Leaders from the South West, Nigeria today gathered at Premier Ibadan for the first Legislative summit tagged, “Achieving Regional Collaboration Agenda for Rapid Growth”.

Among the leaders for the three day summit are: Governor Abiola Ajimobi, Rauf Aregbesola, Dr. Kayode Fayemi representing Oyo, Osun and Ekiti States respectively and governor of the Western Region, General Adeyinka Adebayo.

Others are: the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Mrs. Adejoke Orelope-Adefilure and her Osun State counterpart, Chief Mrs. Tomori, former governor of Ogun State, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, Chairman Afenifere Renewal Group, Olawale Oshun, senators, members of House of Representatives and states legislators from the region.

All the speakers in one voice emphasized that regional integration is a task that must be achieved to restore the region’s glory and transform it.

Host governor, Abiola Ajimobi expressed the regret that the region, which used to be the hub of development and envy of all in the First Republic, had witnessed “an embarrassing regression’’.

He said, “Since Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s departure from governance, development has been far between in what used to be Awolowo’s Western Nigeria. Rather than building on the firsts of the First Republic, the South West had witnessed an embarrassing regression. It is a shame that, decades after the First Republic, with the advent of technology, sophistication and advancements in knowledge, that republic is still our benchmark of excellence and example of purity of mental sophistication”.

According to him, the challenge before the people of the South-West region today is “to shuttle backwards while shuttling forward”, adding “in order for us to move forward as a region, we need to go back to the foundation of those sparkling performances of our forefathers and examine what gave birth to those evergreen records.

“If the Western region was a pacesetter in infrastructure, quality of human capital and so on, why can’t we recreate this noble pedigree today for the benefit of the oncoming generation? This should be the greatest bother of this august noble gathering”, he said.

The governor identified quality leadership and collaboration as the key to integration and development among states that made up the erstwhile Western Region stressing:

“I mentioned the quality of leadership because, as our revered Papa Awolowo had said, “only the deep can call to the deep.”

”We have had leaders at the state level who never appreciated the need for the integration of the South West for the benefit of our people. Our present initiative has even been criticized by many politicians in the opposition party, which means if such people find themselves in power, they will never pursue the integration agenda, in spite of its immense benefits”.

The governor urged the states within the region to literally collapse all the walls – social, political or legal – that might be militating against integration and development.

Senator Ajimobi said that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), being a party driven by a sense of history and commitment to the ultimate good of the people, had identified the integration of the area that formerly constituted the old Western Region as a major factor for the wellbeing of our people, within the context of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

He, however, said that the dream would remain a pipe dream unless the legislatures in the states buy into the idea and promulgate legislations that would translate the dream into reality.

In the course of integration, Gov. Ajimobi said that areas of cooperation among states and share benefits of states’ comparative advantages must be looked at adding, “As things stand now, the former Western region is merely the proverbial fruits in a pod of walnut, scattered like an island unto one another while trapped inside one major encasement. We must break the walls and relate with one another as the brothers and sisters that we are. Because we share mutual cultural, historical, political history, retracing our steps into this common ancestry of ours would not be a big problem”.

He particularly emphasized that the need for economic integration.

“How do we ensure an economy of scale in our economic relations as a region? How do we provide the integrative glue to an extensive network of professionals who would perfect the contours of our economic growth and ensure that the Western region sprouts forth from the ashes of decades of inertia? This overall blueprint would necessitate us having an economic consortium which, if put into operation, will drastically improve on our infrastructural development, education, security and so on in the region and thus lifting the economies of our states.

Gov. Ajimobi also said that agriculture, in its diversity, was a major economic component for which the states of the Western Region could collaborate for higher productivity”, he said.

“I envision a Western Nigeria where the 20 million people in Lagos state can be daily served with vegetables from the riverine areas of Ogun State, cassava from the vast land of Oyo State, Dodo Ikire from Osun State, fish from the mangrove of Ondo State and the popular pounded yam of Ekiti State”.

This, he said, could also be replicated in other spheres of human endeavors like health, education, sports and other areas where the states could partner for the boosting of their economies.

The governor affirmed that the quest for regional integration should include educational and cultural integration of the people, pointing out that “although we speak the same language and share the same culture, the balkanization of the states has introduced many policies that have sought to push us afar from one another.

For instance, he noted that all the states in the South-West, except Oyo, have a state university each, adding that Oyo had also initiated the process to commence a state university by September this year.

“But these are universities that can all come under the same roof of a South West University. The University of Cairo in Egypt has over 100,000 students on its roll”, he disclosed.

“Why can’t a South West Nigeria University have such a profile and enjoy the economies of scale that will put us among the foremost universities in the world rather than bicker over the management of a jointly owned LAUTECH between Oyo and Osun States?” he said.

He called for regular meetings among South-West governors with a view to comparing notes and leveraging on their comparative experiences.

Other speakers at the summit such as Chief Bisi Akande, the national chairman of the Action Congress Party of Nigeria, Chief Osoba and General Adebayo also stressed the need for the region to come together so that it would continue to wax stronger.

They charged all the legislators representing the region in the National Assembly to lobby their colleagues to repeal all the obsolete and obnoxious laws which had prevented all the regions to develop at their own pace.