The proposed South-west regional integration initiative is still caught between the web of politics and reality, writes Victor Ogunje
Last week, governors from the six states of the South-west geo-political zone converged in Ekiti to further deliberate on the future of their people under the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria fondly called ‘The DAWN Commission’. The parley was meant to consolidate on the discussions of the past, review the progress made and fashion ways to stimulate the zone politically and economically.
Governors at the meeting include the host, Governor Ayodele Fayose, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Senator Abiola Ajimobi, Dr. Olusegun
Mimiko (Ondo), Mr. Akinwumi Ambode (Lagos ) and Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State, who was represented by his deputy, Mrs. Yetunde Onanuga.
The meeting which held at the Governor’s Lodge at Oke Ayoba hill, was deemed so significant in diverse ways. One, It went a long way to establish that the cord of the relationship established by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo during the defunct old western region has not been broken irretrievably. Also, it signposted that politics, notwithstanding, had not created a gulf amongst the leaders.
It is on record that the South-west region hitherto branded the political nerve centre of the nation was sharply divided prior to the 2015 elections. While many leaders of the zone, particularly the APC national leader, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu held the belief that time had come for the zone to play national politics, the Afenifere leaders, like Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Reuben Fasoranti and others held a contrary view. The latter unwaveringly believed that standing with the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan remained the best way for the south to stand united.
Tinubu, who is the undisputed political leader of the zone oiled his political machines across the six states in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari based on his conviction and contrary to the belief by the Afenifere leaders that political alignment with the Northern Oligarchs had never paid off for the zone. This elicited a deep gulf among political forces and crippled the activities of the South-west governors’ forum that had existed since 1999. With these contrasting views, the governors parted ways along party lines (APC and PDP).
Governor Fayose overtly confessed at the meeting that he decided to boycott the forum since assumption of office and only returned to the fold during last year’s December episode hosted in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital by Governor Ajimobi because of palpable enmity occasioned by diverse political views during the last poll.
Looking at all these, the revitalisation of the forum was an apt and propitious step contrived to heal the wounds of the past for the zone to remain strong and virile in national politics.
At the regional parley, deliberations were centred on the issues of security, specifically how to tame the rampaging herdsmen that were holding the region by the jugular through senseless killings and unceasing arson. Other pivotal issues included the regional light Rail construction, exchange of ideas for good governance, economic relations, education and youth development among others.
The governors, in their two hours meeting, adopted policy for the pursuit of common educational, security and agricultural policies for the zone. In a communiqué they all adopted, the governors agreed to make it a matter of compulsion to monitor federal government’s budgetary allocations to agriculture to the zone, to boost farming and make it a common interest in the region.
The communiqué read by the host governor, Mr. Fayose, said it was expedient for the zone to exchange notes in the area of security through convergence of security chiefs and other intelligence institutions to manage the aerial, land and waterway, which makes up the security architecture of the zone.
The governors, perhaps, agreed to build a multi-modal transportation system through effective partnership in the areas of road construction, water and air. To solve the lingering epileptic power supply that has been the bane of industrial development in about four of the states, the states agreed to partner in energy and power sectors. Veritable efforts are also to be made in leisure and entertainment sectors, as well as in infrastructure to expand the economic frontiers of the region.
“The governors were unanimous in addressing the declining moral standards and put in place structures to manage the loss of values and virtues in the society. A first step is a quality assurance and morality framework as a critical part of regional education. One centre each is to be donated by the governments of the states of western Nigeria as
Regional Centre of Excellence”, they said.
The forum disclosed that the new entrant, Governor Ambode of Lagos, had also shown overt and unflagging commitment towards making his state a critical stakeholder of the Odua Investment group, to make
the company stronger to discharge its onerous duties to the zone.
And because of the agrarian potential of the region, particularly its good climatic and soil conditions, which favourably give it a comparative advantage for farming, the governors agreed to adopt the South-west Regional Integrated Commercial Agriculture Development Programme (RICARD), with Lagos to champion a structured regional food exchange programme.
