Western region governors’ forum: Forging a strong partnership
The political maturity and dexterity of the Southwest governors for the economic and socio-political integration of the region is no longer in doubt, given their seriousness and vision to restore the Yoruba nation’s old glory.
The six governors, despite their different political affiliations have, so far, proved doubting Thomases wrong that they can work together and leverage their comparative advantages for the common interest of their people.
Aside their resolve at their last meeting in Abeokuta, where they agreed to develop a 25-year development master plan for the transformation of the region, some of them have even gone a step further, with two or three states collaborating for ventures.For instance, Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, and his Oyo State counterpart, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, just agreed to massively invest in Agriculture in Oyo State to provide food and job for their people. Oyo has the landmass, while Lagos has the financial wherewithal for the joint venture. A similar partnership is also going on between Ambode and Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State.
Only recently, an All Progressives Congress (APC) governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State stepped in to end the crisis between Ekiti State Petroleum marketers and Mr. Ayo Fayose. The Marketers had withdrawn their services for almost a month over revocation of some building permits, and all entreaties by the traditional rulers and well-meaning individuals in the state could not resolve the impasse that paralysed the economic activities of the state, until Aregbesola intervened and resolved the matter.
Despite the hard stance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governor to the APC and his invective on President Muhammadu Buhari, Fayose is still a strong voice in the committee of Southwest governors. Indeed, many will not forget in a hurry the sounding ovation that greeted his arrival at the inauguration of Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), as Ondo State governor last year.
To the six states’ chief executives that just announced they be known and addressed as Western Region Governors’ Forum, the Oduduwa blood running through their veins is stronger than artificial separation of boundaries that divided them into six parts from the Western Region that existed before 1976.Apart from partnership to develop agriculture in the region, they are also collaborating on security network in the region to attract investors. They have also announced the plan to build a rail network in the region, which Ondo and Ekiti States never had.
Approval has been given for the establishment of a Western Nigeria Export Development Initiative (WENEDI) to drive the export potentials of the region.They also resolved that, “The artificial boundaries of states, religions, political affiliations and other centrifugal forces will not be a barrier to regional development. All the states are encouraged to significantly improve bilateral and multilateral cooperation to foster regional development.
“Synergy of DAWN Commission, ODUA group and other critical stakeholders should develop a framework to drive the commercial and industrialisation competitiveness of the region,” they said.Indeed, efforts to re-enact the economic and social importance of the region did not start with the present crop of governors. After collapse of the first republic with the January 1966 coup, Oodua, which was their common heritage, suffered a great deal from military administrations that did not understand the economic foundation of the huge business empire built by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his friend, who later became his political foe, Chief S. L. A. Akintola.
The beginning of the second republic in 1979 would also be remembered with nostalgia by Southwestern states because only the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) ruled the existing four states then and the governors – Chief Lafeef Jakande (Lagos), the late Chief Olabisi Onabanjo (Ogun), Chief Bola Ige (Oyo) and Chief Adekunle Ajasin (Ondo) were seen as core Awoists and it was easy for them to speak with one voice.
While Awolowo was alive, the integration was in top gear. But there was a break in the jet speed of the socio-economic collaboration during the 1983 election that saw the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN) making inroads into the region through, when Dr. Omololu Olunloyo and Chief Akin Omobiowo became governors in Oyo and Ondo States.The acrimony the election engendered threw spanners into the integration and economic agenda of the southwest. The war of attrition continued till the end of that republic, when the Buhari/Idiagbon administration struck.
The current political dispensation that began in 1999 has witnessed a lot of development in their quest for integration, even when many analysts believe the governors are moving at a snail speed. Their quarterly meetings have produced more communiqués than action plans and visible impact to be appreciated by the citizens.
However, their initiative to set up The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) in July 2013 became a bold step to give effect to their decisions. The DAWN Commission is the dedicated technocratic institution for the sustainable development of the region. It is the institution coordinating their policies to ensure delivery.At the Abeokuta parley, not only did all the governors affirm their commitment to make their union work, but also set an agenda, which rekindled hope of many that the development that made the region arguably the best in the First Republic may be re-enacted with vigour.
In his brief remark, Aregbesola, said: “If we look critically at our achievements as a singular State of Western Region, we must be mindful of the fact that as a region then, we achieved more than now, when we are divided into six states.“We must identify our strengths, unify those strengths and explore the strengths for the benefit of our people. We must use the development to galvanise our potentials.”
On his part, Ajimobi said: “I would like to plead for not only inter-governmental relationship, but also inter-personal relationship. Six of us (states) combined, we are talking about more than 60 million people and that is more than a country.“With our expansive landmass, we can stand as a mini-country. If each state in the Southwest makes use of the potentials available to us, we are bigger than many countries in the world.
“We are as a region, very formidable, so we must not only talk it, we must act it. We must reinstate and reinvigorate the concept of Omoluabi (a well-cultured child). Success is not just money, but character and industry.” For Ambode, he said: “I also align myself with the economic and political integration of the Southwest states because it is of great significance to the nation.”
Fayose stated, “I want to align myself fully with the development agenda of Southwest. The Forum represents the interest of all us in Yoruba nation. It calls for cooperation and collaboration of all the governors to make success of the region.”For Akeredolu: “Development agenda for Southwest Nigeria is a great idea, when the governors meet to discuss issues of common interest. It is a great task for all us. We have great challenges and we must be prepared to face these challenges, united we stand, divided we fall. This meeting transcends political interests, we are brothers.”
In his address, Amosun charged his colleagues in the interest of the Southwest region not to allow themselves be used as “instruments of division.”He stated that creation of states from the Old Western Region in 1976, which should have been an impetus for development in the Southwest had been “allowed to create artificial boundaries between the Yoruba Nation.”
His words: “And to further worsen the situation, some of our people are also making themselves available as instruments of division, because of their selfish political gains. The consequence is that our people began to see themselves as a people of one state or the other, rather than as a sub-unit of the entity of the Yoruba people.
“This is not without its attendant challenges of intra and inter-state boundary disputes, which have worsened security in some states, and hampered socio-economic development, instead of building bridges. Some of our people are digging trenches for protection against their own brothers and sisters.”
The governor recalled that all the enviable achievements, in terms of infrastructure and high standard of living in the defunct Western Region under the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s government became possible because of unity of purpose.In his view, development of agriculture is one of the areas the governors could explore towards development in the region, insisting “Our concerted efforts and our unflinching commitment towards the fulfilment of the DAWN Agenda will continue to be part of a fulfilling memorial for him (Dipo).
He said: “The onerous task on our hands is to lead our people to higher prosperous living. That is why the chosen Agenda for this meeting: “Economic Self-Determination for South-West Nigeria” with special focus on “South-Western Nigeria Export Initiative,” is very apt, instead of the bow-in-hand practice that each of the states seeks from the Federal Allocation.
“The time has come for us to map out strategies to harness the natural resources of the entire region for further socio-economic development of the Southwest Region as a whole, and for more prosperity for our people.
“One of such approaches is to identify the export potentials of the region. This will bring not just more revenue, but also increases the availability of foreign currencies, which will, by extension, make the region a stronger player on the international market stage. We can do this by exploring and strengthening the different areas of comparative advantage of our states, which will then be pooled together for further development of the different states and the entire region as a whole.”
For him, “The geographical location, climatic condition and the total landmass of our six states pooled together is a catalyst to drive an agricultural programme that will feed us, feed our neighbours and even beyond. I suggest that we encourage more mechanised farming systems to improve on productivity, speed up harvesting, enhance processing and advance storage, so that our products will meet world-class standard and be more desirable for export.”