Asaba Declaration: Southern govs resist Senate’s anti-restructuring stance

The Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, on Saturday, pushed back on the anti-restructuring comments by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and other critics of the resolutions reached by the Southern Governors’ Forum during last Tuesday’s meeting.

Okowa spoke on behalf of 16 other governors from the Southern zone of the country who he hosted in Asaba, Delta State capital.

This is as Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, also, on Saturday, said the decisions reached by the Southern governors, including the demand for restructuring, were irrevocable.

Seventeen Southern governors, who jettisoned their party affiliations, had met to discuss urgent national issues and reached some resolutions, which are now referred to as the Asaba Declaration.

The governors, at the end of the meeting, issued a communiqué, demanding the restructuring of the country, a review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments, and banned open grazing across their states, among other things.

The governors also called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), to convoke a national dialogue to address widespread agitations amongst various groups in the region.

But Lawan on Thursday faulted calls for restructuring by the Southern governors, asking them to rather concentrate on working hard to first restructure their states before asking the Federal Government to do so.

The Senate President said this at the Presidential Villa in company with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

But the House of Representatives, through the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, on Friday, distanced Gbajabiamila from the anti-restructuring comments.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, also faulted the decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing across the south, cautioning the governors to stop engaging in blame games.

However, pushing back on comments by Lawan and other restructuring opponents, Okowa said the move by the Southern governors was to give force to the voice of the people on the issues, noting that both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party had earlier at different fora expressed their support for restructuring.

He said the resolutions reached by the Southern governors were not to disintegrate Nigeria but to strengthen the country’s unity.

The governor stated this in Asaba, the Delta State capital, at an empowerment programme sponsored by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu.

He said, “Unfortunately, I read in the papers that somebody said we ought not to talk about certain things, being elected people. If the voice of your people has been heard loudly and they have continued to talk, and you’re an elected person but you shy away from giving further voice to their voices, then you ought not to be in the position that you occupy. So, I must thank our people in the House of Reps who have responded to the speech made by their colleagues in the National Assembly.

“As I did say, all the things that we discussed; nothing is against the unity of this country. We reaffirm that as a people, as elected governors, we believe in the unity of our country. But we also went forth to advance the need for certain things to be done in order to give strength to that unity. That cannot be a reason for us to be vilified. Obviously not!”

Okowa further said, “We talked about restructuring, which has been on the table for so long. Both the PDP and APC have endorsed restructuring. Our restructuring is all-inclusive and all-encompassing. We may have different views and approaches to restructuring, but when we sit at a table to dialogue, we will be able to agree on what is best for Nigeria.

“The conversations are obviously needed because if we do not talk and we allow the voices of our people to continue to speak, and the leadership shies away, then we are giving room for further crisis. So, I thought that it was time for other leaders across the country to thank the Southern governors for uniting to give a voice to the conversations because it is only when these conversations come at that level and driven in the interest of the majority of the people that we can have a truly united nation in which there is fairness and equity and trust amongst our people and the leadership.”

Earlier in his opening speech, Elumelu thanked Okowa for hosting other governors to take the decisions.

The Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu, who represented the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the event also expressed his support for the recommendations.

In a related development, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has said the decision of the 17 Southern governors on open grazing and others issues reached in Asaba must be respected, describing them as “irrevocable.”

He said those opposed to resolutions taken by the Southern governors should realise that no section of the country was inferior to others.

Wike said these on Saturday during a grand reception held in his honour by the Ogoni people in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of the state.

“We have taken a position and there’s no going back. Enough is enough. We are not second-class citizens of this country. We also own this country,” the governor said in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri.

Not impressed with the slow pace of the Ogoni environmental cleanup, Wike charged the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, which is in charge of the cleanup of polluted sites in Ogoni, to relocate its operational office from Port Harcourt to Bori, the headquarters of the Ogoni people.

The governor, who was conferred with the title of ‘Mene Kwalenu 1st of Ogoni (literally meaning ‘a benevolent king’) by the President of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, King Godwin Giniwa, gave the assurance that his administration would continue to ensure the even development of every part of the state.

Some Ogoni leaders, including Senator Magnus Abe, and a former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, lauded Wike for his strides at Ogoniland.

 ALGON, NULGE back govs on power devolution, allocation review

On a similar note, the chairmen of the 774 local government areas in the country under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria have thrown their weight behind the demand for fiscal and political restructuring of the country but with a caveat that the third tier of government should get the largest chunk of the federal allocation.

Also, the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees, the umbrella union body for all local government employees across the country, joined their chairmen to demand restructuring as well as a review of the federal allocation formula that will favour the third tier of government.

The declaration by the 774 local government chairmen (ALGON) and their workers’ union (NULGE) came on Saturday, barely 24 hours after the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission told Sunday PUNCH on Friday that work would soon commence on the review of the federal allocation formula.

Under the current revenue sharing formula, the Federal Government takes 52.68 percent; states, 26.72 percent; and local governments, 20.60 percent, with 13 percent derivation revenue going to the oil-producing states.

