By Zainab Suleiman Okino
Ever since the Southern Nigerian Governors’ Forum called on the federal government to convene a national dialogue and ban open grazing in the South, the group has been inundated with cautious support from a broad spectrum of leaders. Senators from the southern region have declared their support for the governors’ demand too. Except for Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano state who has consistently maintained that open grazing has become archaic, the Northern governors as a group do not have a formal position that can be referenced.
The latest to give fillip to the idea is ex-president Goodluck Jonathan who at an event in Benin, did not just throw his weight behind the Southern governors, but cautioned that they should operate within the context of the nation’s quest and aspiration. The former president in his postulation said: “the coming together of all the governors at a round table to discuss and proffer solutions to issues affecting Nigeria would go a long way in helping the president to address some of the issues affecting the nation. Governors themselves should continue to meet. I don’t really love a situation where the Northern governors will meet, then the Southern governors will cry foul. Then the Southern governors will meet, then the Northern governors will cry foul, that will not help the country. The governors’ forum should meet, they are the people who run this country, the president is just one person in Abuja”. Ever so modest, the former president even tried to absolve President Buhari of responsibility and blame.
Ditto for Atiku Abubakar who in his support for the governors of the South, said what our present challenges call for “is not fragmentation but concentration. We must concentrate and focus our national willpower and resolve towards fighting these unNigerian tendencies”, having in another breadth called on “Nigerian governors to stop waiting on Abuja to make changes, and instead convene a national unity summit of all Nigerian governors to iron out the thorny issues affecting the destiny of our nation until they figure out a way to resolve them”.
Both leaders—Jonathan and Atiku were once at the helms and didn’t implement the solutions they are now preaching. Jonathan went beyond mere mouthing it to starting a national confab which took far-reaching national decisions but failed woefully to implement the confab report. The PDP governors also never bothered about a national confab when they were in charge at the national level. To be fair to them all, things were not this bad then and the security situation was still at the level of containment. Yet, not doing enough when they had the opportunity does not detract from their stand at this momentous time.
So, the idea of a national conference or dialogue to determine how to co-exist, which started as minority voices by fringe groups , sometimes in the name of activism has gained so much traction that the consensus of opinions as espoused by the governors of Southern extraction, favours a roundtable talk—whether national dialogue, restructuring or debate; with the exception of those around President Muhammadu Buhari whose present arrangement appears to be working for, perhaps.
The Asaba declaration, as it is now known in some quarters, among others, talked about not only convening ‘a national dialogue; it resolved that “Southern Nigeria remains committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful coexistence between and among its peoples, with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity”.
The group also justified their renewed agitation thus: “Development and population growth have put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South, including cattle movement to the South by foot”. No one can fault the fact of conflicts arising from open grazing. The difference is in the aloofness of leaders from the North as against the South’s renewed effort to curtail or stop it in its entirety.
For a long time, the group had been redundant almost to the point of irrelevance. Now that the shared challenge of insecurity has brought them together, it is hoped, they will become a force to reckon with in the scheme of things in Nigeria, such that they can challenge and spur their Northern counterparts to action.
However, questions are being asked about their demands in contrast with a few ambitious persons from the zone, who are not prepared to rock the boat, such as Tinubu’s ambition to be president of Nigeria. This is pertinent in view of the political exigency of the moment, that underscores the APC’s power structure, which makes Tinubu the de facto leader of the South.
Besides, the pervasive insecurity which engendered Southern governors’ extreme measure as it were, has its root in the North, but while the Southern governors have come up with solutions, even if unpalatable to some people, their Northern counterparts have kept mute, waiting till another set of school children are abducted. You cannot blame the Southern leaders for their decision as the challenge at hand requires extreme measure too.
Over time the Northern governors have played the ostrich, pretending that all is well; though they seem more united, visionary and proactive when it comes to strategising for political contest and control of the levers of powers and resources, and not for altruistic reasons. Again, this happens more when a Southerner is in charge as president, as we witnessed during the formation of APC and merger of political parties in 2014 to oppose the government of the day. Unfortunately, that’s where their assumed unity of purpose ends. In terms of strategic plan for growth and development of the region, the Northern governors are laid back and appear to lack the willpower to act especially when power resides in the North, as it is today with Buhari at the helms in the country. So, when it comes to grabbing political powers, the North is adept at it, but fail woefully at doing what is right for its people when it matters most.
With these demands from the South, a new power bloc is emerging and going forward, no one group can intimidate the other without anything in return, while regional competition will engender development and balance things up. There is no doubt that the current situation where powers and resources are concentrated at the centre and devolved at the whim of the president is no longer tenable. And this is not a fight for the governors of the South alone; it is a collective challenge that requires the inputs of all and sundry. And sitting on the fence as leaders of the North are doing won’t change the fact of the matter at hand.
Zainab is chairperson, Blueprint Editorial Board. She can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org