Without mincing words, there is anger in Igboland following the inexcusable absence of four South East Governors at the Thursday, September 16 meeting of the Southern Nigerian Governors’ Forum in Enugu, their own regional headquarters.
It is no more news that with the exception of the Chief Host and Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, other governors in the zone, Dave Umahi of Ebonyi who is the Chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum; Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia, Willie Obiano of Anambra and Hope Uzodimma of Imo were absent from the all important meeting.
Their absence which has been described by all and sundry as an embarrassment to the South East zone no doubt, arouses curiosity and outright anger considering the crucial issues discussed which affect the zone more than the two other geopolitical zones that made up the Southern region.
The memory of the meeting at the Enugu State Government House, which on that day wore a look that is exceptional and which has not been witnessed there before continues to linger in the minds of many people. Daily Sun reports that some people who had the privilege of entering the Government House and seeing the aesthetics deployed for that event prayed that it remained that way. In attendance were four governors and two Deputy Governors from South South and four governors and two deputies from South West. In the East, only Governor Ugwuanyi was in attendance. Imo, Abia and Ebonyi sent Deputy Governors whereas Anambra State did not even send a representative. Governor Obiano of Anambra State had not attended the meeting for the first time but people were not surprised because he does not even attend the forum of the South East Governors.
The governors who were physically present were Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta; Rotimi Akeredolu, Ondo; Babajide Sanwolu, Lagos; Gbega Oyetola, Osun; Emmanuel Udom, Akwa Ibom; Nyesom Wike, Rivers; Dapo Abiodun, Ogun; Douye Diri, Bayelsa and the host Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State.
Others were Deputy Governors, Rauf Olaniyan, Oyo; Bisi Egbeyemi, Ekiti; Philip Shuaib, Edo; Ude Okochukwu, Abia; Kelechi Igwe, Ebonyi, Placid Njoku, Imo and host Deputy Governor of Enugu, Cecilia Ezeilo.
Considering the importance of that meeting, groups and individuals have berated the absentee South East governors, describing their actions as amounting to insensitivity and selfishness.
The argument is that in that meeting, issues of anti-open grazing law, 2023 presidency, fiscal federalism among others which are so dear to the South East were the main agenda and their political leaders were not there to defend and project the zone.
Many had wondered how the South East would press on the other zones to allow them the slot of Presidency in 2023 when the governors of the South East stayed away from strategic meetings involving major stakeholders in the Southern region of the country.
The Southern Governors had in that meeting made a six-point resolution contained in a communiqué read to newsmen at the end of the meeting by the Chairman of the Forum and Governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimí Akeredólu (SAN), after they had reviewed the state of the nation and the progress of implementation of the decisions reached in their previous meetings.
The communiqué reads in parts, “The Forum expressed satisfaction with the rate at which the States in the Southern Nigeria are enacting or amending the Anti- Open Grazing Laws which align with the uniform template and aspiration of Southern Governors and encouraged the states that are yet to enact this law to do so expeditiously.
“Encouraged the full operationalisation of already agreed regional security outfits; which would meet, share intelligence and collaborate, to ensure the security and safety of the region.
“Reaffirmed its earlier commitment to Structural and fiscal federalism as resolved at the inaugural meeting of the Forum held on Tuesday, 11th May 2021 at Asaba, Delta State and emphasized the need for the Southern States to leverage the legislative competence of their respective State Houses of Assembly as well as representation in the National assembly to pursue its inclusion in the Nigerian Constitution through the ongoing constitutional amendment.
“Following from paragraph 3” above, the meeting resolved to support the position that the collection of VAT falls within the powers of the States.
“Expressed satisfaction with the handling of issues around the Petroleum Industry ACT (PIA) and ownership of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) by the larger Nigerian Governors’ Forum.
“Reiterated their earlier position that the next President of Nigeria must come from the Southern part of Nigeria in line with politics of equity, justice and fairness.”
But reacting to the actions of the South East Governors, a former member of the House of Representative from Enugu State, USA Igwesi described the actions of the Governors as shameful and disgraceful.
He said, “The absence of all the South East governors in the meeting portends division among them. All the South East governors have different agenda and pursing their different political interests to the detriment of the zone. United we stand, divided we fall. Is this how we will be president, when we can’t speak with one voice?
“There are important issues like the issue of anti open grazing. The issue of VAT and true federalism, the issue of Nnamdi Kanu and his counterpart. That behaviour shows lack of leadership and principle. The masses need to re examine their positions as our leaders and there should be a way for these people to account to us the way they are leading us. They are testing our patience without regard to decency. It is indeed shameful and embarrassing.
“I commend the host Governor for his brevity and courage because I know that even if he is not hosting the meeting, he would have been there because he understands that he holds the position on trust for the people.”
A former leader at the Anambra State House of Assembly, Ikem Uzoezie in his reaction said, “From all indications, what it means is that the South East Governors are not united in their quest to broaden the political discourse in the South East. Most times, the alignments were along political lines or along interests.
“I understand that some sent their deputies which is good representation all the same, but for Anambra not to have sent anybody and for the governor not to have appeared left much to be desired.
“When issues of insecurity in the South East are being discussed, I believe that the Chief Security Officers (Governors) of the respective states ought to have been there to galvanize their views and interest alongside those of the other zones in the Southern region as it were.
“On the issue of zoning the Presidency of which the issue of zoning it to the South East has been in the front burner, I felt that this is an opportunity and platform the South East Governors would have used to further the agitation. Though the Southern Governors are saying zone it to the South but when you are not there to protect your own, people will definitely scheme you out of the whole thing. I will advise that going forward, the governors should call this type of arrangement a very important engagement.”
Chief Chekwas Okorie, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had while expressing disappointment over the governors’ absence, said, “I am not okay with that development especially when the meeting was brought to the Southeast and the only governor present was the host governor. I expected his colleagues to solidarise with him since he was hosting it on behalf of the Southeast governors but that didn’t happen.
“Because of my personal reach to most of them, I will not be quick to make a strong criticism of what happened until I find out why. But whether I am happy with it, I am not. Whether it is practically embarrassing to every well-meaning person from the South East, it is quite embarrassing. I will like to find out what actually happened because it is not the right thing. That solidarity ought to be there.”
One of the first groups to express resentment on the actions of the South East Governors, Concerned Igbo Stakeholders Forum (CISF) expressed displeasure over what it called “nonchalance, lack luster displayed by the South East Governors with their absence at the meeting.
In a statement signed by their Leader, Chukwuma Okenwa, they said, “It is worrisome that with the exception of His Excellency, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who played host, his brother Governors of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi and Imo States were conspicuously absent while other Southern Governors braved the odds to attend .
“It is also painful to observe that their absence clearly suggests that these leaders do not have the interest of the masses at heart so much so as the matter under consideration borders on anti open grazing laws which directly affects the security of the region.
“The body language of the South-East governors in recent times leaves no one to doubt that these governors have magnified their interest above that of the region and Ndi-Igbo in general. Their gaze at the forthcoming elections in 2023 is becoming an unbearable distraction for them in delivering their mandate to the people.
“Again it is rather an affront to common sense for a region angling for presidency come 2023 to be absent in a forum where issue of presidency is at the front burner. This is totally unacceptable. We urge the Southeast Governors to rise up and do the needful.”
For Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), the spokesman, Abia Onyike, in his reaction said, “The absence of the South-East Governors in the Southern Governors meeting in Enugu is a disgrace to Ndigbo.
“The Igbo Governors now want to act in accordance with the will of their Caliphate masters and against Igbo interest. They are ashamed to identify with Igbo causes, hence their decision to stay out of the meeting.
“This is a terrible betrayal of our people. Their conduct is unheard of in the political history of the Igbo Nation. They have exposed themselves as being politically backward and unfit to occupy leadership positions in Igboland at this time when our people are being persecuted in the Nigerian federation.”
Also, the National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Alex Ogbonnia was quoted as saying, “We are still looking into it and we will come out with our findings. We weren’t happy that they weren’t there themselves but we will not conclude until we find out why. If they have a genuine reason, well… but if they don’t, we will make our own comment known. For now, we are still looking into it.”