Southern Governors Unite, Insist on True Federalism, Devolution of Powers

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• Reiterate commitment to indivisible Nigeria

Tobi Soniyi, Gboyega Akinsanmi and Segun James

Rising from a three-hour meeting held in Lagos Monday, the governors of the 17 states of Southern Nigeria have asked the federal government to devolve powers to the states.
The governors also reiterated their commitment to a united, indivisible Nigeria.

In a joint communique read by the host governor, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, the governors said that they also remained committed to a true federalism.

The communiqué, however, did not state what they meant by true federalism.
The governors said they would like to see an effective linkage of infrastructure in the Southern part of the country and pledged to work together for the development of the states in the Southern part of the country.

Whilst the Northern Governors’ Forum has held regular meetings, the Southern governors are just waking from their slumber, making Monday’s the second meeting by the Southern Governors’ Forum in 12 years.

The first summit of the Southern governors took place in 2001 and the last prior to Monday’s, was in 2005.
At Monday’s summit, which was attended by the governors or their representatives, except for Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha who did not attend or send a representative, the governors appointed Ambode as chairman of the forum and Governors Dave Umahi of Ebonyi and Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa as co-chairmen.

Some of the governors who attended the summit included the governors of the six South-western states: Ambode; Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayo Fayose; Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu; Osun State Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola; and Oyo State Governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi.
Also present were the governors of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike; Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu; Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi; Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Udom; and Ebonyi State, David Umahi.

The geputy governors of Anambra, Dr. Nkem Okeke and Cross River State, Prof. Ivara Esu, were also present.
The governors also agreed to collaborate in the growth of their respective economies while emphasising the need to develop strategic infrastructure projects within the states in the South-east, South-south and South-west.

The communiqué read in part: “The Southern Governors’ Forum at its meeting in Ikeja restated their commitment to a united, indivisible Nigeria. The summit also reiterated its position on true federalism and devolution of powers.

“It restated its commitment to collaborate with one another for the growth and development of their economies. The summit restated commitment to security of lives and properties of the citizens
“The summit also emphasised the need for effective linkage of good infrastructure within the sphere of Southern Nigeria. The summit unanimously appointed Governor Ambode as chairman and Governors Dickson and Umahi as co-chairmen.”

The forum scheduled to hold its next meeting to take place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
Before the meeting, Ambode had said in his address that was still a lot to be done in terms of the current structure of the country.
“There is certainly a lot to be done about true federalism, an issue that requires urgent, meticulous and proactive attention from the forum.

“No less disturbing is the failure to undertake the periodic review of the revenue allocation formula as provided for by the 1999 Constitution to reflect evolving realities.
“This is another critical matter that ought to engage this forum in order to enhance the viability of the state and local governments as well as their capacity to fulfill their developmental roles in the polity,” the Lagos governor had said.

He lamented that states “are being disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in the quest for handouts from the federal government”.
“This is a function of our present National Constitution that burdens the federal government with activities and responsibilities that rightly fall within the province of the states,” he added.

Ambode noted that the productivity and revenue-generating capacities of most of the states were being stifled, effectively turning them into no better than street beggar states incapable of even meeting the routine obligations of paying workers’ salaries and pensions without federal support.

Citing the example of Lagos State in the struggle for true federalism, Ambode explained that the state had fought and won several legal battles since 1999, which he said had systematically strengthened her autonomy and enhanced her fiscal viability.

Over the years, he said, the state “has won legal control over the management of its environment, control of urban and physical planning, regulation of overhead masts, registration and regulation of hotels and restaurants, and control of her inland waterways”.
He said the victory did not belong to Lagos alone, but to all other states in the federation and which they must explore significantly.

“I believe if Lagos has been able to achieve so much fighting single-handedly, the forum can accomplish much more by thinking, planning, strategising and acting together,” he said.

He added that the constitution amendment was coming at a most appropriate time, stating: “As you are aware, the Senate and House of Representatives are currently harmonising their differences on the proposed amendments of the 1999 Constitution before they are transmitted to the state House of Assemblies for approval.

“It is important for this forum to comprehensively look at the proposed amendments with a view to working with our respective House of Assemblies to ensure a coordinated response on our part that will strengthen the practice of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law.”

Giving insight into the genesis of the summit, Ambode said one of his predecessors, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in 2001 had started it, pointing out that the forum held nine meetings within a period of four years with enviable achievements.

He listed some of the achievements of the forum before its last meeting in Lagos on February 25, 2005, stating that the forum became a significant voice on matters of critical importance both to the South and to Nigeria as a whole.

He noted that the first achievement of the forum was its collective advocacy for the special allocation to oil producing states from the Federation Account, which according to him, resulted in the current derivation formula of 13 per cent accruing to the oil producing states.

Ambode also explained strategic contribution that the forum amade to the country’s governance structure, noting that the forum strengthened the country’s practice of true federalism, which he said was evident in a judgment the Supreme Court delivered in 2002.

He said the Supreme Court had declared illegal and unconstitutional the practice of deducting monies from the Federation Account as a first line charge for the funding the oil Joint Venture Contracts, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) priority projects, servicing of the federal government’s external debts, the judiciary and Federal Capital Territory, among other federal obligations.

In the same case, Ambode noted that the Supreme Court had also abolished the special funds created by the federal government to enable it draw funds from the Federation Account to pay for matters that fell within its exclusive responsibility before sharing whatever was left with the state and local governments.

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