It would appear that the meeting of Southern Nigerian governors recently in Asaba under the auspices of the Southern Nigeria Governors’ Forum (SNGF) and their communiqué stirred up a hornet’s nest. The issues highlighted at the meeting were not exactly new but this time, they got the attention they wanted. The news of the Asaba Summit went viral instantly – at the touch of a digital button.
First, it was a bi-partisan summit which meant that there were common interests at stake; it didn’t matter whether the party symbol was a broom or umbrella. Except we refuse to admit it, there is no difference between the two parties – they are two sides of the same coin. As the governors spoke with one voice on national issues which are constantly tearing us apart, some analysts argued that these governors can only bark and they do not have the capacity to bite.
Now, the governors of Northern Nigeria also hold their meetings to discuss issues that affect the region. Why should we have separate meetings in the first place if we truly want a “united country”? Two separate meetings by the governors of Northern and Southern Nigeria is the equivalent of “two countries” co-existing side by side within the same country.
These two regions have also been further sub-divided into six (geo-political) regions, although it is not recognised by our constitution. Governors of these six regions also hold their meetings leading to my second thesis of “six countries” within Nigeria. Let’s be clear, I’m not in any way canvassing for the break-up of Nigeria. No, I don’t think that is the answer to our multi-faceted problems but the idea of “two” or “six” countries means we have a problem which we have to address. We have simply refused to take advantage of our diversity which ought to be our greatest strength.
We have been holding round table dialogues, the most recent being the 2014 National Conference convened by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. When the session opened in April 2014, 492 delegates from every section of Nigeria took part in the plenary and committee deliberations.
The late Justice Idris Kutigi chaired the conference which lasted for slightly over four months. All cadres of society ranging from professional groups to market women, youths, traditional rulers, and political parties’ officials to labour unions’ representatives discussed over 600 contending issues and made their recommendations.
But is it surprising the report was not implemented after all the billions of naira spent at the conference? It portrays us as a wasteful country which is actually a recurring decimal. Some people say Nigeria is jinxed and any idea or proposal that would move the country forward is usually dispatched to the cemetery and buried for life.
No one has told us why the conference report has not been implemented since it was submitted to former President Goodluck Jonathan but my view is that Nigeria would have been the biggest beneficiary because the report of the proceedings and recommendations were excellent.
The Southern governors have again called for a national dialogue which is a good thing; we cannot stop discussing the issues that affect us is clearly a smart way of reducing social tension in the land. If that conference were to hold today, what would happen to the report?
One of the things the governors asked for at the Asaba Summit was devolution of powers. This was also a key outcome of the 2014 National Conference but suddenly, calls for “re-structuring” of the country made headline news. What is the difference between “devolution of powers” and “re-structuring” or do they mean the same thing? Our constitutional law experts should explain to us.
If we cannot design a leadership framework with “shared values” that would serve as the glue holding everyone together irrespective of region, tribe and religion, then Nigeria will continue to be a “mere geographical expression” without any purpose. That was how the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once described Nigeria.
Can we also describe Nigeria as a rolling stone that gathers no moss? We are not building the country of our dream because of sectional interests which do not cohere with national interests. The starting point of the great renaissance for a “New Nigeria” is to discard “me, myself and I” orientation. It retards progress. Mutual suspicion and lack of trusting relationships are responsible for the quest for territorial advantage which has manifested in separatist groups now threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria.
It is why Nigerians have been told to have a “Plan B”. If you are unhappy with what is happening in Nigeria, make your plan to relocate elsewhere. Again, this is not the solution; we cannot run away from our problems. If all the governors of the 36 states are sincere with themselves, they should come together and discuss the Asaba Summit agenda and communiqué.
The issues discussed at the Summit are at the heart of our current crisis putting the country on edge. The meeting was convened mainly because of the deteriorating security situation in the country to “harmonise their positions”. Non-state actors have used these issues to oxygenate their calls for self-determination.
If we design a workable leadership model, it will help us focus on those critical issues raised in Asaba by the governors. They include national dialogue, devolution of power, state police, equitable allocation of resources and federal appointments, open grazing and so on. You really cannot fault the governors’ position on these issues. It is now clear why the governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, boycotted the meeting – he had other ideas, chief of which was decamping to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and he was not ready to offend his friends in the northern establishment.
The southern governors affirmed that they believe in the unity of Nigeria. That declaration set the tone for their meeting and they hit the bull’s eye with it. We are better off together as one country but our leaders and political elite should immediately hit the re-set button for Nigeria to work for everyone. They know in their hearts that they have failed us. Leaders are the conscience of society and they have their jobs well cut out for them.
But where there is no fairness, equity, social justice and respect for fundamental human rights, the union will be troubled 24/7 and the task of nation building will be difficult. The North versus South dichotomy I referred to earlier is the only plausible explanation for the comment made by Abubakar Malami, the attorney general and minister of justice, relating to the ban on opening grazing in Southern Nigeria.
How could Malami in good conscience compare the ban as announced by the Southern governors to banning the sale of spare parts in Northern Nigeria? I’m still scratching my head to be sure Malami didn’t utter those words. If he did, then we have a big problem on our hands. The reaction to Malami’s comment by Ondo State governor, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, was blunt and damning. He gave the attorney general the full length of his tongue, even daring him to go to court and thus signaling a new dawn at SNGF.
I think our political leadership should understudy Rotary’s 4-Way Test principle of the things we think, say or do: 1) Is it the truth, 2) Is it fair to all concerned? 3) Will it build goodwill and better friendships? 4) Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
If we can assimilate these principles at all levels, especially as civics subject taught right from primary and secondary schools, it will be helpful as a national orientation tool. We are in dire need of the right values – especially among our youths — that can build strong institutions. This is because the moral fabric of our society is dirty and rotten – we cannot remain like this forever.
The leadership model on my mind, in addition to having “shared values” and applying Rotary’s 4-Way Test principle, is standing on a tripod: 1) the rule of law must prevail at all times; no one should be above the law, 2) exemplary leadership, and 3) building trusting relationships. This was the position of Ambassador Ogbole Ahmedu-Ode when we discussed the security challenges in the country recently at our Editorial Meeting.
This model should be the standard for all chairmen and councilors in all the 774 local government areas, governors, FCT administration officials, law makers in the states houses’ of assembly and national assembly, civil servants at all levels and appointees in ministries, departments and agencies.
Building social capital means when the government says something, it will be trusted. Right now, this is not the case. Nigerians do not trust any government in what they think, say or do neither are they inspired in any way, so they have accepted their fate in their own hands. If our political elites do the “right things”, Nigeria will become a better place. It is possible, so let’s do it!
–Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)