Shola Oyeyipo and Victor Efeizomor report a recent meeting of the South-south and South-east geopolitical zone in Asaba, Delta State, where governors from the two zones rallied support for President Goodluck Jonathan
The characteristic intrigues that are shaping the build up to the 2015 election took an interesting dimension recently when top notch members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) converged on Asaba to address salient regional and national issues.
Ten governors of the South-south and South-east regions first held a meeting where Martins Elechi of Ebonyi State, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa – Ibom State, Liyel Imoke of Cross Rivers State, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, Sullivan Chime of Enugu State, Peter Obi of Anambra State and Emmanuel Uduaghagan of Delta State, who hosted the meeting at the Government House, Asaba, were present.
Others were governors Theodore Orji of Abia State and his Imo State counterpart, Governor Rochas Okorocha. The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi was absent but he was represented by his deputy, Engineer Tele Ikuru. The Edo State governor was however absent and not represented by anyone.
Before the meeting started, a prominent participant had unofficially hinted journalists that the meetings were informed by the urgent need to address issues that bother on the economy, security and more importantly, regional integration in the region.
Though the party source maintained that the main focus of the meeting was to address economic growth of the region, he also stated categorically that such discussions would not be fruitful “without addressing security and political issues.”
According to him, “I wouldn't say it is not a political meeting. We the governors are looking at the meeting for economic reasons and we cannot be talking of economy without security. The meeting is to look at economic integration and security challenge and there is also the issue of the constitution amendment to be discussed. Therefore, the first factor is economical while the second is political,” the source explained.
At the end of the day, they obviously had a fruitful discussion. All the governors signed the eight-point communique where practically all the issues earlier hinted were discussed. Even when the official communiqué addressed just eight points; another that was made available to journalists in error showed that governors even took position on Petroleum Industry Bill and single tenure issue.
But the ‘official communique’ showed that the governors agreed mostly on political and economic integration of the old eastern and mid-west regions. They pledged to strengthen cooperation with focus on development of infrastructure linking the region, especially federal roads.
They also urged the federal government to rehabilitate all railway links between the states, even as they also agreed to work together to ensure the development of ports in the region, including the Abia Dry Port and called on the Nigeria Port Authority to facilitate its achievement.
The governors also resolved to revive agro-allied industries particularly in palm and rubber plantations and exploit the comparative advantage in agriculture in both regions.
The federal government was urged to facilitate the full implementation of the free trade zones status amongst the states of the region, even as they enjoined Nigerians to adopt dialogue and peaceful means to resolve issues affecting the country, including agreeing to work together to stem the spate of kidnapping, arson, pipeline vandalism and other anti-social activities in the regions to attract investment.
While the meeting touched on these issues and some more, the governors, in a deft move, tacitly declared regional support for President Goodluck Jonathan and commended him "for his focused leadership, bold and result-yielding transformation agenda, which deserves the unwavering support of all Nigerians and friends of Nigerians and Nigeria alike, as the laudable achievements of the administration in strengthening our democracy, stabilising the polity, growing the economy and improving the quality of life of all citizens continue to unfold."
The governors went further to commend Jonathan for the extensive ongoing rehabilitation and modernisation of the airports across the country, and especially in the regions. They called on him to establish cargo airports in Owerri and additional deep-sea ports in the regions including Ibaka, Escravos, Agge as well as called for the dredging of the Calabar ports.
They also demanded of the federal government to facilitate the full implementation of the Free Trade Zones for states in the region.
The meeting, however, condemned those assaulting the collective psyche of the nation by waging various acts of terrorism. They commiserated with the President, the governments of all affected areas, the victims, their families and peace-loving Nigerians.
They also gave the president a pass mark for what was tagged “resolute stance of Mr. President to confront terror wherever and whenever it occurs in Nigeria and tasked all law-abiding citizens to sincerely join hands with governments to stamp out these and other evils from our society.”
Shortly after, PDP governors from the region, members of the National Assembly and party chairmen from the zones also met. The BoT Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Tony Anehih, in an address to the gathering noted that with the intrigues preceding 2015, it is “the duty of our zone to work-out how best to partake in the enterprise of charting a course that would bring maximum benefit to our people.”
Anehih said he was an advocate of peace and unity in the zone. “I had urged them to commit themselves to work together and forge common strategies for productive co-existence in the Nigerian federation.”
In solidarity with President Jonathan, he was delighted that the the region is better accommodated in the Nigerian political space with the people participating in and benefiting from national politics, especially that the president is from the region.
