Seventeen governors of the Southern Nigeria on Monday, July 5, 2021 took a decision to take their destinies and those of their people in their own hands.
Like their earlier decisions in Asaba, Delta State in May to regulate the movement of cattle in their states, the communiqué which they issued at the end of the second meeting has also become a subject of controversy. There have been variegated reactions.
As expected, some people of the Northern extraction believe the governors overreached themselves by making case for the Presidency to shift to the south in 2023.
On why the governors chose to ride on the back of the constitution to implement the ban on open grazing, some political analysts pointed to the faulty constitution of Nigeria’s judiciary which firmly placed the control (of the judiciary) on the thumb of the North, and the difficulty of getting justice in any case that the Federal Government has interest in.
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Charles Onunaiju, director, Centre for China Studies, Abuja, gave an inkling.
Speaking on Channels Television Sunrise Daily, Wednesday, Charles Onunaiju said for the Southern governors to speak with one voice despite their party differences, they must have seen and heard a lot.
“By their positions, the governors see a lot, and hear a lot that they do not want to talk about. So, for them to come together and decide to speak as a group means a lot,” he said.
Some important players in the Private Sector, at a meeting on Monday, believed that the Southern Governors must have been pushed to the wall, and must have realised that things are not really working out well, hence, their decision to take their destinies in their own hands.
According to one of them, “The governors are just being smart. They know that going to the court will be meaningless because the President has set up the courts to give him favourable judgment. Going to court will amount to nothing, what may work is for them to take decision in their individual states.
“What they have done today (Monday) is to say individual governors should move into action. With their agreement that the next president should come from the south, it means they have drawn a line, and have made a bold statement.”
For the second time in three months, governors of the Southern Nigeria, irrespective of party leaning, met in Lagos Monday. The meeting was to begin implementation of the decisions reached at their meeting on May 11, 2021 in Asaba, Delta State.
Between the time the Asaba meeting held and now, things have moved from bad to worse in terms of insecurity, intolerance, nepotism, and signs of upcoming dangerous policies by government at the centre had become visible, hence the need for the second meeting.
A pundit, who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity, said that the Judiciary, effectively being controlled by the North, cannot be of help to the Southern governors should they decide to seek legal means to address some of the issues affecting the region.
“You know too well that Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, the Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the incumbent Chief Justice of Nigeria, comes from Bauchi State (North East), and Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, president of the Nigerian Courts of Appeal hails from Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State (North Central). They were both appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari. You also know that he that pays the piper calls the tune,” the analyst said.
From the communiqué issued in Lagos, the governors, this time around, concentrated on current security situation, constitutional amendment, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the clamour for power shift in 2023.
It was their considered opinion that despite the efforts of security agencies, challenges abound, hence their belief that time has come for state police.
Against the prevailing situation in which security agents invade states, arrest and torture suspects without the knowledge of the state governor, the Forum resolved that such arbitrariness should stop. They “resolved that if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any state, the Chief Security Officer of the state must be duly informed.”
They also frowned at “selective criminal administration of Justice and resolved that arrests should be made within the ambit of the Law and fundamental human rights.”
The Forum set a timeline of Wednesday, September 1, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti-open grazing law in all member states; and, also that “Funds deducted from the Federation Account for the Nigeria Police Security Trust Fund should be distributed among the states and Federal Government to combat security challenges.”
On the now passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) Law, the governors commended the National Assembly for the progress so far made. They however, rejected outright the proposed 3percent and supported the 5percent share of the oil revenue to the host community as recommended by the House of Representatives.
They also rejected the proposed 30percent share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins, rejecting however, “the ownership structure of the proposed Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC).”
The Southern governors disagreed that the NNPC be vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance but should be held in trust by Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) since all tiers of government have stakes in that vehicle.
They rejected the removal of the Electronic transmission of the election result from the electoral act, and also the confirmation of exclusive jurisdiction in pre-election matters on the Federal High Court.” Their stand was in order to consolidate Nigeria’s democracy and strengthen the Electoral process.
Recall that when the Forum met at Asaba, Delta State in May, they had urged President Buhari to address Nigeria on insecurity. They had also taken a number of decisions, including ban on open-grazing in Southern Nigeria; call for convocation of dialogue, and insisted on federal character in appointments.
The communiqué released by the Forum elicited serious controversy following the responses by some aides of the President.
In his reaction, Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the Federation (AGF) and minister of Justice, likened the ban on open grazing to northern governors banning spare parts business synonymous with southerners, especially the South East people.
While fielding questions during a recent exclusive interview broadcast on Arise Television, Buhari had insisted that his administration was going to revive grazing routes.
“What I did was ask him (Malami) to go and dig the gazette of the 1st Republic when people were obeying laws. There were cattle routes and grazing areas. Cattle routes were for when they (herdsmen) are moving up country, north to south or east to west, they had to go through there,” he said.
According to the President, “If you allow your cattle to stray into any farm, you are arrested. The farmer is invited to submit his claims. The khadi or the judge will say pay this amount and if you can’t, the cattle is sold. And if there is any benefit, you are given and people were behaving themselves and in the grazing areas, they built dams, put windmills in some places there were even veterinary departments so that the herders are limited. Their route is known, their grazing area is known.
“…so, I asked for the gazette to make sure that those who encroached on these cattle routes and grazing areas will be dispossessed in law and try to bring some order back into the cattle grazing.”
But the Southern governors have separately and collectively insisted that there were no grazing routes in their states, and that thinking about reviving such routes wherever they existed amounted to taking Nigeria back to the Stone Age.
The Coalition of Northern Groups, reacting sharply to the Southern governors’ resolution, urged the Federal Government to ensure that herders’ rights to freedom of movement were not impeded by any legislation.
On the Southern governors’ position that the South should produce the president in 2023, the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) said the North would not be intimidated or blackmailed into yielding an office that ought to be settled democratically.
The NEF position made known in a release by Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, director of publicity and Advocacy, said: “NEF sees the decision of the Southern governors as an expression of sentiment that could be best discussed within a political process. We are running a democratic government and decisions over where the next president comes from are basically decisions that will be made by voters exercising their rights to choose which candidate best serves their interest.”
Douye Diri, governor of Bayelsa State on Tuesday in a television interview, pointedly said that the Southern governors did not need somebody’s opinion to regulate cattle’s movement in their states.
He said that Bayelsa had since implemented the ban on open grazing, noting that “where one man’s rights stop, another man’s rights begin.”
He further explained that the constitution gives the governors the right to regulate movements in their domain, hence the need for the state houses of assembly.
The governor added that the definition of a host community in the just passed Petroleum Industry Bill by the National Assembly was a time bomb if not properly addressed.
He emphasised that it was an injustice to allot 3 percent of oil revenue for the host communities that bear the brunt of exploration and exploitation activities.
According to him, it was unthinkable and unacceptable to people of the South that a provision of 30 percent profit of the NNPC was inserted in the controversial bill for “frontier exploration” in areas that were not clearly specified.
Governor Diri, who spoke the mind of his Southern counterparts, also frowned at the definition of oil-producing communities and host communities to include areas where pipelines are laid. He called for a reversal of such proposal.
In the last six years, under the present government, Nigeria’s unity has taken a serious hit, agitation for secession and self-determination has escalated considerably. Insecurity, resulting in destruction of lives and property, has become a routine.
Nepotism is being expressed in lopsided appointments and policies to either deny people their rights or give undue opportunities to those who should not, ordinarily benefit from certain rights.
The southern part of the country has continued to bear the brunt of such policies. This appears to be the crux of the matter.