Gov Amaechi must make good use of the goodwill towards him from his colleagues and heal the fractious body
Not too many Nigerians attach much significance to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). But there is a sense in which the 36 states and their chief executives are more immediately relevant to the lives and fortunes of the majority of Nigerians in our towns, cities and communities than the almighty Federal Government in Abuja. And given the near imperial powers of our presidency over resources, security, life and property, the NGF, as a collective for all the Governors, is a necessary checkmate.
It is perhaps in this sense that the national significance of the just concluded NGF chairmanship election resides. The countdown to the election was contentious, to say the least. Through a series of scarcely veiled political maneuvers, the presidency showed an unusual interest in the leadership of the Forum. And perhaps for good reason. From all accounts, Abuja was not quite comfortable with the aggressive leadership style, political tendencies and ambition of the Forum’s Chairman, Rivers State Governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The various moves both within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and outside it were therefore aimed at ensuring that Amaechi was not re-elected for a second term.
Given the influence the Forum’s Chairman could have in the horse trading towards the 2015 elections, having Amaechi re-elected to lead the NGF in the face of a possible run for re-election by President Goodluck Jonathan upped the ante by several notches. But the governor insisted on his democratic right to stand and be rejected or re-elected by his colleagues. After weeks of drama and suspense, the election was held last Friday and Amaechi defeated his challenger, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, by 19 votes to 16. The democratic essence of that outcome lies in the freedom of governors or any other group to associate without fear or intimidation and the right of the individual to stand for an election is complemented by the obligation of the association to ensure that the electoral process is free and fair.
Ordinarily, this outcome ought to make the governors themselves proud in the sense that those who supported Amaechi and those who were opposed to his re-election freely cast their votes in a secret ballot and produced a result that is clearly a reflection of the wishes of the majority. However, the response of a handful of them led by Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio is not only disappointing, but disgraceful.
First, the disgruntled governors participated in the election. Second, they fielded a candidate to counter Amaechi. Third, they witnessed the tallying of the ballot and the announcement of the results. Unfortunately, because the outcome did not favour their candidate, the unhappy governors are playing up the existence of some pieces of paper conveying the intention of some governors, and signed before the election, as a more legitimate indication of their electoral choice at the expense of a ballot they themselves designed and participated in. To worsen matters, these renegade governors have continued with their impunity and dis-ingenuity to hold a meeting yesterday affirming Jang as the NGF Chair in a rear guard plot designed to divide and kill the NGF much like the Biblical story of two women claiming one child. One of them, like the Akpabio-led Governors, wanted the child cut into two if she would not have him.
The NGF is the association of governors for the purpose of comparing notes on aspects of governance through enlightened peer interaction and review. Yet a situation in which persons as privileged as state governors cannot uphold a democratic process involving only 35 persons is cause for serious concern in a nation where elections have become contentious issues.
The pertinent question: how can the Nigerian people continue to repose their hopes for a democratic future in these governors who cannot play by simple rules of choice and decency? It is even more worrisome because it is from the crop of governors that presidents often emerge. Are these the kind of leaders that would transform Nigeria into one of the top 20 nations by year 2020? Governors who cannot respect results of a simple democratic process and are moving to change its outcome after the fact?
President Jonathan - who has shown promise in upholding free and fair elections - must distance himself and his presidency from these bad losers by first congratulating Amaechi, and then going back to the drawing board to heal the deep divisions within his party and putting his house in order. His supporters may have lost this battle, but the political war ahead is even more important.
As for Amaechi, his victory in this NGF election comes with enormous work ahead. First, he too has to seek the cooperation of his colleagues and find out why almost half of his compatriots are so bitterly opposed to him. His legitimacy as Chairman of the NGF will continue to be called to question if he does not win back the confidence of his fellow governors. Amaechi must then close ranks with his party leadership if he wishes to remain a part of them.
To make his work easier, and realise his developmental mandate, he should seek reconciliation with, and the cooperation of, the president. Above all, the NGF he leads must begin to work with the presidency on the key development issues that affect the people of the Federal Republic, especially poverty and insecurity across the land.