I actually laughed at the idea of governors from southern Nigeria meeting at Asaba to fight for justice and equity in Nigeria. It is of course gratifying that Southern Governors have seen the light and have expressed a readiness to confront the Nigerian danger, which has been clear to all over the past five years. That they are now ready to ask that the country redresses the many injustices being implemented as state policy or papered over by federal security agencies, as means of livelihood are destroyed, is a welcome development. If I believe in this, why then did I laugh?
I laughed because it is clear, from the communiqué read by Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State that, unfortunately, the recent well-publicized Asaba meeting will not be sufficient to meet our current sociopolitical and economic challenges. This is so, going by the constitution and politics of state chief executives in attendance. The Southern Governors had a virtual meeting at which 16 of the 17 chief executives participated. The following in-person meeting was attended by 15 of the 17, a few of them deputies. The point? There are many politically compromised characters among them who will not follow through with any agreements reached, and even go back on commitments already made, if the impetus of the Asaba Declaration is not seized upon and promoted by significant others. All of us know that many of the Southern Governors that came to Asaba are beholden to political interests located outside their states and regions.
The declaration and its goal to address injustices in our system will peter out and die whenever their godfathers move against them or threaten to do so. In other words, it is a bit difficult to see the Asaba Declaration being implemented without coordinate political and social backing. This is to say that the meeting holds the promise of something huge and portentous happening to Nigeria, if only we all will seize the moment to rally round the governors with needed social and political support. The idea of support would be to demonstrate to the godfathers that politically mortgaged chief executives are helpless.
The envisaged support could leverage on existing Southern and Middle Belt socio-cultural rapprochement, a new legislative alignment of Southern and Middle Belt members of state Assemblies and the National Assembly, and a huge social media advocacy leveraging, for instance, on massive social media influence of youths who drove the #EndSARS movement. The goal of such a support movement, it must be understood, is not to divide the country but to find a more practical way to recreate and unite our country to become a nation where opportunities are fairly shared.
In my article, “Pathways to a Tinubu Presidency,” I indicated how the political godfather, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, sought for a southern solidary movement, which could align with the Middle Belt, to achieve a burning ambition to become Nigeria’s Prime Minister. His goal was to break the political noose that departing colonial powers hung on our necks. He knew that this could be done by bringing together incongruent disparate groups and ethnic nationalities who had (and still have) a common aspiration. The resulting political entity could win national elections hands down. If this failed, he sought for constitutional guarantees to the right of exit of regions and ethnic nationalities from the union, which would deny any one region the opportunity to become perpetual overlords over others. Although the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe understood the power politics at play and privately shared it, he was much more subtle and scientific in going about a similar goal because of his belief that Nigeria harboured a potential to become a giant nation and because the Igbo needed a larger economic space to thrive. Although Zik achieved his goal to make a political inroad into the Middle Belt during the Second Republic, his opponents and the Nigerian Civil War combined to effectively abbreviate his prior Western Region support base while severely weakening a long-standing partnership with influential leaders of the COR Movement, represented by today’s four non-Igbo states of the former Eastern Region.
The first order of business for an effective southern response to ongoing injustices in the system, therefore, is for the governors to seek ways of patching up these broken relationships among ethnic nationalities in the former Eastern, Mid-Western and Western Regions. This will not be easy, but I believe it is achievable. At its core, most of us know that these differences are mere electioneering stunts created, promoted and nurtured by succeeding politicians to win periodic votes. Isn’t it ironic when we speak of great political divides among members of ethnic nationalities who live together, intermarry, and invest across their regions? Also, there is an ongoing effort to unite Igbos and Yorubas, which began on January 11, 2018 when Ohanaeze leader, Chief Nnia Nwodo, signed a pact with Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, in Enugu, capital of the former Eastern Region.
The second order of business, as I see it, is to extend a formal hand of fellowship to political leaders of the Middle Belt enclave. Fortuitously, again, there is also the Chief Edwin Clark-led Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), which has been doing great work in socially and culturally welding the different ethnic blocs together.
The third order of business, as I see it, is to bring together state and national legislators from the regions to have a common and coordinated response whenever injustice and inequity rears its head through appointments and sharing of the commonwealth, and on security matters. The interests of the Middle Belt states and the Southern states are common and aligned and any realignment of forces among them can produce the results needed to ensure that no future ruler in Nigeria embarks on arbitrary policies and actions that are ill-disposed to the national peace and progress.
It requires massive national media campaign and social media advocacy aimed at inviting the support and active participation of citizens of the South and Middle Belt states to the idea of doing something that will enthrone justice and equity in the distribution of national resources and on governance generally. When consolidated, it provides an avenue to check power mongers who have become resistant to the general cries that Nigeria is being reduced to a nation where every aspect of life and existence is being diminished and depreciated by the day.
So, yes, the recent meeting in Asaba of governors from the southern part of Nigeria presents a unique opportunity to take back Nigeria from a few persons who have taken the rest of the country for a ride. In the past, both Awolowo and Azikiwe understood what needed to be done. They knew that at crucial moments they can both come together when Nigeria suffocates under a British-installed pseudo democracy. Consequently, they made efforts to team up when it mattered most. The Western and Northern regional crises of 1965-66 shows what happens when this alliance comes too late. Law and order broke down in the Western Region, non-northerners were massacred in the North, and Easterners were forced to pull out of the federation as everyone suffered the consequence of sitting on the fence while a section of the country burned.
The interest that Awo and Zik sought to protect in 1965 is the same interest that the Southern Governors promoted in the Asaba Declaration. It was not a war against the core North. Rather, this was a battle against an attempt to keep Nigeria permanently divided and underdeveloped through poor governance and intentionally bad public policymaking. Their permutations are still valid today because, on paper, an alliance among the South-West, South-East, South-South, and most of North-Central and North-East will contain unjust laws, policies and actions at the national level. These areas are increasingly becoming the new playgrounds for terrorists and mercenaries that are somehow finding their way into Nigeria.
The burning question is, however, one of capacity and will. Do southern governors have what it takes to move beyond the Asaba Declaration to constitute a mass movement that unites their citizens to repulse creeping dictatorship of a minority in the country? There are several ways to test their will and they come as important questions. Will the Southern Nigeria Governors’ Forum (SNGF) agree to have each of their states enact legislation that will ban open grazing? Will the meeting be followed by formation of a Caucus of Southern Legislators at the National Assembly? Will it be possible to expand the meeting to become a Southern Middle Belt Governors Forum (SMBGF) in the near term?