The six governors of the South-west states, last week, gathered in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital to review their common interests on the development of the region through economic and political integration, writes Sheriff Balogun
Last Monday, governors of the six states in the South-west converged on Abeokuta, Ogun State, where they unfolded plans to initiate a 25 year Western Nigeria Development Master Plan, with a view to fast-tracking development in the region. The event tagged: â€˜Economic Self-Determination For Western Nigeria: The Export Alternativeâ€™ was held under the umbrella of Development Agenda for Western Region Commission (DAWN), aimed at initiating a Joint Task Force and Joint Action that could be pursued and sustained on security threat to governance, safety of lives, property and prosperity of the people of the region.
At the meeting were all the six governors from the zome. They are Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), who incidentally was the host, Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Senator Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) and Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, (Ondo).
Hinting at this, the Ondo governor said the meeting transcended political interest in the region, adding that â€œdevelopment agenda for South-west Nigeria is a great idea, when the governors meet to discuss issues of common interest. It is a great task for all of us. We have great challenges and we must be prepared to face these challenges. United we stand, divided we fall.â€
Thus, the thrust of the gathering was basically on the development of South-west zone â€“ the economic and political integration of Southwest â€“ to combat the menace of herdsmen attacks, kidnapping and cultism among other vices that pose huge threats to the lives and property of the people in the region.
The governors in their opening remarks, however, lamented the splitting of the Old Western Nigeria into states by the federal government during the era of state creation, which they jointly said it had not only robbed them of oneness, but also hampered the regionâ€™s pace of socio-economic development.
Declaring the event opened, Amosun recalled that the landmark achievements of the region were recorded in Yoruba land when it was under one regional economic umbrella during the time of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as the Premier of the Western Region but advised that the time had come for them to unite, promote and re-enact the pre-eminence and achievements of the South-west in the Nigerian Federation.
According to him, the onerous task on the hands of the South-west governors today is to lead the people to further prosperous living and â€˜Economic Self-Determination for South-West Nigeria.â€™
â€œAs a region, it is important that we promote the pre-eminence and achievements of the South-west in the Nigerian Federation. This in reference and in particular to the greatness we have achieved as a people, when we were together as a Regional Government in Nigeria.
â€œWe will recall those laudable feats made us the envy of other regions. Time and space will, definitely, not permit me to begin to list the giant leaps that the South-west took as a Region between 1957 and 1967 particularly under the leadership of the late sage, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo.
â€œPermit me to list a few. We have physical infrastructure such as the Cocoa House at Ibadan, which was aptly named after the source of its funding; the Agodi Secretariat at Ibadan; and the different roads that connect our towns and cities some of which are still standing the test of time. We also have the educational infrastructure of which we are still benefitting from today.
â€œIndeed, many of us seated in this room are beneficiaries of the Free Education Programme of that time. It is the same Free Education Programme that culminated in the establishment of a University that was once the most beautiful campus in Sub-Sahara Africa, the then University of Ife, and now appropriately named the Obafemi Awolowo University, at Ile-Ife.
â€œWe cannot also forget the economic infrastructure. We have the Oâ€™odua Group as the umbrella Investment House for the commercial enterprise of the Region such as the Sketch Publication; the Wemabod Estates; the Lafia Hotels; the Premier Hotel at Ibadan; the Area J4 Forest Reserve, etc.
â€œHowever, the creation of States from the old Western Region in 1976, which should have been an impetus for further socio-economic development have been allowed to create artificial boundaries between our people.
â€œAnd, to further worsen the situation, some of our people are also making themselves available as instruments of division, because of their selfish political gains. The consequence is that our people begin to see themselves as a people of one state or the other rather than as a sub-unit of the entity of the Yoruba people.
â€œThis is not without its attendant challenges of intra and inter-State boundary disputes, which have worsened security in some states and, hampered socio-economic development. Instead of building bridges, some of our people are digging trenches for protection against their own brothers and sisters.
â€œMy dear brothers, the onerous task on our hands is to lead our people to further prosperous living. That is why the chosen Agenda for this meeting â€˜Economic Self-Determination for South-west Nigeriaâ€™ with special focus on â€˜South-Western Nigeria Export Initiativeâ€™ is very apt.
