Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Intrigues over the 2023 presidential race will determine who emerges the new chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) as the 36 state governors gather in Abuja today to pick a successor to the outgoing Chairman, Governor Abdul’aziz Yari of Zamfara State.
Findings by THISDAY yesterday showed that the permutations by the governors over the next election season would influence their votes.
Although the next general election is four years away, Nigerian politicians have begun subterranean campaigns for the 2023 presidential poll shortly after the conclusion of the 2019 general election.
President Muhammadu Buhari who got a mandate renewal in the last general election, and is due to begin his second term in office from May 29,2019, is not eligible to run again due to constitutional restrictions to a two-term tenure for any elected president.
Sources told THISDAY that Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, looked good to clinch the NGF chairmanship despite plots to stop him.
Besides Fayemi of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who is said to enjoy support of his colleagues in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), another governor mentioned as being in the race is his Kaduna State counterpart, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai.
But one of the sources confided in THISDAY that el-Rufai would not be running.
It was gathered that some officials in the presidency and a top politician in the South-west were behind the plot to stop Fayemi from possibly succeeding Yari.
Those behind the plot were said to have anchored their position on the suspicion that Fayemi, who would have completed his second-term tenure might bid for the presidency.
Sources familiar with the NGF politics said the governors had broken up into interest-driven blocs.
According to him, five of the governors are eyeing the NGF chairmanship position.
But only Fayemi has shown a disposition to running for the NGF chairmanship.
Apart from being considered highly qualified for the job because of his ranking as a second-term governor from the majority party, Fayemi is currently the only one with such credential in APC from the southern part of the country, which is being tipped to produce Yari’s successor.
According to the NGF Constitution, only second term governors from the majority party are qualified to contest for the chairmanship of the NGF.
The position is also to rotate between Northern governors and their Southern counterparts.
But there are others who, though are being propped up to run by some influential sponsors, who have not come out to canvass support.
So far, there are about three powerful interests that may play a role in deciding who picks the forum’s chairmanship slot.
One of the interests is said to be that of Yari, who is said to favour the emergence of the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, as his successor.
“Yari is supporting Governor Bello to contest for the position but the Kogi governor is facing an obstacle, which is the pending governorship election in November that will either see him retain his seat or drop out as governor,” one of the sources said.
Another powerful lobby group are governors who are said to have consented to do the bidding of one of the APC leaders in the South-west to prevent Fayemi from emerging the chairman of the NGF.
Also, there is another bloc said to be aligning with former Rivers State Governor and current Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to produce the next chairman of the forum.
Amaechi was a former chairman of the NGF under whose watch the forum was plunged into a crisis over jostling for the 2015 general election.
Some officials in the Presidency were also said to have pushed for the Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, to contest for the position.
But the governor reportedly declined, saying he does not want to break the rotation tradition in the NGF.
However, despite the concealed plots, one of the governors told THISDAY last night that the election would turn out to be a coronation.
He said consensus had emerged among the governors that Fayemi should be the next NGF chair.
He said the governors were mindful of preventing a repeat of the NGF election under Amaechi when the forum broke into factions following disagreements ahead of the 2015 general election.
On the alleged plots to stop Fayemi, the governor said while that might not be ruled out, there was no serious disagreements among the governors on who succeeds Yari.
“People who are not members of the NGF would be plotting their own, but among us, there is consensus on the direction to go,” the governor said.
He dismissed speculations about el-Rufai running, saying the Kaduna governor was one of those that drafted his Ekiti counterpart into the race.
He said: “In fairness to Nasir (el-Rufai) that people are saying is running for the position, he was the first person to ask him (Fayemi) to contest.
“He (el-Rufai) said Kayode (Fayemi), you’re the best to contest. Not only are you the oldest among us, you also have a network that cuts across many parts of the country. I cannot do it because I am outspoken and controversial; and I know PDP governors will not support me.You (Fayemi), your position is your position, yet you will still play with everybody. But me, I’m not cut for such diplomacy.”
Another source quoted el-Rufai as saying that it would be preposterous for anyone from the North to be scheming to become the chairman of the NGF after another governor from the same region had just concluded his tenure.
The source said: “When I asked him, el-Rufai, I learnt you are contesting for NGF chairmanship, the governor responded, no, I’m not interested. I was the one who told Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi to be coming to meetings so that he can take over from Governor Yari because anybody from the North who attempts to contest for the position is just trying to breach our constitution.”
He quoted el-Rufai to have added:
“We are democrats, we are elected and we should not be seen to be breaching our own constitution. If we do so, we will be facilitating other persons to be breaching the constitution.”
A top APC chieftain confirmed to THISDAY that the top politician from the South-west doesn’t want Fayemi because of the belief that he is too ambitious and could split the votes in the South-west zone.
“You know this NGF election is about 2023 presidential election. Everybody knows that Buhari will go in 2023 and that he would not interfere with who emerges the party’s candidate. So everybody is trying to position himself,” he said.
When contacted yesterday, the Head, Media and Public Affairs at the NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, only confirmed that the governors’ meeting has been scheduled for 8p.m, Wednesday (today).
He, however, did not state the modalities for the conduct of the election nor provide any information regarding those that may contest.