By Simon Ebegbulem & Henry Umoru
BENIN—THERE seems to be a major crack in the Governors’ Forum, as Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State and his Kano State counterpart, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, weekend, described as unacceptable, the purported election of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State as the new chairman of the forum by few Governors of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
But the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, said it has nominated Otunba Gbenga Daniel as its new chairman following the purported resignation of Dr. Bukola Saraki as Chairman.
Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State announced the nomination on Saturday in Abuja at the end of a meeting of the governors.
However, the outgoing chairman of the forum, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State has called for calm saying the leadership issue would be thrashed out on Wednesday, November 3.
Saraki said in a statement signed by his media aide that the leadership confusion will be ironed out in accordance with the principle of the forum
Vanguard investigation, however, revealed that Dr. Saraki, the present chairman of the Governors’ Forum, is yet to relinquish his position as chairman of the forum.
Oshiomhole, who briefed newsmen in Benin City, yesterday, explained that a meeting of the forum was scheduled for Wednesday this week, stressing that it would be criminal for any Governor to claim that a new chairman had been elected for the Forum.
Noting that there was great danger for the 2011 general elections if governors would connive to tell lies about an election that never held, Oshiomhole said: “I read a news item about a report to the effect that Governor Gbenga Daniel has been elected as chairman of the Governors’ Forum. In the report, Governor Suswan claimed that the decision was unanimous.
“The truth of the matter is that I received an invitation from the outgoing chairman of the Governors’ Forum, Bukola Saraki, to a meeting of the Governors Forum this Wednesday at 8.00pm.
The aim of the meeting among other things is to elect a new chairman and discuss other issues. So when I watched that news item that Gbenga Daniel was said to have been elected, I was confused and I can confirm that as a matter of fact, there was no meeting of the Governors’ Forum.
“The Governors’ Forum is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. But if 16 or 17 PDP governors met at a venue that was never a venue of our meeting- Governor Gbenga Daniel’s governor’s lodge, and claimed that they have elected him as chairman then its wrong.
“I have no quarrel with Governor Gbenga Daniel or any governor who wishes to be chairman of the forum, but I expect that any one who nurses such ambition should be able to persuade some other governors to accept him or her as chairman. I thought this is serious because if a club of just 36 persons, you can call it elite club, if we cannot freely, transparently choose a chairman for the forum, then how can we be talking about free and fair election in 2011.
Governors who believe in free and fair election cannot attempt to rig in some one as chairman.
“I found that completely distasteful and quite embarrassing. If governors will seek to outsmart and manipulate a process that is simple and straight forward, how can we expect that as leaders we are all committed to genuine electoral reform.
So I call you just to tell you that the statement credited to Governor Suswam is not correct. The Governors’ Forum is yet to meet, I believe it will meet on Wednesday and whoever wishes to contest should declare his intention and appeal to his colleagues for support or oppose him. And if Governor Gbenga Daniel wishes to contest, he should come through the front door.
“It is important that we should remind ourselves that we are supposed to live by examples. Our actions more than our words, make several statements about our commitment to democratic norms and values.
So if a caucus of governors meet to choose or to identify with a particular individual, that cannot be mistaken for Governors’ Forum. And for me I found it extremely embarrassing and I thought it is important I dissociate myself from that claim and appeal to my colleagues that all of us must be seen to be committed to President Goodluck Jonathan’s commitment to electoral reform.
“I am worried that if governors can try to play a smart one like this, then there are serious reasons to worry about our commitment to genuine free and fair election come 2011.”
On his part, Kano State Governor, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau dissociated himself from the purported appointment of Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State as new Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
The governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Sule Ya’u Sule said in a statement: “To the best of Governor Shekarau’s knowledge there was never a meeting where a decision to appoint a new chairman of the forum was reached.”
He added: “A situation where some PDP Governors could sit and take a decision on behalf of 36 Governors is not acceptable moreso the forum is not only for PDP Governors but all Governors including those from other political parties as such it is a non partisan forum. Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, therefore, recognizes only Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State as the chairman of the forum.”
PDP govs nominate Daniel as new chairman
Meanwhile, PDP governors said they have nominated Otunba Daniel as the forum’s new Chairman following the purported resignation of Dr. Bukola Saraki as Chairman.
Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue announced the nomination on Saturday in Abuja at the end of a meeting of the governors.
Suswam said the change in the leadership of the forum became necessary since Bukola had indicated his interest to contest the 2011 presidential elections.
He noted that since Saraki signified his intension to contest the 2011 presidential elections, the forum had not been able to comment on national issues as it was known for.
“Take for instance the October 1 bomb blast in Abuja and other national issues, we could not comment because we had no chairman to speak for us.”
Saraki yet to resign
However, a source close to the Saraki Campaign Organisation said that Saraki was not aware of the development.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Saraki had not formally resigned his position as the forum‘s chairman, even though he had signified his intension to run for the 2011 presidential election.
Another source at the Forum’s secretariat said no formal letter of resignation has been received from Saraki.
The NGF, an umbrella organisation of the 36 states governors formed in1999 after the American Governors Association, has been a very influential body in the country.
The Forum under the leadership of Saraki, who joined the presidential race in September, has carried out a peer review of the 36 states of the federation.
The review was to identify best practices from the states and to make such available to states where they were lacking, for possible replication. The exercise is aimed at encouraging healthy competition among the governors.
A statement by Mr Asishiana Okauru, Director General of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum said Governor Saraki has received so many call since the purported election of Governor Daniel was published.
He said: “Since the reports, Dr. Saraki has received complaints from several State Governors who have denied any knowledge of, or involvement in the process that led to Governor Daniel’s reported appointment as Chairman of NGF.
“They argued that the meeting where the action was taken was not convened in accordance with the laid down procedures that have been followed over the years.
“They, therefore, see this development as inimical to the internal democratic process, the culture of inclusiveness and consensus on which the NGF was built, and on which it has operated.
“Dr. Saraki wishes to note that due process and strict adherence to laid down procedures are paramount in any democratic institutions. He assures all members and the Nigerian public that these principles will be followed in this case.
NGF meets Wednesday
“Therefore, in keeping with the desire of majority of NGF members, he calls on the general public to disregard the said newspaper reports; saying that a meeting has been called for Wednesday, November 3 where a decision will be taken on the issue of leadership of the NGF in keeping with the laid down procedures of the Forum.
“Dr. Saraki wishes to note further that the strength of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which has played key roles in resolving some important political challenges in our country in recent years despite its varied membership, depends on the sense of belonging and inclusiveness that it is able to give to all its members.
And for the NGF to continue to play this critical role in the politics and governance of this country in the future, its leadership must be positioned to readily inspire the confidence of all its members and be seen to be guided by laid down standards of democratic practice”