‘Our interests in South-south Are Similar to Some Extent’

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Ifeanyi Okowa

Omon-Julius Onabu was among a team of journalists who interacted with natural rulers under the canopy of South-south Traditional Rulers’ Forum in Asaba, Delta State capital, who brainstormed on certain issues affecting the geo-political zone which have recently engaged the attention of South-south Governors’ Forum led by its chairman, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, including restructuring, insecurity and resource control. Although, no communiquè was issued at the end of the closed-door meeting, HRM (Dr) Edmund Daukoru, the Ayarmanabo of Nembe Kingdom in Bayelsa State and Chairman of the South-south traditional rulers group, fielded questions from journalists

Governors of the six states of the South-South met recently with officials of the Federal Government and certain resolutions were taken. And, because of the restrictions on numbers the entire membership of of the South-South monarchs couldn’t be there. There was just a physical invitation but some members did attend

We met here to put heads together and to see which and which of the resolutions we can help to process, to take forward. This is very important, because we’re the group between the government and the grassroots in our respective kingdoms, some of who may not even understand the high grammar that was being blown there. So, we act as interpreters of government policies as far as the grassroots are concerned. Thus, in pursuance of our role, we have to meet to go through all of the points that were raised and to see where we can be of help, and to be seen to synergize with government.

We had some housekeeping affairs carried over from previous meetings, so we tackled those ones too. And especially, we’re looking towards a meeting with other geopolitical zones, because our interests in South are similar to some extent. So whenever we have issues of communality of interest, we do meet. We are planning for possibilities for our next move, to be able to join forces with others in the southern geopolitical zones. That is what we’re discussing.

You know, some of the key issues have to do with restructuring, fiscal federalism, even issues of education and issues of unemployment. These issues are common to everybody and the are no respecter of any geopolitical zone.

These are areas where we feel that a common will carries a greater weight. And, it is not a matter of what group you belong to. It can be of professionals; it can be like environmentalists. At that meeting, for instance, we had Ankio Briggs. She has been on this for many years.

We happen to be traditional rulers. The governors, of course, the states are under their political leadership. Then, there’s BRACED Commission that brings all the governors together. By the time you have all these forces pulling in one direction, the train is bound to move.

Your Majesty, we have the issue of restructuring and there appears to be many voices and divergent views, that it now sounds even conjectural. Are you trying to fine-tune it so that there’s harmony in the agitation?

The tunes may differ but the wordings of the songs remain the same. We don’t need to fine-tune anything because the wordings of the song are the same

The Oil Derivation Fund has recently been a burning issue and communities have been clamouring for he 13 percent fund

It has always been a burning issue. You will remember in 2014, we had the National Conference. Before 2014, when Olusegun Obasanjo was president, there was also a national conference and people clamoured to ask whether it’s sovereign or non-sovereign. But we have had national conferences from time to time. Some people go for 30%, others go for 50%, and during the 2014 conference, it came up again. The only thing that has changed isn’t the percentages we have been dragging. The needs of human beings in the affected areas have increased by leaps and bounds. The population is not waiting for anybody, but population has been growing everyday and the unemployment rate has become staggering. COVID-19 hasn’t helped matters (with) downturn in economic activities. So, the needs keep rising while we are debating the numbers.

Anyway, we are still one nation, and nobody is asking for the impossible. Whatever it is that the South-south geopolitical zone is asking is what, in the opinion of many, is considered to be reasonable under our present circumstance. Nobody will wake up like a child and ask for candy when mom and dad have no money for candy; or to spend the little they have on sweets instead of buying propoer food to cook and eat.

We are quite reasonable and believe that the demands being made are rooted in reality and that they are well within the realm of opportunity. It is a political system, so it’s give-and-take. They say that a hard tackle should not be seen as a foul.