By Nkeremwen Cosmas
Seventeen Governors of Southern States of Nigeria on Monday night rose from a meeting in Lagos and renewed call for true federalism and devolution of powers to the 36 states of the federation.
Harping on the convergence of their views with those of the Federal lawmakers who are currently engaged in the harmonisation of differences over the 1999 Constitutional Amendment, host governor, Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos who read the communique at the end of the one-day meeting at Alausa Secretariat, Lagos, said the governors would work with their various Houses of Assemblies, when the Amendments are transmitted to them, to effect the required amendment that would usher in the practice of democracy, federalism, rule of law and Constitutionalism.
On this score, he said: “It is important for this forum to comprehensively look at the proposed amendments with a view to working with our respective Houses of Assembly to ensure a coordinated response on our part that will strengthen the practice of democracy, federalism, constitutionalism and the rule of law.”
He said the recent clamour for restructuring and practice of true federalism would benefit the states and enable each to develop at its own pace and according to its resources instead of looking to Abuja with begging bowls every month
“States are disparaged for always carrying begging bowls to Abuja in quest of hand-outs from the Federal Government. This is a function of our present national Constitution that burdens the Federal Government with activities and responsibilities that rightly fall within the province of states.
“The productivity and revenue-generating capacities of most states are thus stifled, thus turning them into no better than street beggar states incapable of even meeting routine obligations of paying workers’ salaries and pensions without federal support.
“Another major victory won towards strengthening the country’s practice of true federalism was the declaration by the Supreme Court in 2002 that the then prevalent practice of the Federal Government deducting monies from the Federation Account as a first charge for the funding of Joint Venture Contracts, the NNPC priority projects, servicing of Federal Government’s external debt, the judiciary and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other federal obligations were illegal and unconstitutional.
“The Supreme Court in that case abolished the special funds created by the Federal Government to enable it draw funds from the Federation Account to pay for matters that fell within its exclusive responsibility before sharing whatever was left with states and local governments.”
The governors pledged to work together in the areas of security and the protection of the rights and property of their citizens, infrastructural developments and to meet periodically to review progress.
In his welcome address, Ambode had averted his colleagues attention to the fact that there were areas in the Constitution that are solely residual but had been encroached upon by the Centre, urging them to take example from Lagos State and a few others who took up the matter in the law courts and won their cases.
Lagos state according to him had been the better for it in terms of control over the management of its environment, the control of urban and physical planning, the regulation of overhead masts, the registration and regulation of hotels and restaurants, and the control of inland waterways.
The Governors who attended the meeting apart from the host Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos, included Governors of Ogun, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; Oyo, Ekiti state, Ayodele Fayose, Abia’s Okezie Ikpeazu, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, Senator Abiola Ajimobi; Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Ebonyi, David Umahi; Edo, Mr. Godwin Obaseki; Ondo, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; Enugu, Mr. Henry Ugwuanyi.. Governors of Cross River, Anambra and Delta were represented by their Deputies – Mr. Evara Esu; Dr. Ikem Okeke and Mr. Kingsley Otuaru respectively.
At the end of the meeting, Governor Ambode was unanimously appointed as the Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum (SGF) while Governors Seriaki Dickson of Bayelsa and David Umahi of Ebonyi States were appointed as Co- Chairmen of the Forum. The Forum also scheduled the next meeting for Port Harcourt in a yet to be announced date.
The governors remembered to pay glowing tribute to former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu for his initiative in hosting the first meeting of the forum in Akodo Beach Resort, Ibeju-Lekki, twelve years ago.