President Goodluck Jonathan
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum Has No Doubt Become The Most Powerful Pressure Group In The Country Today. The Group Assumed This Status In 2007 After The Exit Of Olusegun Obasanjo As President. They Have Been Able To Arm-Twist Obasanjo’s Predecessors. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan Relates With The Forum With Utmost Respect. Late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua Also Did. In Fact, The President Consults The Immensely Powerful Governors Before Appointments Are Made From Their States Into Federal Positions. Many Now See The Governors As Having An Over-Bearing Influence On The President With Their Constant Power Shows, Write Yemi Adebowale And Chucks Okochaâ€¨â€¨
Top on the agenda of the 45th National Economic Council meeting presided over by Vice-President Namadi Sambo, at the State House, Abuja, on Tuesday was the demand for the release of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The governors said this was to assist them in the implementation of development projects “in line with the transformation agenda of the government.”â€¨â€¨But the issue was a settled one, even before the Tuesday meeting commenced.
The state governors had, during the previous NEC meeting last December, requested for the release of the money. Sources said the governors had hitherto at a separate gathering in December told President Goodluck Jonathan in clear terms that they would accept nothing short of the release of the fund. Of course, the President bowed to the pressure. Prior to his departure for the African Union Summit in Ethiopia, sources said he gave instruction for the release of the fund and that it should be announced at the 45th NEC meeting.â€¨â€¨
The Chairman, NGF and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi said after the meeting that the Minister of State for Finance, Dr Yerima Ngama, conveyed the approval to the council. According to Amaechi, the minister, in his brief to the council, said the Excess Crude Account had a total balance of $9.242 billion, after $1 billion had been spent on subsidy payments. Of course, Amaechi added that President Jonathan approved the sharing of the money “to enable the state governments execute more people-oriented projects in line with the present administration’s transformation agenda.”â€¨â€¨
This is just one of the power shows by the governors operating under the platform of the NGF. The body is about the most powerful pressure group in Nigeria today. It assumed this powerful position after the exit of Olusegun Obasanjo as president. It is believed that the governors took advantage of the ill health of Yar’Adua to assume this vantage position. The NGF has since consolidated under the Jonathan regime. It is believed that the President hardly takes any decision or action without first consulting with the NGF. When there is a disagreement, the governors’ position often supersedes. â€¨â€¨
Disdain for ECA and SWF…â€¨
The governors have never hidden their disdain for the ECA and the subsequent Sovereign Wealth Fund. The plan by the federal government is to channel the funds from the ECA to the SWF. All efforts by the Jonathan administration to convince the governors about the necessity of the SWF have proved abortive.
At present, the governors have two suits in the Supreme Court challenging the operation of the ECA and the SWF respectively. The governors in a suit filed before the Supreme Court on October 23, 2011, are seeking an order declaring the creation of the SWF as “illegal and unconstitutional.” All efforts by the two parties to reach an out-of-court settlement, after a series of meetings have failed. The governors are insisting, “all federally collected revenue should first be paid into the Federation Account and shared among the three tiers of government as stipulated in Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution.”
The governors have also consistently opposed the payment of fuel subsidy claims from the ECA. â€¨â€¨Already, the SWF has taken off with a seed capital of $1 billion, drawn from the ECA. The Federal Government named its management board last month with the appointment of Alhaji Mahey Rasheed, as chairman and Mr Uche Orji, as managing director/chief executive. For the Federal Government, SWF offers an opportunity to provide a future for the present and future Nigerians.
If the governors get a ruling in their favour, all these beautiful ambition will be history. The NGF simply wants the money in the ECA shared while the Federal Government “can go ahead to use its own share to fund the SWF.”â€¨â€¨
The issues of ECA and SWF aside, the powerful members of the NGF also “dictate” to the Presidency when it comes to appointments from their states into federal positions and locations for federal projects. It is believed that President Jonathan dares not make such appointments without consulting them. â€¨â€¨
The on going constitution review process is another area the NGF has been showing off its power. The governors have been controlling and doctoring it to their favour, using their “boys” in the National Assembly. Some of the issues the Presidency would like to see amended may not see the light of the day if the governors are not happy with it. Of course, most of the legislators made it to the National Assembly, courtesy of the governors. They dare not go against the governors’ wishes if they intend to return for a second term.
