By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The first of the quarterly one day national crusade against polio holding on August 13, 2011 could perhaps reconstruct impressions about the powerful Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF.
The national crusade is an initiative of the NGF which until recently had been largely regarded as a self-centered body preoccupied with shoring up the political interests of the nation’s 36 Governors.
The appropriateness of the national crusade against polio is indeed forthright. Nigeria is the only country in Africa still battling with the preventable polio virus. The only other three countries where the polio virus is presently found are Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
It was such a significant step when in a bid to focus attention towards the debilitating disease that the NGF last month announced a schedule of national crusades to be led by the Governors against the disease. The quarterly one day sensitization campaigns are expected to rev up awareness on the disease towards eradicating the embarrassing scourge from the country. As part of the campaign the Governors are also expected to commit substantial resources to help in the crusade against the polio battle.
“Our governors are committed to eradicating this disease from our country once and for all, and they have promised not to rest until that objective is achieved,” Mr. Asishana Okauru, director-general of the NGF said in a statement disclosing the intention of the NGF.
“All members are agreed on the need to declare total war on the disease and that is what they have done. Enough is enough. Polio must disappear from our land.”
The salutary intentions of the NGF come against earlier reservations about the raw political instincts that had until recently shadowed activities of the NGF which was seen as a platform for political brinkmanship. It is not surprising that the body which now has a very active secretariat run by Okauru had lately been regarded as the nation’s most powerful body despite not having a constitutional role.
The influence of the NGF is believed to come from the political clout the Governors are able to pull individually and collectively. Pulling that weight, the sub-group of the NGF within the PDP has successfully influenced the pattern and policy of the PDP in recent times. The Governors were influential in the election of Prince Vincent Ogbulafor as a compromise between Anyim Pius Anyim and their former colleague, Dr. Sam Egwu.
The NGF sub-group within the PDP was also successful in derailing the e-voting system conceived by the Dr. Okwesileze Nwodo executive of the PDP. After stopping Nwodo’s reform they were also instrumental in his final ousting from the position of national chairman.
It was as such not surprising that the leadership of the increasingly powerful NGF earlier this year became a matter of deep politicking when former Governor Gbenga Daniel was announced as the new leader of the NGF by a group of Governors. That announcement was immediately rejected by another group before Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi was finally chosen as an acceptable candidate to lead the forum.
Willy-nilly the new leadership it now seems is creating a new orientation for the forum. The crusade against polio is now the first major initiative of the new regime.
The forum has also lately taken up the matter of the restructuring of the national revenue formula. The quietness of Governors on the matter of the revenue formula has until now been surprising given that altering the formula was one way that they would easily confront the financial challenges before the State Governments.
For more than twelve years after the inception of the fourth republic the Governors were quiet on the issue as the Federal Government which is the major beneficiary of the present formula seemingly sought to sustain the status quo.
That the Governors under their new leadership have now taken up the gauntlet could mean a worthwhile effort in redressing the challenges to their finances. However, any such commendation for the Governors is immediately shadowed by continuing suspicions of misplaced priorities by some of the Governors.
The role of the NGF in halting what could have been a destructive national strike last week also dovetails into the new productive role that the body is now carving for itself. The strike had been called by labour to protest the slow implementation of the new national minimum wage.
The meeting between the labour and the Federal Government was deadlocked penultimate Monday and labour was revving for a full strike until late that that night when some of the Governors led by their leader, Amaechi moved in.
However, the seeming inclination of the NGF towards populist actions is only the beginning. How far they go in championing the interests of the masses and the governed would only go to show how far the NGF has been transformed from a body that is only interested in protecting the political interests of 36 men among more than 150 million people.