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*Nigeria: South-South Agenda - BRACED For Regional Growth
By Ifeatu Agbu
Talk about regional growth and development took centre stage at the second South–South Economic Summit which was held in Asaba, Delta State recently. The six states that make up the economic group with the acronym BRACED – Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta – said they wanted to see a restructured Nigeria where the central government is unbundled to strengthen the states for better service delivery.
At the first summit held in Calabar, Cross River State in 2009 strategies for the development of the region were articulated. Subsequently, a co-ordinating structure known as the BRACED Commission was set up where every state has at least one commissioner. Ambassador Joe Keshi, the Director General of the commission, who welcomed delegates and participants to Asaba, said that “the journey to economic transformation is long with its ups and downs as well as twists and turns.”
A communiqué signed by the governors called for a review of the revenue allocation formula to give more powers, responsibilities and funding to the states and councils because they are the appropriate centres for growth. They reaffirmed the imperative of regional co-operation as a practical path towards national development and welcomed the emergence of other regional development commissions. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Nigeria Vice President Namadi Sambo
While urging the restructuring and unbundling of the Federal Government, they argued that there was need to review the current policies and regulations on power and gas to enable the states generate, transmit and distribute power to complement the efforts of the Federal Government and facilitate the utilization of moribund capacity in the region.
According to the governors, the Federal Government should expedite action in empowering states to provide their own power. Such a move will promote and accelerate economic development in the South-South Region. In pursuit of this, the summit accepted the development of a Niger Delta Energy Corridor, a project with potentials for connecting the people, industry and natural resources and creating jobs.
The Chairman of the South-South Governors Forum and the Cross River State governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, said the success of the second South-South Economic Summit has proved “sceptics” of its propriety wrong. Imoke made the remark at the closing ceremony of the three-day summit. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's South-South Region
He recalled that at the first summit held in Calabar, some critics had dubbed it a “talk show” and said that it could not be sustained. “But the success of this second South-South economic summit hosted by Delta has proved those sceptics wrong as it has shown that the people of the region were more committed and united.” President Goodluck Jonathan, who was in Cote- D’Ivoire on an official engagement, was represented by the Vice President, Arch. Namadi Sambo. He commended the south-south states for not only initiating the summit but setting up an agency, BRACED Commission, to pursue their vision of integrated regional development.
He said that his administration has been pursuing an economic growth agenda “without oil”, with “opportunities in the country being exploited to achieve an economic diversification programme.” Namadi Sambo told the audience which included foreign dignitaries, members of the National Assembly, captains of industry and top bank executives that very soon the epileptic power situation in the country would be a thing of the past. He assured that licences would soon be issued to states for the generation and distribution of electricity in their respective areas of administration. The Vice President was more or less forced to speak more on the problem of unreliable electricity because of an embarrassing power outage at the opening session of the summit which cast a slur on both the organisers and the nation, more so when international investors were present.
Nigeria’s number two citizen and the representative of the Rwandan President, as well as other dignitaries were sweating it out in the dark hall, apparently gripped with fear, especially when news had just filtered in that the Thisday office in Abuja was bombed that morning. The host governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan later explained in an interview with the Vanguard newspapers that it was only a technical problem. “You see, nobody is perfect, we are humans. We had three generators in that place for the summit, the three just decided to give problem at a very critical time.”
The general hiccups and the inconveniencing security checks at every turn, left very many people wearing long faces. This was temporary though, as the event hall came alive when the keynote speakers took the podium. Much of the credit goes to Prof Wole Soyinka, the snow white haired international scholar and Nobel laureate. He held the audience spell bound for about 60 minutes and they seemed to love every moment of it. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing its composite 8 states.
Prof. Wole Soyinka charged the governors of the geo-political zone to translate the agenda for the summit into action. He said it was time for the region to engage in policies and strategies of development that would progressively reduce the central government's powers to determine the "fate" of the people. "Each regional grouping should, by its policies, declare an uncompromising developmental autonomy. This will leave the centre only with its competence provenance of foreign policy, national security and inter-state affair."
