From February 13-15, leading lights in the government and politics of Yoruba land gathered in Ibadan, Oyo State, to attend the 1st Legislative Summit for Regional Integration. The main purpose of the summit was to examine the role of legislators in the economic integration of the former Western Region, now called the South West of Nigeria.
From a cursory review of the summit, organised by a Lagos newspaper, The Nation, in concert with CEEDEE, a human resource consultancy firm, it was clear there was enthusiasm for the regional integration project.
Legislators from Osun State, the host Oyo State, Ekiti State, Ogun State and all three senators from Lagos State attended. So, did the governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, who was the host governor; and the governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who attended with a heavy delegation of aides, aside from the Osun legislators who actively participated in the deliberation. Ekiti Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi too was there; and so was the deputy governor of Lagos, who represented Governor Babatunde Fashola. Osun Deputy Governor, Otunba Titi Laoye-Tomori, was also a constant feature at the three-day summit, at which the Osun delegation gave a good account of themselves. Major-Gen. Adeyinka Adebayo, former military governor of former Western Region and chairman, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) was clear that the integration agenda would benefit all Yoruba, no matter ideological persuasions.
South West integration, as Ogbeni Aregbesola mentioned in his speech at the third day of the event, was an idea whose time has come. That means there is no stopping the integration agenda – other things being equal.
Yes, there is a lot of enthusiasm, given the nostalgia about the glorious achievements of the old Western Region under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo; contrasted to the grim reality of today, especially the comprehensive socio-economic paralysis left behind, after eight years of stolen power by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South West. It is true the present progressive governments in the region are trying to roll back that paralysis, and give the people some gains of democracy.
But great is the harm such that, even their own brave efforts are beginning to be faced by a crisis of expectation. It is like the tortoise in that Igbo tale, mentioned in Chinua Achebe’s works. He had been marooned in a stinking ditch for donkey weeks. But the moment he felt labourers digging to free him, he gets excited and excitable: I have been here for too long, this place stinks, please get me out of here! That is the mood of our people now!
Besides, the last time progressives were in charge, that was before 2003, efforts were made at South West regional cooperation, collaboration and integration. But then the political reactionaries saw and rightly realised that it would sound their death knell, should the agenda succeed. That was why they kept on singing the pseudo-gospel of mainstream which has proved such a spectacular failure.
That is why the regional integration agenda must be pushed on the virtual fast lane. Mass sentiments support the agenda. Even hard-core logic does because there is no way Nigeria can develop in this present centrist system posing as a federal arrangement. There is also no way Yoruba land can actualise its vast and glittering potentials, with the human and natural resources at its disposal, in the context of a federal Nigeria, without regional federalism.
So, time is money. The sentiments are great and positive. But it is time to match those sentiments with effective action. It is already less than three years to the next election. So, a successful integration agenda would not only generate local benefits in terms of job creation and enhanced economic activities and therefore act as potent electoral campaign for the progressive order. It would also help bury the progressive-reactionary swing the in the region’s governance which, as Hon. Olawale Osun mentioned in his presentation at the summit, pushes the region forward for a few years under progressive government but sets it back for donkey years under conservative-reactionary regimes!
The challenge before the present order is therefore to push South West regional integration, show visible results in the next two years, and finally make it an election issue. The most practical way to jump-start the process is for each South West state to map out its agricultural core competence areas, which it can all focus on under a regional clearing house. If this is successfully done, it would boost food production and drive down the price of foodstuffs in the region, without necessarily impoverishing farmers.
Agriculture would provide the low hanging fruits to set the integration agenda on a concrete course. It should be embarked upon without much ado.