Governors of the Southern states of Nigeria, meeting for the first time in twelve years under this umbrella, Monday in Lagos unanimously threw their weight behind the call restructuring, specifically calling for the urgent realization of true federalism, and devolution of powers to states.
The Governors, in a communique at the end of the meeting read by the host governor, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, also decided to work together to advance the growth and development of the region and the country at large.
This strong show of unity regardless of party affiliation is sure to put additional pressure on Northern leaders who have yet to take a clear, unified position on the one hot-button issue in the country at the moment– restructuring.
Their dilly-dallying has been read by many observers as the usual delay tactics employed in the hope that other national issues would crowd out the restructuring debate so that they would continue to maintain their widely-viewed position of anti-restructuring stance.
Apart from Governor Ambode, the meeting was attended by governors of Ogun, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Oyo, Seantor Abiola Ajimobi; Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Ebonyi, David Umahi; Edo, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Ondo, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Abia, Mr. Okezie Ikpeazu; Enugu, Mr. Henry Ugwuanyi; Bayelsa, Mr. Seriaki Dickson and Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose. Governors of Cross River, Anambra and Delta were represented by their Deputies – Mr. Evara Esu; Dr. Ikem Okeke and Mr. Kingsley Otuaru respectively.
Reading the communique, Ambode said the Governors had, after extensive deliberations, placed priority on security and lives and property of citizens of the region, while also agreeing to pursue needed infrastructure across the 17 States in the region, inter-connecting the states, as much as possible.
Governor Ambode had been unanimously appointed as the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) while governors Seriaki Dickson of Bayelsa and David Umahi of Ebonyi were appointed as Co- Chairmen of the Forum. It was also agreed that the forum would next meet in Port Harcourt in a date yet to be announced.
Earlier, Ambode, while welcoming his colleagues to the meeting, discussed the clamour for true federalism and devolution of powers, arguing that states were sure to benefit from restructuring.
He said the objectives of true federalism, which included autonomy and fiscal viability, would help states develop at their own pace and based on their unique components.
While stating that the forum had played its part in promoting discussion on the national question, he however said there was a lot more left to be done, stressing that the quest for true federalism required urgent and proactive attention by the forum.
Ambode frowned at the non-periodic review of the revenue formula as provided by the constitution to reflect unfolding realities, adding that the review was crucial to enhancing the viability of states and local government and their capacity to fulfil their development objectives.
The governor added, “States are disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs 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 states.
“The productivity and revenue-generating capacities of most states are thus stifled, thus turning them into no better than street beggar states incapable of even meeting routine obligations of paying workers’ salaries and pensions without federal support.”
Ambode recalled that Lagos State had fought and won several legal battles since 1999 that have systematically strengthened her autonomy and enhanced her fiscal viability. He noted that the state had won the legal control over the management of its environment, the control of urban and physical planning, the regulation of overhead masts, the registration and regulation of hotels and restaurants, and the control of inland waterways.
Ambode said these victories belonged, not only to Lagos, but also to other states, adding that, if Lagos could achieve so much by fighting alone, the Southern Governors’ Forum will accomplish more through collective planning and strategy. The governor said the forum has been reactivated at the time the National Assembly is harmonising its differences over the 1999 Constitution amendment, which will soon be transmitted to the Houses of Assembly for approval.
He said, “It is important for this forum to comprehensively look at the proposed amendments with a view to working with our respective Houses of Assembly to ensure a coordinated response on our part that will strengthen the practice of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law”.
Ambode stated that, while pushing for greater devolution of powers from the centre to the states, the goal of the forum was neither to push for a weak centre and strong states or vice versa.
Ambode then paid tribute to former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu for his initiating the forum, recalling it was he who hosted the first meeting of the forum in Akodo Beach Resort, Ibeju-Lekki, when he was still governor.
He noted that while the initiative was received with mixed feelings at the time, Tinubu was to be later vindicated because of its achievements, as the forum became a forceful voice on matters of great importance, not only to Southern Nigeria, but to the country as a whole.
The Lagos governor also hailed the forum for advocating for a special allocation to oil-producing states in the Federation Account, adding that its agitation led to the current 13 per cent revenue derivation and allocation from the Federation Account.
He said, “Another major victory won towards strengthening the country’s practice of true federalism was the declaration bybthe Supreme Court in 2002 that the then prevalent practice of the Federal Government deducting monies from the Federation Account as a first charge for the funding of Joint Venture Contracts, the NNPC priority projects, servicing of Federal Government’s external debt, the judiciary and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other federal obligations were illegal and unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court in that case 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 states and local governments”.
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