South-South struggles as BRACED Commission heads south
Six states in the South-South initiated BRACED Commission in 1999 for joint development of the region, but the mission and vision of the Commission remains elusive, as their governors prefer to go solo in developing their respective states, GODWIN IJEDIOGOR writes.
Apart from direct government involvement in the development of South-South geo-political zone, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), an interventionist agency of the Federal Government and the Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Delta (BRACED) Commission, initiated by governors from the region, was to serve as a brain-box for the collective development of the six states in the zone.
While the NDDC is bedeviled by corruption and Federal Government’s inconsistency in the constitution of its management, the BRACED Commission is bogged down by unnecessary power-show and squabbles among the six state governors; hence, lack of funding, thereby, further hindering development in the region.
However, Director General of the Commission, Ambassador Joe Keshi, disclosed efforts were on to jump-start the BRACED, with the incoming Chairman and Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, consulting and trying to see how it could be revived.
The spokesman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Dr. Ken Robinson, who, while acknowledging the lull in the Commission’s activities, also hinted on discussions with state governors in the region, especially the four new ones, to revive it.
He added that the organisation would come out with a position regarding its efforts in due course.
Pioneer spokesman of PANDEF and Coordinator of the South-South Leaders Forum, Chief Anabs Sara-Igbe, said the Commission was a welcome development in the South-south and PANDEF in 2017, invited the Commission’s leaders for a discussion and advised member-states to work together for the overall interest of the region.
“Unfortunately, the governors were not interested in their regional matters, and so, didn’t come in to assist/fund this laudable initiative aimed at fast-tracking development in the region.
“It became clear over time that they wanted to go solo; hence, the Commission has not been able to advance as it should because of the inability of the South-South states governors to come together to fund it or give the direction and focus as to how it should operate.”
The Niger Delta activist lamented that the South-South is about the only region in the country that has no common market, neither do they have a common railway transportation, among others, adding: “We expected that the Commission would galvanise a regional integration and bring about inter-relationship, in terms of railway connection and even roads, as we have some of the worst roads in the country today.
“The East-West road has not seen the light of the day, because there is no body coordinating it; every government just does its own solo efforts, including the owner- the Federal Government. The 13 per cent is not seen as the effort of the region, but as a collective gain of each of the state governors.
“These are some of the problems that we have and that is why the Commission has not been very effective as it should be.”
The elder statesman said the way forward is for governors in the region, most of whom are new, to realise that it would do a very great service to the zone if they come together to support the BRACED Commission and give directions, in terms of funding, policy direction and otherwise, irrespective of political party affiliations and individual differences.
He stressed that if the Commission is active and there is integration, the region will not only speak in one voice, in terms of demands, but also in terms of developmental and economic needs, security and other productive services, noting: “If they don’t come together, but continue to go solo, there will be no unity among the states as to how to move forward.
“So, I strongly advise the state governor to come together to see how they can develop the region.”
The prominent Ijaw chief identified lack of understanding of the dynamics of coming together and need for the Commission to be funded and encouraged to galvanise the region towards development as reason the governors seem unenthusiastic, saying: “If they understand the need, importance and benefits of coming together, I don’t think they will shy away and choose to pursue solo agenda.”
Keshi does not think it is a question of some of the former governors being lukewarm or nonchalant about BRACED, but more of lack of proper understanding of the essence of economic operational integration within a subset and the benefits it derives, as well as the issue of politics and lack of political will.
He recalled that the Commission suffered in 2015 because of the crisis among the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors in the region, and that continued until they left office and then governor, now senator, Seriake Dickson, who assumed the chairmanship, could not call a meeting for the period he was chairman and governor.
Then came the immediate past governor of Delta State, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, who tried to revive the Commission. But again, ahead of this year’s general elections, the PDP governors in the region fell apart over the presidential and vice presidential tickets.
“But all these speak a lot to the leadership issue in the South-South and the level of exposure of the people of the region themselves, the level of politics and the challenge of separating politics from development,” he lamented.
Keshi recalled that when the Southwest’s Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission was being conceptualised, they had conversations with BRACED, which had, at the time, set up the structures it wanted to use.
“I personally advised their director general that you cannot talk of cooperation within the region without having an institution and a structure, because they had launched a book that some intellectuals put together. So, more or less, we agreed that the structure we put in place in the two regions would be the best among the regions.
“Since DAWN was established in 2010 or 2011, it has never had a break, even when the governors were not of the same political party, the governors of the Southwest continued to meet. There was a time former governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, who was of the PDP, was chairman of DAWN, even though the other governors were of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
“The Southwest governors have not only continuously met, they have also supported DAWN and have meetings of permanent secretaries and that of commissioners. Our commissioners in the South-South would not meet because they are looking at the body language of the governors.
“Initially, we were doing governors’ meetings, as well as commissioners’ meetings, but it got so bad in the last couple of years that everybody was scared to make a move until their governors made a move. Somehow, the idea of not giving commissioners the power to also act and take decisions in the region is not helpful to the region as a whole.”