However, the NULGE President, Hakeem Ambali, proposed 60 percent allocation for local councils, while his ALGON counterpart, Mr Kolade Alabi, recommended 35.5 percent.

The two officials, while speaking in separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH on Saturday, advocated power devolution to the 774 local governments in the country.

Ambali described as a welcome development the demand for the fiscal and political restructuring of the country by the Southern governors during their meeting in Asaba, Delta State, last Tuesday.

He argued that since over 70 percent of Nigerians reside in rural communities, 60 percent of federal allocations should go to local governments while the states should get 30 percent, noting that the local governments need more allocations to meet the people’s expectations.

He stated, “It’s a welcome development that the governors are clamouring for restructuring. If there would be restructuring, it must come with devolution of power to local governments, not even to the states.

“Since over 70 percent of Nigerians reside in the rural communities, 60 percent of federal allocations should go to local governments so that the states would be having 30 percent while the federal government should have 20 percent, and we would keep five percent in consolidated savings.

“That’s the proposal from local governments because we know there is a lot of expectations and hope from the rural populace. We need to open up rural roads, we need to develop health facilities that are moribund and we need to fix the issue of security because you know all security matters are local.”

Ambali said the demand by the state governors should start from their respective states with devolution of power and fiscal autonomy to their LGAs, stressing that until this was done, the nation might not progress.

He said, “If we want to get it right, we must strengthen and deepen democracy at the local government level. If we are able to do that and also fix primary education, then Nigeria is on the path of meaningful growth and development. Until that is done, we cannot get it right in Nigeria.

“The paltry sum of money given to local governments is nothing to write home about, so there is a need to increase the allocation to local governments. And restructuring must start with governors granting full autonomy to local governments in their various states. Just like the Senate President said, the restructuring must start from the states granting full political and financial autonomy to local governments. Restructuring is not about giving more funds and excessive powers to state governors at the detriment of local governments.”

Asked about the steps taken by his organisation to actualise their demands, Ambali said, “We presented the first proposal to the National Assembly on the issue of full political autonomy for local governments. You know a public referendum is coming up; the one in the South-West is coming up in Lagos, and NULGE will be fully represented across the country.

“We have submitted our proposal and position paper to the National Assembly; we hope it would sail through. If we are able to fix the local governments as a functional tier of government, hope and confidence would be restored in Nigeria and it would enhance inclusiveness in our body polity and also end the clamour for the disintegration of the country.”

Speaking for ALGON, Alabi said higher allocation to the local governments would empower them to tackle insecurity and also execute various people-oriented developmental projects in their jurisdictions, noting that the issues facing the country “are local.”

He said, “We are in tandem with the fiscal restructuring the governors are yearning for. If you look at the allocation formula, the Federal Government receives the chunk of the money. We believe the reverse should be the case. The problems in Nigeria are local government issues.

“If you look at security, for instance, it is local. There is no crime that is committed that is not committed in a local government. So if we treat security as a local issue, we won’t have any problem. It means that local government should be empowered to tackle all these things.”

Alabi further explained that more allocations to the local governments would make the Presidency less attractive as there would be more focus on grassroots development.

“So, for me, what we should have at the centre should be less attractive because the enormous responsibility is on the local governments and states. So, the states and local governments should get higher allocations than the Federal Government. We align with the Southern states’ demand for fiscal restructuring. We already sent our proposal to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. We proposed 35.5 percent for local governments,” the ALGON chief disclosed.

Work to commence soon on allocation formula review –RMAFC

Meanwhile, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission on Friday said work would soon commence on the planned review of the revenue allocation formula.

The commission’s spokesperson, Christian Nwachukwu, disclosed this in an interview with one of our correspondents.

Seventeen governors from the South, under the auspices of the Southern States Governors’ Forum, had on Tuesday after a meeting in Asaba, Delta State capital, called for a review of the revenue allocation formula in favour of states, among other demands.

Sunday PUNCH asked Nwachukwu if RMAFC would consider the governor’s request and expedite action on the planned review.

“Work will soon commence on this fully. It is a process and until the full result is out, no comment on your multiple questions,” Nwachukwu said.

Group lauds southern govs, calls for immediate action

In a related development, the South-South Study Group, aka 3SG, has hailed southern governors for coming together to demand restructuring and banning open grazing across the South.

In a statement by the President, 3SG, Otoks Dan Princewill, the think tank urged the Southern governors to “go one step further to initiate collective action to make restructuring a concrete reality since the immediate consequences of restructuring are security and job creation, which Nigerians sorely need at this point.”

Princewill said, “On this note, the southern governors must realise that now, more than ever before, regardless of party affiliations, the citizens of southern Nigeria look up to this collective body of Southern governors to protect them from rampaging marauders and bandits, to push forward their collective interests and hold many more positive conferences also involving other southern stakeholders in the immediate future for the sake of the rapidly deteriorating national state of affairs.

“Nigerians at home and in the diaspora are waiting on edge with bated breath in expectation that this presents hope for a new beginning.”

PUNCH

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