Tuesday, February 27, 2024

A Critical Look At The Resolution of The Southern Governors Forum

Just as the meeting held by Southern Governors on May 11 in Asaba was celebrated by many and criticized by some, their recent meeting in Lagos is no different. The governors met to deliberate on several issues, after which a communique was issued. Expectedly, the communique was hailed by politicians and members of the various socio-cultural groups on one side of the Niger and condemned by their counterparts on the other side.

The governors re-affirmed their commitment to the unity of Nigeria on the pillars of equity, justice, and fairness. Given that the most vocal separatist movements are from the South, the governors should be commended for this. The governors further supported the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South; and admonished that the next president should emerge from the South. While some would argue that a merit-based approach should be employed in this regard, the governors’ position reflects the plurality of our society. It also creates a situation where no region dominates the political affairs of Nigeria.

On security, the governors re-emphasized the need for state police. Not one Nigerian today can argue that the current national security architecture can secure the lives and properties of Nigerians. Many villages are under-policed, just as many police stations lack the capacity and resources to effectively confront today’s security challenges. Therefore, there is an urgent need to revisit how communities are policed, the operational structure of the police and how funding can be improved. With the security challenges facing many states today, the southern governors have more allies on this issue than some would like to admit.

The insistence that Governors should be pre-informed before any security agency carries out operations in their domain is a dicey issue. Since governors are chief security officers in their respective states, this seems logical. Also, if such operations go wrong, governors are likely to be left to handle the fallout. On the flip side, there is the real fear that, with advance information, some governors may likely help certain perpetrators in evading arrest.

Unsurprisingly, the issue that has received the most substantial criticism is the plan by the governors to set a deadline of Wednesday, September 1, 2021, for the anti-open grazing law to take effect in all southern states. While the federal government’s handling of the security challenges has left very little wriggle room for some southern governors, a regional approach may be grossly inadequate to resolve the threat posed by militia herdsmen.

A more tenable approach would be a collaborative effort between the southern governors, their northern counterparts, and the president. We have seen both Southern and Northern governors work together to resist judicial autonomy in their various states. In the same way, most of them have opposed the independence of local governments and agree on the deregulation of petrol pricing. So, who says they cannot work together to solve the problems posed by murderous herders?

Furthermore, the rejection of the removal of the electronic transmission of the election results from the electoral act by the governors is a spirited defense of our democracy. Democracy cannot be said to be stable if elections are mostly inconclusive and marred by irregularities. The electronic transfer of results will sanitize our electoral process, improve transparency and inspire confidence. Thankfully, where the Senate has demonstrated cowardice and mischief, the governors have made a bold statement denouncing such a move.

Finally, on the Petroleum Industry Bill, the forum supported the 5% share of the oil revenue to host communities as recommended by the House of Representatives, and rejected the 30% share of profits to explore oil and gas in the basins. Predictably, this is a touchy issue. The oil-producing communities want to keep 10% of the gain but what the Senate passed in the PIB was 3%. It would seem that the governors have taken a more realistic approach to finding a middle ground at 5%.

More importantly, the rejection of 30% profits on oil and gas exploration is a rational futurist decision. Nigeria must begin to spend more of its resources on its young and dynamic human resources than oil exploration. The most significant economies in the world are not extractive economies but technologically-driven ones. That is where the future is, and that is what we should be investing in. I am not implying that resources should not be set aside for exploration. I am only saying that 30% of profits is a flawed thinking outcome.

In the final analysis, the communique from the southern governors was measured and reasonable. Now, they must continue to organize and collaborate around issues of interest to the Nigerian people. Hopefully, such collaborations, based on the interest of the masses, would begin to push our country in the right direction.

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