If there was any missing feature in the long-drawn national conversation over the deepening state of the meltdown of the country, with insecurity and other incongruities in the federation spreading from boundary to boundary, it had to be the disturbing absence of the unified voice of the political leadership of the southern states of the federation. The course of public discourse in the country had been running with interventions that determine its content, context and depth coming from virtually all possible power points and opinion circles such as the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) representing the 19 northern states, individual state governors, regional blocs such as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Afenifere – Pan Yoruba Socio-political Forum, the Middle Belt Forum, several Niger Delta advocacy groups, proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the Progressive Governors Forum – just to name some, with each viewpoint projecting the concerns of the sponsoring interest. It is in that context that the meeting of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) representing 17 out of the 36 states of the country in Asaba capital of Delta state last week, situates as welcome and even timeous. More significantly, with the 12 point communique from the meeting which was read by Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, the SGF has expanded the national conversation.
Among the points in the communique are the expression of faith by Southern Nigerians in the unity of the country, a ban on open grazing as well as restriction of movement of cattle by foot into the South of the country, with a recommendation to the federal government to support states that are disposed to develop ranches for cattle breeders. Others are the convoking of a national dialogue, personally addressing Nigerians on burning national issues, restructuring of the Nigerian federation as well as the review of lopsided appointments in the federal public service to reflect federal character. Yet other areas include the review of the subsisting revenue allocation formula, development of more seaports across the country to decongest the gridlock on the Oshodi-Apapa expressway, as well as better collaboration between the federal and state governments over the nationwide enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols – especially the lockdown exercise.
Incidentally, while the resolutions of the Southern Governors Forum may not be brand new, having been canvassed in earlier advocacies, they at least enjoy the imprint of the collective potency of the entire executive political leadership of the Southern states. To enhance their potency, the Senators and Members of the House of Representatives from the respective southern states have also endorsed and stamped their imprimatur on the stand by their respective governors. Beyond these, the forum of northern members of minority parties in the National Assembly has also come out in support of the Southern Governors Forum. With this dispensation, the advocacy by the Southern Governors Forum has earned a most significant technical upgrade and represents the unanimous advocacy by a most critical component of the Nigerian federation. It hence should enjoy a front-burner position to command attention across the length and breadth of the country.
The situation now dictates as a way forward, the reconciliation of the advocacy by the Southern Governors Forum with subsisting ones in the national conversation, into a matrix of top priority burning issues, over which the survival of the country, as one Nigeria now stands. This however is the crux of the matter as in contemporary Nigeria, fundamental political reforms as are advocated by the Southern Governors Forum, do not fly at jet speed, especially when some of their recommendations had attracted significant opposition, in earlier advocacies.
For instance, issues like the convoking of a national dialogue and the ban on open grazing as well as transportation of cattle by trekking have been trending for long without earning much mileage on the route to resolution. In the same vein is the debate over restructuring of the country blowing in the wind, while the hardest nuts remain the review of current imbalances in federal government appointments as well as the review of the revenue sharing formulae.
In the circumstances, however, even as the government may be uneasy with conceding its aversion to aspects of the foregoing advocacy, it does not need any endowment of clairvoyance to appreciate that it is running at cross purposes with a wider cross-section of the country. Consequently, for the sake of its survival, the Buhari administration has to concede grounds, even if it is to let the people who voted it into power vent their spleen and air their views through dialogue in one form or the other. The millions of Nigerians protesting in one form or the other from all over the country, by whatever name they are called by the government cannot all be wrong, with only the administration and its daily narrowing clique of self-opinionated mandarins who offer it a deluge of mostly unhelpful counsel, remain wise. It is such contemplation that seems to goad the administration into its numerous false steps and earn for it the present harvest of ill-will from a daily growing number of Nigerians.
Against the backdrop of the expectation that the Southern Governors Forum should serve as a game-changer, its utility ultimately lies in how much it stimulates a national quick response to the issues under consideration – to wit a talk shop as a starting point. This should be a logical progression for their advocacy, having secured the endorsement of their federal legislators in the Senate and House of Representatives, just as it is a given fact that the state assemblies still remain loyal to them and will need no extra effort to equally endorse their bidding.
Even with the foregoing, the road ahead is littered with landmines which are disposed to kill many a political reform, even if all they achieve is to trump national interest by massaging the ego of the powers that be, notwithstanding the deleterious impact of such on the welfare of the country’s masses. This is where and why the advocacy by the Southern Governors Forum needs to be driven with considerable vigour, even to make it define the political fortunes of the country, come 2023.