SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF OSUN, OGBENI RAUF AREGBESOLA, AT THE TWO-DAY QUARTERLY MEETING OF THE WESTERN NIGERIA GOVERNORS’ FORUM HELD AT THE BANQUET HALL OF THE GOVERNMENT HOUSE OF THE STATE OF OSUN, ON MONDAY NOVEMBER 5, 2018
REGIONAL INTEGRATION AS A WORTHY LEGACY
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the second day of the two-day quarterly meeting of the Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum which started yesterday.
I must thank you all for finding the time to be here and being part of this initiative to reposition our region for greatness. It has been a great delight for me hosting this meeting and having your esteemed presence in Osun.
It is particular memorable to me in that it will be the last opportunity to host this meeting or participate as governor, before the expiration of my tenure at the end of this month.
I must thank and commend Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission for its untiring efforts at driving this initiative.
The purpose of our meeting is to promote and accelerate the development of our region, making it a region of efficiency and recreation through the integrative efforts of the government and the people of the region by maximising our potentials in human and natural resources.
All through the ages, the purpose of wars and conquests was to integrate large expanse of land in order to maximise the political-economy potentials therein. Integration has not always been easy since no kingdom would like to be subsumed into another in which it is not the dominant party. No matter how little, a kingdom would prefer autonomy with all the difficulties, except it faces the dire threat of annihilation. That is why such kingdoms as former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union and Sudan (recently) eventually broke up into their constituent units.
In modern times, the most successful attempt at integration is the United States which began as the union of the original 13 British colonies whose aim, as put in the preamble to the American constitution, is ‘in Order to form a more perfect Union’. From the original 13, the United States has grown to 50 states plus the District of Columbia and is the most powerful nation on earth today.
Although it was more of military conquest, what we know as Italy today is due to the integrative efforts of Giuseppe Garibaldi who unified the Italian islands with Rome. There was also the integration of India with the autonomous chiefdom tribes after independence.
China is also an integrated country formed by conquest since 221 BC when the Qin Dynasty first unified several states to form the Chinese empire. This huge empire has 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing) and two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). The status of Tibet and Taiwan as part of China is still in contention. Irrespective of this, the size of China, with its 1.3 billion and its approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, positions it as a major power to contend with militarily and economically.
However, the most conspicuous attempt at integration is the European Union with 12 European nations of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom forming the foundation members in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993.
However, this was just a culmination of an economic cooperation effort that began in 1951 when a couple of Western European powers agreed to confer powers over their steel and coal production to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in the Treaty of Paris, which came into force on July 23, 1952.
For our purpose of regional integration, however, it is interesting to know that the people are ahead of the government in this quest. Our people have always been integrating through leveraging on our common history, by evolving a common language, settlement pattern, intra-regional marriage, music, shared social life and economic activities.
There is no Yoruba community that is homogenous. It is always an admixture of all the peoples of Oyo, Ekiti, Egba, Ijesa, Ijebu, Igbomina and so on. It is the governments that have held the brakes on them. Certain communities are already notable for certain economic and social activities, in a pattern of division of labour that has emerged through time. It is time therefore for the governments to remove the inhibitions and allow the free reign of the energies of our people.
This is a unique moment for us in history when we have a uniform progressive political platform in the region. We have had this opportunity twice in the past. The first was between 1999 and 2003 when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) controlled all the states in the region. The second happened between 2003 and 2010 when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) controlled the region, save Lagos State. We must not let this third opportunity slip bye.
There is no doubt that we can achieve more through a more equitable constitutional and proper federal system, and I wholeheartedly support a review and overhauling of the Nigerian constitution and federal practice. But it is erroneous to wait until we have this Eldorado before we can do anything for our region. There are many things we can do for ourselves for which there is no constitutional inhibition.
There is nothing, for instance, stopping us from having the same matriculation body for our high schools and university; nothing stopping us from having a singular produce board; nothing stopping us from having a regional security arrangement that makes our region a fortress and safe haven; and nothing absolutely is stopping us from having regional sporting development and competition through which we can discover and develop talents that will dominate Nigeria and the continent of Africa.
Indeed, we can have a commonwealth of universities with the headquarters in Ibadan; with each state university turned into a college of the great university. These should be specialised colleges, that is, the college in one state specialising in agriculture while the college in another could have its forte in medicine. Other states would have humanities or social sciences, science, information technology and so on as their specialty. The idea of state universities competing with federal universities as generalists offering every course under the sun is absurd and unproductive. We must put an end to this.
I must state however that a state needs not wholly fund a university. Universities should be semi-autonomous receiving annual grants from the government but sourcing their funds from tuition, endowments and intellectual property. The government should however make scholarships and loans available as the case may be. No government, not in the United States or Britain, wholly funds its universities.
Again, using our research institutions, we can design the best agriculture practice – in hybrid seeds, farming inputs and cropping system – for our region that will make our farmers competitive. The school feeding programme and lucrative Lagos market should serve as ready markets for farm produce from our region. There is a functional and productive cocoa processing industry in Ede, for instance. We can make this the hub of cocoa processing in the region from which we can realise chocolate for school feeding and general consumption. I must add that a cocoa bean carries 500 times value when we import its products than when we export it.
We can also power our region and free ourselves from the national grid malaise. We can do this through a public-private arrangement that makes use of the Lagos and Ondo oil and gas fields to generate power for use in our region and possibly sell excess to other regions in need.
There is no law stopping us from doing this. Lagos State has been doing it since 2001. Some hospitals, schools and other institutions in Lagos are powered from the independent power produced by the state government. The power produced in Lagos under this arrangement can be dedicated to Lagos, Ogun and Oyo while the Ondo project can be dedicated to Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States with interlinkages for support across the entire region, just as we have between France and Britain, and indeed across Europe.
Another area of business that the region could jointly explore is tourism. There are many exotic places in the South West that are potential money spinners if well marketed. Osun Grove, Opa Oranmiyan, Olumo Rock, Erin Ijesa Waterfalls, Ikogosi Warm Spring and Lekki Beach are just a few of the tourist attractions that could be packaged abroad for tourists.
A very strategic component of tourism is the Yoruba Diaspora in South America, North America, Cuba and the Caribbean estimated to be 15 million. The idea could be marketed to them to visit their ancestral homes as they are taken round the region for recreation, pleasure and spiritual reconnect.
Our integration and cooperation should be reinforced through our history and culture. Yoruba history and culture should be taught as compulsory subject. The Omoluabi ethos, in particular, should be taught as a compulsory subject in our primary and secondary schools. The values of hard work, chivalry, honesty, respect, the quest for knowledge and the display of valour should be codified and taught distinctly to our children as Omoluabi ethos. These are the values that define the essence of Oduduwa, Ogun, Oranmiyan, Ogedengbe, Moremi and the others in the pantheon of Yoruba legends. More importantly, Yoruba, and especially the mother-tongue, should be taught as compulsory subject while its use in homes and offices should be encouraged.
I have pursued western integration with uncommon passion. I am asking us therefore to work hard at it and make it a reality. It is the greatest legacy we can bequeath to our region and people.
Once again, I thank my brother governors and your entourage for coming and wish you safe return to your various abodes. I thank also the DAWN Commission and Osun Ministry of Regional Integration for putting this summit together.
I thank you all for your kind attention.