Southern Governors’ Asaba Accord to Rescue Nigeria’s Sinking Ship (Part 1)

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GUEST COLUMNIST: MIKE OZEKHOME 

 

Introduction

I watched on television and read in the newspapers and social media, with eclat, the epochal and historic resolutions reached by the 17 Southern Governors earlier in the month at Asaba, Delta State. I have personally tagged the meeting the “Asaba Accord Concordia”. It reminded me of the “Aburi Accord” held between 4th and 5th January, 1967, between the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Supreme Military Council headed by Lt-Col. Yakubu Gowon, and the Eastern Region Government (Biafra) headed by Lt-Col. Odumegwa Ojukwu. It was a last-ditch effort to prevent the then looming fratricidal and genocidal three-year bloody civil war. The accord collapsed like a pack of cards, as some dramatis personae reneged on matters mutually agreed upon.

The Aburi meeting was hosted by Lt-Gen. Ankrah, the then Ghanaian Head of State, at Aburi, in the Eastern Region of Ghana. Decree No. 8 was later promulgated, to embody the whole accord. It was breached. Ojukwu immediately disagreed with the draft which had made mockery of the resolutions reached, particularly on our much-cherished federal arrangement. Buoyed by the Federal Government thinking that it would crush any Biafran resistance with a Bicycle operation from the Nsukka axis within few days, Gowon’s federal troops fired the first shot. But, a three year bloody genocidal war in which over three million Nigerians, especially of Igbo pedigree were brutally killed, soon ensued. The rest, as they say, is now history.

The Governors had met to rescue the sinking ship of State, from hitting the very bottom of disintegration. They desired that it is better to stay together as one big country, than to split into smithereens. But, on one condition: social justice and equity. Will Buhari break this Accord Concordia? Will he save the country? He and his handlers don’t appear capable of understanding the dire straits of today’s Nigeria. There is obvious disconnect, between them and the Nigerian people.

All the Governors had discarded their political and religious leanings. Like in Rwanda where there are neither Hutus nor Tutsis (thanks to Paul Kagame, the brilliant, highly educated scholar and statesman), there were neither APC, PDP, APGA, nor other political parties. There were neither Muslims, Christians, nor Animists. They were simply Governors of Southern Nigerian extraction, who wanted a better united country. Governors of Yoruba origin (South West) did not care that the Delta host, Senator Ifeanyi, was from Owa-Alero, Anioma in Delta State. Nor that the South East Governors were Igbos. PDP’s Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State from Orba, Udenu LGA, Enugu State, was oblivious of Governor Obaseki being a Benin man from Edo State. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of PDP, who hails from Obingwa LGA, Abia State, did not care that Arakunrin “Aketi” Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN who read the communique was not only APC, but Chairman of South West Governors Forum, and a Yoruba man from Ese Odo in Ondo State. PDP’s Governor Wike of Rivers State (Dike Oha 1 of Ikwerre) forgot that handsome Emmanuel Udom was Governor of Akwa Ibom State and PDP Governor from Awa Iman in Onna LGA. They were not interested that youthful Governor Sanwolu of Lagos State and Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State were APC and Yoruba men. They were simply united in one common cause and course: Save Nigeria from the Dangerous Precipice. Save Nigeria from Self-Destruction.

They knew we are in trouble, near implosion and self-immolation, and with no visible resonating voice to speak out. Concerned that our President who is incognito and incommunicado is ‘AWOL’ from State duties, they even begged him to discard his imperial garment of grandstanding and starchy swagger and officialdom; and at least, speak to Nigerians. Good God, a President was being begged to address his people, his electors; share their pains and fears; their pangs and horrors. An elected Executive President!

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a President being begged to address his own people at a time of national crisis, when the country he governs is in tatters, shambles and in a state of asphyxiating nadir? Is there any day Americans do not see Joe Biden, their President, doing one thing or another, seven days a week and 365 days a year?

Fellow compatriots, when last did your President address you? Oh, maybe during the #EndSARS protests of October last year (eight months ago), when peaceful demonstrating Nigerian flag-waving youths were recklessly and gruesomely mauled down at extortionist Lekki tollgate. I cannot remember any other time. Or can you?

Kudos to the Southern Governors on their Historic Rescue Mission

What the Southern Governors said at the “Asaba Accord Concordia”, was not so new after all. But, the unanimity with which they did it ruffled feathers of Government apologists, such as Senate President, Ahmad “Take a Bow” Lawan, who has never muscled enough strength to tackle Buhari and his rampaging Executive arm, by insisting that Senate resolutions be obeyed. He shocked Nigerians when he said elected leaders should not join agitations for secession, or restructuring of the country. He urged them to first restructure their States. I did not hear the 17 Southern Governors call for secession. Or, did you? Lawan, please, Nigerians expect better from the number three citizen who heads the Legislature, one of the three arms of Government.

