For the first time in 12 years, Governors of the Southern States of Nigeria on Monday met in Lagos, where they unanimously reiterated the call for true federalism and devolution of powers to States.
The Governors, in a communique at the end of the meeting read by the host Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, also resolved to collaborate with one another for the growth and development of their economies.
Aside Governor Ambode, the meeting was attended by Governors of Ogun, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Oyo, Seantor Abiola Ajimobi; Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Ebonyi, David Umahi; Edo, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Ondo, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Abia, Mr. Okezie Ikpeazu; Enugu, Mr. Henry Ugwuanyi; Bayelsa, Mr. Seriaki Dickson and Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose.
Governors of Cross River, Anambra and Delta were represented by their Deputies – Mr. Evara Esu; Dr. Ikem Okeke and Mr. Kingsley Otuaru respectively.
Continuing with the communique, Governor Ambode said the Governors after extensive deliberations, also emphasized priority on security and lives and property of citizens of the regions, while also resolving to work on effective linkage on good infrastructure across the 17 States in the region.
At the meeting, Governor Ambode was unanimously appointed as the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) while Governors Seriaki Dickson of Bayelsa and David Umahi of Ebonyi States were appointed as Co- Chairmen of the Forum.
The Forum also scheduled the next meeting for Port Harcourt in a yet to be announced date.
Earlier, Governor Ambode, while welcoming his colleagues to the meeting, reflected on the clamour for true federalism and devolution of powers, saying that states will benefit from the envisaged restructuring.
He said the goals of true federalism, which included the strengthening of autonomy and the enhancement of fiscal viability will enable the states to develop at their own pace and based on their peculiarities.
He said the forum had achieved an increased awareness on the sustenance of the national question germane to peaceful co-existence in the country.
However, he said there is a lot to be done and achieved, stressing that true federalism required urgent, meticulous and proactive attention by the forum.
Ambode frowned at what he described as the non-periodic review of the revenue formula as provided by the constitution to reflect evolving realities.
He said the review is crucial to enhance the viability of states and local government and their capacity to fulfil their developmental roles in the polity.
The governor added: “States are disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs from the Federal Government. This is a function of our present national constitution that burdens the Federal Government with activities and responsibilities that rightly fall within the province of states.
“The productivity and revenue-generating capacities of most states are thus stifled, thus turning them into no better than street beggar states incapable of even meeting routine obligations of paying workers’ salaries and pensions without federal support.”
Ambode recalled that Lagos State had fought and won several legal battles since 1999 that have systematically strengthened her autonomy and enhanced her fiscal viability.
He noted that the state had won the legal control over the management of its environment, the control of urban and physical planning, the regulation of overhead masts, the registration and regulation of hotels and restaurants, and the control of inland waterways.
Ambode said these victories belonged, not only to Lagos, but also to other states, adding that, if Lagos could achieve so much by fighting alone, the Southern Governors’ Forum will accomplish more through collective planning and strategy.
The governor said the forum has been reactivated at the time the National Assembly is harmonising its differences over the 1999 Constitution amendment, which will soon be transmitted to the Houses of Assembly for approval
He said: “It is important for this forum to comprehensively look at the proposed amendments with a view to working with our respective Houses of Assembly to ensure a coordinated response on our part that will strengthen the practice of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law.
Ambode clarified that, while pushing for greater devolution of powers, responsibilities and resources from the centre to the states, the goal of the forum is neither to a weak centre and strong states and vice versa.
The governor paid tribute to former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu for his initiave, recalling that he hosted the first meeting of the forum in Akodo Beach Resort, Ibeju-Lekki, whe he was at the helm of affairs.
He said while the initiative was received with mixed feelings at the time, Tinubu was vindicated later because of its achievements as the forum became a vocal voice on maters of critical importance, not only to the Southern Nigeria, but to the country as a whole.
Ambode hailed the forum for advocating for a special allocation to oil-producing states in the Federation Account, adding that its agitation led to the current 13 per cent revenue derivation and allocation from the Federation Account.
He said: “Another major victory won towards strengthening the country’s practice of true federalism was the declaration bybthe Supreme Court in 2002 that the then prevalent practice of the Federal Government deducting monies from the Federation Account as a first charge for the funding of Joint Venture Contracts, the NNPC priority projects, servicing of Federal Government’s external debt, the judiciary and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other federal obligations were illegal and unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court in that case abolished the special funds created by the Federal Government to enable it draw funds from the Federation Account to pay for matters that fell within its exclusive responsibility before sharing whatever was left with states and local governments.”