Governors of the South-east and the South-south zones met last Sunday in Enugu with a resolve to strengthen inter-regional cooperation and integration. The meeting which was the first of its type clearly signposts positive things to come, writes Christopher Isiguzo
Last Sundayâ€™s meeting of the South-east and South-south Governors in Enugu State during, which the governors expressed their commitment to inter-regional cooperation and integration has been welcomed as a good development and a huge sign of positive things to come as the 2019 general election draws near. The meeting came on the heels of a similar one by political leaders from the South-east in Enugu a week earlier.
Apart from the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, and his Edo State counterpart, Godwin Obaseki, who were absent, as well as Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, who was represented by his Deputy, Dr. Nkem Okeke, the remaining eight governors, four from South-south and four from South-east graced the maiden meeting.
The governors present include Chief Dave Umahi (Ebonyi), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. Others were Emmanuel Udom (Akwa Ibom), Ben Ayade (Cross River), Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) and Nyesom Wike (Rivers).
The two meetings have also been seen from different quarters as having serious political undertone especially when viewed from the point that the two major outings came at a time some separatists groups including the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Movement for the Actualisation of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) have intensified their agitation for the creation of a Biafran Republic and by so doing, causing serious tensions in the polity.
The proposed Biafra Republic, according to its promoters, would involve states from the South-east and South-south zones, hence the significance of the Enugu parley. The agitation had assumed a new dimension when on May 30, the IPOB and MASSOB ordered one of the most complied sit-at-home in the South-east and some South-south states, thus taking the Biafran consciousness to an all-time high.
In response to these developments, some Northern youths, under the auspices of Arewa Youths, on June 6, issued a quit notice for Ndigbo living in the Northern parts of the country to vacate the region before October, 2017.
That eviction notice would eventually result in various groups holding meetings, to possibly come up with the most appropriate response to the rising tension in the land. Some major issues including the need to restructure the country, the unity of the country among others had featured prominently.
The South-east and South-south governors Forum meeting in Enugu was therefore one of such regional meetings which came with high expectations of possibly reviving the age-long brotherly bonds, political and economic integration and cultural relationships devoid of mutual suspicions among others.
Briefing newsmen at the end of the three-hour meeting, which took place at the Nike Lake Hotels, Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa Ibom State said the governors resolved to pursue inter-regional cooperation and integration for the economic benefits of two zones.
According to him, they also agreed to politically work together and realign the people to achieve common heritage, culture and affinities. The governor also disclosed that the meeting unanimously elected him as the new chairman of the forum, adding that the next meeting of the Governorsâ€™ Forum would take place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on August 27, 2017.
THISDAY checks however gathered that the meeting could not reach an understanding on such critical issues as restructuring, Biafra agitation and unity of Nigeria. A source at the meeting told THISDAY that when the governors could not agree on some of the major issues, they resolved to move the meeting to Rivers State next month.
Earlier, during the brief opening ceremony, the host governor had set the stage for a robust discussion when he said the people of both regions are one people joined by history, culture, values, geography, brotherhood, friendship and more recently, common challenges.
â€œWhat God has joined together, not even the Niger or delineation for administrative convenience will put asunder. We are essentially one. We are brothers joined by the same geography, one brotherhood and one friendship.
â€œWe also have common challenges. We believe that this meeting will fundamentally help us to understand ourselves better, rekindle the spirit of brotherhood, strengthen ties and cooperation with common vision and set agenda for economic and political development of our regions.
According to Ugwuanyi, they would also deliberate on the welfare and security of the two regions, bearing in mind that criminals criss-cross the regions in carrying out their nefarious activities.
Citing the deplorable state of federal roads in the two zones, such as East-West road in the South-south and Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu Port Harcourt expressways in the South-East, Ugwuanyi regretted that the two zones still suffer infrastructure decay.
He equally noted with regrets that there were no connecting flights between the two regions, a development that has hampered the socio-economic integration and the development of the two regions.
Ugwuanyi recalled that the South-east governors and Igbo political leaders at a meeting about a week ago, declared support for a united Nigeria, where peace, love, fairness, justice, equity and equality of opportunity are paramount regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation, adding that the meeting condemned all hate speeches and conduct emanating from any section of the country.
He said the Igbo political leaders lent their full support to the restructuring of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the basis of fairness and equity and called on the federal government and all Nigerian leaders to commence a process of dialogue among Nigerians on the modalities of achieving this pressing question within a reasonable time.
He also appealed to the governors to lend their support to the proposed South East Development Commission (SEDC) presently before the National Assembly, noting that like the NDDC, it would foster rapid development in the south east. He therefore called on South-south governors to support South-eastâ€™s call for the restructuring of the country to ensure equity, justice and equality.
He also called for their support to persuade the federal government to include the South-east in the loan obtained from China Exim Bank for the development of eastern corridor, which he said stretches from South-east, South-south, North Central and North East.
Ebonyi Governor and Chairman of South-east Governorsâ€™ Forum, Umahi, on his part said, they were meeting for the first time as governors of South-south and South-east to brainstorm on various but salient issues affecting the two zones.
â€œWe are meeting as brothers to talk about regional integration and find lasting solution to intermittent outbreak of inter-state clashes arising from boundary disputes among the two regions.
â€œWe are also talking about economic survival of the two regions and look at possible ways of bringing our ingenuity and making use of our huge deposit of both human and natural resources to attain economically viable zones in Nigeria.
â€œThere is also need to discuss security, peace and unity of the two regions and find lasting solution to various salient issues that affect our unity in Nigeria.
â€œIt is a meeting borne out of love and desire to find cohesion among the two regions and I am happy that my brother governors responded to the call even at the shortest notice given to them,â€ he said.
He stressed that issues to be discussed by the two zones were not limited to the zones but also things pertaining to regional and national interest.
It is however expected that the coming together of the two zones would go a long way in strengthening brotherly ties and end the cold war that had existed between them since after the civil war.
By the time the two zones unite strongly with their eleven states and possibly bring the South-west along, with the middle belt likely to show interest, they would have formed a strong political bloc that would effectively checkmate their counterparts from North East and North West, some political observers had viewed. But how far all these will go is firmly left in the hands of time.