â€œInstead of the bowl-inâ€“hand practice that each of the states seeks from the Federal Allocation, the time has come for us to map out strategies to harness the natural resources of the entire Region for further socio-economic development of the South-west region as a whole and for more prosperity for our people.
â€œOne of such approaches is to identify the export potential of the region. This will bring not just more revenue but also increase the availability of foreign currencies, which will, by extension make the region a stronger player on the international market stage.
â€œWe can do this by exploring and strengthening the different areas of comparative advantage of our states, which will then be pooled together for further development of the different states and the entire region as a whole. We have seen it done as a region before, so it is not as if it cannot be done. All we need is the will and commitment to make it happen.â€
Aregbesola, in his remarks, said the Old Western Nigeria recorded greater feats when it operated as a single state than what obtained today as six states.
â€œIf we look critically at the achievements we have as singular state of Western Region, we must be mindful of the fact that as singular state then, we achieved more than now when we are divided into six states. We must identify our strengths, unify those strengths and explore the strength for the benefit of our people. We use the development to galvanise our potential,â€ Aregbesola said.
Ajimobi held that there were gains to be tapped from the numerical strength of the Yoruba people, stressing that should the six South-west states elect to pull together, they would amount to over 60 million population and fit to become a country.
â€œI will like to plead for not only inter-governmental relationship but also inter-personal relationship. Six of us combined, we are talking about more than 60 million people and that is more than a country. We are also talking of landmass of 60km square. With that, we can stand as a mini country. If you look at each state in South-west, if we make use of the potential available to us, we are bigger than many countries in the world.
â€œWe are as a region very formidable. We must not only talk it, we must act it. We reinstate and reinvigorate the concept of Omoluabi. Success is not money but character and industry,â€ he said.
Briefly, Ambode said he aligned with the economic and political integration of South-west states as espoused by his colleagues, explaining that it was of great significance to the nation.
On his part, Fayose said â€œI want to align myself fully with the development agenda of South-west. The forum represents the interest of all us in Yoruba nation. It called for cooperation and collaboration of all the governors to make success of the region.
Meanwhile, the communiquÃ© issued at the end of the forum titled â€˜Self Determination for Western Nigeriaâ€™ submitted that â€œthe Western Nigeria hereby declared zero tolerance to crimesâ€.
According to the communiquÃ©, â€œDAWN is directed to develop a 25-year-old Western Nigeria Development Master Plan. That a Joint Task Force and Joint Action will be pursued and sustained on security threat to governance, safety of lives, property and prosperity of the people of the region.
â€œThat Western Nigeria hereby declares a zero tolerance to crimes; that the artificial boundary of states, religion and political affiliation will not be a barrier to regional development. All the states are encouraged to significantly improve bilateral and multilateral cooperation to foster regional development.
That the competitive advantage of constituent states will be annexed for sustaining regional regional; that DAWN should develop a revenue optimisation strategy for constituents states of the region; that in order to improve food security of the region, DAWN should convey a regional agric summit to be held in Ibadan.
â€œThat approval is given for the establishment of Western Nigeria Export Development Initiative to drive the export potential of the region. That synergy of DAWN Commission, Oodua Group and critical stakeholders should develop a framework to drive the commercial and industrialisation competitiveness of the region.
â€œThat a Committee be set up for the codification of our values and ethos as an instrument of Yoruba uniqueness to strengthen our identity and unity of purpose, and finally, that this forum should be known, henceforth, as Western Nigeria Governorsâ€™ Forum,â€ the communiquÃ© stated with a renewed commitment by all towards the uplift of the South-west.
Although this is not the first time that the South-west or any other region at that in the country would be coming together to foster cooperation in collective regional interest, inability to see it through to a logical end, either by way of personal disagreement or political differences, has consistently been the bane. Perhaps, something will change this time that the South-west governors appear more committed. But that debate can only wait until the initiative begins to manifest with evident indices of genuine cooperation towards the economic and political growth of the region.