Initially, it was reported that all the 17 governors from the South both of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, took far-reaching decisions at the said meeting. But as it turned out later, Governor Hope Uzodima (APC) of Imo State and Governor Gboyega Oyetola (APC) of Osun State were not in attendance, the latter was away in the Holy Land for the lesser hajj.
But their absence did not take anything away from momentous decisions taken at the meeting. Highlights of the decisions included the demand for restructuring, a call for a new revenue allocation formula that will favour the sub-regions and the ban on open grazing by herdsmen in all the states in the South.
That the governors decided to set aside politics and agree on a joint decision to press for the resolutions of issues of common interest suggests poignantly that they mean business and that when the chips are down, they know where their bread is buttered.
And nobody in the North seems to me, so far, to have appreciated the seriousness of the situation more than Baba Othman Ngelzarma, national secretary of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria(MACBAN). He said the North cannot afford to ignore the Asaba Declaration and urged the governors from the North to rise to the occasion and work out a solution that would be generally acceptable to the people.
What it requires, I wish to suggest, is a meeting of minds. The Northern governors should reach out to their southern counterparts for an understanding, keeping in mind the fragile unity of the country and the need to take the country back from the brink. The current situation does not call for rolling out the war drums. We can do without them. Except that the Asaba Declaration carries the imprimatur of executive authority, the points raised in their communique are not new but their resolutions, in their view, have become rather more urgent in the face of the escalating insecurity situation, the ceaseless killing and maiming of innocent citizens including law enforcement officers, policemen and others in the South East and the South-South and the kidnaping, especially of students.
But the one that triggered immediate reaction was, naturally, the ban on open grazing. For the past five years, this issue had remained an albatross on the neck of the Buhari administration. And for some explicable reasons – more to do with procrastination borne out of lack of political will – the government found itself unable to see its way clearly out of the mess. Meaning that this messy business was allowed to fester, as if unattended it would die down on its own. It has not.
And because it has remained an intractable problem for this long, the criminality that has become second nature to this old method of grazing has pushed the country into an open war with bandits, armed robbers and kidnappers, all of them armed with AK 47.
In many local communities, the story is told of many petty criminals that have been enabled and mentored into this AK 47 criminality business. After some tutelage and apprenticeship, they have graduated into home-based bandits parading as herdsmen. As if they carry the franchise of the criminal herdsmen, they too now torment their people, they kill and rape and demand ransom – fake herdsmen but criminals all the same. This is the tragedy of an untreated ailment that was allowed to fester. It expands and consumes more innocent victims.
It is worth noting here that governors from the North were the first to discourage open grazing. As far back as February this year, they had more or less pronounced against open grazing in preference for the more modern ranching. The idea of national livestock came out of the realization that open grazing had become moribund. The drawback in the North, however, has more to do with politics than the willpower or the required statesmanship to save the people from the criminals.
First, it took them almost eternity to identify the bandits and the kidnappers. It was initially difficult for the leaders to accept that those rustling cows and the herdsmen who were destroying people’s farms were home bred criminals. Maybe because blood is thicker than water, leaders instead of being proactive, pussy-footed. But when the realities dawned, and they dawned too rapidly, they were caught pants down.
When one of the prominent emirs told a visiting minister of agriculture to convey his royal message to the President that criminals had driven farmers from their farms, criminality was in its gestation stage. But it was not nipped in the bud.
Then while the President was home in Daura for the 2019 Christmas break, these dare-devil bandits struck and before you could say, Haba, they had carted away from some 300 students of Kankara Secondary School close to Kastina. It was not long after the Kastina State students were rescued or ransomed into freedom, that 27 students of Kagara in Niger State suffered the same fate. From there the bandits moved to Jangebe in Zamfara State and carted away 300 students from Government Girls Secondary School. This episode put a spanner in Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle’s amnesty for bandits programme. By whatever means employed, the students were all freed unharmed.
The next bus stop is Kaduna State, hitherto a bastion of ethno-religious conflict and carnage. The state has now become notorious for student kidnapping. In all these, the governors all appear to be powerless.
But now that the governors in the South have voted unanimously against this bestiality, nobody should blame them. In fact, those in the North should salute their courage and determination. They have shown the way.
In fact, it should not be difficult for all the 36 governors, irrespective of political differences and affiliation, to come to an agreement on the issues bedeviling the country, especially that of insecurity. They have a stake in saving the country and their people from perdition. This is beyond politics.
The issue of restructuring the country has also continued to hang fire but in my view, it is not an issue over which Nigeria should go to war. I align myself completely with those who believe that some of the issues raised in Asaba can be dealt with without the convocation of another national conference. The 2014 conference has done ample justice to all the issues.
Whatever is the perceived shortcoming of the National Assembly, it remains the true and authentic representative of all Nigerians and there is nothing under the sun they cannot handle if they mean to salvage the country. The time available to the Buhari administration – an administration that is plagued by all manner of problems from insecurity to wobbly economy made more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic – is not long enough to load it with more back-breaking problems.
We must get our representatives in the National Assembly to be more accountable to we the people of this country by doing the needful. They should pick any aspect of the 2014 national conference resolution or the APC’s Nasir El Rufai committee report on restructuring and produce a bill either for state police, devolution of power or a brand new revenue formula.
Powerful as President Buhari is, one must admit that he alone does not have the exclusive power to legislate for a new Nigeria, restructured in whichever manner that our whims and fancy dictate to us.
Ultimately, it must be admitted that the problem of Nigeria is not the land or the flora and fauna or, for that matter, its geography; the problem lies squarely with the people.
If in order to satisfy the restructuring appetite of the elite, the country is broken into 200 pieces today, its current problems of ethnicity, greed and utterly insatiable appetite and ravenous hunger for the primitive acquisition will not go away. The problems will rather mutate into 200 shapes and sizes.
And we, in our various localities, will continue to fight to dominate the others, to shortchange and pauperize the weak and possibly enslave the poor. It is beyond politics. Despite our so-called enlightenment, at the bottom, we still live in the Hobbesian state of nature where life is short, nasty and brutish.
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