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Why southeast governors ‘chickened out’ of Southern governors’ meeting

It was not an emergency meeting. The meeting was fixed during a previous one held in Lagos on July 5, 2021. There was also a reminder that was circulated among the governors about the meeting and its venue.

That could account for the preparations and efforts put into it by the host state to ensure there were no hitches; the Government House, Enugu, venue of the gathering wore a new and fresh look with reconstructions, artworks, designs and decorations that were stupendously displayed to give guests an evergreen memory. The entertainment also left no one in doubt about the readiness of those who put the event together.

Except for Ugwuanyi (the host), the governors of Imo (Hope Uzodimma); that Abia (Okezie Ikpeazu) and Ebonyi State (Dave Umahi) were represented by their deputies, while Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano neither attended nor sent any representative.

However, if there was a meeting the governors of the zone were expected to attend fully, it should have been the Enugu meeting. That is because it was being hosted in the zone and the fact that they would have to travel short distances to be present. Their presence would also underpin their commitment to their newfound alliance.

Again, except Uzodimma, they were all present during their first meeting held on May 11, 2021, at Asaba, Delta State, where they resolved to ban open grazing in the Southern region as well as reiterated the need for concerted efforts at tackling worsening insecurity in the country.

As soon as they concluded the Enugu meeting, which was the third this year, various interpretations had been adduced to the absence of the governors. While some had said it was a  “betrayal”, on the part of the governors of the Southeast region, others have insisted that it was part of the politics of “who gets what” in 2023. There are feelings that the politics of individualism being practiced by the governors of the zone was responsible.

It is hard to remember the last time the current governors collectively pulled any successful effort since their coming on board to tackle any challenge in the zone. Their resolutions had always ended as wild dreams.

There are others who feel that certain critical issues that emanated from previous meetings since they started, that have tended to challenge the policies and powers of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government may have contributed to the lethargic attitude of some governors.

One of the issues reportedly unsettling the governors and the federal government is the ban on open grazing in the southern region reached during the Asaba meeting. It was gathered that the decision could not have been possible if there was no meeting of the governors. The decision had unsettled the presidency, leading to open hostility and confrontation.

It added that to avoid confrontations with the Presidency, (especially for those angling for political patronage in 2023), some of them have started developing cold feet on further meetings.

Indeed, this manifested on July 5, 2021, at the meeting reconvened in Lagos. Only Ugwuanyi as governor had the courage to attend from the southeast region. Kelechi Igwe, Deputy Governor of Ebonyi State represented Governor Dave Umahi; Ude Oko Chukwu, Deputy Governor of Abia State represented Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and Prof Placid Njoku, deputy governor of Imo State represented Governor Hope Uzodimma. Anambra governor, Willie Obiano did not also have a representation and did not attend.

It was at the Lagos meeting that a timeline of September 1, 2021, was set for the promulgation of anti-open grazing law in all states of the South as well as the claim that the next president of the country in 2023 should come from the region.

Prior to the Enugu meeting, a contention had arisen between the federal and Rivers State governments over the right of collection of Value Added Tax (VAT). Governor Nyesom Wike had claimed that it was the right of the state to collect VAT.  He demonstrated his seriousness over the issue when he took an action on behalf of the state government in court to compel the Federal Government to cede power to collect VAT to states. This has received the support of the Lagos State government.

Those who knew believed that the controversial issue would form the agenda of the Enugu meeting. It was gathered that not to be counted among those supporting the idea, Southeast governors decided to stay away from the meeting.
 
Umahi came close to confirming this, a day after the Enugu meeting, appearing on a Channels television interview, he had disagreed with the Southern governors on the VAT, saying that the Federal Government should be allowed to collect and share VAT

He said that Ebonyi State should be pitied because the mineral resources in the state were being stolen, adding that other states should be their brother’s keeper.

There was also a verbal war between Wike and Umahi over a recent prayer by Umahi that God should give Nigeria another President like Buhari in 2023. Wike had countered the governor, saying his prayer was a bad one, stressing that it was wrong of him to wish Nigerians another “Buhari” whom he said had failed the nation, a controversy that led to Umahi to ask Wike for a debate on the matter.

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