By Sunny Awhefeada
It has become crystal clear that the euphoria that greeted the meeting of the Southern Governors’ Forum which held in Asaba, the capital of Delta State on 11 May was too early or grossly misplaced. The meeting which was attended by 13 out of the 17 governors also had 4 deputy governors representing their bosses. What is now known as the Asaba Declaration containing a 12-point communiqué, which, among other things, focused on insecurity, national dialogue and restructuring, was issued at the end of the meeting.
The icing on the cake was the governors’ resolution banning open grazing of cattle in Southern Nigeria. This particular item immediately turned the governors into advocates and champions of the rights, hopes and aspirations of their people. They were applauded roundly and hailed as having found their guts and voices. The conventional and social media were abuzz with items reviewing and commending the governors’ new found bravado. A friend did call from Lagos to ask if their Excellencies were treated to ukodo, pepper soup and ogogogoro which inspired and provoked their gusto! The Federal Government through its Attorney-General and Minister of Justice responded, apparently not in the interest of Nigeria, but that of the North. The minister inchoately and disingenuously compared herdsmen violating people’s farms, wives, mothers and daughters with spare parts dealers of Southern origin plying their trade in the North. Many other parochially minded individuals who have substituted the Federal Government of Nigeria with Fulani Government of Nigeria spoke similarly. President Muhammadu Buhari did too.
My response to the excitement that greeted the governors’ ban on open gracing was “wait and see” and how far they can they go? The truth is that more than a month after, the governors are yet to lift a finger to stop open grazing. The present piece is provoked by an incident which constitutes a significant violation of the Asaba Declaration and a pimp slap on the face of Southern Governors Forum.
The people of Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State woke up on Monday morning to behold a herd of cattle taking over the entrance of the Council headquarters.
The cows which squatted formed hillocks around the gate which not only adjoined the world famous Government College, Ughelli (GCU), but also shared boundary with the Nigeria Police Force where the Area Commander and Divisional Police Officer hold sway.
When the pictures first sprung up in the social media many people thought it was another trick intended to generate arguments and counter-arguments.
Those who doubted the authenticity of the pictures were encouraged to visit the Council headquarters. Those who went there to see for themselves were rewarded with the sights of the cows forming many hillocks directly at the entrance of the Council headquarters. It was unbelievable. What with the Asaba Declaration that banned open grazing of cattle! The herders looked on stolid and imperturbable. They chewed their kola nuts and smiled in defiance. Officers and men of the Nigeria Police, the Council authorities and the people were helpless as the herders and their cattle took charge that morning.
When eventually, the cows vacated the Council’s seat of power, they were majestically herded through the Ughelli metropolis and in the process obstructed human and vehicular movements. Frightened pedestrians, not wanting to be attacked by the herd, took to their heels. Rattled motor-cycle riders had a field day trying to manouvre to safety. Car owners honked as they struggled to negotiate their way. The picture of the cows in front of the Council headquarters graced the cover of the next day’s Vanguard newspaper.
The herders affront on Ughelli is not an isolated case. It was so before the Asaba Declaration. And it has remained so after the Asaba Declaration. It is not an Ughelli problem. It was just fortuitous that its symbolic manifestation, occupying the seat of power, took place in Ughelli. The incident taken as a phenomenon happens daily across Nigeria and those who should stop it not only look the other way, but encourage the defiance which is fast degenerating into anarchic dimension. Had the youths of Ughelli not called themselves to order, the cows would have become beef ending up in soup pots.
A fierce fight would follow and the end would be unpredictable in terms of destruction of lives and property. The Ughelli incident can be read as a deliberate affront to provoke the South and spark off a crisis. It is still too early for us to forget the Shasha incident in Oyo State.
Nigeria has descended into anarchy. The centre has lost the essence of genuine governance as government only now exists in name and unfelt gestures. When the Southern Governors birthed the Asaba Declaration they postured as if they were out on a redemptive engagement. But the very week the Declaration was made saw cows all over the South grazing openly as if nothing was amiss. If the Ughelli incident was intended to test the will of the South, it succeeded as a great act. Only a whimper came from local official circles. The State government and the entire South did not even utter a syllable. Hence the Asaba Declaration now reads like a joke or an exercise in self-mockery. As I write cows still walk leisurely in state capitals in the South.
The Southern Governors have rendered themselves powerless before cattle owners, herders and cows. As the heads of a tier in a federal system, the governors should take charge of what happens in their states. If, individually, they fear repercussions from Abuja, they can align into regional groupings as already enabled by the geo-political zones and take charge of their spheres. In this, the South-West governors have tried with some measure of tokenism.
The South-South governors remain complicit in their inability to drive a regional development initiative. Once upon a time, the Bayelsa Rivers Akwa Ibom Cross River Edo Delta (BRACED) Commission was born to drive the region’s development initiative, but the idea suffered DOA (Dead on Arrival). At the state level, some of the states set up oil producing areas development commissions which now serve as vaults where politicians loot funds to contest elections instead of developing the states.
The Southern Governors’ through their inability to enforce the Asaba Declaration on open grazing ban once again demonstrated an embarrassing degree of subservience to other interest that does not concur with the good of their people. In 2014, Northern Governors led by Babangida Aliyu, then Governor of Niger State, called the bluff of the Federal Government under President Goodluck Jonathan and flew to the United States of America where they held meetings with American state officials and designed plots that turned out to be inimical to the Jonathan regime. The Northern Governors spoke and acted. They talked and walked their talk. When will Southern Governors do the same concerning the ban on open grazing? Or will they continue to wallow in self-mockery?