Afenifere, South West govs forum and important lessons for lower Niger

In an uncontested example of consistency which is a poisoned word–poisoned out of existence in Nigeria’s sociopolitical lexicon–the pan Yoruba sociocultural group, the Afenifere over the weekend restated its call for a return to more equitable federal system of government, which is known in local (Nigerian) speak as “True federalism”.

Afenifere talked about a whole lot of things that ranged from state police, fiscal autonomy to open grazing, two of which are among the most needlessly polarizing topics of national discuss at the moment.

In a clear indication that things are no longer business as usual, last Tuesday, the South West Governors Forum in their capacity, proposed the conversion of the present six geopolitical zones into federating units, as part of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly. The governors who made the request in a document presented to members of the National Assembly from the geopolitical zone, also made other proposals to weaken the central government, while allocating more powers to the federating units and states. The governors also want the states to be in charge of mineral resources within their respective territories.

There are a few things wrong with these. First, the governors of the South West are an unofficial vehicle for the political aspirations of the Afenifere. In this case, the Afenifere advocates absolute autonomy of the states in the present structure, while the governors would rather have the geopolitical zones converted into the federating units which of course, would replace the state.

The end goal is the same. The approach, however, leaves a lot to be desired especially as the absence of structural unity has dumbed down agitations for “True federalism” for the region, in which its elected political elites had always sung discordant tunes.

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Secondly, while it is important to note and admire the greatness of these aspirations in spite of how seemingly incongruent they might appear, the constitutional review process embarked upon by the 9th National Assembly, despite the yearning for a new constitutional order by a section of the population, does not curry the support of an equally important section of the country.

The northern establishment has never hidden its disapproval of the attempt to amend the constitution and has kicked against it several times. Although President Buhari has somewhat soft pedaled in his opposition to restructuring, it is important to note that this u-turn moved the bulk of the work to the national assembly where lawmakers from the president’s geopolitical demography has the numbers to quash any amendment that is in direct threat to their interests.

The president knows this, and has also used that knowledge to play to the gallery in anticipation of the coming grand attempt at horse trading that may go on behind the scenes.

The lack of sincerity of purpose and intent of the political establishment however, does not exclude regional blocs from presenting a common front especially on issues that affect their existence. While states have long realized that they have the powers to ban open grazing within their territories, they are only yet to come to terms with the knowledge of how much power they wield. The Southern Governors Forum was the pandora’s box. The institutionalization of same ordinarily should lead to a political awakening for the south, but political and structural issue remains. For one, pro secessionist in Nigeria’s South East are yet to agree that the best way to actualize the referendum for independence for the South East (Biafra) they so much want, is through the electoral process.

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The Scottish National Party is a very prominent example of how pro seccesionists have rallied to influence outcomes using the ballot.

In Spain, although the pro independence parties of Catalonia are yet to achieve the goal of independence, they have mightily influenced voter behaviour and set the tone of relations between the central government in Madrid and the region of Catalonia.

There are several pan Igbo groups that could be the Afenifere of the South East, using their elected officials as vehicles for political interests. The resort to violence has basis, and might not give all the merits that conventional wisdom might, but it sure comes from a place of the understanding that the only language the Nigerian government understands, is force.

It also comes from the realization that the numbers in the National Assembly are heavily stacked against a pro seccesionist political party that may have issues being registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission because of how much of a “curse word” and sensitive subject the issue of Biafra is to the Nigerian government. Again, the divisions between elected leaders have served to poison the well of any unity of aspiration a group might offer. It is on record that there is no love lost between some state governors and members of the national assembly from their state. While not the best example to use, the rivalry between minister of transportation, Chibuike Amaechi and a senator representing one of the senatorial zones in Rivers state, Magnus Abe, not only puts the interests of the people of Rivers at risk, it has also served to divide the APC into factions in the state, which gives the ruling party the PDP the leeway to do as it pleases in the face of a nonexistent opposition.

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A good point to note about the South West Governors Forum meeting is not so much that it’s chairman, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state said the South-West would be approaching the constitution amendment with a common front. It is in what he said that the meeting had set a committee made of up senators led by the caucus chairman (Opeyemi Bamidele) and House of Representatives caucus chairman (Femi Fakeye) and attorneys-generals of the South-West states. It does appear that the South West has hacked the code of political representation. While this may have to do with their homogeneity, the South East also have this feature (of homogeneity) but is yet to put it into effective use.

The South South may be a collection of ethnic diversities but it’s political elites must wake up to the reality that times have changed, and political bickering and infighting on the basis of ethnicity will keep them in the dark ages if they do not find the meaning of collectivism in their quest for resource control which the petroleum industry bill that offered just 3% to oil producing states have presented the first and most grand reality check.

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