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Asaba Declaration: Southern govs resist Senate’s anti-restructuring stance



The Chairman of the South-South Governors’ Forum and Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, on Saturday, pushed back on the anti-restructuring comments by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and other critics of the resolutions reached by the Southern Governors’ Forum during last Tuesday’s meeting..

Okowa spoke on behalf of 16 other governors from the Southern zone of the country who he hosted in Asaba, Delta State capital.

This is as Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, also, on Saturday, said the decisions reached by the Southern governors, including the demand for restructuring, were irrevocable.

Seventeen Southern governors, who jettisoned their party affiliations, had met to discuss urgent national issues and reached some resolutions, which are now referred to as the Asaba Declaration.

The governors, at the end of the meeting, issued a communiqué, demanding the restructuring of the country, a review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments, and banned open grazing across their states, among other things.

The governors also called on the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), to convoke a national dialogue to address widespread agitations amongst various groups in the region.

But Lawan on Thursday faulted calls for restructuring by the Southern governors, asking them to rather concentrate on working hard to first restructure their states before asking the Federal Government to do so.

The Senate President said this at the Presidential Villa in company with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

But the House of Representatives, through the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, on Friday, distanced Gbajabiamila from the anti-restructuring comments.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, also faulted the decision of the Southern governors to ban open grazing across the south, cautioning the governors to stop engaging in blame games.

However, pushing back on comments by Lawan and other restructuring opponents, Okowa said the move by the Southern governors was to give force to the voice of the people on the issues, noting that both the ruling All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party had earlier at different fora expressed their support for restructuring.

He said the resolutions reached by the Southern governors were not to disintegrate Nigeria but to strengthen the country’s unity.

The governor stated this in Asaba, the Delta State capital, at an empowerment programme sponsored by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu.

He said, “Unfortunately, I read in the papers that somebody said we ought not to talk about certain things, being elected people. If the voice of your people has been heard loudly and they have continued to talk, and you’re an elected person but you shy away from giving further voice to their voices, then you ought not to be in the position that you occupy. So, I must thank our people in the House of Reps who have responded to the speech made by their colleagues in the National Assembly.

“As I did say, all the things that we discussed; nothing is against the unity of this country. We reaffirm that as a people, as elected governors, we believe in the unity of our country. But we also went forth to advance the need for certain things to be done in order to give strength to that unity. That cannot be a reason for us to be vilified. Obviously not!”

Okowa further said, “We talked about restructuring, which has been on the table for so long. Both the PDP and APC have endorsed restructuring. Our restructuring is all-inclusive and all-encompassing. We may have different views and approaches to restructuring, but when we sit at a table to dialogue, we will be able to agree on what is best for Nigeria.

“The conversations are obviously needed because if we do not talk and we allow the voices of our people to continue to speak, and the leadership shies away, then we are giving room for further crisis. So, I thought that it was time for other leaders across the country to thank the Southern governors for uniting to give a voice to the conversations because it is only when these conversations come at that level and driven in the interest of the majority of the people that we can have a truly united nation in which there is fairness and equity and trust amongst our people and the leadership.”

Earlier in his opening speech, Elumelu thanked Okowa for hosting other governors to take the decisions.

The Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu, who represented the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, at the event also expressed his support for the recommendations.

In a related development, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has said the decision of the 17 Southern governors on open grazing and others issues reached in Asaba must be respected, describing them as “irrevocable.”

He said those opposed to resolutions taken by the Southern governors should realise that no section of the country was inferior to others.

Wike said these on Saturday during a grand reception held in his honour by the Ogoni people in Bori, Khana Local Government Area of the state.

“We have taken a position and there’s no going back. Enough is enough. We are not second-class citizens of this country. We also own this country,” the governor said in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kelvin Ebiri.

Not impressed with the slow pace of the Ogoni environmental cleanup, Wike charged the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project, which is in charge of the cleanup of polluted sites in Ogoni, to relocate its operational office from Port Harcourt to Bori, the headquarters of the Ogoni people.

The governor, who was conferred with the title of ‘Mene Kwalenu 1st of Ogoni (literally meaning ‘a benevolent king’) by the President of the Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, King Godwin Giniwa, gave the assurance that his administration would continue to ensure the even development of every part of the state.

Some Ogoni leaders, including Senator Magnus Abe, and a former president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, Ledum Mitee, lauded Wike for his strides at Ogoniland.

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