port Harcourt did not hold. To make matters worse, Ambode, the chairman, lost his re-election quest.
Can they get it right this time?
Four years after, southern governors are on the march again. Faced by scourge of blood-guzzling insecurity, rising poverty, and secession agitations in the South-West and South-East, which are also affecting South-South, the governors have a huge task on their hands.
The governors who called for commitment and unity in addressing issues that affect the country, particularly Southern Nigeria, stressed the need to put the country first in the face of the trying times. They are to meet in Asaba, the Delta State Capital, next week, to harmonize positions aimed at dousing the tension in the country.
Yesterday’s meeting was held virtually at the instance of the Chairman of the South-West Governors Forum, Rotimi Akeredolu Ondo) and the chairmen of both South-South and South-East Governors’ Forums, Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta) and David Umahi (Ebonyi).
No fewer than 15 of the 17 southern governors attended the meeting. They include: Ekiti State Governor who doubles as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Nyesom Wike(Rivers), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), David Umahi (Ebonyi), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), and Lolo Cecilia Ezeilo (deputy governor of Enugu representing the governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi). Others are Douye Diri (Bayelsa), Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom), Okezie Victor Ikpeazu (Abia), Hope Uzodimma (Imo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Seyi Makinde(Oyo) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos).