Last Monday’s summit of the 17 southern governors in Lagos is assuring and renews hope in the future of Nigeria. It was the first in 12 years and the third since 1999. The summit was primarily focused on the issue of the restructuring and true federalism which had dominated discourse and political debate of late. It brought to the fore the importance these leaders now attach to the issue and raised fresh expectations that some positives may come out of this engagements.
Before the summit, the south had been divided over the issue of restructuring along political lines, raising fears and apprehension that again this new window to address the glaring anomalies in our political structure and politics may be lost on the altar of opportunism. Because the south frequently work separately and disparately which had made them politically ineffective as they easily exposed to manipulation by the other part of the country, there was need to push for a change in strategy.
This fear was heightened a few months ago when the bill for restructuring at the National Assembly was ignominiously shot down and virtually buried by a coalition of forces including southerners, thus creating the ominous impression that the doomsday may have finally arrived with its rejection. This incidentally coincided with the escalating agitation in the south east spearheaded by IPOB, fueling tension and anxiety over the future.
However, the growing political storm generated by the activities of IPOB and the tension it created forced the National Assembly to recant joined by other well meaning Nigerians, who felt rightly that the ship of state was heading for the rock if nothing concrete was done to stem the source of the agitations. Although the Moslem north led APC government mounted a concerted campaign of opposition and calumny culminating in the infamous quit notice given by the coalition of northern youth groups, it was like swimming against the tide and as they say, it seemed the horse has bolted from the stable.
When vice president Yemi Osinbajo spoke ironically against restructuring it dawned on most people that the problem was not the north but southerners who would not come together and speak with one voice like the northern part. As the highest ranking southerner in government, his position, though politically expedient, was a dampener and a moral fratricide – an apparent death sentence on the life project of his southern brother.
But he was mistaken and those who sponsored him had misread the mood and conditions of the time. With the sustained meetings of the different geopolitical zones outside the core north, such as the south south, south west, south east and north central insisting on restructuring and true federalism, the momentum was irresistible. It was not therefore surprising that the APC and north doubled over and south for compromise.
So the Lagos summit with such an overwhelming representation of governors in the south is not only a morale booster and an assurance of a better future predicated on mutual respect and cooperation among the different parts of the country, but also a clear indication that this crop of southern leaders may have cut their political teeth and learned a few lessons from their northern counterparts. Politics is a group game and only those who play as a team or group win. This is an elementary lesson of political leadership in the country.
This newspaper therefore salutes the commitment and sacrifice of the governors for putting aside their personal interests and ambitions for the good of the south; and supports their informed and courageous position for restructuring and true federalism in the country. We believe and have argued consistently in the past that the only way for a peaceful, stable and united country is through restructuring and recognition of the ethnic, religious and cultural diversities in the country to ensure individual identity and autonomy without jeopardizing unity.
The Lagos summit is strategically important in some fundamental ways. It was bipartisan as the south is controlled by different political parties –PDP, APC APGA. The presence of all the parties at the summit is critical, as the national APC had tried to capitalize on these party differences to divide the south. Party chairman John Oyegun and former Edo governor Adams Oshiomhole were their chief campaigners.
Secondly, the summit also removed the perennial mutual suspicious and antagonisms usually characteristic of relationships between the different geopolitical zones in the south. There is a traditional belief that the south east and south west could never worked together or cooperate; as well as the south east and the south south. Their coming together is recognition of the fact, though belatedly, that only their common effort can guarantee their collective political survival. We however, sound a note of warning to them that this move as bold as it will be challenge by those, like Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo state, who neither came or sent representative, whose political interests are being threatened. They have to be mindful of the challenges ahead.