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Ode to the Governors

By Owei Lakemfa

THE Governors Forum, an exclusive  club  of the thirty six state governors is emerging as the new power centre driving the politics of  the country. Presenting itself as a patriotic, supra national and non politically partisan body, it makes magisterial pronouncements which to governors carries the weight of law.

Their ‘Lordships’ in the State Government Houses have just ruled that Acting President Goodluck Jonathan having been promoted to the enviable position of Acting President, has reached his bar; he cannot become the president. On the other hand, whatever happens, Umaru Yar’Adua would remain president until the end of his tenure.

Therefore no issue of impeachment or invocation of Section 44 of the constitution will be tolerated. The governors know that their ruling violates the constitution and usurps the powers of the National Assembly, but that is not their headache; this is part of the Doctrine of Necessity.

Before leaving Abuja where they delivered their verdict, the governors asked Acting President Jonathan to shut up the Information Minister on matters relating to the judgement they had given. Such are the enormous powers of the Forum, which to be fair,  were on display when after months of dilly dallying it decided that Jonathan be made the Acting President, and it came to pass.

While on that occasion, the governors intervention was quite patriotic and timely, they run the danger of creating a dictatorship more so when they do not consult the people of their various states before taking decisions that have far reaching effects on the country.

Indeed, the governors are very powerful. This is not just because unlike the ordinary Nigerian, they have immunity or are the chief security officers of the states, but also due to the fact that they have complete control of the states.

This includes command over their State Houses of Assembly, the Local Governments (is anybody out there bold enough to talk about autonomy?) and of course the traditional rulers and ruling parties at state level. They also have complete hold on their states financial resources  which are a sort of war chests fitted with security votes. They can determine who  wins or loses elections in their states, and the Federal ministers are mainly the appointees of governors.

So enormous are their powers that departing  governors sometimes decide to pass through the Senate, and they can hardly be stopped. With such powers and prestige, the war to be governor is so fierce that if some of the aspirants or candidates have nuclear weapons they can deploy against opponents, they will not hesitate to do so.

Ironically, as politically, financially, economically and socially powerful  a governor is, he can be as powerless as a stealth bomber without fuel; he cannot control the constable posted to the Government House. Plateau State governor, Jonah David Jang puts it more graphically ”State governors are highly incapacitated. You are the chief security officer of a state, you don’t command even a fly”

This can lead to all sorts of crisis especially where you have governors who are perceived by the centre as being stubborn. There was the case in the Ajeromi Local Government of Lagos State when the chairman correctly read that a riot situation in the form of  inter ethnic conflict was about breaking out.

He dutifully informed the then governor who alerted the federal authorities. But the police made no move; they would not take instructions from the governor, yet their bosses in Abuja did not instruct them to intervene. It was after the mayhem was well under way and people had been killed before  the governor’s request was granted.

Jang has since 2008 made similar complaints including on this month’s insane and inexcusable massacres on the Plateau. Rather than  address the concerns he had raised there were attempts to muscle him using the federal might and the ragged ruling party. In the recent case, there are strenuous attempts to present him as an anti military person out to blackmail the army. The primary issues of failure of intelligence, basic insecurity and the slow response of the security services to distress calls which led to regrettable loss of lives which he raised, are conveniently forgotten.

Our contemporary  experiences have shown that neither the governors nor their forum is as formidable as we are  made to believe. In the 1999-2003 era, governors were mainly run by Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He was so confident about this that he decided to run against President Olusegun Obasanjo.  His indecisiveness and final decision to remain Vice President, cost him his political relevance.

Obasanjo there after took over, and in the words of  Professor Wole Soyinka, he “bullied and ordered them around like schoolboys” At a point he decided that the best punishment for some governors was to remove them even if it be unconstitutionally. Thus, with the backing of eighteen out of thirty two legislators, which fell well short of the required two thirds, Governor Rasheed Ladoja was removed in Oyo State.

The Plateau State case was even more ridiculous; Governor Joshua Dariye was ‘impeached’ by six out of twenty four legislators while Bayelsa legislators were kidnapped and only taken back to Yenagoa when they agreed to ‘impeach’ Governor DSP Alamiesigha. In those days of Federal Government rascality and the rampaging Obasanjo administration very few governors like Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State stood firm to defend the democratic process.

But all that is in the fading past. Today, Their Excellencies have reversed the trend; rather than being dictated to, they are dictating to the Federal Government including insisting on the punishing and anti people deregulation of petroleum products. We do not need dictation by any group; what Nigerians desire and demand is democratic governance  and the dividends of democracy. It is an open secret that the level of governance in  almost all the states is very low.

So having galloped to save the Nigerian state, the respected governors should retire to their various states and get back to work.


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