Again, the Petroleum Industry Bill proposed by the Executive has been dragging in the National Assembly for years, simply because some of the governors don’t want it. Their loyal legislators have simply been acting out their scripts.â€¨â€¨
Power show at party level…â€¨â€¨
Except for the Action Congress of Nigeria, governors of the PDP, ANPP and APGA are in firm control of their party machinery and determine who gets what, even at the national level. In the PDP, party supremacy was part of the doctrine of the party at inception. But events have changed over the last six years. Governors elected on the platform of the party automatically became state leaders. Their actions and activities as state party leaders were not much pronounced during the administration of Obasanjo because of the former president’s influence.â€¨â€¨
With Obasanjo out of office and late President Yar’Adua’s health problems, the PDP governors gradually began to exert their influence under the chairmanship of former governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki. They latched on the inept leadership of the NWC of the PDP to begin to command respect and issue orders that gradually eroded the supremacy of the party. As things stand now, issues affecting the party must get their approval before it could be executed. They determine who becomes the national chairman while other key positions must get their nods. Incumbent national Chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur had to go crawling before them last year before he emerged chairman.â€¨â€¨ â€¨
Why they are so powerful…â€¨â€¨
The governors operating as a block could easily box the President and every other person into a corner. This is because of their enormous influence. They control the party machinery in their states (as party leaders) as well as at the national level. The governors also control federal legislators from their states and could easily frustrate a weak president. Aside these, they sit on heavy war chest, which they often deploy for “selfish interest.”â€¨â€¨
Winds against the NGF…â€¨â€¨
Of recent, many prominent Nigerians have been very critical of the influence and power of the NGF. Former Information Minister and elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark recently declared that the existence of NGF was a threat to the nation’s democracy. He alleged that members of the NGF “now behave like an opposition party to the federal government.” Clark in a letter to the Forum, added that members of the group had been breaching the nation’s constitution with impunity. “I wish to dwell on some of the offending activities of the Governors Forum, which are driving the country to madness but, which, as members, you do not care about, provided you achieve your purpose and the Forum’s over-bearing influence on the Peoples Democratic Party, the supremacy of which you have hijacked.
“The Forum has now become a threat to the peace and stability of Nigeria. Many of the governors today are more dictatorial than the then military governors.”â€¨â€¨Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, another PDP top shot remarked: “I had already said it in 2008 that the greatest enemy to democracy in this country is the Governors’ Forum; that organisation is illegal and should be disbanded. It is a gang up of people with a lot of money, and with money in Nigeria you can do anything. They chose the national chairman; they chose everything. The democracy we have today has been hijacked by an organisation called the Governors Forum.”â€¨â€¨ Senator Adegbenga Kaka agrees with Iwuanyanwu.
He said: “Governors are becoming overbearing for this nation. It is either they are checkmated or we surrender totally to them and let them continue what they are doing.”â€¨â€¨Former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara added: “What is most worrisome is that almost all the time, the governors are in Abuja and not attending to issues of governance in their respective states. What is being practiced in Nigeria remains a presidential system of government and not a gubernatorial system.” He also wondered why Nigerian governors were rushing to pay courtesy visits to the newly elected President of Ghana, John Mahama.
“Look at what happened when the Ghanaian President was sworn in, the governors from Nigeria were falling over each other to pay courtesy visits to him, while President Goodluck Jonathan was there. The President represents the Federal Republic of Nigeria and by his presence in Ghana, he is representing Nigeria. What are the governors doing there”? â€¨â€¨â€¨
In defence of the NGF…â€¨â€¨
The NGF Director-General, Dr. Asishana Okauru insists that the forum is legal and has not been doing anything unconstitutional. “The Forum is covered by Section 40 of the constitution. Countries like the United States, China, and Brazil have similar associations.” Okauru argued further: “contrary to the claim that the NGF was a threat to the nation’s democracy, the forum remains a policy hob with a robust secretariat.”â€¨ Okauru added: “The Nigeria Governors’ Forum is not essentially a PDP governors’ forum. The forum is made of all elected governors of the 36 states of the federation. The Forum serves as a policy hub for the governors and it is not partisan.
Okauru who was a former staff of the EFCC in charge of fraud- related matters says the forum is more interested in peer review among the 36 states and “this remains the forum primary concern”.â€¨ Okauru debunked the allegations that the governors are a threat to democracy and agents of destabilisation: “We have an office. Our office and the activities of the forum are well known to all,” he quipped.