Saturday, 28 November 2020 05:31

RESTRUCTURING, TRUE FEDERALISM: How South South spoke with one voice

…I‘m happy with our govs but there’s more to be done – Idongesit, PANDEF chair

 

THE people of South-South geo-political zone for the first time in recent years made a forceful political statement, Tuesday, at Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State.

Six governors who are larger political leaders of the zone, serving federal ministers, National Assembly members, the regional group, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, leaders, monarchs, and other stakeholders spoke in one voice on matters of common national and regional interest- restructuring and true federalism.

The harmony put on show at the critical South-South Stakeholders’ meeting with a Presidential delegation led by Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, is something that has been missing for some time now in the oil-rich region.

At the botched South-South stakeholders’ assembly, November 17, where the governors and leaders demanded an apology from the federal government, the governors were not spared as some citizens, including the national president of Ijaw Youth Council, Peter Igbifa, accused them of compromising with the powers that be at Abuja, hence the shabby treatment.

Federal ministers and other appointees, who were obviously aware that the bungled meeting would not hold did not show up at the venue and that incensed the people the more with some people questioning when the region would harmonize its position.

Different ball game

Last Tuesday was a different ball game. Chairman of South-South Governors Forum and Governor of Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa led his colleagues, including the host, Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike of Rivers State; Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River; Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom; Governor Douye Diri of Bayelsa State; and Godwin Obaseki of Edo State to the stakeholders’ meeting.

The governors have been unable to speak with one voice since the region lost Edo state to the All Progressives Congress, APC, through the instrumentality of former labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, but after Governor Obaseki dumped APC and won on the platform of PDP, some months ago, they are beginning to find their feet on common issues.

Deputy President of Senate, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who currently holds the highest political office from the region shepherded the region’s movers and shakers at Abuja, including Obong Godswill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta; Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum; Goddy Jedy Agba, Minister of State, Power; Festus Keyamo, SAN, Minister of State, Labour and Employment; Osagie Ehanire and Minister of Health to the Port-Harcourt consultation. Conspicuously absent was the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi.

National Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, and former military administrator of Akwa Ibom state, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, retd; former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Onueze Okocha, SAN, and South-South leaders were in attendance.

The atmosphere was expectant before the meeting, but what made it more nervous was the manner Gambari delegation aborted the earlier stakeholders’ meeting, November 18, at the eleventh hour, which prompted the demand for apology.

Beyond the impelled fury, there was also some awkwardness over whether the governors would toe the same position that PANDEF was known to have taken in alliance with other regional groups on restructuring and true federalism.

Regional mandate

The governor Okowa left no one in doubt about the resolve of South-South governors to stand with their people when he announced at the consultative meeting that the country was not at peace because it had failed to practice true federalism.

In a speech that itemized the seven-point demand of the region, he stated: ”The region demands true federalism and devolution of powers to the states, including creating and managing their own police and security architecture, true fiscal federalism guided by the principle of derivation, revenue sharing and control of resources by each state.”

He decried the deliberate lack of understanding, empathy and uncompromising attitudes of some Nigerians, who refused to understand the peculiar challenges of the South-South region, especially the degradation of the environment and the pollution of our waters.

“All we demand and ask for is fairness and equity and as we await actions to restructure the country, we hereby renew our demands for: ‘The relocation of the headquarters of major oil companies in Nigeria to the region; relocation of several NNPC subsidiaries from Lagos and Abuja to the region,” he said.

Gambari’s guarded response

The region put forward other demands and in response, Leader of the Presidential delegation and Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, thanked the people of the South-South for their co-operation, and assured that all issues raised at the meeting would be communicated to the President. Gambari apologized for the failure of the meeting to hold on November 17 earlier slated.

In fact, Keyamo, SAN, hollered at the meeting: “… So on the last note, I want to say that most of the demands, if not all the demands of Governor Okowa as a child of the region, who was born in the region, I also support those demands because it is only a bastard, who is not born of a father from the Niger Delta that will not support those demands.”

Classified discussion

Saturday Vanguard learned that prior to last Tuesday’s meeting, South-South governors and some leaders held a conclave meeting where the tactical formation and position for the meeting with the Gambari delegation was streamlined and agreed.

“What Governor read out last Tuesday was what we all agreed at a pre-consultation meeting and were happy with the newfound unity of the South-South,” a source familiar with the opinionated horse-trading hinted our reporter.

