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LAGOS - GOVERNORS of the South-West geo-political zone and eminent persons from the area, yesterday, took a dispassionate view on the state of socio-economic and political development in the area and lamented that the zone had fallen below the template set by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo.

At the official presentation of a Strategy Roadmap for the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN, at Lagos City Hall, leaders of the zone said it was time for well-meaning Southwesterners to join forces and re-enact the winning policies of yore, which saw the defunct Western Region setting the pace in terms of development in the country.

Specifically, the leaders, who pledged to cooperate, harped on the need to pursue a common agenda and regional integration on education, transportation, economy and infrastructure among others.

THIS IS THE NEW DAWN: From left: Gov. Rauf Aregbesola, Gov. Abiola Ajimobi, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Mr. Fola Adeola, Founder, Fate Foundation and Chairman of occasion, Chief Bisi Akande, National Chairman of Action Congress of Nigeria, Gov. Ibikunle Amosun and Gov. Babatunde Fashola, chief host, at the event. Photo: Bunmi Azeez

Drawn from all parts of South-West and Yoruba-speaking areas of Kogi and Kwara states, the leaders included all the six governors of the region, with the exception of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), who sent a representative.

Others were Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, retired Generals Adeyinka Adebayo and Alani Akinrinade, Dr. Doyin Salami, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, Chief Bisi Akande, Rev Tunji Adebiyi, Mr Fola Adeola, Wale Oshun and Dipo Famakinwa.

Governors at the historic gathering on a day that  Chief Awolowo would have turned 103 years if he were alive, were Mr. Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Mr. Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun) and Senator Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo). Mimiko was represented by one of his commissioners, Sola Etisemi.

Other leaders at the parley included Mr Opeyemi Agbaje, Jimi Agbaje, Senator Olabiyi Durojaiye,  Prof Wale Omole, Senators Femi Ojodu and Sola Adeyeye, former Speaker Dimeji Bankole, Yomi Idowu, Rotimi Obadofin and Mrs Jumoke Ajasin-Anifowoshe, among others.

Chaired by Fola Adeola, the event, which was organised by Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) saw speaker after speaker, who spoke in Yoruba language, decrying how low the region had fallen in the last 45 years. They canvassed, as a matter of urgency, steps towards a regional cooperation and integration among the South-West states to boost socio-economic development.

Hinging the realisation of this lofty height on a 'composite Yoruba Development Agenda (YDA), ARG stated that the vision was 'an integrated Region that will make a difference to the lives and well-being of our people, as we make the South-West Region of Nigeria the first place of choice to live, to work and to visit.'

After the welcome address by ARG Chairman, Wale Oshun and Adeola's opening remarks, Dr Doyin Salami of Pan African University, Lagos, in his keynote address set the stage for the critical views that ensued.

Salami lamented that the standard of education in the zone had fallen so low and wondered how the area could define its future without an educated working class and entrepreneurs.

He listed other challenges of the South-West as huge gap between the rich and the poor, rising unemployment rate, decaying infrastructure, industries that cannot process agricultural produce, inadequate capacity to harness abundant resources and over-dependence on federal allocation, among others.

We must close ranks - Fashola
Speaking at the event, Fashola said he was buying into the roadmap, saying: 'I throw my weight behind what is stated in the book (Roadmap). It is time for all of us, especially academicians in the region to improve our standard of education. We are ready to work but the citizens also have work to do.

'It is the responsibility of any Yorubaman that is in any political party that goes against benefit of Yoruba, to defect from that party and join a party that believes in the agenda of the Yoruba.'

Fashola said it was also time for the zone to refocus energy on agriculture and de-emphasis dependence on crude oil.

Where we missed the mark - Amosun
Governor Amosun of Ogun State spoke in like manner.

He said: 'This was not how the South-West Region of this country started. We started on a brighter note. From 1960 when the Cocoa House was built by our elders, the intension of our elders was to make South- West the centre of attraction. The vision of our past leaders was for the South-West Region of the country to compete with other developed societies.

'Previously in the South-West, agriculture was the core source of revenue for the region. The revenue realised from the sale of agricultural produce was used to build various projects in the region, especially Cocoa House. Investment made by our past leaders into the education sector was realised from agriculture. Then, there was no crude oil in the country. They used the money to educate all of us. That is why my administration decided that we must go back to the roots. And, that was why in Ogun State, we decided that what is paramount is educating the people.

'Our past leaders began to foresee the development of the region while they were youths. All what they did were still in place and we need to develop more on it. We should not only say what Awolowo and others did for the development of this region, what we should do now is to roll up our sleeves and follow their path.'

We must not disappoint - Fayemi
On his part, Fayemi said: 'We (leaders) should not disappoint the South-West. With the situation in South-West, it is time for us all to call an elders' forum just the way General Adeyinka Adebayo did in 1966, where we all will design the way forward for the region. It is time for us to rebuild and renew our status in this country.

'The situation of the region has deteriorated in the past years, and we need to hold on to this region not to disintegrate.  We know that the Yoruba race is more than the six states involve today. There is need for all the governors of the six states to roll up their sleeves in order to improve on what the group has done.

'The last meeting we held at Abeokuta, the decision of we, governors, was that we would establish an outfit that would focus on the cooperation of the region. The Roadmap was the resolve of governors of the region. So, it is time for us all to move to the site and commence work immediately.'

ACN leaders, Mimiko trade words over Yoruba agenda

The day did not end without exchange of fire among some of the leaders belonging to different political parties.

The exchanges became very hot when Governor Aregbesola blamed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for destroying the core values of the South-West and taking the zone light years back when it ruled the country for eight years.

He, however, got a challenge  from former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, who told him that power was transient.

The exchanges also continued when Asiwaju Bola Tinubu criticised the presentation of Mimiko representative, saying that the Ondo State Government was invited to buy into the agenda and not to review the Roadmap.

He went on to say that the agenda was for the South-West zone and not the entire Yoruba race.

Tinubu said: 'When we asked Olusegun Mimiko (who was represented by the Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Sola Ebiseeni) to come, we called you to buy into the integration without political colouration. We did not invite you to be the reviewer of the book and you diverted the talk on the occasion by criticising the book. If you have problem with the book, wait till the next edition of the book.'

On the question of federalism, the former governor said, 'the issue of federalism is a must. Unitary system in Nigeria must be made away with in this country. We cannot pursue this agenda without the legislatures buying into the agenda.' adding, 'while we are busy discussing about federalism, at the federal level they are busy talking about the registration of hotels in the country.'

On Ondo, Aregbesola had said: 'We have done what we believe it is necessary for us to do in bringing Ondo State into the fray but they desist. Whenever issues affecting Yoruba is debated at the National Assembly, the representative of the Labour Party will decline from voting for the benefit of Yoruba.'