Those who attended the meeting of Southeast and South-South governors held in Enugu last Sunday, where the two zones agreed to work together, would readily agree that a new beginning that may positively affect the two regions has started.
This is not because meetings of such nature have not held in the past among groups in the regions, but because the enthusiasm to drive this new beginning is now being driven by their political leaders.
At the meeting were governors Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (Rivers); Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu); Udom Emmanuel (Akwa Ibom); and David Umahi (Ebonyi), Owelle Rochas Okorocha (Imo) Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia), Henry Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa), Benedict Ayade (Cross River) and deputy governor of Anambra, Dr. Nkem Okeke.
At various times and levels, people of southeast and south-south zones had cooperated and seen themselves as brothers, despite political creations that excised one from the other. For instance, the agitation for Biafra actualisation being championed by Igbo youths has always received support of the south-south.
Apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, on the other hand, has always promoted this brotherhood and had engaged leaders of the zones in meetings. So also the South East South-South Professionals (SESSPN), led by Dr. Emeka Ugwuoju, which at various times had articulated ways of cooperation on economic development agenda for the two zones.
The professional group, which has always rotated meetings among the states, as well as involved indigenes in the Diaspora, believes that the two zones would serve their needs better, if they cooperate in areas of agriculture, energy, healthcare, education, tourism and power, among others, especially going by the nature of the areas and the ingenuity of their people.
In what has been termed a bold move, last week, their governors gathered at the meeting held in Nike Lake Hotel, which was the second in less than two months, and agreed to “politically work together as a people bounded by same culture and affinity.”
Akwa Ibom State governor, Emmanuel Udom, who read statement from the meeting, said it centered on discussions for regional and political cooperation. He noted that they reviewed the state of the nation, particularly as it affects the two regions and agreed to “pursue inter-regional cooperation.”
He said: “This forum will be for integration and economic benefit of the two regions. We have also resolved to politically work together and realign as a people that shared common heritage, culture and affinity. I was unanimously chosen by “my brother governors as the interim chairman of the forum.”
Although he said the group’s next meeting would be in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital on August 27, analysts believe the current scheme of things in the country, which has forced the two zones into agitating for restructuring, could have given rise to the creation of the common platform.
Those who hold this view said it is predicated on the fact that governors produced in the zones before now never deemed it necessary holding such gathering, apparently due to their belief that they were in the comfort zone.
They insisted that while the southeast had claimed marginalisation in the scheme of things, especially on political appointments and federal presence, the South-South has not received the kind of attention it deserves, as the hen that lays the golden egg in its contribution to national economy.
The feeling is that the pattern of voting during the 2015 elections, where the two zones massively opted for opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) exacerbated their predicament.
Enugu governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, brought this uncomfortable state of affairs to the fore, while justifying need for the meeting in his opening address, when he said: “Today, it is difficult to travel from Enugu to Port Harcourt, following dearth of roads in the region.
Currently, about five percent of power generation in the country is allocated to the southeast, and in the same manner, people cannot also fly from the southeast or south-south to other zones, but must fly to Abuja to get connecting flight to any of the regions, unless you can afford chartered flight.
We have poor socio-economic infrastructure and the tourism sector is under-developed in the Southeast and South-south zones.
“These two regions are joined not only by history, geography and brotherhood, but also by challenges. I believe that a sustained Southeast and South-south consultation will foster the much-needed inter-regional cooperation and will accelerate competitive development, thoughtfulness, economic prosperity, industry and socio-political harmony.
Even the Bible teaches that two heads are better than one. So, working together, we have a chance of addressing socio-economic challenges facing the regions.”
Ebonyi State governor, David Umahi, took the position further, when he said the coming together was to talk about economic survival of the two regions, as well as look at possible ways of “bringing our ingenuity and making use of our huge deposits of both human and natural resources to attain economic viable zones in Nigeria.”
Umahi noted that there are assets in the zones that are presently redundant in the areas of roads, seaports and industrial expansion among others, explaining that the desire was to do something new and differently.
However, Edo and Delta States were not at the meeting. Analysts insist that the two regions fared better under the defunct Eastern Region before they were divided by political creations.
Immediate past Secretary-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nworgu, who recalled the relationship between the two zones, stated that they had not only worked together economically, but also bonded politically. He added that the constitution that created three regions in the country saw the late Prof Eyo Ita as leader of government business in the east.
