The romance between North and South Governors is no longer at ease. State police and oil revenue has slashed the bonds welding them together.
From a closed door disagreement, the governors are virtually bickering over the proper manner to proceed towards resolution on the contentious issues. So far an an impasse reigns, and nothings suggests the two divides may reach a compromise in the short term. Twice within a week one side failed to honour scheduled meetings.
At the initial meeting on August 21, 27 states representatives showed up, but more than half of the representatives from the 19 Northern states were the deputy governors who are mere figureheads and not in a position to decide on behalf of their principals on the issues in contention. This meeting was a carryover from a previous one which also witnessed poor attendance. Then, diplomatically the secretariat of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF had explained that the poor turn our was because following the Ramadan fast, some governors had travelled to Saudi Arabia for lesser hajj and rescheduled the meeting to coincide with their return.
The rescheduled meeting on August 23, suffered a worse fate with only 17 states nine governors and eight deputy governors - showing up. Unlike previous parley, no communiqué was issued after this one. Also unusual, neither the NGF Chairman and Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi nor any governor officially addressed journalists. Even when confronted over the outcome of their discussion, they were not forthcoming. Ironically some of the Northern states governors who sent their deputy were in Abuja the previous day.
The bone of contention, and perhaps the reason for their absence could be traced to the issues raised in the stern warning via press statement issued by the Presidency on the eve of the meeting. Mischievously playing up sectional and ethnic sentiments, the statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media, Dr. Reuben Abati, warns of the consequences of attempts by ‘’some politicians to heat up the polity by seeking to reopen fresh conflict and controversy over the onshore/offshore oil revenue which was enacted by the National Assembly in 2004.”
The Presidency, hinting at unresolved security challenges in parts of the country further cautions ‘’Those who are issuing threats and counter-threats over every issue’’ and described them as ‘’not just re-inventing a controversy, they seem determined to fuel acrimony and needless conflict’’; And went ahead to declare its readiness ‘’to forestall any attempt to undermine the peace and security of the country, under whatever guise’’
The protagonist for reviewing the on-shore/off-shore oil revenue, and increasing the revenue allocation for the Northern States, the governor of Niger State, Chief Servant Babangida Aliyu and chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum, NSGF, though he was in Abuja on the eve of the meeting for the NSGF meeting stayed away from the national meeting. But the brewing controversy is far from over, as he declares later in Minna that the ‘’North will not be intimidated’’
He argued that if Nigerians can freely discuss the amendment of the Constitution, which is the supreme law guiding of the country, then nothing should stop them from dialoguing on the issue of on-shore/off-shore oil revenue.
He said: ‘’In the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), we noticed that there are many things that will affect our people and we need to discuss it and we need to understand how to approach our members of the national and state assemblies when issues like that come up. We need to discuss it so that the interest of our people who elected us will be protected. Nobody can intimidate us.’’
Another contentious issue between the governors is the call for establishment of State Police and Gov Aliyu insists that the Northern governors’ opposition to it remained unchanged “until such a time a superior argument is advanced for the establishment of state-controlled police.”
However, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola,one of those pushing for state police explains that the police will function better if given the opportunity. He adds that Lagos state Government has provided the police with resource and opportunity which makes them function better.
According to him, ‘’People forget that this federal police was not what we had before. We used to have a regional police system and it was applicable in a federal environment. It was alleged that some people abused it.
‘’Forty something years after, that central system is now not working again, so, you are saying we should forever continue to say, well, they killed one person today, kidnapped one in the afternoon, murdered one in the evening but we must not touch what those people did 40
The controversy over creation of state police began after an initial agreement by the governors to jointly push for the establishment of State Police, the Northern governors reversed their position with the argument that “The issue of state police is not in the interest of the nation but more or less personal interest as well as the ‘unbalanced’ revenue sharing formula. Therefore, the regional state executives are opposed to state police.”
However, Governor Amaechi, the Chairman of the NGF stoutly sustains the arguments for State Police recalling that : “I used Rivers resources to train 300 policemen; these policemen were trained by the Israelis. We had an understanding with the police authorities in Abuja that they will remain in Rivers for sometime after their training. But the moment a certain IGP came, just because he did not like a certain Amaechi, he posted the policemen out. But if we have State police, such a thing will never happen,” he argued.
At the northern governors’ meeting, Aliyu had stated: “We must not allow emotions and sentiments to override us. There is the need for tolerance of one another in the interest of national peace and integration. This call is very crucial because the interest of the nation is above any personal or sectional interests.”
Aliyu said in 1950, local police were effectively used in all the regions by political leaders against their opponents, saying that the present political leaders, including himself, would do same if given policemen under his firm grip.
However, beyond the governors, other voices has risen for or against establishment of State Police, and all eyes must be on the National Assembly as they tinker with the 1999 Constitution. While on the on-shore/off-shore oil revenue, the Federal Government has already ruled it a closed issue since the Supreme Court decided the issue. For the Northern Governors, nonetheless, change remains the only permanent fixture in the scheme of affairs.