The governors of the 17 States of Southern Nigeria have just reminded us of what once was. In October 2000, they met in Lagos to deliberate on the state of the nation. Seventeen years after, the new crop of governors have chosen to meet again in Lagos to deliberate on issues of national importance. The meeting of Monday, 23rd October, 2017, signifies all this and more.
To situate the just ended conference, we need to remind ourselves of what transpired 17 years. To do this, I will quote extensively from Chapter 10 of my book, “DELICATE DISTRESS: AN INTERPRETER’S ACCOUNT OF THE NIGERIAN DILEMMA”. It goes thus:
“Those who trace the origin of Nigeria to the Amalgamation of 1914 carried out by Lord Lugard have always been united by a common view. They believe that the merger of Northern and Southern Protectorates was uncalled for. Those who feel this way believe, rightly or wrongly, that the problem of disunity which has bedeviled Nigeria from inception is largely traceable to this questionable wedlock. Views such as this assume that the north and south of Nigeria are monolithic entities. In other words, each segment could exist without rancour and acrimony if it is left alone to chart its own course. But experience has shown that this is hardly the case. The south, for instance, is unfortunate to have been afflicted with the head of the hydra. The region is so fractious that, if left alone as an entity, may not fare better than the Nigeria that we know of today. Indeed, the South as a separate entity may be a house divided against itself. The South may even be a mere geographical expression. It could, as well, pass for a creation put together for the sake of administrative convenience. But the same cannot be said of the North. The region, to a very large extent, is cohesive.The people have what can be described as a pan-Northern orientation. Those who have a good understanding of the north posit that the region’s political godfather, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, sacrificed his flesh and blood to ensure what is today a united north. This has given rise to a situation where the north is seen as something of a religion. Its adherents believe in it. They cherish it and they are ready to die for it.
“ This myth of a common north has, more often than not, served the interest of the region well. While the people of the regional bloc are at home with it, the south, on the contrary, has been struggling to respond to the fact of northern unity. This has, sometimes, led to a number of feeble and fickle responses from the south. Since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999, the south has taken steps that point to the fact that it is ill at ease with northern unity. For instance, on October 10, 2000, governors of the 17 southern states under the aegis of Southern Governors Conference had their inaugural meeting in Lagos State. The meeting was at the instance of Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the then Governor of Lagos State. The agenda was to deliberate on issues of national importance especially as they affect the south. The Lagos Conference was followed up with another meeting in Enugu State in January 2001.
“ There was no doubt that both meetings were heralded by uncommon enthusiasm in some quarters. It was so because some people saw in the meetings a prospect for the highly elusive East-West rapprochement. To such people, the governors had done something out of the ordinary; something many people thought was practically impossible in Nigerian politics. To demonstrate to observers that they meant business, their meeting in Enugu provided fresh vistas upon which their agenda could be dissected. While in Enugu, the governors agreed on political and fiscal restructuring. They reechoed popular sentiments in parts of southern Nigeria. They talked about resource control, state police, derivation formula, increased autonomy, sharia, and the like. Having itemized what they considered to be the sore points of Nigeria’s federalism, what remained was the political will that will see to the actualisation of those demands. Regrettably, however, the governors did not set any machinery in motion for the realisation of their objectives. The questions then were: Who were the southern governors talking to? Were they asking the Presidency or the National Assembly to initiate the process for the restructuring of the Nigerian state? These questions are coterminous with the issue at stake. Obviously, what the southern governors presented was a sectional agenda. But did all of them want the type of restructuring which the conference canvassed? Even if the entire southern governors were agreed on all the issues, what about the position of their counterparts from the north? Indeed, how can the views from both segments of Nigeria be harmonised? This is the crux of the matter.
“ In the light of this set-up, they were inevitably drawn to the vexed issue of a national conference. There is, for instance, no way the southern governors will have their way on the issues at stake without the cooperation and understanding of their northern counterparts. In the same vein, if the matter is to be brought before the National Assembly, its passage into law will be frustrated except with the cooperation of legislators from the north. If this is taken into consideration, then it should be clear to all that the agenda of the southern governors is not easily realisable. All these worries are predicated on the assumption that the governors meant business. But there was no compelling reason to believe that they meant what they were saying at the time or that the conference will outlive their tenure. As it turned out, what went on then did not outlive the tenure of the governors. It was done for purposes of political expediency. They were attempts meant to give the north the impression that the south could come together to challenge the north.
“ The quest of the southern governors is not helped by the fact that in the north, there is a standing forum for all the governors, whereas that of the south is ad hoc. Today, the three geopolitical zones of the south have separate fora for their governors. Given this set-up, the conference could not, therefore outlive that dispensation.”
This is just an excerpt from a section of the book that deals with North-South divide. In line with the perspective assumed in the book, the conference of the southern governors turned out to be a paper tiger. A mere jamboree. Sixteen years after the last meeting was held, the new crop of southern governors have resurrected the dead idea. They have met yet again in the month of October. Lagos was still the venue and they have regurgitated what their predecessors said then. Like before, they talked about true federalism, revenue formula, devolution of powers and, for effect, the indivisibility of Nigeria. Essentially, they, like their predecessors, want a restructured Nigeria.
There they go again. Having said what their predecessors said, what next? How will these demands and suggestions be realised or actualised? What machinery will they put in place to advance their arguments? Talk is truly good. But action is what makes the difference.