S’West’s Quest for Regional Integration

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Executive Briefing

The South-west is looking up to Lagos State to drive the development of the region, writes Gboyega Akinsanmi

The Western Nigeria Governors Forum, a group comprising all state governors in the South-west geo-political, reconvened in Lagos recently.
All the governors in the region, except Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun, attended the meeting that focused purely on how to leverage regional integration to attain development.

The theme of the meeting, ‘Consolidating the Legacy of Regional Integration’, captures the essence of the forum.

Conscious of the divergence that marks the politics of the west, the forum has always kept to its strategic objectives, which Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode said, was first and foremost to strengthen regional integration and foster socio-economic growth.

From all indications, the last recession had taught all states of the federation some bitter lessons.

The experience showed that the federating units could no longer depend on federal allocations.

The experience must have taught the South-west states to grow their internally generated revenue and diversify their economies.

Likewise, the recession had equally inspired the governors to commit themselves to a strategy roadmap that set up the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) in 2011. The DAWN, a brainchild of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), has since been working with the forum to bring back the region to the path of socio-economic breakthrough.

That indeed informed the rationale behind a two-day meeting the forum just concluded in Lagos. In its history, the forum has never held a two-day meeting. The last meeting x-rayed the enormity of development challenges undermining growth every state in Western Nigeria and the exigency of reversing the ugly trends.

But for Ambode, the governors cannot shy away from these challenges. From health to education, infrastructure, transportation and security challenges, He said: “We must confront them headlong. There is hardly any better time for the states in Western Nigeria to pull together to fathom ways of tackling social and economic challenges facing our people individually and collectively.”

Grim realities of a bloc
Obviously, translating regional vision to reality has always been a grave source of concern among member-states. At the meeting, Ekiti State governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose practically explained the dynamics of socio-economic constraints hindering translating regional integration to regional development.

He, first, cited dwindling allocation accruing to the states from the Federation Accounts. He, also lamented the inability of the states in the region to shore up their federal earnings with internally generated revenue (IGR). He equally pointed at the looming crisis of unemployment. On these grounds, therefore, Fayose noted that the states of the Western Nigeria “are looking up to Lagos State and indeed Ambode if the regional vision must be achieved.”
According to him, Ekiti barely gets allocation that pays salaries.

“But when we look at Lagos State, we are consoled. Lagos can make the whole of Western Nigeria comfortable,” he added.

This is more evident in the fiscal plan of each member-state. Under the 2018 fiscal year, all states in the region, except Lagos, proposed gross budgets of N1.07 trillion. From this fiscal plan, Ogun, for instance, had a share of N345.42 billion; Oyo N271.57 billion; Ondo N181.42 billion; Osun N173.98 billion and Ekiti N98.60 billion.

But the same year, Lagos alone appropriated for N1.043 trillion. From this figure, the budget value of Lagos is almost equivalent to the total value of what all the states of Western Nigeria appropriated for. By implication, Lagos budget is 2.52 percent marginally less than the total budget size of N1.07 trillion for Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti States.

The statistics x-rays the vulnerability of other South-west states if national economy slumps again. Likewise, the statistics suggests the exigency of a big brother, a role no other than Lagos can effectively play. The statistics equally confirms the veracity of Fayose’s suggestion that other states “continue to come to Lagos if Lagos and its political leadership do not do something about it.”

Resolve for Greater Support
Across the region, all member-state had subscribed to greater cooperation, which they believed, could largely address their socio-economic challenges. The South-west governors now emphasised the well-being and welfare of Yoruba Nation. They, also, focus more on what can unite them than what can divide them.

On this ground, Oyo State governor, Sen. Abiola Ajimobi advocated collective development of the Western Nigeria. Rather than individualism, he canvassed the spirit of collectivism, which he said, should “continue among the South-west leaders. Our focus must be on agriculture, education, security and physical infrastructure.”

That was the crux of the Abeokuta meeting, where all the states committed to greater cooperation in the production of rice and other food value chains in the region. Its gains are indeed numerous. Ambode argued that such endeavour “will not only complement food supply into the region from elsewhere but will also enhance the capacity of our farmers to produce what we need and also export to the world.”

He empasised the need to put partisan politics aside. He focused on the need to salvage the generation from future miseries through greater cooperation. He, thus, argued that increased collaboration in agricultural activities “is critical to sustaining the teeming population of Western Nigeria. Lagos State alone is over 23 million people. On record, 85 people migrate into Lagos from other parts of Nigeria on hourly basis.”

