Analyzing that communique by the Southern Governors Forum

By Dr Uche Diala

I am still trying to wrap my head around the outing by the Southern Governors’ Forum yesterday. I find a couple of resolutions in the Forum’s Communique quite curious, bizzare and I dare add politics taken too far. I will dwell on just three items: 2, 3c and 3e.

A (Item 2): “The Next President Of Nigeria Should Emerge From The Southern Region.”

B (Item 3c): “If for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any State, the Chief Security Officer of the State must be duly informed.”

C. (Item 3e). “Timeline of Wednesday, 1st September, 2021 for the promulgation of the anti open grazing law in all member States.”

I will attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff.

A. 2023 Presidency To The South.

Methinks the Southern Governors Forum actually goofed on that point, with all due respects. They really had no business dabbling into that matter publicly in my humble and considered view.

Such matters are rather discussed behind the scene with stakeholders from across the political divide. Actually this is a matter that should be handled at the Party level. Since the Governors are important stakeholders in the Parties, they should bring their weight to bear on their respective Parties. That is how it has always been done.

I actually wonder why they felt the need for that public show as I am not sure there is any real contest over that as most Northerners I know have taken that as a given. Even Governor Nasir El-rufai who some might think might be interested in the 2023 Presidency has come out to say he is not.

If anything, that public proclamation by the Southern Governors Forum could be counter productive as it could galvanize the North to actually resist, if they perceive there is insincerity and lack of good faith. If they do, they have the numbers and political sophistication to muscle it.

Afterall, there is a precedence with former President Goodluck Jonathan who after completing the tenure of late President Yar’adua (North), went ahead to win the 2011 Presidency with the support of the North and also wanted and did indeed run for the 2015 Presidential election.

However, like I already said, that matter should be a matter for the political parties to navigate going by the unwritten gentlemanly agreement or understanding on power rotation.

For the APC for instance, the Chairmanship of the Party is already headed North (most obviously). What that means is that the Presidency automatically will go South. It does not mean any Northerner who wants to contest the Party Primary will not be allowed. But that would be an academic exercise going by precedents because the President and the National Chairman of the Party cannot come from the North or from the same region.

One then asks; what about the PDP which is the other major Party in Nigeria? That was why I asked if the Southern PDP Governors were part of that resolution because all indications point to the fact that the PDP intends to zone its 2023 Presidential ticket to the North, maybe for strategic political calculations.

Which is another point – the resolution of the Southern Governor’s Forum is undemocratic. We have a multi party system in Nigeria. How does anyone intend to muscle all the Parties in any particular direction by mere academic pronouncement? This is why such matters have always been handled with tact, wisdom and political sagacity.

I think the Governors were only playing to the gallery. A more herculean and more relevant task for the Southern Governors would be which geopolitical zone in the South would the Presidency go to if the rest of the country and the Parties uphold that unwritten understanding on power rotation – SW, SS or SE? Listening to the Deputy Governor of Edo state on Channels Television last night, it appears obvious that they have not given that a serious thought.

B. Another curious point is the resolution that they (Governors) “must be duly informed”, “if for any reason security institutions need to undertake an operation in any State”.

How do Federal security agencies inform or take permission from a State Governor, no matter which state, before effecting an arrest or carrying out its assignment or operations in the state? Especially in the case of a Federal crime.

I need someone to educate me on this.

Some will quickly cite the United States. In the United States, the federal security agencies are replicated in the states as independent bodies from the Federal. That is what their Constitution stipulates.

There are distinct independent jurisdictions there when it comes to state security or law enforcement matters but there are Federal agencies whose jurisdictions span the entire country. A Federal Agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) could be invited by a state Agency or can act on its own when a crime is clearly federal in nature or within federal jurisdiction, no matter the state.

Now even if the federal security agency like the FBI mentioned needs any permission to operate in a state, I am not sure it is from the Governor of the state. It is from the relevant or sister security agency in the state.

Again someone should correct me if I am wrong.

I therefore find it bizzare and curious that Governors even if they answer CSOs of the state would say the Military, DSS and like Federal security agencies MUST inform them before any operation or before effecting an arrest.

The same Governors know they can not give orders to these Federal Security Agencies. That is what our Constitution says; good or bad. If they have issues with it, they should pressure or lobby the Federal Legislature to change it. Not sitting down and issuing unrealistic resolutions. This is not even the Nigerian Governors Forum. So will a different rule be used for the South and different one for the North?

And one should not remove the context in which that their statement was made. The context of Sunday Ighogho and Nnamdi Kanu both of who’s actions are bothering on the sovereignty and national security of the nation; even as they are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Furthermore, it is common knowledge that in Nigeria, before a team from the Police Headquarters in Abuja embarks on an operation or effects an arrest in any state, it needs to get the ‘consent’ or at least notify the Commissioner of Police in the state or any other person in the hierarchy who is in a position to do so like a DPO and such arrests are documented before the suspect is moved to Abuja. That is for accountability. They do not need to inform the Governor of the state.

For Governors to say they must be informed before any Federal Agency like the Military or DSS effects such arrests like Sunday Ighogho’s and co; even on the face of it, looks very untidy, problematic and suspicious.

Are they asking to be informed for formality sake?
Are they asking to be informed just to massage their ego as CSOs of the state? Can they stop such arrests even when informed? Do they have the powers to?
Are they asking to be informed for their permission?
Since their permission is not needed and if they refuse to grant it, what happens? Conflict right?
What about other possible conflicts of interests and political interference? These are politicians by the way. Again I think the Governors in my view were only playing to the gallery and pandering to the streets; both of which are unhealthy.

C. Timeline for the promulgation of the anti open grazing law in all member States.

Well, I do not know what legal or institutional status the Southern Governors’ Forum or indeed any of these Governors’ fora have but I think the Governors might need to think this through. Obviously they were pandering to populist opinion on the issue but does that make it right?

I believe the Governors have a right to make Laws working with their state legislators but if they choose to make a blanket law in their individual regions; laws which have widespread implications that would most certainly affect or concern other regions or citizens of the nation, I think it would make better sense to harmonize and agree with other regions and the federal government.

I am totally in support of banning open grazing because I believe it is an obsolete practice and it helps fuel insecurity but I think the approach should be coordinated and well thought out; not just done for immediate political expediency. One also needs to ask what measures or alternatives have been put in place in those states? Because if you ban or criminalize open grazing without viable alternatives, you only create room for conflict. I hope the Southern Governors are not assuming it is only Northerners or Fulanis that own cattle in the South? We will see when the laws are passed.

This brings me to the final point on matters that have to do with Federal legislation like rejection of the 3% share of the oil revenue to the host community in Petroleum Industry Bill (Bill) Law) the Governors raised.

D. I wonder what the Governors told Legislators from their respective states before and while the Bill was debated, considered and passed. The Legislature is where such arguments needed to be canvassed; not sitting in one government house and passing resolutions that bear no weight.

If their intention was to bring it to the court of public opinion with a view to pressuring the National Assembly, would it have been more effective before the Bill was passed or after? If the intention however is to pass the buck and set up the President (who’s duty it would be to sign the Bill into law), to be the fall guy, well I cannot say anything to that.

In closing, it is important that the Governors understand the seriousness of the matters involved, which I believe they do. The way and manner they handle them would make all the difference between success and failure. We need real success not impressionist gestures and overtures.

@Uche Diala

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