Southern governors’ courageous resolutions

BUILDING on their inaugural meeting in Asaba, Delta State, the Southern Governors’ Forum on Monday intensified its quest for a just and equitable Nigerian federation at its follow-up meeting in Lagos. The meeting, which was hosted by Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, inked vital resolutions that cohere with the aspirations of their citizens on the way forward for the troubled union.

As in the original declaration two months ago, the SGF reiterated its ban on open grazing in all parts of Southern Nigeria. Other highlights of the meeting include the copious emphasis on the implementation of state police to address the infernal insecurity, fiscal federalism, restructuring and operations by federal security agencies.

Aside from that, the SGF, which had 15 of the 17 states in attendance, broadened its scope this time with its resolutions on the politics of power rotation, the amendment of the Electoral Act; the Petroleum Industry Bill; the management of the Nigeria Police Security Trust Fund and the ownership structure of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

But while the media feasted extensively on the call for the rotation of the presidency to the South in 2023, the most courageous decision by the governors is the timeline of September 1 the SGF tabled for the promulgation of anti-open grazing law in all the member states and the need for state police. This is encouraging in view of the relentlessness of the killer herders in overrunning the South.

Despite banning open cattle herding at the Asaba summit, there was no legal backing for it in some of the states. And without a legal instrument, it is almost impossible to deter the archaic practice of open grazing, which is now the pretext for kidnapping for ransom, rape, violence, and destruction of farmland with cattle in the South and North-Central region.

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But what is at stake goes beyond the ritual of enabling law. Undeterred, the terrorist herders are digging in in the South. In states that have anti-grazing laws, security agencies are either incapable or unwilling to deter these agents of destruction and death. Often, they are complicit, as alleged by the victims. In June, herdsmen attacked Igangan in Oyo State, killing no fewer than 11 residents, burning houses and sacking farmland. They could not be brought to book.

Rather, the killer herders are spurred on and encouraged by the barrage of criticism that greeted the Asaba summit from some federal officials. Notably, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, likened the governors’ decision to the Northern governors banning vehicle spare parts sellers in the North and magisterially declared it “unconstitutional.” This was reinforced in June when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), backed Malami on open grazing, saying that he had directed Malami to recover the colonial era cattle grazing routes throughout the country. Therefore, the Southern governors know the task they are up against.

The challenge goes beyond occasional meetings and making statements. It is about restructuring the skewed federal set-up, which the centre has abused over the years to favour some parts at the expense of other sections of the country. And this explains the Buhari regime’s refusal to devolve policing power. With a personnel strength of about 370,000 for a country of 211 million, the single federal police force is short-handed, poorly equipped, and glaringly ineffective. The military has thus usurped civil security in 34 states, but insecurity remains high.

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Indeed, the SGF has not asked for anything outlandish in demanding the creation of state police. In a federal polity like Nigeria, policing is inevitably devolved. As a multi-ethnic society, Nigeria is a natural federation, which puts state police in proper perspective.

Addressing the electoral system, the SGF discountenanced the attempt in the National Assembly to remove the electronic transmission of results from the polling station to a central system. Manual collation of results is one of the fatal flaws abetting rigging or manipulation in Nigerian elections. To insist on electronic transmission of results in the electoral amendments is a sure way to ensure a credible election. On the PIB, the forum rejected outright the 30 per cent share of profit reserved for exploration in the oil basins. This is completely outrageous. It should be expunged. Along with the reduction to 3.0 per cent of profit for host communities by the Senate against the 5.0 per cent originally proposed, that provision will divide the country further.

It is getting increasingly clear that the beneficiaries of Nigeria’s flawed federal system are not in a hurry to shift ground. The governors should impress it on the lawmakers from the South to press home these demands. It is unpardonable to see unjust laws and policies coming out from the Buhari regime without any serious pushback from the Southern legislators and officials.

Overall, the fact that the Southern governors are uniting to defend and promote federal principles based on justice and equity offers a glimmer of hope that the dangerously flawed union can be saved from total ruin.

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