The retired diplomat decried what he called the “power show we do in the South-South,” adding: “I think it is time we really stop it and allow the government to run the way it should. I am not talking of the current set of governors, but we must do things the right way.”
He said though it might not totally be the fault of the governors, but the way things are in the region, compared to the Southwest, presents a marked difference. For example, while DAWN has continuously been supported till today, BRACED lacks the necessary support and cooperation, to the extent that in the recent consultative meeting organised by the NDDC, DAWN was invited to share its experience, while BRACED, which is based in NDDC’s area of operation, was only invited for a goodwill message.
“You don’t blame them. DAWN is heavily supported by donor agencies. At the point that donor agencies were coming to see the work we were doing, that was when our governors started fighting.
“Some of the programmes that we had between 2007 and 2015 were done together with the help of donor agencies. They just needed an extra assurance from the governors, but the governors of 2015 abandoned the whole thing and started quarrelling.
“The same thing with the governors in 2019, who tried to revive it, only to disagree two years later and abandon the Commission again.”
Keshi bemoaned the level of exposure is worrisome in the region, noting: “Look at some of those making waves in Lagos, some of them are from the South-South, but how many of them are investing in the region? For example, Port Harcourt is a good place to invest, but how many of them are doing so?”
However, he lamented the level of insecurity in Rivers and Delta states at a time, which has scared the oil companies and workers away, saying: “Sometimes, we are the cause of our problems, even though we acknowledge that the federal government has its own fair share.
“We have leadership problems, we have followership problems, and this belief that it is money from the resources in the region that is being shared and spent by Abuja has not helped us.
“Development will continue to be challenging until the leaders come to the realisation that they have responsibility to the people and that there are certain things you need to do to build up the people. It is fine that every governor in the region wants to do infrastructure, but you find out that some other countries prioritise agriculture, education and health, and when these sectors begin to boom, they have multiplier effects on other sectors.
“So, there is a need to create a balance between infrastructure and these other sectors.”
Asked if the emergence of four new governors from the region presents any fresh hope, Keshi answered in the affirmative, but recalled that that was what happened the last time, when new governors like Okowa tried to revive the Commission and foster development in the region.
“But we also saw what happened later. We cannot continue this start and stop and start again arrangement. It’s not that we don’t have the brains; there are people in the universities that want to assist the Commission. At the NDDC forum, I was amazed to hear people from the region say that the NDDC should also be able to give some financial assistance to the Commission.
“But the governors must show that they own this Commission before the donor agencies can come and assist us to finalise a number of things. The governors should be able to give us the kind of attention the Southwest governors are giving to DAWN, whose staff are paid up to date, while our staff are owed years salaries.”
On the possibility of the former governors influencing their successors to continue in the old ways, Keshi said: “That is another fear that we have, because some of the former governors in the region have so much influence on their successors that somebody actually asked me recently if I thought the new governors would be able to break away from the past and attend meetings called by the incoming chairman (Obaseki). The answer is that I don’t know, but we will wait and see.”
But he hopes he would be able to convince this set of governors that it is in the best interest of the South-South, and of course themselves, to work together, collectively, to develop the region.
“If they had listened to us, the states would be doing well in agriculture today and would also not be having problems with power supply, because we were talking of pooling the energy resources of the states together, as the region has the capacity on its own to generate the power it needs.
“The governors considered it and thought of doing something like that before even the privatisation of electricity in the country. But nobody pursued it to the end.
“We appealed to the governors to decentralise the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and let all the seaports in the region operate and develop themselves. That would have immensely benefited the region, but they never took up the issue with the federal government.
“Akwa Ibom State started talking of deep seaport long before the Lekki Seaport was conceptualised, but the seaport in six years, is now operational,while that of Akwa Ibom has not taken off. That is just an example of what we mean when we talk about issues of leadership, discipline and focus in the region.
“We also suggested building a rail line from Calabar to Lagos to open up the South-South, but nobody took it seriously. It was not as if we didn’t come up with ideas; no, we came up with things that could create regional cooperation and integration and foster development, which were somehow never domesticated at home.”
Apart from governments, he agreed that there is a lot that individuals from the area can do, adding that because they will have to work in the states, they will also need the cooperation of the government of the day.
“That was why at the Commission’s level, we suggested that we should have a BRACED Business Committee, made up of some prominent business people from the six states. In fact, the governors of 2009 to 2015 actually approved the establishment of the BRACED Business Council and said every state should nominate three candidates.
“The Council was to advise the governors on investment and the governments on the ease of doing business in the region and help attract investment to the region. That was an avenue that would have brought the government and the private sector in the region together.
“But again, this was not done, because we are more atoned to politics than to development.”
The way forward, he pointed out, is for the four new governors in the region to meet with the two older ones and take a critical look at the Commission and decide what they want to do with it.
“I want to believe that they will understand the responsibility thrust upon them to realise that within the context of Nigerian politics today, there is a lot that can be gained by South-South political leaders having this strong union and relationship among themselves,” he stated.
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