He told The Guardian that the defunct Eastern Region voted together under the now rested National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), a political platform formed before independence, adding that the1963 incident, where the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe colluded with some Igbos to remove Eyo Ita from headship of the Eastern Region, sowed the seed of discord between the two regions.
He said: “That was the point of departure, as it angered the minority tribes and led to the formation of Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers (COR)
movement, where they decided to be in opposition against the Igbos. This resentment and antagonism movement was led by E.O Eyo from Uyo and this made them align against Igbo, as they tilted toward the Action Group.
He added that it was a further attempt to break the hegemony that led Federal Government into fusing Rivers, Cross River and Akwa Ibom with Delta and Edo, which were originally part of the defunct Mid-western states.
“So, it was to breach this gap created by the late Zik that informed the philosophy of Ohanaeze to unconditionally support the candidature of a minority person, Goodluck Jonathan, in the 2011 and 2015 elections,” he explained. “It was a well-thought out attempt aimed at asking for forgiveness for that 1953 (mis) adventure and that is why I said no regrets voting for Jonathan. What we are considering had no connection with the crumbs of political office from the presidency. We are pursuing more lasting objectives.
“A synergy with our brothers from South-South is for greater economic and political benefit, because an eastern economic bloc will be more competitive in performance than a segmented hand- in-gloves approach for political offices. This synergy is exactly what we require and when it must have been achieved, they should reach out to the West, Middle Belt and then Northeast.
“In terms of economic integration, we need the ports in Port Harcourt and Onne. Our Imo River in Owerri crossed into the Atlantic Ocean at Opobo, and if we can dredge the river, we will boost business in the regions.
We will no longer need to go to Lagos to clear our goods. There is a bigger market in Onitsha and Aba, and we will grow the eastern cluster. We have the Aba, Onitsha/Nnewi cluster. We will also retain our population and prevent them from moving out of the zone in search of jobs.
There will be foreign attractions to investments in the zone. So, it is kudos to Ohanaeze Ndigbo that has always said and sang the mantra of ‘think home, invest home.’ There is no better time to do this than now that Igbos are being threatened in the country. It is the right step in the right direction.”
Also speaking, elder statesman, Chief Ralph Obioha, stressed that such a move is needed to usher in development, peace and stability in the country. He stated that such gatherings would have reduced the clamour for restructuring going by the objectives being pursued by those behind it.
He said: “The series of agitation is for the betterment and welfare of the people, and even when there has been clamour for political power, it has not been as loud as the clamour for economic emancipation. So, be that as it may, any reasonable gathering of such nature, which advances good governance, should be encouraged.
This is because the impact would be felt on areas of health, education and security, among others. If they can advance this forum to a level, where they can make monthly financial contributions, you will be amazed at where they can be in the shortest possible time.
“These are nine states that have been under one government before now. They have natural endowments that have remained untapped; they have the ingenuity, as well as the market. All that required to be done is to have such infrastructure as ring roads, sea and airports where they can effectively benefit from it, and you would see a boom in the region.”
Obioha said he did not see any obstacle in the way of the forum, since its essence was advancement of development and economic wellbeing of the people, adding that membership of two states belonging to different political parties – Anambra and Imo, which are APGA and APC respectively, was not a threat to the union.
“If the states buried their political leanings to agree to work together, it shows they have realised it will be a win-win situation, which will further advance their political fortunes, if sustained. I quite agree it should be extended to the southwest zone,” he explained.
A political analyst, Dr. Jude Kalu, stated that the affected zones could have become “economic giants before now,” had they taken into accounts suggestions and certain proposals and memos made by different groups asking for the cooperation.
He said his major fear was if the forum would not become “another political jamboree, as well as a platform to actualise 2019 general election.”
“Some of the governors are presently on the last lap of their tenure, and where that is the case, others coming after them may not see this vision as a reality. But where they all believe in it, then the job would have become easier,” he said.
On the long run, however, he believed a sustained meeting of the two zones could be used to negotiate political power.
“Modern day politics take into consideration areas of comparative advantage, which could be harnessed for the development of the society,” he said. “You can see the trend in the movement of political power in the country.
It is such that has not factored the two zones, except the circumstances that brought former President Goodluck Jonathan to power. Now in the event, where you don’t have the population, which of course determines the election, your next alternative is economic power.
If the two zones can pull resources and position their economy in such a way that it could be attractive to other zones, it could be used to negotiate political power. That to me is very important.
“The efforts to transform the country have been frustrated and will remain so, as long as a section continues to benefit from it. To look inwards and work out survival strategies remain the best option and the togetherness in these two divides is very vital.”