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Southern governors should go beyond grandstanding

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” ––Lyndon B. Johnson.

If southern Nigeria’s political leaders appreciate the above counsel from the 36th American President Lyndon B. Johnson, they would do away with window dressing and hypocrisy to be able to win their future. They lost yesterday after all. If you want to bake a cake you have to have all the ingredients assembled and in the right proportion. Also, if you want to embark on a journey you have to ensure that your vehicle is in the right condition and even the driver is in a good state of mind for the trip. That is what the Holy Book parable of the sower teaches as sowing on good soil. Surely, a cake baker without all the necessaries around will end up with something…not exactly a cake.

Ditto the driver of an unhealthy vehicle, the journey may be truncated. That appears to be the state of affairs of the new political contraption called the Southern Governors’ Forum that took the airwaves by storm in May 2021. Their first meeting took place in Asaba, Delta State. While the hype raged in the media and the nation’s political space, critical minds looking into their vision box thought it was a mere gallery political game meant to serve a particular and immediate interest that has no foundational origin.

Not a few southerners admired the enthusiasm and the bravado exhibited by the governors, particularly when they assembled in Lagos in July for the second meeting, this time boldly and courageously talking about the Presidency coming to the South and threatening resistance to the open grazing issue being vigorously pushed by President Muhammadu Buhari himself.

Cynics suspected from inception the duplicitous posture of some governors who are secretly lobbying to be running mates to northern candidates but openly asking for a southern President. Pundits felt the Forum was constructed on quicksand and was never intended to endure or achieve any lasting results. The importance attached to this huge political creation derives from the fact that the North- South divide has been at the core of the nation’s socio-political problems. Therefore, attempting to tackle it must be based on the sincerity of purpose. The imbalance in the structural equation in the country is at the core of the nation’s instability.

It’s also the reason for the glaring injustice in the land. The foundation for this incongruous arrangement was long laid in the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. The colonial masters, the British, who midwifed the union knew from inception that the two regions were strange bedfellows but it suited their interest of using the abundant natural resources in the South to service the huge large mass in the North. By doing so London was saved the trouble of bringing in resources down here. It’s still the same reason why the West is not listening to the current growing separatist agitations from the South.

The existing differences had always been very obvious for the officiating priest (Britain) then to refuse the marriage but that was not to be because of personal interests of the priest, especially in helping his pecuniary non-committal policies.

The consequences of this continued to show in our political life, whether under democracy or military dictatorship. Successive leaders have also not done much to ameliorate these defects in our polity. Rather, more political atrocities are being committed to even manure the flaws. The manuring has become more glaring and in tawdry brilliance since 2015 under the watch of President Buhari. As a result, the clamour for reform to correct the political imbalance became more pronounced as the people sought to end the imbalance. In the last five years, on top of the vehement protest to restructure Nigeria has been the ethnic nationalities from southern Nigeria – the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, the Igbo apex body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the South-South group, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF. Since this dispensation, these three sociopolitical bodies more than any in our history made spirited efforts and are still making efforts at uniting the region. The closest to theirs was the famous handshake across the Niger pushed through by the late Biafra hero Dim Emeka Odumegwu- Ojukwu.

The current push by the above-listed is based on the ethnic leaders’ full realization that the political imbalance and its attendant instability will not abate until there emerges a united political bloc in the South to checkmate the arrogant political monolithic North. The three groups were propelled by the need to push for a political reform termed restructuring. They were even to incorporate in their fold the Middle Belt operating under the umbrella body, United Middle Belt Forum, UMBF.

While the ethnic nationalities were doing this which met the aspirations of their people, their political leaders remained indifferent. The political leaders, namely governors, federal and state-level legislators as well as political party chieftains cling to their various political parties whose larger interest is more in favour of those in power than that of the other people in the minority. In some cases, when the position of the ethnic nationalities appears too hard, the political leaders disown them ostensibly to appease the ruling class and their party interests.

While the interests of politicians and ethnic leaders in the South are always divergent, there is harmony for groups in the North. In the North, the politicians are afraid to hurt their ethnic leaders because of the attendant electoral consequences, but in the South, the situation is different. Ethnic leaders are seen as busy-bodies dependent on the political leaders to exist and even occupy positions. As a result, when ethnic leaders in the North speak, it’s the region speaking both politically, culturally, and, in some instances, religiously. But in the South the story is different. If Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed speaks, he talks authoritatively and arrogantly too for the North because most of what he says is binding on all including political leaders. Not so in the South.

The voices of Prof. George Obiozor of Ohanaeze, Pa Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere, and Chief E.K. Clark of PANDEF carry no electoral weight like in the North. The dichotomy between political and ethnic leaders in the South is so glaring and is the bane of southern problems politically. So what it shows is that the North as a region has a better political foundation for survival in a plural society like Nigeria than the South. Monday’s meeting of the Northern Governors Forum with Emirs and chiefs says all about the political depth of their bloc.

The existence of the two major tribes in the country, Igbo and Yoruba, could easily be fingered because of the age-long rivalry between them. In the North, the Hausa-Fulani are sitting pretty up there ahead of other ethnic groups and effectively using Islam to rein in everybody. The Southern Governors’ Forum, after the hype heralding them, has been witnessing diminishing returns even before takeoff. They have been unable to extend their desires beyond pronouncements. The first indication that the body was going nowhere was that a few days after their July hullabaloo in Lagos over the Presidency coming to the South, they had the opportunity to demonstrate it when they voted in the parliament on electronic transmission of results. The South couldn’t vote as one, even the wife of the Jagaban voted alongside northern interests in the name of political party interest. Ditto the Petroleum Industry Bill passed with no visible protection of the Southern interests.

By the time they arrived in Enugu for their September meeting, it was already a depilated body. The South-East that hosted had only the host Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in attendance. Divergent voices started emerging over the Presidency, open grazing and value-added tax. The picture is now emerging that this body is fake, that it’s a body meant to make us believe that what is not there exists. For a political bloc to endure it’s not about being real to each other’s face, it’s about staying real at each other’s back. We are always admonished to be cautious of persons whose actions do not match their words. Those southern governors shouting Southern President In one hand and lobbying for Vice President in the other are merely confirming Steve Maraboli’s view that “sometimes it seems that the louder someone claims sainthood, the bigger the horns they are hiding.”

The South as a political entity should therefore return to the drawing board and work towards a solid/enduring political bloc. This will start with the two major ethnic groups, Igbos and Yorubas, agreeing for once to end their rivalry and work towards a harmonious and enduring political bloc. It’s only when that is done that we can begin to dream of political equity and justice which is the main basis for development. If the past as they say is where we learn the lesson and the future is where we apply it, are Southerners doing that?

Tailpiece Tomorrow, lest you think I am forgetting, is Nigeria’s 61st independence anniversary; there is nothing positive yet to celebrate. Except perhaps our green-white-green flag which replaced the Union Jack. May God help us.

 

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