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SITUATING THE SOUTH-EAST GOVERNORS FORUM (1)

By NBF News
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The South-east Governors Forum under the leadership of Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, has been in the news for some time now over its engagement with issues of common interest to the region. Now, some still doubt the merits of what seems a nebulous association with no clear structures, organs or enforcement power.

But a sturdier south-east Governors forum with an upbeat mood has been noticeable in the past few years. As would be seen, the body's rising profile is a consequence of its vigorous attention to the problems of the zone, thus inviting closer look at its prospects for continued relevance.

To be sure, inter-governmental cooperation and advocacy constitute the proper business of the Forum, being the felt need behind its formation in 2000. But this lofty mission was soon to be devalued by partisan political considerations and further eroded through a defective leadership scheme. This is why for about the first seven years of its existence, the south-east Governors Forum was not seen as an association to be reckoned with in regional representation.

During this period, the body due to a combination of the reasons cited above just managed to assume a passive routine functionality that announced itself in watery communiques. For the most part, the Forum dwelt on fringe matters and generally lacked character and decisiveness. Follow-up action was few and far between and not surprisingly, there were hardly tangible results to shore up the fortunes of the zone.

At the time, the Forum operated a one year, rotatory chairmanship of the body among its five member-governors. The tenure proved too short to be meaningful. It neither allowed the holder sufficient time for planning or to execute decisions effectively, before the baton passed on to the next man.

This transitory order was compounded by the strong force of party loyalty which intruded into the deliberations of the body. The five state governors, all members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, had obviously caught the bug of defending the party interest at all times. Like most PDP governors, the south-east governors were too deferential to the overbearing Obasanjo presidency and this meant that no resolution critical of the party or the presidency could come from the group. It meant that the body could not champion the redress of the zone's marginalization, a cause clearly demanded by existing circumstance.

Great leadership which could have come to the rescue had been put in abeyance by the logic of rotatory chairmanship, leaving the Forum limping with apologetic advocacy. Ordinarily, this laid-back approach to regional self-determination in a competitive federation like Nigeria is an invitation to relegation. For a bloc already marginalized from decades of discrimination, this was a sure road ultimately, to insignificance.

Mercifully, two events, in quick succession intervened to change the Forum's fortunes. The restoration of Peter Obi's victory in the April 19, 2003 election on March 17, 2006 and the election of governors Ikedim Ohakim and Theodore Orji on the platform of the Peoples Progressive Alliance, altered the status quo. The resulting balance of party composition ushered in a new lease of life which enabled Obi's subsequent chairmanship of the body to bloom.

Obi brought spark into the Forum with his focused leadership. With his persistent spirit and plaintive tone, he achieved the first and most crucial step toward a successful outing, namely, rallying his fellow governors on an intensive campaign. Securing rights and attaining targets is often not an easy venture and it was desirable that the entire team was attuned to the prospect of a sustained engagement with the Nigerian system.

In rising to the challenge of repositioning the south-east for regional cooperation and national development through a revitalized south-east Governors Forum, Obi made an impression on his colleagues. There can be no better testimonial on this score than his brother – governors asking him to continue at the end of his one year term. The mandate has annually been renewed since 2007 to date without interruption. It is no less a credit to the other governors that they recognized sterling leadership when they saw it and better still had the large heart to encourage it.

Robinson Alikwe, a lawyer,
123 Olojo Drive, Ojo, Lagos.