By Eddy Odivwri
About a month ago, February 7, 2020, to be precise, I wrote a column titled “Governance Without Sparks”. Later that evening, Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) sent me a lengthy text on my private line, explaining that I was not informed enough about the activities of the NGF, which I had accused of doing little to stir and steer good governance in Nigeria. He thus offered me an invitation to attend the next NGF meeting. That meeting held February 26, 2020, with me in attendance.
Looking generally at the governance horizon in the country, it would appear that the effect of governance is not being exactly felt by the ordinary people on the streets. But in attending the meeting, I realised that there is so much of organization and calculative planning behind the act of governance, especially among the governors.
The NGF Secretariat, located somewhere in Wuse district , Abuja is a whole building, with next compound newly acquired and being developed.
The NGF, to my chagrin, is a very well-structured entity having the full accoutrements of units and departments, manned by very prized personnel and professionals, all headed by a Director General, Mr Asishana Okauru.
Its media chief, my friend and colleague, Mr Abdulrasaq Bello Barkindo had conducted me round the entire outfit, in what appears like a mini-orientation exercise.
He informed that the NGF was basically focused on six thematic areas of governance: Education, Health, Agriculture, Security, Economy and Infrastructure, in no particular order.
Indeed, at the governors’ meeting proper which comes after an open dinner, spiced with banters and jokes among themselves, it is obvious that the governors take the business of governance serious, never mind that some of the governors, like typical politicians, came late to the meeting, just as some were absent. In total, 23 members (15 governors and eight Deputy Governors) were in attendance, and this included Mr Douye Diri whose governorship status was finally and firmly upheld that day by the Supreme Court which affirmed that he is the authentic governor of Bayelsa State. It was his first meeting and he got lots of accolades and warm welcome.
In an adjoining room, there was a somewhat serious atmosphere by different sub-groups, each reviewing its papers and discussing it. They are all to make different presentations to the governors on their various areas. There was a group from Hypertech (Shiroro Mambila Energy scheme), there was another group from the Environment led by the Director General, Forestry; the Minister of Finance also made a presentation on the state of the economy to the governors.
Others who made presentation include The Ease of Doing Business, and the Director General of National Youth Service Corps, Brig Gen Sule Ibrahim.
The subjects of the various presentations were not only very key and informative, they were germane to the overall task of good governance as it provided relevant update on the various subjects.
Each presenter was asked some pertinent questions by the governors and the entire subject reviewed. They sought knowledge and information.
Governance policies, it appears, are never haphazard. They are well discussed, debated and adopted.
It was the week of the Corona virus menace.
Gov David Umahi of Ebonyi State suddenly introduced the subject of the Coronavirus and narrated how he had been trying to avoid some friend who recently returned from China. “ I told him I am in Lagos, when he wanted to come see me”, he told his colleagues. ”The room erupted in laughter.
The need to plant 35 million trees (which animals do no t eat) in the country was stressed.
The issue of the release of some funds meant for Basic Health Care came up. Many of them expressed reservation on the non-release of the fund by an organ that really does not have such powers.
A few other issues came up. They discussed frankly, especially on the arbitrary deduction of over N6 billion from the allocation meant for the states , for the purpose of funding the North East Development Commission (NEDC), without the permission of the state governors. And this is in spite of the fact that over N300 billion was budgeted for the NEDC in the 2020 fiscal budget.
The matter was to be taken up with the presidency.
Dr Fayemi as presiding officer did a good job of listening to his colleagues, moderating the discussion with maturity and mutual respect. They took a stand on certain controversial issues which will be discussed next day at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting.
The NGF works closely with international agencies, funding partners and donor agencies, all aimed at making life better for the average Nigerian. The NGF serves as a running engine that powers good governance across the land. Many of the donor agencies and development partners
often choose to work in select states through the guide of the NGF.
Indeed, an entire wing of the NGF secretariat (the bungalow) is occupied by World Bank consultants who are currently working on the STAFTAS (State Fiscal Transparency Accountability and Sustainability) scheme. The states are assessed using some benchmark indices in determining the compliance with what is expected of them. And that also tells whether the states are qualified for some counterpart funding from international donor agencies or not.
In fact the Heath unit of the NGF does a monthly assessment of the states in checking how well the states are meeting up with certain standards. Sources in the NGF informed that such assessments have always helped to engender some kind of healthy competition among the governors, just as it motivates them to keep improving.
In all, the NGF appears established and organized, as it even has a monthly publication called The Executive Summary, where the various activities and feats across the states are featured and projected
What appears to be the missing gap is the full impact of these efforts on the daily balance sheet of Nigerians.