“Historically, the South-south has always been a part of the efforts at evolving sound leadership as well as forging unity in Nigeria. Our political choices and linkages have always been determined by our commitment to nation-building. It is to our credit that the people of the South-south zone have never promoted regional or ethnic-based politics and have always found accommodation in political parties with broad national appeal. We have always stretched our hands of fellowship across all geo-political boundaries and in all directions.
“We have reasons to be proud of the contributions of the South-south to Nigeria’s development. The zone has, over the years, made sacrifices (including supreme sacrifices) not only to keep this country together but also towards its economic development.
The South-south has, in the past, played a unifying role among the various regions of the country. Our sons and daughters, such as Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Mr. Isaac Adaka Boro, Mrs. Margaret Ekpo, King Alfred Diette-Spiff, General David Ejoor, Chief Dennis Osadebey, etc., have served this country with distinction.”
Anenih, therefore, advised that the people to continue to forge unity among ourselves. “We cannot achieve much without unity and peace.”
He recalled various challenges facing the country, especially in the areas of security, infrastructure development, power supply, transportation, social amenities and increasing ethnic tension and appealed to leaders in the zone to be part of the solution to the challenges. "They should not be left in the hands of the federal government alone," he said.
The BoT chairman, however, noted that what's happening in the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) gives cause for concern. "Instead of keeping to its Mission Statement of providing 'a common platform for synergy, collaboration among interests', the NGF has become a formidable group of power wielders, seeking to control governments at all levels, including the federal government.
"The NGF has been hijacked by opposition governors and is no longer promoting the interest of the PDP. It is for this reason that I fully endorse the formation of the PDP Governors Forum.
He acknowledged that the PDP was facing challenges on all fronts and has major issues to resolve in the areas of party unity and discipline. "The party suffers widespread indiscipline in nearly all of its chapters. Internal schism, lawlessness and disorder now permeate the party nationwide."
He assured his party members that he is focused on reconciliation, party cohesion and discipline. "I enjoin all of you to take up this challenge in your various states."
He reminded elected representatives of the PDP that since they were elected by their people, they could not afford to ignore their mandates. “State governors and state party chairmen have a moral responsibility to persuade these officials to always reflect the views and positions of those who elected them as well as the party they represent.
Anenih observed that there were mischief makers – the opposition which he said thrives on rumour-mongering and that the people should be observant of their antics. “Day in, day out, there are unfounded rumours and speculations about issues that have no factual basis. In Nigerian politics, rumour-mongering has become the main menu of the opposition parties.”
Later, there was a third meeting of the South-south caucus of the PDP where they demanded that the country reverts to the 1963 constitution. They also called for the devolution of functions and fiscal powers from the centre to the federating units in line with the 1963 republic constitution so as to make the states more effective engines of growth and development. Uduaghan, Akpabio, Dickson, Ikuru and the deputy governor of Delta state, Prof Amos Utuama (SAN) attended the meeting
Also in attendance were Anenih, elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, members of the National and state Assemblies, the Senate Leader, Senator Udoma Egba, House of Representatives Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor and a cross section of state party chairmen and stakeholders.
They called for an urgent review of the federal revenue allocation formula and postulated that it would enable the federating units in the country drive development and achieve horizontal and vertical equity.
The caucus also rose from its closed-door meeting in Asaba and commended Jonathan’s commitment to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and implored the National Assembly to support the bill.
“When passed into law, it would launch Nigeria into the next level of sustainable development of our hydrocarbon resources in a manner that takes into account, the needs of the present generation of Nigerians without mortgaging our future.”
It cautioned against unbridled constitutional amendment exercises capable of undermining the unity and stability of the country and its socio-economic and political development.
Since Nigeria’s federal constitution provides a solid framework for the sustenance of unity and diversity in an ethnically and religiously plural society, the caucus held the view that whilst observable lapses in the 1999 constitution, as amended, needed to be addressed, constitution amendment should not become so routine an exercise as to impair the stability for our political and socio-economic development.”
The Chairman, South-south Governors Forum and Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, read their 12-point communiqué to the media.
While there were several other issues raised at the three meetings, what was palpable was that the regions seemed to have come to show solidarity with the president. Rather than leave him without a political base, the regions resolved that: “The President is doing well and we support his administration.”
An observer noted that the move was deliberately proposed to unite the regions so as to remain with a voice and be significant in 2015. He also considered it an important political move to clear misrepresentations about the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Whatever it is, the regions seemed to have understood the strength in unity and were ready to explore that to secure a place in national politics.