By Emmanuel Addeh
South-south governors and other stakeholders from the geopolitical zone yesterday in Port Harcourt met with a presidential delegation led by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, and demanded restructuring of the country to ensure “true federalism” and guarantee peace, security and stability of the country.
They also demanded the relocation of the headquarters of all subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to the region.
Calling for the revitalisation of the region’s Calabar, Port Harcourt and Warri ports, they also demanded the immediate privatisation of the nation’s refineries to make them functional and boost the economy of the region.
The South-south leaders stated that the country was not at peace with itself and not working as it should, particularly, for the people of the South-south region.
The Chairman of the South-south Governors Forum and Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, presented the position of the zone during its stakeholders’ meeting with the presidential delegation.
The meeting, earlier slated to hold on November 17, was cancelled at the last minute on the excuse that Gambari and some other members of the delegation had to attend an emergency meeting of the National Security Council presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, in Abuja on the same day.
The sudden cancellation of the meeting angered leaders of the geopolitical zone who demanded an apology from the government.
The presidency had fixed the meeting with the governors and other leaders of the region to discuss burning national issues affecting the region and the aftermath effects of the #EndSARS protest.
The federal government delegation was supposed to include all the ministers from the geopolitical zone and other persons.
In the aftermath of the cancellation, Okowa, who presided over the session, had expressed regret at the botched meeting, adding that the people of the region had been embarrassed, disgraced and disrespected.
He had said that the South-south geopolitical zone is a very important component part of the nation and the governors feel insulted because the traditional rulers who had gathered for the meeting deserved to be revered.
In a move to pacify the South-south leaders, the presidency had expressed regrets over the failure of the presidential delegation to honour the scheduled meeting with governors and leaders of the zone and promised to contact them to reschedule the parley.
It had attributed the absence of the delegation, which necessitated a last-minute cancellation of the meeting and drew the anger of the South-south leaders, to the timing conflicting with an emergency National Security Council meeting, which held in the State House on Tuesday.
However, at yesterday’s meeting, Okowa told the presidential delegation that the South-south is committed to restructuring the country to guarantee “true federalism” and devolution of powers to the states to create and manage their own police and security architecture under a federal structure.
The regional leaders also called for the relocation of the headquarters of major oil companies, NNPC subsidiaries from Lagos and Abuja to the South-south region.
They requested the immediate implementation of the consent judgment entered in the Supreme Court Suit No: SC/964/2016 to enable the South-south gets its share of $55 billion shortfall of collection on deep offshore and inland basin production sharing contracts.
“True federalism’ guided by the principle of derivation, revenue sharing and control of resources by each state of the federation as it was the case in the first republic is what we want,” Okowa told the presidential delegation.
According to him, the geopolitical zone desires a federation where its constituent units are constitutionally empowered to create their own structures like local government areas, manage their elections and control their judiciary.
He said: “We are all aware of the huge endowment of this country. As such, it is imperative to stress that with a little bit of efforts, imagination, hard work, sacrifice and leadership, every state of the federation as of today, has the ability and capability to contribute to the national purse. This should be encouraged rather than the whole country depending substantially on a region of the country.
“What is worse and even more painful in this ugly situation is the deliberate lack of understanding, empathy and the uncompromising attitudes of some Nigerians, who have refused to understand the challenges of the South-south region of the country, especially, the degradation of the environment and our waters. As a result, most of the demands of the region have remained unattended to while the resources of the region have been used continually to develop other parts of the country.”
The governors called for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region’s major seaports in Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri to enhance the economic development of the region.
They demanded that the two refineries in Port Harcourt and Warri should be privatised.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, urged the leaders of the region to avail themselves of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly since most of the issues contained in their demands are constitutional matters.
In his address, Gambari said the meeting was in response to the president’s mandate that the presidential delegation comprising all the ministers from the region to visit and consult the representatives of the people regarding the recent #EndSARS protest.
Gambari noted that reports indicated that there were instances where a breakdown of law and order was reported across various locations in the South-south states.
He lauded the governors for their quick response and actions in addressing the #EndSARS crisis.
Those who attended the meeting were Governors Nyesom Wike (Rivers); Ben Ayade (Cross River); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom); Douye Diri (Bayelsa) and Godwin Obaseki (Edo).
Others were Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio; Minister of State for Petroleum, Chief Timipre Sylva; Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Jeddy- Agba; Minister of State for Niger Delta, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN); Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, and Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
The Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi was absent.
Other eminent persons present were the National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (rtd); former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Onueze Okocha (SAN); and President, Ijaw Youths Council (IYC), worldwide, Mr. Peter Igbifa, among others.