If the actions of the governors of the South-west states are anything to go by, regional integration is already gaining momentum, writes Shola Oyeyipo
From all indication, the sustained call for restructuring in the country is one thing that will be hard to achieve giving the fact that different regions of the country have varying perspectives on the issue. But some Nigerians who consider it an inevitable option in unlocking the full potentials of the federating units are beginning to consider other ways to actualise it.
One key element in the demand for restructuring is regionalism which promotes central systems of administration among states that share similar cultural, political and economic attributes. However, regionalism did not scale through in virtually all the previous constitutional conferences, including the 2014 national conference of ethnic nationalities.
Even before the call became strident, governors in the South-west were already blazing the trail and showing greater commitment in bringing about stronger regional integration for the benefit of their people.
Since 2013, all the governors of the region, comprising Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti, collectively put aside partisan, religious, sub-ethnic, and other sentiments to work together for the development of the region. They established a commission, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) to project their economic integration agenda. This is to serve as the management body that will promote the regionâ€™s integration agenda and ensure the delivery of the development aspirations of the entire region.
In November 21, 2016, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State hosted the South-west Governorsâ€™ Economic Forum in Ibadan where the governors adopted a progressive agenda, anchored on â€œthe framework of a people-centred development strategyâ€, and agreed on quarterly meetings thereafter.
Further meetings were held in February 13th in Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital and on July 24th in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital to further deepen the multilateral and bilateral cooperation among the states.
The integration project, according to them, would galvanise the collective strength of the states, including assets and capabilities to achieve sustainable socio-economic growth and development. They agreed to work together to address the security challenges confronting the region, put up uniform educational curriculum, all commissioners of police and intelligence institutions in the region will be meeting regularly to compare notes and work together in a concerted manner to secure the aerial, land and waterway security architecture of the region. They are to support the initiative with their resources.
The governors also agreed to constitute a Regional Technical Working Group on integrated infrastructural development with regard to multi-modal transportation system such as highways, rail, water and air, as well as integration on energy and power, digital and telecoms and leisure and entertainment.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos, who briefed newsmen at the end of their last meeting in Abeokuta said: â€œIt was agreed that a committee should be set up on Federal Government allocations in agriculture to be accessed for regional benefit.â€
An expanded committee is to be set up to make consultations, give consideration and set objectives on the regional direction with regard to the federal budget on its implementation especially on agriculture with emphasis on irrigation and storage.
In what many view as a clear departure from the posturing of his predecessor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who never pretended about his disapproval for regional integration, Ambode is showing great commitment to integration and development of the South-west
During a recent visit to Osun State, Ambode reiterated his desire to join hand with Osun state governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola to bring about the integration of the South-west zone, because according to him, now is the best time for the region to fully take advantage of its potentials by supporting the Aregbesola agenda which he has been championing since the beginning of his administration.
â€œWe have a historic duty to join Aregbesola in championing what he has been clamouring for; the integration of the South-west. I fully commit myself to the integration of the South-west because I believe it is the only way the region can fully explore its potentials for the benefit of all. I can assure you that the South-west has all it takes to stand alone and survive without having to depend on any external means of funding. I want to assure you that Lagos State Government will continue to support Osun till the end with all it can,â€™â€™ Ambode said.
Though Lagos State under Ambode had entered into agricultural business partnership with Kebbi State, which brought about the Lake Rice, the governor, through an agric master plan, now considers the south-west region as the next base for food security in Nigeria. His plan is to support other states in the region to effectively use the massive arable and fertile land in the region for mechanised farming.
A source close to the governor hinted that Ambode, who is proposing over N1 trillion budget next year is already proposing to set aside about N100 billion for the purpose of massive agricultural project in South-west states.
â€œThe idea is for us to create a master plan that allows other states in the region to partner with us. Yes, we have done something with Kebbi State but it is never enough. Lagos State is the major consumer of agric products and the idea is that there are so much of fertile land in the South-west and we must quickly start to integrate all the south-west states from Ogun to Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo so that they will be able to provide to us those things that we consume in Lagos. It is a win-win partnership and it is also in the overall interest of the economic integration that we are talking about in the South-west,â€ Ambode said during a recent visit to Oyo State as part of his regional integration moves.
When Lagos State under Ambode was admitted as a member of the Oâ€™odua group last year January, many considered the decision a strategic move for both the region and Lagos.
From the Oodua group platform, Ambode hopes states in the region can accelerate the development of the region. He said: â€œThe drive towards regionally integrating South-west of Nigeria cannot be effectively pursued if all the states in the region do not combine their resources, work together and maximize their comparative advantages in order to build a strong regional infrastructural and social links amongst the states.â€
For his roles, Ambode has been receiving accolade from his peers and even other observers who believe he is taking the right steps to support economic emancipation of the region. For instance, one of the principal actors in the 1990 Gideon Okar coup who is now a democrat and a leading campaigner for restructuring, Col. Tony Nyiam, in an interview with THISDAY specifically commended Ambode for aligning himself with his counterparts in the region on integration in what he noted was not done by Fashola while at the helms of affairs in Lagos State.
To him, Fashola who was against restructuring the country by his position contained in a memorandum sent to the 2014 national conference and some other elements from the South-west are working against it and as such, the style being adopted by the South-west leaders becomes important.
â€œI am beginning to name and shame those southern leaders who are covertly colluding with the north-west to keep us down and one of such characters is the likes of former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola (SAN). A memorandum presented by Lagos State to the 2014 constitutional conference under Fashola rejected regionalism. In the introductory part of their memorandum, one of the paragraphs said: â€˜Importantly, Lagos State has never been historically part of the South-west zone or western Nigerian politically and administratively.â€™
â€œIt goes on to say that Nigeria has operated a federal system of government with unique origins and that this system is not departed from principles and practices of federal system,â€ which means that he was supporting this system as it is,â€ Nyiam noted.
He added that â€œWhy some of us are interested in Ambodeâ€™s example is that the example will kick-start same thing in other regions. In other words, it is high time the Igbo learned from Ambodeâ€™s example and ensure that the South-east zone is transformed by pursuing regional integration.
â€œOne close example to Ambode is Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, who has transformed the state from Onitsha to Awka. The Anambra people should also allow their wealth and their skills in work to spread to other parts of the South-east. In my own region, states that are similarly endowed like Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom should allow their wealth to spread to other parts of south-south. So, what Ambode is starting is a good thing. If we want to create sustainable jobs that will last, let states compete and I think that is what Ambode and South-west governors are trying to harness the advantages.â€
Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, which has been on the forefront of calls for restructuring, also commended Ambode and his counterparts in the South-west for taking far reaching decisions targeted at promoting integration of the region. Afenifereâ€™s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said it was during Ambodeâ€™s administration that Lagos State keyed into Oodua Investment to cement the oneness of the Yoruba nation.
â€œIt is gratifying to note the sense of history of the governor (Ambode) in remembering the role the Western Regional Government under Awolowo played in the development of the entire west when Cocoa was our mainstay by committing to use the economic strength of Lagos to rub off positively on other states in Yorubaland.â€
For his roles, Ambode has been receiving accolade from his peers and even other observers who believe he is taking the right steps to support economic emancipation of the region.