Echoes of Restructuring, True Federalism as S’West Governors, Monarchs Meet in Lagos

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that renewed calls for restructuring, fiscal federalism, good governance and youth employment featured prominently at the recent dialogue between South-west governors, traditional rulers and the Federal Government in Lagos

Recently, Governors of the South-west states of Nigeria, traditional rulers, as well as security chiefs and members of the Federal Executive Council converged on Lagos to chart a new development agenda towards rebuilding process of the South-west geo-political zone after the massive destruction of public and private assets as a result of the recent EndSARS campaigns, which was hijacked by some hoodlums in different parts of the region.

It would be recalled that the six states in the South-west region, especially Lagos, was badly hit by the aftermath of the EndSARS protests, which started peacefully but led to killings, lootings and reckless destruction of public and private properties after it was hijacked in different states by hoodlums who inflicted pains on innocent citizens. Between October 19 and 22, many private companies, historic centers, public properties, police stations, banks, shopping malls, traditional rulers’ palaces, media houses, toll plazas, family houses, warehouses, shops, stores, buses and terminals, among others were looted and set ablaze by hoodlums under the guise of protests.

Worried by the high level of destruction in the South-west, governors and traditional rulers held a crucial meeting with Federal Government delegation led by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari as well as the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu and the Director of the Department of Security Service (DSS), Yusuf Magaji Bichi, to address security and fundamental issues affecting the zone.

The over four hours meeting held at the State House, Alausa, Ikeja in Lagos, which was the third leg of the consultation initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari following the #EndSARS protests and its aftermath. The meeting was attended by all the South-west governors led Chairman of the South-west Governors’ Forum and Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. Others at the meeting were Governors Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), who was the host governor.

Members of the federal cabinet in attendance during the meeting comprised Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, as well as the seven ministers from the South-West; namely, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN (Works and Housing), Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (Interior), Otunba Niyi Adebayo (Industry, Trade and Investment), Mr. Sunday Dare (Sports, Youths and Development), Olamilekan Adegbite (Mines and Steel Development), Dr. Olorunmibe Mamora (State, Health) and Senator Tayo Alasoadura (State, Niger-Delta).

The traditional rulers present at the meeting were; Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi; Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi; Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwan Akiolu; Oluigbo of Ugbo, Oba Akinruntan Obateru; Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle; Alawe of Ilawe, Oba Adebanji Alabi; Olubadan of Ibadan land, Oba Saliu Adetunji; Ayangburen of Ikorodu, Oba Kabiru Adewale Shotobi; Orangun of Oke-Ila, Oba Adedokun Abolarin; Olowo of Owo, Oba Ajibade Ogunye and Owa-Ooye of Okemesi Ekiti, Oba Adedeji Gbadebo.

Lagos State Government hosted the dialogue, which was at the instance of all the South-west governors to forge a common front with traditional institutions in addressing issues that led to the EndSARS protests.

Akeredolu, Sanwo-Olu harps on rebuilding South-West

Speaking on the importance of the meeting, the Chairman, South West Governors’ Forum, Governor Akeredolu said the meeting was called following the magnitude of destruction the region witnessed during the EndSARS campaigns.

He said the coordinated violence sparked by the EndSARS protest shook the South-west to its foundation, given the unrestrained manner with which public assets and infrastructure that had sustained the region’s economy were destroyed by hoodlums.

Akeredolu said the style of the attacks, especially in Lagos, was worrisome, stressing that the peace in the region remained fragile in the aftermath of the violence. He therefore stressed the need for all to fully restore peace in the South-west and address the issues that made youths to be used by those who orchestrated the destruction.

He said: “Before our very eyes, what started as a peaceful demonstration turned to different thing that became a threat to all of us, who are regarded as elites. What we witnessed in the violence showed that something needs to be done to address the underlying issues and come out with solutions. We must be able to sustain the peace in our region at all cost.

“So, this meeting has been called for us to have very important relationship between us, within us and among us. Our brothers in the North, South-south and South-east have had this same interaction. As you all know, we have gone through a lot with the recent experiences. Everybody is worried and concerned. We have some measure of peace now but we must be able to sustain the peace at all cost.

“There was threat to all of us even governors. No one could dare walk outside. What we saw made us tremble a bit so we want to come up with a solution.

“They must be engaged fully. What roles do the monarchs have to play? As monarchs, do we talk to our people in private? As monarchs, we need your cooperation. We believe we can rub minds. We are begging the monarchs to tell us how we can do it so we can have peace.”

Also speaking, the host Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu who took time to show the participants, pictures of properties destroyed in different parts of Lagos State during the protests, said the meeting was aimed at finding ways and means of taking South-west forward after the destruction.

While showing the pictures via a large screen, many of the participants at the event were touched by the level of destruction, expressing their displeasure in many ways while listening to the governor.

Sanwo-Olu, who said the engagement could not have come at a better time than the present period when the region had just come out from disturbing events, believed the dialogue would open a new chapter of peace and prosperity in the South-west.

