For South-East Governors, A ‘Fresh’ Start


The meeting of governors of the five South-East states in Enugu on 10th August 2023, was not their first under the auspices of the South-East Governors Forum, SEGOF, but it is easily the most remarkable in recent years. The hundred percent attendance of members was significant on its own but it also underscored their new-found eagerness to pursue the Forum’s objectives and tackle the challenges that have become obvious in the geopolitical zone.

At hand were Governors Hope Uzodimma of Imo State, Chukwuma Soludo (Anambra), Alex Otti (Abia), Francis Nwifuru (Ebonyi) and the host, Peter Mba of Enugu State. It was their first major outing since the baton of leadership changed from the former Ebonyi State Governor Dave Umahi to Governor Uzodinma, and the announcement of Senator Uche Ekwunife as Director-General of the regional forum. More than ever before, expectations are high that the Forum will rekindle the hope of South-East regional integration that many people have advocated but which has eluded the region since the return to democracy in 1999.

In over 20 years of its existence, the Forum has recorded what many would say are modest achievements. It has made notable pronouncements on regional and national issues as they affect the region; however, it has lacked the commitment and will-power to effectively pursue its central objectives. They have largely paid lip service to the key objective of pooling ideas and resources together to confront common socio-economic and security challenges facing the region.

For a region with so much potential and which is better advised to look inwards for economic salvation, not much has been done collectively to undertake projects that will uplift the well-being of the people.

Two important questions to ask are: how well have the Governors pursued the Forum’s objectives? What have been the challenges that have impeded the pursuit of common goals and regional integration?

The most reasonable answer to the above questions is that the Forum has lacked unity and a sense of purpose. What initially started as a Forum composed entirely of governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, the coming of other governors from other political platforms would appear to have brought distrust among them which affected their cohesiveness and impacted their personal commitments. While some of them did not attend the usual meetings, preferring to send their representatives instead, others have been reluctant in contributing their quota for the funding of the Forum’s activities. For instance, the governors have not fully implemented the 2017 decision to set up a permanent secretariat at the old Government Lodge in Enugu.

Lack of a proper Secretariat as the Forum’s resource centre and policy hub has denied the governors administrative, research and technical support needed in carrying out those strategic objectives which make for regional integration.

At a time, it was almost losing relevance as a forum for peer review and synergistic pursuit of political, social and economic issues relevant to them.

The region has been in the news in recent times for all the wrong reasons: security challenges have manifested in different ways and have negatively impacted the economic, political and social life of the people. The acts of criminality have come in form of heartless killing of innocent people, wanton kidnappings and the enforcement of illegal sit-at-home orders by criminal elements. These have foisted untold hardship on the populace, dislocated their social lives, caused capital flight and massive loss of jobs and livelihoods. By conservative estimates, more than 250 lives have so far been lost to these criminal acts of so-called Unknown Gunmen in the past few years while the five states have reportedly cumulatively lost well over 140 days of production time this year alone. When we factor in the hundreds of billions of Naira in revenue losses every month, the debilitating effect on development of the region will be better appreciated.

The failed plan to set up Ebubeagu , the regional security outfit for the South East, ranks as the most spectacular failure of the Forum considering the exponential escalation of terrorist acts in the region and the fact that such challenges are better tackled using a regional template. Let’s hope the Governors who started off in Enugu on 10th April by returning the issue of security to the front-burner as a matter of priority, and announcing an impending security and economic summit for the South East, are more serious this time.

From recent indications, things are changing. They appear to have restored the unity that was lacking and are determined to reposition the Forum away from the talkshop it has become, to one that walks its talk. The decision to bring on Senator Uche Ekwunife, a seasoned technocrat, political tactician and experienced parliamentarian further underscores their preparedness to rev up its activities.

If they are able to tackle insecurity, the pursuit of regional integration becomes more practicable at a time the zone is expected to look inwards in pursuing regional socio-political and economic development. Tackling the poor infrastructural base of the South-East, especially in the area of electrification and public transportation, specifically a road and rail network across the five states, should engage their interests considering that the region is one of the few in the country that was totally excluded from the massive rail network development of the past decade. A regional agricultural project will also resonate across the states as it will build on the glorious vision of Michael Okpara.

This may still be a fresh beginning for the Forum. The challenges facing the South-East are many and daunting indeed, but they are not insurmountable. All it requires is the will-power and the oneness of purpose of the new crop of governors who must refocus the Governors Forum around the social, political and economic aspirations of the people of the region.

Sheddy Ozoene, Editor-In-Chief of People&Politics, is the Vice President (East) of the Nigerian Guild of Editors

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