Ambode also explained the drive towards food security, which he said, was not only to ensure that Lagos residents have enough to eat. But in the main, he said, the drive is to ensure that the people of Western Nigeria, first and foremost, have enough to eat and export to other states and outside Nigeria.

He, therefore, noted that the whole essence of food security of Western Nigeria “is focused on our states maximizing their comparative advantages to guarantee increased food, jobs creation and the welfare of our people.”

He disclosed that the state “has acquired 32 ton per hour rice mill.” With this mill, over 200,000 jobs can be created across Western Nigeria.

He, also, cited security challenges, which had been a source of nightmare for Western Nigeria and called on the states to collaborate.

“We stand on the threshold of history. Our business in government is mainly to provide jobs and security for our people. Our aim is to seek the welfare of our people. In Lagos, we have realised that the advancement of Lagos shall mean nothing unless it is in conjunction with the development of the whole of Western Nigeria. We believe that together we can achieve this ideal,” he said.

The Search for a New Order
Even though they emphasised the intervention of a big brother, the forum recognised the need to build a framework for fiscal autonomy of member-states. This quest looks impossible without resetting national economic structure. However, the governors are already committed to a course that guarantees them financial independence before the end of the next decade.

Consequently, at its Ibadan meeting December 2017, the governors unanimously pushed for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, which they argued, became imperative “to address diverse concerns and issues that affect the region at large.” So, in its resolution then, the forum promised to present a unified position on issues that affect the generality of the people of the region.

At its Lagos meeting, Fayose acknowledged the significance of restructuring at this period, which he said, constitutional amendment might guarantee. However, he observed, the same process might not guarantee true federalism if not consensually confronted or properly handled.

He, then, argued that every state – irrespective of its political ideology or socio-economic status – “must do more for the well-being of the Yoruba Nation. I am committed to it. I am equally talking about Nigeria. The Western Nigeria has potentials. We have the capacity to develop this country. With Lagos State on the driver’s seat, Western Nigeria can save the whole country.

“We need Lagos to lead the growth of Western Nigeria. We equally need Ambode to champion the development of Western Nigeria.”
Osun State governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola challenged Lagos and its leadership “to strengthen Western Nigeria to address its challenges and regain its status.” He, also, called on Lagos “to invest in the integration of Western Nigeria. If Lagos does not invest in the integration of the region, it will definitely suffer the consequence.”

Aregbesola, however, acknowledged that Lagos “has been working to ensure unity among other states. The state is investing in the integration of the region especially investing in other states. But it must do more. Lagos must take leadership in the Western Nigeria. It will stimulate growth and development in other regions. But we must be ready to develop in a way that will support Lagos demographically.”

In the spirit of brotherhood
After the two-day deliberation, the governors came up with a nine-point resolution, which the Director-General of DAWN Commission, Mr. Oluseye Oyeleye said, would indeed consolidate the legacy of regional integration and reinforce the position of Western Nigeria as the driver of the national economy.

First, the forum formally approved the membership of Lagos State as a member of the O’dua Investment Group, a conglomerate incorporated in July 1976 to manage the business interest of Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo States. Its approval was sequel to provisional membership it granted in September 2016.

The forum, also, agreed to bid for the concession of Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) as soon as the process for bidding starts. Already, with the support of Lagos State, the forum had been putting its documents together to submit an expression of interest for the MMIA through O’dua Group.

In its two-page resolution, the forum said the states of the region “as a bloc intends to bid for the concession of the MMIA. As a bloc, also, the state of the region will be monitoring the process of the concession. Our vision is to turn the MMIA into a world class aviation infrastructure once our bid of interest sails through.”

Among others, the forum directed the DAWN Commission “to work on reviving Regional Inter-School Football Competition.” It mandated that the DAWN Commission “to meticulously conduct a study on the success in Education in Ekiti State for peer learning or adoption among other states of the Western Nigeria.”

The challenges are indeed huge, but the governors are committed to making a difference. On this ground, Ajimobi appealled to his counterparts “to commit themselves to the collective development of Western Nigeria. We must be collectively driven, determined and focused on how to redefine the status of our region.”

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If Lagos does not invest in the integration of the region, it will definitely suffer the consequence