“This stakeholders engagement could not have come at a better than now when we have serious issues confronting the existence of our people; issues around security, good governance, economic and social investment. They are on the front burner and they are very important national issues. But recent events are things that are very disturbing to each and every one of us. “I believe that at the end of this dialogue, we would also have engaged ourselves sufficiently to be able to see ways and means of taking our region forward. We are not talking about what has happened, we are on a journey of rebuilding Lagos, rebuilding South-west for all of us,” he said.

Buhari saddened by magnitude of destruction, says Gambari

In his address, Prof. Gambari said President Muhammadu Buhari was saddened by the magnitude of destruction in Lagos State and South-West region, which necessitated the presence of a delegation from the Presidency at the meeting.

He said the vigorous manner of the EndSARS protest indicated the frustration of the youths, who he said had been ignored for a long time in governance. He therefore urged the political class to go beyond the lip service and equip the young people with skills that would make them competitive in market.

Prof. Gambari also reiterated President Buhari’s commitment to addressing the root causes of the protest, pointing out the reforms which the youths clamoured for would be done and cases of abuse would be pursued to logical conclusions.

He said, “The President is aware of the level of destruction and the people who sabotaged genuine course for justice but used the action to destroy businesses and infrastructure.

“It is true our youths have been ignored for a long time but we cannot continue to do so. The purpose of this engagement is to find out what the federal and state governments have done and can do. The Buhari administration is set to address what brought us to this level.

“Our Government’s efforts are emerging from multiple level. The Vice President and governors are designing an engagement framework through the National Economic Council that will be rolled out across states of the Federation. Chief among them is police reform across all its dimensions. Community policing is an additional layer that can resolve some of our security issues.”

Monarchs demand protection of S’West, working relationship with political leaders

Traditional rulers at the meeting, unanimously clamoured for true federalism and devolution of powers to address fundamental issues confronting Nigeria, noting that true federalism will foster development and enable the component units to develop according to their pace and to cater for their people.

Some of the traditional rulers also called for a South-West Development Commission that will undertake socio-economic intervention programme in the region. They said the development commission should perform similar functions like the North-East Development Commission and the Niger Delta Development Commission.

The traditional rulers who spoke as chairmen of their respective states’ Traditional Rulers Council, did not mince words in blaming governments, public office holders and politicians for the #EndSARS protests and recent destruction of properties and looting in the region. They also expressed their displeasure against the neglect of the traditional institutions by governors and public office holders in the scheme of governance.

In his address, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Ogunwusi, who lamented the level of destruction in different of the South-West states, said Lagos State was worst hit among other states in the region.

He said: “The governors have taken the right steps with this meeting. However, they have been far away from us, the monarchs. You should not wait till election period before you reach out to us. This type of meeting should come regularly. We know the good and the bad in our communities but we are under-utilised. This dialogue would bridge the gap of communication between political leaders and traditional rulers.”

Oba Adeyemi, the Alaafin of Oyo, who noted that the present system which gave the Federal Government total control over security at the state level, is not the best for the government, canvassed for true federalism as part of the measures to address security problems in the country.

The monarch attributed the recent problem in the South-west to unemployment of youths and therefore advised government on massive youth employment.

He also berated the unitary system being practised, saying the arrangement had led to insecurity and restiveness.

“It is a complex and complicated matter. Our children are jobless and many are hungry and angry. About two per cent are employed while 98 per cent are unemployed. The problems are too much for the states. The states are not independent. The structure we run in Nigeria cannot allow state governors to do much for their states, there is the need for power devolution,” he said.

Oba Obateru in his address sympathised with the governors, especially Governor Sanwo-Olu over the high level of destruction in Lagos State. He therefore urged the Inspector General of Police to conduct detailed investigation into the incident and fish out those behind the protest.

“What happened is beyond EndSARS protests by the youths. We have people behind it. The youths meant well but the protest was hijacked by underworld people. The security agents should find out those behind them. If you don’t treat this matter well, the youths will come out again.

“Governors should be very careful to prevent repeat of what happened. I really appreciate how Sanwo-Olu handled the COVID-19 issue and that is why they want to frustrate him by destroying a lot of things in Lagos. President Buhari is really sober about what happened in Lagos and Nigeria,” he said.

Also speaking, Oba Akiolu, said the security architecture of the country must be restructured. “The truth is very bitter. Majority of the problems are caused by politicians. The power with the federal government is too much. The security architecture of the country needs to be restructured.

“The problem we have in Lagos is security and unemployment. The youths have to be looked after. What happened is pure case of security breach. The entire system needs reformation. There is so much concentration of power at the centre. Mr. President should assist in rebuilding process of the affected states. The culture of our forefathers has been neglected. The gods are angry. Lagos should be accorded special status,” he said.