Another keynote speaker, the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Mr Paul Kagame said that the way forward for Nigeria and South-South geo-political zone, was the enthronement of accountable and responsible leadership. Kagame, whose address was delivered by the Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Development Board, RDB, Mr. John Kigara, said Rwanda overcame its post-war conflict, which was not different from the scenario in the Niger Delta region, out of its sheer will to succeed as a people.
“Rwanda and the South-South share an unfortunate history of conflict. We also share the determination to put the past behind us and forge ahead...”
When the chief host, Governor Uduaghan, took position to give his own speech, there was a little comic relief to announce his presence. The microphone momentarily refused to cooperate with him. He said jocularly in Pidgin English: “E be like say they don reach here! [He was apparently referring to the bomb blast in Abuja]. He told the audience that “in the last few years, Delta State government began an economic transformation programme. A transformation that demanded we completely remodel how we develop our state from the old ways to a new one, to guarantee our prosperity and survival. Which we tagged “Delta Beyond Oil.”
Adams Oshiomhole, the Comrade Governor of Edo State, called on members of the National Assembly to amend the 1999 Constitution, which vested too much power and resources on the Federal Government at the expense of states. He urged the federal lawmakers to amend the present revenue allocation formula, which gives 52.4 per cent to the government at the centre. The Federal Government, he emphasised was taking too much money from the Federation Account at the expense of the 36 state governments.
The former labour leader said that “the states and the local governments that are saddled with more responsibilities like paying teachers and funding health care services should get more from our collective wealth. If the Federal Government continues to take the lion share of our wealth, it must rise to the occasion and respond robustly to the infrastructural deficit in the Niger Delta,” he said.
The quest for true federalism continued to dominate as Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom and Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers gave their speeches. The ever eloquent Akpabio was rewarded with applause when he enumerated his numerous achievements and ended up by saying that “Nigeria’s strong centre should be unbundled.” The National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Owoeye Azazi stirred another controversy when he addressed the gathering. He said that the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) should be blamed for the security challenges confronting the country. The NSA said that to address the security challenges which include kidnapping, armed robbery, Boko Haram bombing and other violent crimes, there was need to understand the entirety of the problems, from their genesis.
Azazi, who spoke on the topic, “Conversations on Terrorism and securing the Gulf of Guinea,” said that “the PDP got it wrong from the beginning by saying Mr. A can rule; Mr. B cannot rule, according to the PDP convention rules and regulations and not according to the constitution. That created the climate of what is happening and manifesting in the country today.’’ Speaker after speaker harped on the urgent need for development of the region that produces over 80 per cent of the wealth of the nation. They noted, however, that achieving this objective required more action and less talk.
Even President Goodluck Jonathan in his inaugural speech last year, acknowledged the dangers of further delay. He said: “The time for lamentation is over. This is the era of transformation. This is the time for action.” The president had in the course of his campaigns said that the lofty plans captured in the Regional Development Master Plan, facilitated by the NDDC would be pursued with renewed vigour. The BRACED commission did not lose sight of the key role of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in the transformation of the region. Thus, the Managing Director of the commission, Dr. Christian Oboh was given an opportunity to make a detailed presentation on the Master Plan. He reminded the governors that it remains the “roadmap for integrated and sustainable regional development.”
The NDDC boss said that the commission and the BRACED states must collaborate in the development of the south-south region because the states make up about 67 per cent of the NDDC states in terms of membership and 94 per cent in terms of revenue distribution based on volume of oil production.
He said: “Regional integration is very crucial in development, hence the Federal Government established the Niger Delta Development Commission to address the unfortunate paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty and to complement the efforts of federal, states and local governments”. He reminded the governors that Nigeria’s Vision 20:2020 encourages regional development as a faster and more cohesive way to develop the country.”
Dr. Oboh’s presentation which was entitled: “the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan: A platform for partnerships with BRACED states” spelt out the benefits of collaboration among the various stakeholders in the Niger Delta. He said that the Master Plan “is an aggregate of the people’s aspirations, desires and expectations and was developed through a comprehensive scientific method covering investigations throughout every political ward of the region’s 185 local government areas.”
He urged the governors to key into the effective implementation of the Master Plan.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
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