For Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states to replicate the outstanding growth of the then Midwestern Regional Government, there has to be a better plan to develop their people, supported by a reset of institutions and structures of governments in the sub region.
These, according to the various speakers at the colloquium organised to mark the 60th anniversary of the Midwest Referendum, will engender competition among the subnational governments in the country, thus reducing their reliance on Abuja for the monthly subventions.
The Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub in Benin City, yesterday (Monday) was the centre of attraction as the crème de la crème in Edo, Delta and Bayelsa states converged at a colourful event to mark the conduct of the only referendum in the country from Nigeria’s independence to date, which resulted in the creation of the then Midwest Region from the then Western Regional Government, due to the desire of the Midwest people to pursue a developmental agenda that encompassed all their aspirations.
In attendance were the host, Godwin Obaseki, Edo State Governor and Rt. Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, Delta State Governor, represented by his deputy.
Also present were Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the Senator Representing Edo North Senatorial District and former Governor of Edo State; Professor Oserheimen Osunbor ; Rt. Hon Blessing Agbebaku, Speaker Edo State House of Assembly, and Hon. Justice Daniel Okungbowa, Chief Judge of Edo State as well as notable Benin chiefs, among others.
Godwin Obaseki, Edo State Governor, praised the then Midwest regional leaders for the bold move that got the Midwest on a unique growth trajectory which closed the development gap with other regions within a few short years.
Obaseki said: “The Midwest Region in 1963, which was carved out of the then Western Region, three years after independence and colonial rule, was a product of the bold character and love for freedom of our forebears. The region which later came to be known as Bendel State in 1976, was the first state in Nigeria to be created by a referendum, signaling our staunch belief in democratic ideals.
“It was the foresight, sacrifice, and struggle of courageous and notable leaders such as Oba Eweka II, Oba Akenzua II, Chief Dennis Osadebe and Chief Anthony Enahoro, among others, that secured the creation of the then Midwestern Region. They had braved the odds and battled to create a distinctive political identity for a people who have always loved and cherished their freedom, culture and creative energies.”
Governor of Delta State, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, represented by his deputy, Sir Monday Onyeme, called for the cooperation of people of both Edo and Delta states, suggesting that there should be a council which should meet regularly to implement a roadmap for cooperative development for the two states.
Oborevwori said: “So, with this colloquium, I strongly believe that we should deepen our relationship, possibly have a council that will comprise people from both states to regularly meet and insist on the implementation of a development roadmap to ensure speedy socio-economic development of our states.
“While sixty percent of the registered voters were enough to tilt the balance either way, 89.07 percent of the people voted overwhelmingly to opt out of the Western Region. In that plebiscite, a region, the Midwest Region, was created without much fuss. This result was not achieved without opposition.
“There were intense campaigns from both sides but they were carried out without violence or threat to lives. In spite of the opposition’s resistance, the people’s will prevailed.
“Beyond the euphoria that the success of the referendum elicited, I am particularly touched by the neat, straight forward process that the creation of a region or state as it is presently known, required and it was accepted across the board. The losers bore their loss with equanimity.”
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole commended Governor Obaseki for organising the memorable event, adding that what Nigeria needs is unity among her people.
“I want to first of all thank the governor for this great opportunity which brought together not just Edo and Delta states, but also Bayelsa State. This is the kind of unity we need for our country, our state and our people to prosper,” Oshiomhole said.
Professor Senator Oserheimen Osunbor also commended Governor Obaseki and added that the governors of the states that emerged from the Midwest Region should bring their legislators together as they may be the first set of lawmakers to drive constitutional amendment in the country.
During the panel discussion, it was agreed that while the 1963 referendum was only conducted in the then old Western Region to reduce the power of the then Western Regional Government, whereas the middle belt, Calabar and Ogaja demands were left unattended to, the creation of states subsequently by successive governments in Nigeria, in some way attended to the demand of the middle belt as well as Calabar and Ogoja people to have governments that would attended to their unique developmental aspirations.