The Sun News

How not to kill S’West regional integration

When governors in the South-West region started toying with the idea of regional integration, most people felt it was a move in the right direction considering the advantages of such integration to the states in the region.

Apart from the expected developmental strides the cooperation would engender, it would also strengthen the unity among the different components that make up the region. Like the Yoruba saying, you look at the household before giving a particular name to a child. It is when there is unity of purpose in the region that it could speak with one voice, irrespective of political party affiliation.

The obvious advantages inherent in establishing a common front to drive development in the region, notwithstanding, some of us were still skeptical about whether this was achievable and how serious the driving forces behind the ideas were. Fantastic idea, good initiative that one felt would help in evening development in the region.

Thus, our skepticism was laid to rest in 2013 when governors of the region established the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, to coordinate, drive and manage the idea/agenda behind the integration. The DAWN commission had late Dipo Famakinwa, as its pioneer Director General. It was a good choice. Famakinwa was passionate about developments and issues pertaining to the South West region. He also contributed to the birth of the Commission, its mission and vision. Unfortunately, Famakinwa never lived long to savor the success of the Commission, within the short period of its establishments. With a mission to harness, “the collective strengths, assets and capabilities lying within the states of South-West Nigeria, towards achieving sustainable socio-economic growth and development that would result in high standard of living and improved well-being for the people of the region”, it swung into action.

The South West governors had their first meeting in Ibadan, Oyo state, tagged, the South West Governors’ Economic Forum. The Ibadan meeting was understandable, the Oyo state governor, Abiola Ajimobi had been equally passionate about regional integration and I had met Famakinwa in his office on few occasions. On one of such meetings, the governor had sought to introduce Famakinwa and me to one another, unknown to him that being members of the same fraternity, we knew each other.

At the Ibadan meeting, the governors reiterated the need to work together and all the participants agreed that subsequent meetings would hold every quarter. One of such meetings took place in February and was hosted by the Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose.

Indeed, the meeting showed the seriousness of the governors to look beyond party affiliation. Fayose is the only Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor in the region, others are All Progressives Congress (APC) governors. At the meeting, the governors reiterated the need to work together in areas of economic integration, security, with state commissioners of police in the region meeting regularly to compare notes, adopting a single curriculum, the way it was during the days of regional government, which incidentally marked the zenith of developmental strides in the region, integration in areas of power, telecoms, leisure, among others. Putting words into action, there was a merger of the Lagos State-owned Ibile Holdings with the O’odua Investment, the investment arms of the southwest states excluding Lagos. This, no doubt would help in tremendously boosting the economic fortunes of the states and the region as a whole, considering the ‘wealth’ from Lagos, alone.

I have gone through the positive and commendable actions of the governors above in order to quickly arrest a noticeable trend which could serve the death knell for the regional integration idea, if not quickly nipped in the bud. It is the subtle supremacy battle between the states especially Lagos and Ogun states and also the statement attributed to Ondo state government urging investors to leave Lagos for Ondo due to the incessant traffic in Lagos. I am especially concerned about such statement and obvious rivalry that is antithetical to regional cooperation.

There is no doubt that Lagos and Ogun states have a lot in common. Most people working in Lagos live in the Ogun State, or its outskirts such as Sango Ota, Agbara, Mowe, Ibafo and even as far as Shagamu. Not only that, many other established companies in Lagos have equally established their production arms in Ogun while the finished product still find its way into Lagos. The vision of integration is good, but petty rivalry would kill it. It is an established fact that the economic capital of the country is Lagos while the political capital is Abuja. Thus the needless argument over who contributes what between the two states is uncalled for. Recently, the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who was formerly an Ogun State finance commissioner, spoke on what we have always known that Lagos accounts for 55percent of revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) while the rest of the 35 states and Abuja contribute the rest, with the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja contributing about 20 percent. This  did not go down well with Ogun state when it stated, through its chairman, Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Adekunle Adeosun, that the minister never took into consideration the source of the goods on which the tax came from. “Ogun state is definitely being shortchanged because the data on VAT is based on the states they are reported from and not the states that generate the revenue on which Value Added Tax and Withholding Tax are calculated’’.

But all of us know that VAT revenue didn’t start today, and the system of calculating it is equally not new, so why was it not an issue before now? I recall also that the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had equally revealed that Lagos also has the highest tax paying individuals in the country with about 192 people paying above N10m while Ogun state has two individuals paying as high as N10m.

My take in all these is that the two states do not need such debate on who contributes what. They are both same side of a coin. They are both south western states who are contributing to the development of the region in different ways and the country at large. Indeed, if the country had still been operating the regional administration, this would not have been an issue.

Thus if the idea of regional integration that the governors in the region are promoting, would work, then there can be no room for  rivalry, rather, the  states should complement each others.

  But if there would be any rivalry, it should focus on who has been able to do more in the areas of development in each of the states, and in that, there can be no loser while the citizens in both states would be the better for it.   

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