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Nigerian Southern Governors Meet Again

Panafrican News Agency (Dakar), 26 March 2001

Lagos, Nigeria—Governors of the 17 States in southern Nigeria are converging in the mid-western city of Benin for Tuesday's conference, expected to be dominated by issues related to resource control, revenue allocation and security.

The meeting is the third in a series, which started in the country's economic capital of Lagos in October 2000.

The second edition was held in the south-eastern city of Enugu, 10 January 2001.

Tuesday's meeting is being held against the backdrop of a legal tussle between the federal government and the 36 States in the country over resource control, which also highlighted the last meeting of the States' Chief Executives.

In a communique issued after that meeting, the Governors had threatened to go to the Supreme Court to press some of the burning issues, including demand for fiscal and political restructuring aimed at ensuring resource control and better revenue-sharing formula.

But in a pre-emptive move, the federal government took the States and the federal capital territory to the Supreme Court, seeking a constitutional clarification of some of the issues.

Specifically, the government wants the apex Court to determine the seaward boundary of a littoral State within the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the purpose of calculating the amount of revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resource derived from that State.

Though the suit was in response to the claims of the eight littoral States of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Ogun, Ondo and Rivers, all in the south, that the natural resources offshore ought to be regarded as located within their respective States, analysts said it was also a pre-emptive move against the southern States.

The States are expected to use the Benin meeting to discuss the strategy for a joint or individual response to the suit.

The federal government has blazed the trail by filing legal proceedings for the resolution of constitutional questions, said Enugu governor Chimaroke Nnamani, host of the last governors' meeting, in reaction to the federal suit.

We have to go ahead and file our own suit so that all the constitutional questions can be pooled together and resolved subsequently, he said.

In addition to resource control, the southern States are also seeking a constitutional amendment to empower them to set up their own police force, a position opposed by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Though the various demands by the southern governors are not new, they have been stepped up since the adoption of the Islamic legal code, the Sharia, by several States in northern Nigeria.

The adoption of the religious legal code, which prescribes hand amputation for stealing and death by stoning for adultery, has emerged as the most divisive issue since Nigeria's return to civil rule about two years ago.

It has lead to clashes between Christians and Muslims that left hundreds dead in northern Kaduna State.

Critics of the southern governors meeting have described it as a gang-up against the north, while its supporters say it is aimed at creating a platform where the problems of the nation could be tabled and solutions proffered to them.

The 19 northern Governors, who are mostly opposed to the demands of their southern counterparts, have also been holding regular meetings.

States expected at Tuesday's Benin meeting are Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Anambra, Bayelsa, Imo, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi and Rivers.