It seems to fit the idiom, “the more the merrier”. Put differently or more succinctly, “the bigger the better”. This seems to be the idea behind the recently evolved South-East/South-South Governors’ Forum which came into being few months ago with the intent to confront the myriad of challenges that beset both regions. The governors of the regions are persuaded that the unity of the two regions portends greater good for the people of the regions. And from the meetings held so far by the body, it is obvious that cooperation between the two regions is key to the rapid development of both areas.
South-South/South-East Governors’ Forum has a membership of 11 who are governors of the eleven States that make up both regions. It bears reiterating that the South-South region has six states to wit: Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Delta and Bayelsa States while the South-East has Imo, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Abia States, numbering five. The governors of the States of the two regions are willing members who have subscribed their collective consent to the existence, leadership and operations of the body.
In the maiden meeting of the body, the governors of the States of the two regions unanimously elected Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State to preside over them. From the activities recorded since his assumption of that role, the governors were well guided in the choice. Apart from possessing an understanding of the time, needs and aspirations of the regions, he is also blessed with the mental equanimity to provide quality leadership.
It is heartwarming to note that in a community of equals, our governor was considered fit and proper to provide leadership among the equals. This development should interrogate many of us who stay perpetually on the barricade to cast aspersion and deliberately blind ourselves to many things good leadership has spawned in the state. Fellow governors of the South -South and South East may have looked at his pedigree, shared his vision, evaluated his achievements as governor and agreed that for a new body that is set to break new grounds and foray into national frontiers, they need a man who can make them proud on that national stage while exuding the mental fecundity that would bring pride to the two regions. I state without equivocation that if Governor Udom Emmanuel was not a governor with distinction, he would not have been chosen.
I have raised the above argument as someone whose sojourn outside the shores of our state for a long time afforded me enormous opportunity to understudy public perception of our people. We were hardly regarded. We served as butts of jokes and comic relief to people of other regions. Even though some of our people were better than those who made jokes of them, the long held stereotype had afflicted our people, bruised our ego and reduced us to a timid lot.
Our people were therefore hardly given any position of responsibility, except it required uncompromising honesty and sincerity. Many thanks to His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, whose personal example in self assertion instituted a radical change in the attitude of Akwa Ibom people as they began to define their self worth. This was given further fillip by his successor, Senator Godswill Akpabio and consolidated by Governor Udom Emmanuel who is strutting national and regional platforms to our collective heart content.
Having reflected on the above, let me return to South-South/South–East Governors’ Forum under Governor Udom Emmanuel. The body has a so far identified the challenges that confront the two regions and agreed on the fact that they are similar. The challenges, according to the Forum, include dearth of infrastructure and complete absence of Federal Government presence in the regions. It has also expressed concerns with the State of the Nation especially as they pertain to restructuring, agitations for self determination, militancy, insurgency in the country, insecurity, the seditions “quit notice” of Arewa Northern Youths and the ongoing constitutional review. The Forum under the leadership of Governor Emmanuel has held exhaustive discussions on some of the above matters and taken positions that are in tandem with the interest of the regions.
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The South-South/South-East Governors’ Forum in its conduct and approach has indicated that it is purpose driven. It does not wish to be just a body that coursed through time but one which existence shall be marked by achievements that would give the body a place of noble history. The Forum is therefore considering as a matter of urgency the need to establish and link cities within the regions with railways and superways as well as provide viable and affordable flight services between the regions. It is also considering working on ensuring that cargoes are brought into the country and the regions through our seaports, jetties and ferry services to stimulate economic growth across the two regions.
One of the most far-reaching resolutions of the Forum is its political decision. As the host of the last meeting in Owerri, His Excellency, Owelle Rochas Okorocha noted, what unites the people of South East and South-South is much more than political party. The Forum believes completely in the assertion as the view formed part of its communiqué. It is this conviction that obviously led the Forum to its landmark decision which is the resolution that the two “regions will go in one direction that will be beneficial to the political future of the people of the regions”. An elementary understanding of this resolution is that the future of the regions would be tight to beneficial interest of the regions and not political parties.
It is on record that the two regions share historical and some cultural ties. Even though political ties of those days had always aroused mutual suspicion, it is believed that the deprivations the two regions have suffered especially in infrastructural deficit and scandalous lack of federal presence should unite the regions in the redemption crusade. It is obvious that one region may not be hoarse enough to attract the needed attention. It may therefore require a cacophony from the two regions for the deficit to be addressed and the imbalance corrected. It is why the two regions must jettison to old toga of suspicion and cast its beam on the sunlit path where redemption for the regions lie. It is the unity that would lift up the regions from its current morass of death traps for roads, sham structures as schools, hospitals without equipment and drugs, pitch darkness in place of electricity, skewed fiscal federalism that puts states and local governments in perpetual deficit and other sundry challenges that have become customary with the regions.
The political history of the two regions may not be said to be clear cut just as it is not too dim in mutuality. The days of NCNC, NPC and AG saw majority of the people of the two regions inhabiting NCNC. Action Group, which also had a strong presence, could not subdue the influence of Nnamdi Azikiwe who was a chieftain of NCNC and from the present South-East region. The present South-South except Edo and DeltaStates pitched their tents with Zik who had become a phenomenon while Edo and Delta aligned with Awolowo’s Action Group because of the latter’s relationship with Alfred Rewance.
The Second Republic offered a slightly different twist. The parties that emerged had regional traits. UPN founded by Obafemi Awolowo held sway in the South-West while NPP which chose Nnamdi Azikiwe as its presidential candidate had its stronghold in the South-East. NPN, which was largely peopled by Northerners made strong inroads into minority areas and won the hearts of the people. Some states in the South-South again, except Edo and Delta which constituted the then Bendel State, found comfort with NPN. But the dispensation beginning from 1999 saw all the South-East and South-South States in PDP. The introduction of APGA and eventually PPA brought some fragmentation in the political unity of the South-East. The South-South survived the odd until Edo decided to be the odd one out.
The 2015 general elections, especially the presidential, must serve as a lesson to the people of the two regions. If the two regions which share the same affliction had cultivated the much needed unity that the Udom led South-South/South-East Governors’ Forum is canvassing today, the two regions would not have been the loosers they are today and which has necessitated widespread agitation. The decision to come together demonstrates an understanding of the time and the persuasion that the two regions are stronger together.
Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst