2023: Agenda for incoming South South Governors

By Chris Ezeonoh, Port Harcourt

With the conclusion of the governorship primaries of the different political parties ahead of the 2023 general elections, it is generally believed that the candidates who emerged from the primaries are now locked in the political laboratory with their teams working on their manifestoes as the campaigns are expected to kick off in September.

As the governorship candidates in the South-South region also grapple with the task of envisioning a blueprint they would present to the electorates as the campaigns get underway, there is a clarion call for them to anticipate a working relationship amongst themselves that would transcend political leanings and affiliations after the battle of electioneering.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the South-South also referred to as Niger Delta has peculiar developmental challenges, and more so, falling into the category of minority states in the lopsided federal structure, an alliance of the states to form a formidable socio-economic force has remained a desideratum.

Some analysts say this alliance, if in place and backed up with the advantage of the enormous resources inherent in the region, has the potential to reverse the cockeyed minority status to having an intimidating voice in the socio-economic and political equation in the polity.

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More than a decade ago, this desired synergy among the South-South states was dreamt and birthed, but it died no sooner than it was birthed. In the year 2009, the then six governors in the region, Chief Timipre Sylva of Bayelsa State, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, Chief Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State and Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State under the aegis of the South-South Governors Forum broke the ice and embraced economic integration of the region to engender common prosperity.

They came up with an acronym, BRACED states, derived from the first letter of each state, B from Bayelsa, R from Rivers, A from Akwa Ibom, C from Cross River, E from Edo and D from Delta- B-R-A-C-E-D. From this, they went further to set up the BRACED Commission to drive integrated development of the entire region and Rotimi Amaechi graciously donated and furnished an imposing secretariat building in Port Harcourt for the commission.

The governors took their resolve for economic prosperity of the region further and organized the first South-South Economic Summit which drew participants across the globe. The three-day summit held at the prestigious Tinapa Business Resort in Calabar, Cross River State from April 22 to 25, 2009 veritably opened a vista of hope for socio-economic renaissance of the region.

The summit was declared open by Late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and also attended by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. Eggheads from the academia, business moguls, diplomats and experts in various fields of human endeavour delivered incisive papers at the summit.

The six governors promoting the summit also took turns to present papers where they highlighted the economic potentials of their various states, inviting the world to come to explore and harness the resources.

Then, the chairman of the South-South Governor’s Forum, Senator Liyel Imoke had set the tone for the summit in his welcome address. “It would be recalled that at the various meetings of the South-South Governor’s Forum, my colleagues and I considered it necessary for us to collectively pursue regional economic integration and work more closely with one another to strengthen our economies by exploring opportunities for growth.

This new approach is imperative if we must collectively achieve our vision and aspirations, not only for the South-South Zone but also for our individual states.

Imoke also said, “We are also aware that we have up till now, not been able to optimize our potentials with regards to the strength which our partnering with one another is capable of evincing. We have a multi-trillion naira economy that if well harnessed will create wealth for our people and transform them. Yet, as it is often said, greater strength lies in unity and a commonness of purpose, particularly as we can achieve even more by exploring our various areas of comparative advantage for our common good. This, my colleagues and I are committed to. We have the political will. We are committed and we are united”

It is interesting to note that at the end of the summit, the organizers came up with a compendium of the major papers presented at the summit and the road map to realizing all the topical issues raised in a book aptly entitled “Braced for Global Competitiveness”.

All that was needed thereafter was ACTION to transform the region into an enviable spectacle as envisaged. Regrettably, the noble idea inexplicably died shortly after and could not even outlive the tenure of the six governors who envisioned it.

Some commentators have attributed the premature death of the BRACED idea to political differences among the governors, but then it was only Adams Oshiomhole that was in ACN then. The other five governors were all in PDP. What rivalry could there have been that arose no sooner than they presented themselves to the world as people who were serious and having “political will”, “committed” and “united” as espoused by Imoke to pursue an integrated economic agenda?

That was one momentous opportunity to recalibrate the totality of the Niger Delta landscape, but it was thrown into the abyss. The current chief executives in the various states have not even been seen or heard mention anything related to the BRACED Commission. Each one of them is a one man riot squad in his own ‘fiefdom’.

If the states had remained ‘BRACED’ till now, one could imagine the mileage that the region would have achieved since 2009 with the NDDC and Niger Delta ministry playing complementary roles in the integrated development agenda.

Again if the states had remained ‘BRACED’ it is possible that they could have invested in the development of modular refineries and even acquire major stakes in the assets the divesting IOCs are leaving behind.

If they had remained ‘BRACED’, it is possible that they would have pressured more vigorously to get something higher than the paltry 3 percent allotted to the oil-producing states in the Petroleum Industry Act, (PIA) or even achieve outright resource control with the force they would carry.

In the same breath, could anyone have imagined to insult the sensibilities of the people with the nonsensical Water Resources bill in the National Assembly if they were bound by strong socio-economic ties?
Even in the face of insecurity ravaging most parts of the country, the BRACED states wouldn’t have been among the knee-jerked states fearing any onslaught by bandits or some invaders as such threats would have been provided for in the integrated security master plan.

The ‘BRACED’ concept represented an omnibus panacea to many socio-economic maladies afflicting the South-South states. It was well thought out and the visioners scored a bull’s eye with the idea. But it is thumbs down for them for chickening out when it mattered most.

Those who would mount the saddle as governors in 2023 in the region should find the report of the Tinapa Summit, adopt and run with it in line with current realities. It is still our Niger Delta, the land of great promise.

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