A Victory for Nigerians

03 Jun 2013

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BEHIND THE FIGURES by Ijeoma Nwogwugwu

The Nigerian Governors’ Forum, which in reality was an exclusive “Boys Club” of 36 over-fed, ego-driven men, has finally self-imploded. One or two governors who foresaw the train-wreck in the horizon counselled against the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship election that took place penultimate Friday. Irrespective of the constitution of the NGF, their preference was for a consensus arrangement that would throw up a chairman and a deputy, which they said would have shielded the forum from the emergence of a splinter group.

They hinged their argument on precedents. Past chairmen of the forum, they contended, had always emerged through a gentlemen’s agreement. With the governors divided into two camps, this was the worst possible time, they advised, to hold an election, be it via a secret or open ballot, as it would split the NGF down the middle.

But most members of the forum had a point to prove. They were bent on telling President Goodluck Jonathan, in no uncertain terms, that he had no business meddling in the affairs of the forum. It was the NGF after all, so what business was it of the president’s to determine who chaired the body.

Well, those who pushed for the election and those who actively participated in the election have had their way with the Rivers State governor, Chibuike Amaechi’s, re-election as the chairman of 19 governors, while Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang, has been declared chairman of 16 (or is it 18) governors, and a new secretariat to boot. Effectively, the NGF has been factionalised.

Although it was not Jonathan’s intention to split the group, through his meddlesomeness and determination to see the back of Amaechi, he inadvertently scored a major victory for Nigerians who had grown weary of the group of 36 governors.

For those who believe that the outcome of the election on Friday was a dress rehearsal for the 2015 election, I couldn’t agree more. Before the votes were cast, the president’s men thought they had the chairmanship of the forum in the bag. However, in politics, a lot could happen within a space of a few hours. This was evident on Friday when the Katsina State governor, Ibrahim Shema, and his Bauchi counterpart, Isa Yuguda, were compelled to step down from the contest for Jang.

It was the 15 Peoples Democratic Party northern governors, led by Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, who met and selected Jang as their preferred choice to lead the NGF. The northern governors subsequently presented Jang to the larger body of PDP governors. But little did their PDP counterparts from the south know that Jang, realistically a lightweight from the north, was set up for failure right from the start. He was a lamb led to the slaughter.

Jang would never have been the popular choice of the core north. He lacked Amaechi’s steadfastness (some would say stubbornness or lack of tact), clarity and single-mindedness. He is also a Christian, which meant that most of his counterparts from the northwest and northeast were not going to vote for him. Had the northern governors really wanted to wrest control of the NGF from Amaechi, they would have fielded someone else other than Jang. So it did not come as a shock when it emerged that it was the same PDP governors from the north who pushed Jang into the ring that stabbed him in the back by voting for his opponent during the contest proper.

Given the blow dealt Jang and the president’s enforcer-in-chief, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, the expectation in the Amaechi camp is that as 2015 draws near, governors who failed to vote for him will crossover to their fold. They believe that governors who voted for Jang were cowed by the president and afraid to show their hand too early in the day. It remains to be seen if their assessment of the situation was right or wrong, because every governor – pro and anti-Amaechi – have skeletons hidden in their closets. It was a gamble that may or may not pay off.

The outcome of the election, notwithstanding, it was only matter of time before the NGF was going to self-destruct. For one, the 23 governors on the platform of the PDP, the party with the highest representation in the NGF, had used their numbers to turn what should have been a bipartisan group into a political powerhouse. They annoyingly and undemocratically blocked any politician, not from within their ranks, from aspiring to the highest political office in the land. They also saw the NGF as the perfect springboard through which they could pursue their personal agendas and launch their campaigns for the presidency.

Even their counterparts from the opposition parties were no different as recent events, which may culminate in the coalition of major opposition parties, have shown that the governors elected on the platforms of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (PCP) and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), have taken a cue from their colleagues in the ruling PDP.

As a collective, and like the National Governors’ Association in the United States of America, the NGF was however established to speak with one voice on national policy issues such as the Excess Crude Account/Sovereign Wealth Fund, subsidy issues, subsidy deductions by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from the Federation Account, the revenue sharing formula, fiscal federalism, eradication of polio, the Petroleum Industry Bill, and so on. The forum was also meant to improve governance and engender competition among the states through peer reviews and capacity building. But unlike their counterparts in the US, NGF members sometimes forgot the original objectives of the forum and made the mistake of relegating matters of national interest that serve the collective good of 167 million Nigerians across the ethnic divide and party lines, for matters of personal interest.

Now that Amaechi, as the head of 19 governors, cannot make pronouncements that could be said to be representative of the 36 governors of the federation, nor can Jang do likewise, perhaps, national issues, going forward, will have to be discussed and thrashed out at meetings of the Council of State and National Economic Council. The 36 governors, after all, are members of both bodies, which are duly recognised by the constitution.

In the end, the governors allowed their personal ambitions as well as the “unseen” hand of the president to get the better of them. It was nothing but politics at its finest and at its worst, all at the expense of the NGF. Let no one be mistaken, for the NGF, as a bipartisan, not-for-profit body, Amaechi’s victory and that of Jang’s (if one may call it a victory), were pyrrhic. With the demise of the forum, the real winners two Friday’ ago were my fellow Nigerians. We dey laugh o…

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