Nigeria’s southern governors

By Tonnie Iredia

State Governors in the southern part of Nigeria have suddenly become ace news makers of the nation. Their publicity feats first recorded national applause when they met in Asaba on Tuesday May 11, 2021. According to a 12-point communique released at the end of the meeting, the governors agreed on a number of issues among them, a united Nigeria, ban on open grazing in their region, the need to restructure the country, respect for Federal Character, imperatives of State Police and the expedience of organizing national dialogue.

The significance of the Asaba meeting was premised on the rather unusual unity of direction of governors from different political parties. A second meeting by the same governors in Lagos some two months later established beyond reasonable doubt that the governors mean business. As expected, sectional analysts have since become active critics of  the governors. Interestingly, some of us didn’t quite see or feel ample sound bite in what the governors reportedly said.

Indeed, it is not in doubt that the governors said nothing different from the popular subsisting narrative in parts of the country especially the southern region. If so, why are people criticising them for saying what others said earlier? Perhaps, some of the critics are victims of selective hearing – people who hear only what they want to hear at a given time, no matter what is said.

Those who have become so pained by the decision of the southern governors in their recent Lagos meeting to set a deadline for the ban on open grazing need to know that northern governors were the first to unanimouslyagreeto discard open grazing. This they did no less than 3months before their southern counterparts met in Asaba.

It was precisely February 9, 2021 after a virtual meeting that they expressly stated that “the current system of herding conducted mainly through open grazing is no longer sustainable in view of growing urbanization and population of the country.”

In addition, it was at the prompting of the northern governors that all the 36 members of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) met on the same subject. The communique issued at the end of the meeting indicated that “following an update from governors on the various initiatives taken by state governments to address the rising insecurity in the country due to the activities of herdsmen, members reached a consensus on the need for the country to transition into modern systems of animal husbandry that will replace open, night and underage grazing in the country.”

Analysts who are praising or denouncing southern governors on the subject are therefore arrogating to the governors what they alone cannot claim to have articulated. Rather than quarrelling with the southern governors for collaborating to reduce tension in their region, maybe we should demand an end to any sectional forum of governors and allow the NGF offer a better avenue for national unity. But to say the ban on open grazing by southern governors was arbitrary is uncharitable.

There was also another demand by the governors for the next president to come from the south which some consider to be a threat. But the claim that the governors used the word MUST is no more than selective hearing. What the governors said was “should” while their critics heard “must”perhaps severally and loudly too because of an increase in mutual distrust and suspicion in our polity.

For the records, the southern governors were not the first to canvass a power shift to the south in 2023. Patriots outside the region such as governor Babagana Zulum had taken same position before now. In any case, there is nothing special about governors canvassing sectional interests in Nigeria. In 2014, many northern governors including those in the then ruling party worked assiduously against their party for the realization of power shift to the north.

That is merely a ploy to struggle for power which is what politics is all about. What bothers Nigerians today is pervasive national insecurity which is unquestionably fully ripe for debate and not whether the southerner governors spoke well or not about 2023. We know that among the same southern governors that are currently agitating for power shift to the south, there are those who would recant if presidential candidates from the north invite them as running mates.

Critics who are unhappy with southern governors for asking for state police, should know that all governorsin Nigeria are excitedly on the same page concerning the subject. Although some are pretending that they joined the call because of the current insecurity situation, they also look forward to using it to harass political opponents.

Those of us who were originally against the concept of state police have since changed our position having come to terms with the reality that using police against opponents has nothing to do with the level of government. In Nigeria, whether federal, state or local government, our police will be used same way because ours is still a society of democrats bereft of democratic ethos. 

There is no need to issue public statements calling for state police without employing positive lobbying strategies at appropriate locations. A good example being the Police Council where36 of its 39 members are state governors who have been unable to exploit that advantage. Holding political meetings and heating the polity would hardly help our governors beyond mere shadow chasing.

One story making the rounds is that apart from personnel emolument, it is state governors that fund and equip the police across the nation. If so, who is persuaded by their cries that the police are used against them? With sincerity of purpose the excesses of the police can be curtailed by our governors.

Only last week, Lagos state passed a law stopping the police from parading suspects. Other states should use such legal strategies to strengthen our democracy. Otherwise, governors cannot be seen to be calling for the institutionalization of the rule of law in Nigeria while actively encouraging constitutional breaches. For instance, the positive political viewpoints some of our governors are currently canvassing will become louder and clearer if they decline to be part of the reception team for defector-governors.

This is because to defect from parties under whose platform they were elected amounts to thwarting the sovereignty of the people which is the first cardinal principle of democracy. It is worse when the rationale for such defection is delinquent and materialistic

It would be unfair to end this piece without commending the open support of some governors for the introduction of electronic transmission of election results. We can only hope that all other governors would concur because considering that the call if heeded would make the rigging of elections difficult, it would be salutary if all governors and other politicians would take the risk of supporting it.

However, we need to warn that Nigerian politicians especially legislators may not give up so easily for a piece of technology which can sack them to be put in the law. If care is not taken, the electoral amendment bill might get missing when it is time to send it for presidential assent the way the 2016 budget documents read and delivered by the president to the National Assembly disappeared after presentation. Politicians could also shift the game to the judiciary which is why every aspect of the new electoral act if it sees the light of the day must be guarded.


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