The communiqué read further: “We also approve the report of the sports development strategic plan of action for South-west Nigeria. Lagos was carefully chosen to host of DAWN inter-collegiate games to strengthen the bonds and competitiveness among the youth in the region. States were also mandated to design modalities to key into the proposed rail project as a primary driver of inter-modal transportation system for the whole region”.
The meeting didn’t end without touching on national politics. Fayose, at the opening session, said the federal government’s allocation in the N7 trillion worth 2017 budgetary provision to the South-west was inadequate and meager to drive development in the zone. He agitated a concerted effort to tackle the menace of rampaging herdsmen in the zone to boost commercial agriculture and to spur the youths to embracing commercial agriculture.
The Ekiti governor pointed out that to elevate the South-west in all spheres, there must be respect for the political beliefs and opinions of others and urged the governors to refrain from doing anything that will undermine one another.
“For instance, in the 2017 federal government budget, the South-west is one of the least beneficiaries. The federal government’s 2017 budget is about N7 trillion and the only capital project allocated to Ekiti State is the Akure-Ado Ekiti road to which N250 million was earmarked.
“What can N250 million do on Akure-Ado road that is begging for reconstruction? There is even no guarantee that the N250 million budgetary provisions will be made available at the end of the day. I am sure this is applicable to other states too compared to other zones. We must therefore ask pertinent questions. How much did the federal government allocate to irrigation, construction of dams and storage facilities to boast agriculture in the South-west?
“We must equally take collective interest in the annual national budget to ensure that states in the South-west are adequately catered for. This we must do by using our technical people to study the budget and make inputs on our behalf”, he said.
On the need for the Yoruba race to stand united regardless of the diverse political interests, Fayose said “Americans go about fighting their political battles without undermining the collective interests of their country, and that is the kind of spirit with which we must operate if the Yoruba nation must regain its pride of place in the Nigerian nation”.
Fayose appealed to the governors to always take proactive actions to convert their deliberations into physical development, saying this remains the only way the regional integration programme can be respected by the people.
“With the present economic realities, it has become pertinent that the necessary political will is put behind agriculture, education, security and physical infrastructure on the long run. For Instance, in the area of education, it is time for us to have a common curriculum. Also, we must ensure cooperation among our security chiefs, such that if a car is stolen anywhere in the region, it will be found before being taken out of the region. This task may appear enormous, but if we are determined and speak with one voice, as a people, it is achievable”.
Stressing further the menace of herdsmen and destruction they are doing to farmlands and causing colossal damage to food production in the zone, Fayose said “In promoting agriculture, we must take into consideration the menace of herdsmen, which has become major impediment. The question is: how do we continue to encourage our people to embrace farming when their investments are being lost daily?”
He added that “One other germane issue I will want us to look into is the federal government $1 billion Eurobond, re-payment of which is to be made from source (before accruing to the federation account) and expected to last till 2032. As representatives of the people of the South-west, whose future will be affected by this $1 billion Eurobond?
I expect that we look beyond party politics and ask questions as to the beneficiaries of the bond, its repayment and what the South-west will benefit from it”.
The governor said there was need for zonal leaders to constantly engage the representatives in the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly and impress it upon them that they must use their positions positively for the zone.
When quizzed on how the region can overcome the temptation of politics, the governors of Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Lagos and Ondo assured that the zone would continue to play bipolar politics and that there would be mutual respect for the political ideologies of all members in the interest of peace and development.
But how far this assurance can be realised is still a knotty issue to solve because the forum would have to fight assiduously to convince Nigerians about the practicability of this next year, when the governorship elections will hold in Ekiti and Osun States.
With the present economic realities, it has become pertinent that the necessary political will is put behind agriculture, education, security and physical infrastructure on the long run. For Instance, in the area of education, it is time for us to have a common curriculum. Also, we must ensure cooperation among our security chiefs, such that if a car is stolen anywhere in the region, it will be found before being taken out of the region. This task may appear enormous, but if we are determined and speak with one voice, as a people, it is achievable