The Southern Governors’ Forum meeting is a commendable move towards a viable bloc consensus

The meeting, last Monday, of the Southern Governors’ Forum (SGF) is a pointer to the rising awareness of the need for structural rebalancing of the Nigerian federation as an imperative condition for pulling Nigeria out of its prevailing stagnation. It is all the more significant that the meeting, 12 years after the last one, came against the background of current agitations in the country.

Highlighting the outcome of the meeting attended by 16 of its 17 member-states, Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, said the forum was committed to the indivisibility of Nigeria but proffered what it called ‘true federalism’ and devolution of powers as the basis for the sustainability of the unity and economic prosperity of the country.

No doubt, the forum only added its voice to the current debate on the debilitating effects of the subsisting pseudo-federal system in the country, upon which there is almost a consensus. Most Nigerians are agreed that it is the system that is at the root of the internecine strife that has not only worsened Nigeria’s social and economic conditions, but has also persistently threatened to disintegrate it.

Incidentally, not much success has been achieved in the formal efforts to change the unitary nature of Nigeria’s federation. The outcomes of the 2014 National Conference inspired by the last administration, which in the main recommended the rebalancing of the federation through the movement of several items on the exclusive to concurrent list in the 1999 Constitution, was never acted up by President Goodluck Jonathan. And it has been consigned to the shelf by the succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

A more recent effort to delist some of the exclusive functions and add them to the concurrent list also suffered defeat in the National Assembly as both chambers killed the devolution of powers constitution amendment bill.

However, the persistence of the clamour for the restructuring of the federation to a more workable arrangement in spite of its rebuff by the formal institutions of government threatens to stagnate economic growth and development as the people seek alternative ways out, some of which have manifested in the form of secessionist movements whose activities have consistently put the country on the edge.

To stem the drift towards anarchy, continuous conversations over restructuring, including fiscal federalism are encouraged and it was the spirit behind the Lagos meeting. “States are disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs from the federal government. This is a function of our present national constitution that burdens the federal government with activities and responsibilities that rightly fall within the province of states. The productivity and revenue-generating capacities of most states are thus stifled, thus turning them into no better than street beggar states incapable of even meeting routine obligations of paying workers’ salaries and pensions without federal support,” said one of the governors.

With states within geopolitical zones in the country finding that their needs are related and could be collectively met, they are coming together to take advantage of the principle of economy of scale to leverage on their areas of strength and subsequently impact positively on their region as they mutually benefit from their comparative advantages. Politically, the regional coalitions give the states a better opportunity to work together to wrestle more powers from a centre that has continued to entrap the enormous resources needed for the economic development of their people.

The Lagos meeting, in the circumstances, is a commendable move towards a more viable bloc consensus as it seeks to unite the three regional blocs of the South – the South-west, South-east and South-south – for a more effective conversation on the need for a more workable federation that would unlock the stranded potential of the country for inclusive economic growth and development.

Though not essentially a novel trend, having been preceded by the Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF) that meets more regularly on matters that concern the North, the SGF needs to formalise itself like its northern counterpart and seek a national consensus on the cores issue of restructuring the federation.

In the meantime, our charge to them is to go beyond seminal pronouncements and take concrete actions that would facilitate the birth of a more workable arrangement that will not only decongest the central government but also allow the states to develop at their own pace.

Our charge to them is to go beyond seminal pronouncements and take concrete actions that would facilitate the birth of a more workable arrangement that will not only decongest the central government but also allow the states to develop at their own pace