In many ways than one, the election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has a vantage place in the calculations for the 2023 polls, writes Onyebuchi Ezigbo
In line with predictions, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Olukayode John Fayemi has emerged the new chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). Despite the sharp division between the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) resulting from bitter exchanges during the just concluded general election, the governors from both sides of the divide unanimously agreed on the choice of Fayemi for the NGF job.
Many observers had attributed the consensus nature of Fayemi’s election to his popularity and acceptance among his colleagues. Also his experience and circumstantial advantage of being about the most ranking governor from the south, where the position was zoned played a major role. Before arriving at the consensus, it was learnt that the governors made several consultations at different levels.
Fayemi first received the endorsement of the northern governors forum after due considerations on the established tradition of the NGF to rotate the chairmanship position between north and south of the country. He was considered the best choice for the job being a second term governor and former Minister with wider reach across political divide.
Also, governors from the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) met and decided to throw their weight behind Fayemi after considering the options before them. The PDP governors met for hours at the Gombe State governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, where they harmonised their position to back the Ekiti state governor for the NGF job. And thus, in a rare show of consensus, the 36 state governors came together to elect Fayemi as the new chairman of the NGF.
Speaking on the election of the new chairman, former NGF chair and Zamfara State Governor, Abdul-Aziz Yari said the 36 governors were unanimous in their choice of Fayemi and therefore called off voting.
At the meeting of the governors held Wednesday night in Abuja, Fayemi was nominated by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasiru El-rufai while his counterpart from Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa seconded his nomination.
The fact that Governor El-rufai was the one that nominated Fayemi said a lot about the level of acceptability that Fayemi appears to enjoy among his colleagues. The Kaduna State governor was initially reported to have shown interest in contesting for the NGF chair although he had also denied it.
But at the meeting of governors last Wednesday, El-rufai made spirited effort to disassociate himself from the report, describing it as mischievous.
In the end, the Ekiti State governor was unanimously elected to lead the Forum for the next four years. Also elected unanimously as the Vice Chairman was the Governor of Sokoto State, whose nomination came from Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode and seconded by the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Yari said the governors met as one family without any pronounced attachment to party leanings.
“The governors have decided to unanimously elect the Governor of Ekiti Governor Kayode Fayemi as chairman of the NGF from 2019 to 2021,” he said.
With the election of Fayemi as the next NGF chairman, attention will now shift to the critical role he is expected to play in both politics and governance in the country. One of the factors that contributed to Fayemi’s easy sail in the NGF election was his acclaimed closeness to the presidency and his ability to manage opposition’s interest.
What may perhaps be the first acid test to prove his prowess in this direction will be his ability to handle the present concerns by governors over the insecurity in the country and the move by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to impose restrictions on the way states and Local Governments operate their joint account. The two burning issues were deliberated upon at the governors’ meeting.
During the meeting, the governors expressed frustration at their inability to bring the escalating insecurity in their states under control even as the chief security officers of their respective areas. The governors from the opposition PDP had earlier met and demanded that a state of emergency be declared on the security situation in the country.
But after lamenting their obvious challenges in dealing with the matter at hand, the governors resolved to take up the issue with the president to see what could be done urgently to arrest the situation.
On this, Yari said: “The issue of security is under the mandate of Mr. President. We are supporting him, because he is the commander-in-chief and we hope to come up with solutions with him.”
The governors further discussed the issue of the their face-off with the Federal Government over the directive issued by the NFIU seeking to impose restrictions on the powers of states and local governments to operate joint state and local government accounts.
Yari gave an indication of the readiness of the governors to confront the federal government over any interference on their constitutional responsibilities, when he maintained that supervision of local government administration is under the purview of the state government and state House Assembly.
“Local government is not a federating unit and so what we are saying is that neither NFIU nor any federal government agency has the powers to interfere or regulate the operations of states and the local government. They have no powers to tell the governors or the local government what to do”.
Therefore, resolving the issues of insecurity and local government funds will no doubt prove a daunting task for the incoming leadership of the NGF under Governor Fayemi.
Before Fayemi’s emergence, one of the fears some people had about him was that he appeared ambitious and that he might use his new position to promote his perceived presidential ambition. 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 on May 29, 2019, is not eligible to run again due to constitutional restrictions to a two-term tenure for any elected president. Even though there are sentiments within some sections in the ruling party that it is the turn of the South-east to produce the next presidential candidate in 2023, the tussle for the presidency has already gained traction in the South-west, where Governor Fayemi hails from.
Therefore, it is not out of place to say that Fayemi might be part of the tussle for the next presidential candidate of the APC. There is no doubting the fact that the chairmanship of the NGF carries a lot of political weight.
Anyone who superintends over the affairs of an influential body like the NGF and interfaces regularly with the governors of the 36 states of the federation will no doubt command a remarkable level of influence. His influence will pose a challenge to those seeking to succeed Buhari in 2023.
Particularly, Fayemi’s new position may set him against the presidential aspiration of a former Lagos State governor and one of the national leaders of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. However, his handling of the affairs of the NGF would certainly boost or undermine his chances as a major power broker in the build-up to 2023 presidential election.