The amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria protectorates in 1914 to form the Nigerian state seems unfinished. Since this union, there has been constant and continuous agitation for a national debate, under different brand names, to discuss the existence and future of the country. During periods of crisis, these divergent protectorates, although done away with on paper, approach national issues and challenges from the prism of the self-interest of these dichotomous areas.
Last week, governors of 17 Southern states of the country met in Asaba, Delta State and, amongst other things, brought to the forefront of national discourse the need to convene a national dialogue to tackle the multidimensional challenges facing the country. The governors also acknowledged the country’s peculiar security challenges and called on the President to address the nation.
Part of their communique read: “Governors observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country had presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their everyday lives, including pursuing various productive activities, leading to a threat to food supply and general security. Consequently, the meeting resolved to ban open grazing of cattle across Southern Nigeria.
Governors noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support willing states to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems.”
This time may not be the first governors banned open grazing in Nigeria. The Northern Governors Forum hosted a virtual Forum on February 9, 2021, where they first banned open grazing. It was followed by a similar decision by all 36 governors under the banner of Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF). Therefore, the Southern governors are merely re-echoing what all governors under NGF had earlier agreed. It is also not an anathema for the southern governors to deliberate on common issues they face because the northern governors have been doing the same. This show of courage by southern governors means we are deepening democracy and our federal system. States are not mere appendages of the centre but rather constituent units of the federation.
The governors have come to the point where they are responding to location specific realities. In this case, they have realised that Boko Haram insurgency and banditry are the challenges in Northern Nigeria. The northern governors have been meeting to figure out a uniform response. Conversely, the hovernors down south must have narrowed down the most significant challenges in their region: the farmers-herders crisis, kidnapping, ethnic agitation, and the many socio-cultural disruptions.
This resolution would suggest more encompassing ownership that should carry more weight than few states coming together to fashion a solution to a region-wide problem. That is the reason why the Southern Governors Forum meeting is generating this considerable attention.
The governors also stated that the Federal Government should take urgent and bold steps to restructure the Nigerian federation. This restructuring should lead to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism. They recommended that in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is a need to review appointments into Federal Government agencies (including security agencies) to reflect the federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogeneous and pluralistic.
The meeting of the governors has elicited some reactions. Senate President Ahmed Lawan allegedly accused the governors of retreating to regionalism to address national issues that deserve the collective decision. He stated that as elected leaders, the governors should not be at the forefront of making such kinds of calls because they should carry out restructuring in their states first before calling for restructuring at the federal level.
Former Nasarawa State Governor Abdulahi Adamu, who is now a senator representing Nasarawa West accused the governors of “betraying the trust.” According to him, “While we accept the fact that we have various forms of association and freedom of expression as citizens, they have failed to express their views through the right channel. They are members of the Council of State. There is no better forum at their level to take a joint decision than such forum. The fact that they have taken a decision as a divisive move, does not speak well of their intention. Why can’t they come to the appropriate body which is the National Assembly to project their ideas?” The response of these two leaders substantially reflect the thinking of a section of northern elite who are unsettled by the fact that a united southern Nigeria is challenging the status quo.
However, the Southern caucus in the House of Representatives supports the governors’ position. The group commended the governors on demand for true federalism and restructuring. Also, their colleagues in the Senate under the auspices of Southern Senators Forum hailed the resolutions of the governors, urging them to immediately approach the leadership of the National Assembly for necessary legislative input to give their decisions the required legal backing.
The resolutions of the Southern governors and the divergent reactions from members of the National Assembly from different sections of the country reveal the deep-rooted conflict of perception and approach to the country’s problems from different sections. It also brings to manifestation the primary north-south divide of our fault lines. The impression created is that while the South is pushing for some radical changes to solve the current Nigerian issues, the far North is unsettled and would prefer the status quo to remain.
Surprisingly, the issue of open grazing in the south is still up for discussion. It should be clear to all and sundry by now that open grazing in the south is an open invitation to anarchy, death, and destruction. It is a fact that the last few years have created so much distrust and hatred between southern farmers and Fulani herders that open grazing is no longer sustainable.
Another takeaway from the southern governors’ resolution is that we cannot wish away the idea of re-examining the structure and functionality of the federation. Members of the elite class from all regions, religion, political persuasion and professional background agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with how the country functions. Still, the right approach to address the issues is as diverse as the embedded socio-political interests.
About multidimensional national security challenges, the governors posit that Nigeria is an open sore. According to one travel advisory, “you may encounter jihadist groups in the regions of Borno, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe, and Kano. The South-East and Niger Delta area are regarded as unsafe for tourists, as is Northern Nigeria, because of the ethnic and religious tensions.
There is a high level of crime throughout Nigeria, including armed robbery, kidnapping for ransom, home invasions, carjacking and violent assault. The South-East has become overwhelmed with the indiscriminate killing of security personnel attributed to Unknown Gunmen and the burning of government offices and public buildings”.
It is significant that both southern and northern governors are in agreement that the complex and multidimensional security challenge the country is facing demands an innovative and proactive response devoid of regional colouration. Coming from heads of the constituent units of the country makes the search for solution weighty and urgent.
Apart from the security challenges, the economic situation is dire. Millions of Nigerians go to bed each night hungry while tens of millions of youths are without jobs. Controversies abound: the announcement that government may reduce civil servants’ salaries amid rising inflation, and the speculations in certain quarters that in the coming months, there would be virtually no monthly allocation for the Federal Government to share. All of these put the tragedy of the Nigerian economy in sharper perspective.
Many stakeholders in Nigeria have concluded that the country presently does not seem to be working. The best solution to save her from total disintegration is to have some form of restructuring. There are fears in some quarters that restructuring has become the new mantra for the Nigerian political class, the same way we had Power Shift and Resource Control in the time past, both of which never radically changed anything in the country. However, when things are not going well, the worst is to do nothing. You cannot be doing the same thing repeatedly and expect a different outcome. So, it becomes imperative to restructure the country in some form to see whether things would turn out for the better.
At this challenging period of our chequered national history, Nigerians of different ethnic nationalities must come together to chart a viable course for the country’s future. That is the essence of a national dialogue the southern governors were calling for. Some have dismissed this because we already have a National Assembly that represents all sections and groups. A national dialogue is fundamentally different from a legislative session. Aside from a different nature of representation, the character, conceptual framework, and modus operandi of national dialogue are different from that of a National Assembly. To confuse the two concepts is perhaps missing a fundamental point.
On the President addressing the nation, I believe that the governors acknowledged that these times demand effective leadership. Open communication is critical and will engender trust. Today there is no denial that there is deficit of trust between the leaders and the led and among constituent units. The situation in the country has deteriorated so much that it requires regular address by the President to shore up hope amongst the citizens. A Presidential broadcast will help him explain government efforts to tackle our crises and the results of the actions.
Apart from the favourable impact this will have on the citizenry, it will also depict the administration as sensitive to the plight of Nigerians. In this kind of situation, no administration official can effectively represent the President. People hearing directly from the man on whom over 200 million Nigerians entrust their fate may bring relief to millions of Nigerians.
In summary, the southern governors meeting will suggest that partisan differences should not dim the corporate interest of the South. The cover provided by the revival of a southern coalition has become a safety valve for them to have the “balls” to ask the President to speak to the nation and they have used this meeting to set the agenda for the president on the issues on which he needs to address the nation. Besides, they have publicly admitted that there is something wrong with how Nigeria is working, which has nothing to do with party lines or the person that occupies the country’s highest office. We hope that this is the start of extraordinary changes in Nigeria structurally and institutionally. Now please let sincere and constructive conversations begin.