The Southern Governors’ Accord

Amongst others, the Southern Governors had said open grazing and movement of cattle by foot across Southern Nigeria be banned, because development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased prospects of conflicts between migrating herders and local populations. That willing States should be supported by the Federal Government, to develop alternative modern livestock management systems. That urgent steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation, bring about State Police, review revenue allocation in favour of the sub-national governments, and create institutions to advance the practice of true federalism. They called on the Federal Government to review the lop-sided appointments (including security agencies) to reflect federal character, based on Nigeria’s heterogeneous population. To establish ports in other States of the Federation to prevent the perennial gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, and its choke on the nation’s economy. They also urged greater co-operation between the Federal and State Governments, in evolving strategies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic (rather than the FG unilaterally rolling out locks-down directives).

They finally strongly urged that President Buhari should address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity, and restore the Nigerian people’s confidence in their government. I cannot see where the Southern Governors lied or asked for secession. Or, can you?

The 2014 National Conference Recommendations as Panacea

The resolutions of the Southern Governors were timely, legal, constitutional and moral. The Governors’ clarion call in the form of an S.O.S. was because we have a deaf, dumb, blind and numb Government. Otherwise, the over 200 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, rolled out by all the 492 delegates from across Nigeria and from all strata of the society, had actually addressed these issues.

The 2014 National Conference made far reaching recommendations. The Government has refused to touch it with a 10-foot pole. Rather than convoking a fresh national dialogue with all the attendant wasteful acrimony, recriminations, mutual suspicions, wastage of time, energy, resources and needless ethnic, religious and political manoeuvrings, all that this Government needs to do (I can swear it will never), is to simply dust up the 2014 Conference report, take the recommendations on these extant burning national issues, and discard the ones that recommended creation of additional 18 States. This issue of new States was based on the realities of the time and after much horse-trading, to save bleeding minority ethnic nationalities from their domineering and overbearing majority neighbours. They may no longer be feasible under the current packed economy, when even some existing States are on economic life-support.

Others are live and useful as panacea to Nigeria’s current travails. The 2014 Conference recommended, amongst others, restructuring, devolution of powers, true fiscal federalism, State Police and Community Policing, splitting the office of the Attorney-General with Minister of Justice, Independent Candidature, subject a new Constitution to the people’s referendum, making NASS sitting only part time, admixture of Parliamentary and Presidential systems, strengthening of democratic structures, killing corruption, growing the economy, enthroning a regime of security, etc. The last three National Conferences were respectively convoked by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (2005); Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua (2009); Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (2014). The recommendations are all there. PMB, Sir, use those of the 2014 National Conference. The heavens will not fall.

The Law

Individual Rights v Majority Rights

Section 41(1) of the 1999 Constitution (Article 12(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 45 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights) provides for freedom of movement of all persons within such geographical zones. In the case of OKAFOR v LAGOS STATE GOVT & ANOR (2016) LPELR-41066(CA), the Court of Appeal, per Biobele Abraham Georgewill, JCA, held:

“The Nigerian Constitution, in cognisance of the inalienable right of the citizen, notwithstanding his station or standing in life, to freedom of movement to breathe the fresh air and walk the great lands of this country, Nigeria, free from the tsunamis and hurricanes of other far distant countries, has provided for the freedom of movement as a constitutionally guaranteed right of the citizens by virtue of Section 41(1) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). It is a right which, except as derogated from by the provisions of Section 41(2) of the said 1999 Constitution, inures to both the leaders and the led in this country. A provision by which all citizens, including the Appellant and all other citizens on the one hand, excepting those affected in accordance with due process of the law as recognised by Section 41(2) of the said 1999 Constitution, and the leaders of the Government and good people of Lagos State, on the other hand, are all equally entitled to the freedom of their movement.”

The above decision has been followed in APPH & ORS v OTURIE (2019) LPELR-46301(CA), where the scope of the right to freedom of movement under the Constitution was explained to be as follows:

“The provisions of Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereto or exit therefrom. The rights of freedom of movement and residence pursuant to Section 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), guarantee unhindered residence and movement to all citizens all over Nigeria, except on suspicion of commission of a criminal offence. The said rights protect against expulsion of citizen except in pursuance of valid extradition proceedings. See Williams v Majekodunmi (1962) 1 ALL NWL 413 and Federal Minister of Internal Affairs v Shugaba Darman (1982) 3 NCLR 915.” Per Muhammed Lawal Shuaibu, JCA (pp 14-15, paras D-B).

To be continued next week.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”. (Zig Ziglar)