Undoubtedly, the emergence of brilliant, energetic and dynamic young men as governors in the South South States of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, and Delta, following the 2019 governorship election is evidence of what God has in stock for the oil producing but largely neglected Niger Delta region. The governorship election couldn’t hold abinitio in the two South South States of Bayelsa and Edo because the tenure of their governors had not expired then. The Bayelsa state governorship election was eventually held and Duoye Diri emerged the winner after the Supreme Court case while Gov Godwin Obaseki was declared winner for his second term after the 2020 governorship election in Edo state.
In all, governors of the six South South States are: Chief Duoye Diri, Bayelsa; Hon. Nyesom Wike, Rivers; Mr. Udom Emmanuel, Akwa Ibom; Prof. (Sen.) Benedict Ayade, Cross River; Mr. Godwin Obaseki, Edo; and Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta. While acknowledging Their Excellencies’ well-deserved victories at the polls and commending them for the vigour with which they have started their new assignments since their assumption of office, yours sincerely is inclined to observe that the task ahead is enormous and demands hardwork, resoluteness and team spirit to accomplish. But there must be regional integration in the South South. It is overdue for this development template.
It is therefore imperative, as stakeholders in the South South Project, that the Governors should build on the historic formation of the BRACED Commission by their past predecessors to ensure a formidable regional integration for the overall transformation of the zone. In fact, yours sincerely was encouraged by the zeal and tenacity with which Oshiomhole, the immediate past Chairman of the South South Governors’ Forum spoke when he took over the leadership of the group from its former Chairman, Senator Liyel Imoke in Calabar. For a region that provides about 90 per cent of the national income and export earnings of the country but which, ironically, has been at the receiving end of developments in the about 60 years of oil exploration and exploitation, regional integration is not asking for too much.
Against the backdrop of insinuations from certain quarters that the imperative for a South South regional integration is an expediency that may be short-lived given the fate of such initiative in 2001 by South South governors and leading politicians in Asaba, the Delta State capital, the South South governors are urged to see it as an idea whose time has come. It is important to note that Chief Executives of State Governments in the northern part of the country have always been meeting regularly since after the Civil War in 1970s to manage assets of the defunct Northern Region and to take positions on national issues.
Similarly, Governors and notable politicians of the South Western States have always met regularly on such grounds. For almost six decades, the oil producing states of the Niger Delta have been recklessly plundered by the central authorities because of the absence of unity and a common bond among them. Interestingly, there is a catalogue of uncompleted assignments the current crop of South South Governors have inherited from their predecessors.
All Northern States have their security outfits aside from the regular Nigeria police. Following the deteriorating security situation in the country, the six South West States have formed the Amotekun security outfit; the five South East States recently constituted the Ebube Agu security outfit, while the six South South States remain without an iota of protection. In the face of our South East neighbours driving armed Fulani herdsmen from their region, the killer herdsmen are now in the South South farms, homes and forests causing havoc by killing, maiming and raping innocent people. Where then are our governors?
On Tuesday June 14, 2011, when the South South Governors made their debut historic meeting in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital under the BRACED Commission, they, for a start, called on Abuja to construct a coastal railway from Calabar to Epe in Lagos State and to complete the East-West Road scheme. In a communique read out to journalists at the end of the summit by the then BRACED Governors pioneer Council Chairman and former Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, the governors promised to liaise with member states to improve education for human capital development in the zone.
Articulating templates for the overall transformation of the zone, Imoke posited that the Commission would establish electricity company and an oil and gas company to serve the common interest of the South South geo-political zone. According to the former governor, the BRACED Council would also solicit the cooperation of banks and financial agencies to simplify access to agricultural loans while undertaking feasibility study for the setting up of a Regional Commodity Exchange Board. Most importantly, the former Governors pledged to push jointly for a new Revenue Allocation Formula that would enhance their autonomy and enable them pay an economically reliable minimum wage to workers in the zone.
Those are fundamental issues that would have engaged the sensibility of any caring leadership. Unfortunately, ten years down the, and all of them out of power, none of those templates became a reality. This wonderful initiative became a mirage because of intra and inter-party intrigues and the dangerous politicking and carpet crossing that was the hallmark of the pre-2019 political transition. Oshiomhole’s tenure as Chairman of the South South Governors Forum was even dead on arrival that not even a single meeting of the group was held under him until he handed over power to Obaseki in 2016. Ten years after its formation, BRACED is yet to achieve any formidable result.
It is therefore germane that the current South South Governors must drive these laudable dreams to their logical conclusions. From their respective backgrounds and pedigrees to their social standings, experience and orientation, the current Governors have the capacity to provide adequate developmental transformational leadership to a people who have long been yearning for relief. The tempo with which Ayade, Emmanuel, Wike, Diri, Obaseki and Okowa had commenced action in their respective states was heartwarming and had already started generating confidence among the South South people. Yet, their failure to make meaningful impact collectively in the region since their first term is worrisome.
Again, besides oil and gas deposits, the zone is enormously endowed with natural benefits that could be harnessed for the rapid transformation of the much neglected region. It has the best tourism destinations in the country. Agriculturally, that belt remains, by far, the richest in the country. Even in terms of sources of energy supply, the South South region boasts some of the most resourceful natural reserves such as the Agbokim Water Falls, the Qua Falls, the Oban Falls, etcetera, capable of generating electricity that can power the entire region and even beyond.
Also, the establishment of an oil and gas company or even petroleum refinery is long overdue for a region that accounts for Nigeria’s enviable ranking as the sixth largest exporter of crude in the world. The huge gas reserves in the region can be used as the feed-stock to drive power plants, petro-chemical industries and allied investments which will turn a desolate region into Nigeria’s, nay West Africa’s industrial hub. Ancillary industries would spring up and cluster around such investments.
A further multiplier effect will see the emergence of a myriad of service industries to minister to the diverse needs of an economy undergoing rapid social and economic transformation. A clear analogy for these endless possibilities exists with the discovery of Gold in the Witwatersrand in South Africa. The transformative effect of that discovery and the construction of the “City of Gold”- Johannesburg- still reverberate throughout the Southern African regional economy till date.
There is therefore no reason for the South South States not to come together to address the tragic, short-sighted and unpardonable structural imbalance in the country and the terrible injustice meted out to the zone known as the goose that lays the golden egg. The Governors must form strategic links and alliances with the National Assembly using their representatives there and those from other zones in the country to achieve the legal framework to actualise the BRACED objectives. They should also insist on proper funding of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and form an agency to monitor their activities. Currently, the NDDC pays more money to its numerous consultants than implementation of actual projects while the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is yet to be adequately funded.
Above all, it is important for South South Governors to note that the times have changed, and this is the time for the evolution of a true fiscal federalism in Nigeria. The country must be made to return to the 1963 Republican Constitution in which people must eat what they kill. They should rise above individual differences and skirmishes over oil wells, party affiliations, and pursue this vision with vigour and resolute political will to cement the proper uplift of the zone which is currently being ravaged by insecurity.
To do this, there must be a South South Development Board anchored on efficiency, probity and comradeship to drive the vision. They must also form a security outfit to combat the security crisis in the region. The treasure base of the nation must not only be developed, it must be seen to be developed. The last meeting of Southern Governors in Asaba on Tuesday May 11, 2021, to take a position on the state of the nation, does not stop South South Governors from meeting. A dynamic and progressive South South region is therefore a possibility.
*Amor is an Abuja-based journalist and writer. (firstname.lastname@example.org)