Why the Southern Strategy is in Northern Nigeria’s best Interest

By Osmund Agbo

In America’s political lexicon, the phrase Southern Strategy bears a very ugly connotation and smacks of scorched-earth politics devoid of conscience. It was an electoral tactic employed by the Republican Party during the Jim Crow years, to increase support among white voters by appealing to racism against African-Americans. This is not to be confused with it’s usage in the Nigerian context of this essay to describe the coming together of Southern Governors to champion the cause of the people they swore to represent.

If there is any silver lining to the ugly situation of Nigeria teetering on the brinks, it’s the long overdue opportunity it presented for the Nigerian South to come together and face their demons. Of course the medicine is pretty bitter but there is no doubt that the patient needed it. For our Arewa compatriots, unless one is under the belief that the business of nation building is a zero-some game, everyone should welcome the idea of a regional subgroup working to strengthen its alliances.

Not long ago, 17 Governors representing all the states that make up Southern Nigeria, met in Asaba to discuss the way forward for a nation at war with itself. They deliberated on how to contain the burgeoning threats that armed bandits, killer herdsmen and marauding foreign savages pose to their region. Of note is that similar warning had been made by other eminent Nigerians on the danger of open grazing and the ugly consequences  of continuing on that antiquated practice in the twenty-first century.

The Governors had since followed up with a second meeting in Lagos on July 5th, where they issued a communiqué on a garden variety of issues ranging from a call to rotate the presidency to the south as well sounding a note of warning on the dangers of selective incrimination. They also rejected the provisions of the Petroleum Industry bill(PIB) that proposed 3% (favor 5% recommended by the House of Representatives) share of the oil revenue to the host community as well as the recommendation to set aside 30% share of profit for the exploration of oil and gas in the basins.

It’s worth remembering that although the proposed law was silent on what constitute the frontier basins, a statement by the President in 2019 clearly identified the Chad Basin, Gongola Basin, Sokoto Basin, Bida Basin, Benue Trough, amongst others as the frontier basins. Any surprise that the new PIB had been harrumphed by stakeholders in southern Nigeria and it’s provision described as “unjust, satanic and provocative” by the Pan-Niger Delta Forum?

Those are same of the issues that have attracted a lot of attention across the board for such a long time, yet it did not prevent Attorney General Malami and a section of the northern elite from crying blue murder when the Governors decided that the time to take a stand is now.

You wouldn’t think that the North that has from time immemorial, enjoyed the benefits of unity between her cultural mosaic would be so rattled because of an attempt by her southern neighbour to do exactly same. They are the one with a robust, operational and fully engaged socio-political groups, the likes of  the Northern Governor’s forum, Arewa Consultative Forum, to mention but a few. Nigeria is so predictable to the extent that any move by one section of the country is often misinterpreted to be against the interest of the other. Truth be told, the north is not the only group with that toxic mindset.

When former President Jonathan was making some heavy investments in education by building 165 Almajiri schools in the North, some especially in the South didn’t see it for what it is, an attempt to save Nigeria from itself. A good number of hare-brained politicians argued that by trying to bridge the knowledge gap between the north and south, the former president was unwittingly handing over epistemic power to the north, the only advantage they believe the Nigerian South has enjoyed. They reasoned that as long as politics is concerned, the South has always played the second fiddle and so it’s uncharitable and counterintuitive to arm your “enemy” with more weapon to attack you.

The augment on the surface seems reasonable but you only need to scratch that surface to find that beneath it, is an asinine and self-defeating mindset. It defies the simple logic that personal success will not insulate your from the dangers facing your society. You cannot be sleeping in your house with both eyes closed when your neighbor is walking around on an empty stomach, rummaging for a morsel of bread to eat. If this doesn’t make sense to you, then you must not understand that stifling the ideology and tackling the socio-economic factors that birthed Boko Haram is in the best interest of all Nigerian, north and south.

What has been the case all these while is that in the face of monumental security challenges facing the south and Nigeria in general, the Governors have felt helpless and forlorn. Almost all of them are frustrated that they are designated the chief security officer of their individual states and yet, the police hierarchy look up to Abuja for direction and guidance in the face of the slightest security challenge. Out of desperation and in order to ward off backlash from their subjects, they concocted all kinds of ad hoc security arrangements.

Granted that Nigeria’s practice of pseudo-federalism continues to pose a huge administrative challenge, many of our State Governors, however, went completely “AWOL” in discharging their constitutional duty. The few situations they love to bare their fangs, are in the fight against Local Government autonomy as well as protecting the independence of the legislative branch in the States under their jurisdiction. In fact, the famous constitutional lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana(SAN) argued that out of ignorance, the governors have given up their power/privileges and are just starting to wake up from a self-induced coma.

In a recent interview granted to Channels TV, the legal colossus explained that the Commissioner of Police in each state of the Nigerian federation is under the control of the Governors and should take directive from him, in line with the constitutional provision that designates them as the chief security officer of each State. He cited the case of the attorney general of Anambra state versus the Attorney General of the federation when former Governor Chris Ngige was abducted with the connivance of a police chief. The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the Governor. He also talked about the case of the Inspector General of Police versus All Nigeria Peoples Party(ANPP) where the court also ruled that Governor of a state and not the police chief has the final say on whether or not rallies, demonstrations, and public meetings should hold in any part of the state. In the later case, it is important to note that the Police is not even mentioned in the Public Order Act.

Every state in Nigeria has a security council where the Governor is the chair and members include the Commissioner of Police, Director of State Security Services (DSS) and all the Military Commanders in that state. There is also the Nigerian Police Council, a 39-member body, headed by the President as the chairman whereas the 36 state governors are members, as well as the Inspector General of the police and the chairman of the Police service commission.

And so, in all these, Mr. Falana pointed out that the Governors are not as incapacitated as they want to make us believe. A big part of the problem is that many of them are not aware of the power made available to them by the constitution and so are quick to ceded such power to the federal government. The constitutional provisions that were clearly explained by the learned gentlemen is at the heart of the recent reinvigoration of the Southern Governors who now seem poised to take their destiny into their own hands. They are so sick and tired of straddling the fence, while their individual states burn to the ground.

These series of meeting initiated by the Southern Governors, is a deft move with a potential to stem a vicious tide in a region that has become a hotbed of separatist movements. By coming together to improve on the political and economic fortune of the people, the state chief executives are attempting to infuse hope into the forlorn of the South, telling them that Nigeria too will works for them.

Contrary to all the grandstanding, polemics and myths being bandied around, no tribal group or region will have it so easy in a fractured Nigeria. At least not in the short run. The situation will become even more dire for the areas buffeted by Boko Haram and under a constant assault by Armed Bandits for years. Not to mention that the same region even before now, found itself trailing far behind in almost all developmental indices there is. That said, the only way Nigeria can survive and prosper is when we start to build stories where every individual, tribe or religion wins. An exhortation need not be delivered to stress that point.

Dr. Agbo, a Public Affairs analyst is the coordinator of African Center for Transparency and Convener of Save Nigeria Project. Email: [email protected]