“They had the governors’ forum a night before the meeting, which was on Monday, it was at that meeting that the final input was made to the speech delivered on Tuesday by Governor Okowa. Some ministers were there, PANDEF national chairman as well as BRACED Commission were also in attendance,” he added.

However, some high-ranking government officials, who are APC faithful complained that they were not told about the previous day meeting by the governors though they were in support of the seven-point demand.

A South-South leader told our reporter that Monday’s governors’ forum also sparked some ripples before the Tuesday meeting, as some top persons who did not attend raised dust that they were either ignored or excluded

His words: “We also saw our nakedness there, in fact, one said I was not part of it, another also said he was not part of it, the other said I called you and you did not return my call, but the end of the day, we said this was not the time for us to argue among ourselves.”

Okowa’s inventiveness

He added: “It took the ingenuity of Governor Okowa, who is the chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum to call everybody to order and everybody agreed on the final paper.” Saturday Vanguard reliably gathered that Senator Okowa steered the meeting in such a manner that a consensus was reached on the position of the region before it was sealed. In fact, the chairman of PANDEF was asked at the meeting to summarize the various discussions and agreements and the governors ensured that the views were all harmonized.

Senator Omo-Agege, who was not at pre-consultation meeting affirmed that to a large extent, the position read out by Gov Okowa represented the stand of the region.

Nkanga, PANDEF chair hail govs

National chairman of PANDEF, Air Idongesit (retd.), who appraised the Port-Harcourt meeting, told Saturday Vanguard: “To be very honest with you, there is progress, there is definitely progress and that makes me happy, but we have not reached the end of the road yet.”

“I have always said that part of our problem is lack of synergy among the different groups and as it turned out, we found out that we were all thinking the same thing, but because this one is not talking to that one, that one is not the talking to the other one, it was looking that we were so scattered.

“You know the meeting was to have taken place last week and thanks to my governor, the governor of Akwa Ibom state, Udom Emmanuel and the governor of Delta state, Senator Okowa, who is the chairman of South-South Governors Forum, who I have been speaking with to put our acts together. What our governors presented is not different from what PANDEF has canvased and still canvassing,” Nkanga asserted.

Saturday Vanguard was reliably that the governors and leaders also resolved at the Monday meeting that they (governors), lawmakers from the region and stakeholders should be meeting regularly to review issues that concern the region.

PANDEF chairman confirmed our information that the governors have endorsed the idea that the region should now meet regularly, saying: “I heard one of them say that there should be another before the end of the year.”

He asserted: “It is unity that will keep us strong, but there is work to do, we will continue with the governors, BRACED Commission so that other people will know that we know we are going to and we are not going to rest until we achieve the desired results.”

“I can tell you that it was a good outing, the traditional rulers were all happy to be there, PANDEF will try and call them together again, the issues are clear, South-South wants true federalism and you cannot have federalism unless you restructuring.”

S’South in one accord – Senator Omo-Agege

However, Deputy Senate President, Senator Omo-Agege, was categorical that the legislature was not consulted.

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard on phone, Senator Omo-Agege said: “The entire South-South is in one accord on the position taken. Some of felt that there should have been some form of consultation among everyone because we all, major stakeholders, in the region, I mean the governors, National Assembly members, traditional rulers, civil society and other stakeholders. I expected that for a meeting like this, there ought to have been some form of consultation so that we all come with one voice. But be that as it may, the position taken yesterday (Tuesday) to a large extent represents the view of South-South.”

“For me most particularly, most of the issues they were asking for, a lot of them, especially the ones dealing with restructuring are all constitutional issues. They are not issues that Mr. President alone can address and I had expected that they will take advantage of my chairmanship of the Constitution Review Committee to make our case.

“Review is not done by just presenting a report of a confab to the president for signature or by making a presentation before the committee, there is going to be a lot of lobby, give and take and a large chunk of all these will take place in the National Assembly. So, I expect the South-South, which I am a stakeholder to reach out as opposed to just throwing it at Mr. President, thinking that Mr. President can by fait pronounce restructuring for Nigeria. It does not work that way.

“Other than that, the demand that oil companies should relocate their headquarters to the region and others are positions I support and have advocated on the floor. Frankly, there is no reason why the major oil companies should have their headquarters in Lagos while they make the bulk of their money from oil wells in Niger-Delta.

“I know that once that relocation is achieved, it will create job opportunities from our youth and I also understand that one of the mains reasons they moved away was the challenges posed by insecurity, and I think that some us, major stakeholders, are prepared to stand as guarantors for our people for them to relocate. So to very large extent, most of those issues, I am in support,” he asserted.

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