In his address, Oba Alabi, said the attack on Lagos and other states was a calculated attempt to decimate the economy of the South-west region and therefore demanded for composition of South-West Development Agenda to reconstruct the destruction that took place in the region.

He said: “Taking a look at the unfortunate destruction of lives and property, the #EndSARS protest was hijacked by hoodlums in which Lagos suffered most devastation. The moment the hoodlums realised the police had been overwhelmed they took over control of the state and unleashed havoc. This must stop; the Inspector-General of Police must deploy his men to the streets. The party for hoodlums is over.

“It is high time for the police to take over and the police should be adequately equipped. The wanton attack on Akiolu’s palace is embarrassing and worrisome to commit such a heinous crime. The security in palaces should be boosted because any time an incident like this comes up, after government, monarchs are the next target.

Oba Olugbenle said: “The issue of insecurity has been with us for years. In 2014 National Conference, we spent weeks discussing Nigeria. The report had not been looked at. There is nothing stopping the current government from implementing the recommendations. There is so much powers from Abuja. It is time to have true federalism. We should drop politics and look critically for the implementation of recommendations of the National Conference to address some of the issues in the burner.

“Lagos State deserves a special status and we will rally round to ensure that Lagos achieve its special status in Nigeria. South-West Development Agenda is very important. Federal Government should reconsider its position on closure of borders because majority of our youth have been rendered jobless. The issue of political thugs should also be looked into and politicians should examine themselves.”

S’West leaders agree on 13-item communiqué

After over two hours of brainstorming, the South-west governors and traditional rulers at the end of the closed door session released a 13-item communiqué signed by Governor Akeredolu and Oba Ogunwusi.

The stakeholders agreed that the security architecture of the country must be adjusted to adequately address the threats and realities of insecurity in the country and also demanded more police presence in communities in South-West states.

They also demanded that a comprehensive programme that will address youth employment and empowerment should be prioritised, adding that curricular of tertiary institutions should be reviewed, with emphasis placed on skills acquisition and entrepreneurship.

It also endorsed the call by traditional rulers for regular consultations with the state governors and federal authorities on challenges facing the state and for appropriate recognition of their roles in the Constitution.

The communiqué reads in part: “We express appreciation to Mr. President and his administration on the responsiveness to the initial demands of the EndSARS demonstrators and for his firm handling of the aftermaths of the protest.

“We endorse the call by traditional rulers call for regular consultations with state governors and federal authorities on challenges facing the state and for appropriate recognition of their role in the Constitution.

“The security architecture of the country requires adjustment to adequately address the threats and realities of insecurity in the country. There should be more police presence in communities in the South west states.

“While there are legitimate concerns contained in the initial EndSARS movement, these have been hijacked by criminal and other elements with ulterior and negative forces and degenerated into anarchy.”

The South-West stakeholders also agreed that: “There is need to undertake preventive actions aimed at prevention of repeat of what happened in the country following the EndSARS demonstrators. Security needs to be strengthened in all states.

“We wish to encourage the Nigeria Police by responding to their needs and appeal to them to do more to protect lives and properties and enhance security all over the country.

“We call for specific measures and proposals to repair damage done to the physical infrastructure and economic assets of the South West.

“Review of reports of constitutional conferences including 2014 National Conference and implement some of the recommendations especially with reference to security, economy, equal treatment for citizens all over the country.

“We believe that the prolonged closure of the border has caused economic difficulties and should be re-examined to alleviate problems of the people in the border communities and prices of some essential commodities. There is need to review the closure and permit resumption of economic and trading activities.”

They also demanded for “A comprehensive programme that addresses youth employment and empowerment should be prioritized. Closer coordination and complementarity between the states and the Federal Government. In this regard, the curricular of tertiary institutions should be reviewed, with emphasis placed on skills acquisition and entrepreneurship.

“We recognise the damaging and negative impact of fake/false news and worry about its destructive and dangerous potency of fake news. We call on Federal Government to use the instrumentality of existing laws and those regulations bench-marked from other countries to provide safeguard against the spread of fake news, the 2015 Cyber Act will also be fully used.

“Federal Government should ensure that technology is used effectively for the advancement of the Nigerian Security and not its destruction by working with the technology cum social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. The regime of checks and gate keeping should be fully employed.

“We urge that every effort should be made to resolve the impasse between ASUU and the Federal Government so that students can return to school in earnest.”

With the way the South-west governors and traditional rulers harped on restructuring, true federalism and issues affecting their region at the dialogue session, Yorubas and Nigerians in general will be looking with keen interest to observe if some of the issues raised in the communique would be addressed by the federal and state governments.

QUOTE

This meeting has been called for us to have very important relationship between us, within us and among us. Our brothers in the North, South-south and South-east have had this same interaction. As you all know, we have gone through a lot with the recent experiences. Everybody is worried and concerned. We have some measure of peace now but we must be able to sustain the peace at all cost. There was threat to all of us even governors. No one could dare walk outside. What we saw made us tremble a bit so we want to come up with a solution