The recent summit of Nigeria’s Southern governors in Asaba hosted by Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and the declaration have continued to generate diverse reactions here and there. In this piece, Williams Eghebi gives his perspectives of the landmark convocation.
When the federal troops on the morning of 7 October 1967 gathered hundreds of Asaba men at Ogbe-Osowa village, Asaba, they had thought that the army was going to reassure them of their safety.
Instead, the soldiers rained bullets on them, killing about a thousand people with many as young as twelve years old. The relics of the gruesome murders are still visible in Asaba.
That the Governors from Southern Nigeria chose Asaba to discuss the country against the backdrop of unprovoked killings, kidnappings, arson and rape was not happenstance. The political leaders from the south have no better place to strategize on how to avert the impending war than Asaba.
The meeting cutting across party lines was like a snowfall in the tropics as there was no widespread news of such engagement. When the news filtered that the political leaders were in Asaba, it was severally judged to be fake considering the apparent assumption that it was impossible to bring them together due to political correctness.
That the meeting held in Asaba provided the opportunity to advertise the capital lying on River Niger bank which recently attained its deserved status. I was truly surprised to the marrows that Senator Ifeanyi Okowa who is very calm, flaunting his unrepentant love for a united Nigeria, could rise above personal political future to provide the platform for his southern brothers to discuss national issues which are capable of sinking a rudderless ship.
Another source of awesome was the mercurial capacity of Senator Okowa to ensure that nearly all the seventeen governors put up appearances. The duo who could not personally attend provided incontrovertible reasons to justify their absence.
Unlike several such convergences in the past, it appears that the Asaba Declaration has all the hallmarks of seriousness and urgency as the chairman of the forum, Rotimi Akeredulu of Ondo State, in less than twenty-four hours after the meeting, appeared on several electronic media to defend the communique and plans to ensure federal lawmakers from the area key into the project. As posited by Aketi, few hours later, senators from the South gave a seal of approval to the Asaba Declaration.
Though there are several items on the communique but it appeared that the Fulani North has found the wholesome ban on open grazing too bitter a pill to swallow. Many Fulani leaders and groups are threatening fire and brimstone against allowing the armed herdsmen to rape our women, destroy our farms and seize our lands. These blood-thirsty people would have no temerity to flaunt their killing prowess if the federal government and conventional security agencies do not give them cover.
I understand the sentiments of President Mohammadu Buhari and his bagbearers. He was the patron of Fulani herdsmen as well as the nominated representative of the Boko Haram in the botched meeting between the group and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan led- federal government. I am also aware of the affinity between the President and animals. It is severally reported that he spends more than half his day watching animal television channels instead of attending to pressing state matters. When he is on holidays in Daura, instead of creating opportunity to get briefings from the locals, he makes animal husbandry pastime. It’s therefore instructive why the president makes protection of herdsmen his most important agenda irrespective of the lives lost in the process. The logic however invites controversy as he does not extend same love and protection to poultry farmers, pig breeders and dog trainers that are also in the North.
Few days ago, online print media raised alarm on the mental state of the president, attributing the source to physicians in the UK. Though it is difficult to confirm the allegation, the lukewarm disposition of the President to the slide of the nation gives credence to the need for alternative source for solution. Nigerians should rise up to help the ageing President.
Nigeria is not short of intellectually sarvy people with the capacity to lead us from this self-inflicted quagmire. The options are few and simple. True fiscal federalism, referendum on split into several nations or snap election. It must however be according to the constitution as there is no alternative to democracy. Like the Asaba Declaration rightly pointed, there is a feeling of disenchantment, decline patriotism, nepotism and insensitivity to the rights of section of the country.
It is very difficult to convince any discerning person that the federal government under President Buhari is fair to all the sections of the country. A television station was recently sanctioned for providing a platform for Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) while Boko Haram and their supporters including Sheik Abubakar Gumi busy our airwaves.
The Southern Governors should move a step further by motivating state legislatures and local government council chairmen to give similar approval to Asaba Declaration. All ethic groups, community based organisations, stakeholders and civil society organisations should travel the same path.
There is no alternative to peace. What the governors did last Tuesday was the best way to achieve peace. By that action, several retrogressive forces will unleash mayhem to cow our resolve. We must therefore guide our loin. There is no better time to be vigilant than now.
Governor Okowa by this action has shown that the camouflage does not make the soldier but the effective use of the gun. He is our true soldier.
Eghebi, a social activist, wrote from Agbor, Delta State