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The Nigerian union of governors

By Tonnie Iredia
Unionism has no doubt taken a firm root in Nigeria as every profession, occupation and vocation in the country now wears a well organized labour stance.

Each one knows what is best for it and makes no mistake in going for it.  Tanker drivers for example have their own formidable union different from that of their owners; so do journalists, medical doctors, teachers etc. Perhaps the most potent of all unions currently operating in the country is the Nigerian Union of Governors more popularly known as the Governors forum.

The union which took root between 1999 and 2003 has become more forceful by the day with a number of strategies for getting whatever it desires. A few examples would suffice here. First, with a well coordinated ‘rent-a-crowd’ protest, it stopped our legislators who could otherwise pass anything into law from legislating themselves into the executive committees of their political parties.

Second, the forum got the Governorship elections to be scheduled at the exact point it desired within the order of the 2011 general elections. Every scheme by whoever else to reverse the order was effectively blocked.

Third, to prevent the thwarting of their second tenure, members of the forum decided that President Jonathan had to win the Presidential election and so appropriately managed both the party primaries and the election proper to ensure an overwhelming victory for the President.

In some states, the victory was with as high as 105%. The mobilization was so expertly done that the President scored more votes during his own contest than those which the Governors garnered in their own elections a few days later. In the so-called opposition states like Lagos, Ekiti and Edo, the ACN Governors mobilized their supporters to vote against their own Presidential candidate! What then, can Governors not do?

Take the case of local governments for instance; everything in that tier of government is at the Governor’s pleasure. Indeed, the councils are ‘elected’ by the Governor in each state.  But anyone who suspects that the reason why the Governors have been so successful is because the examples we have raised are all on political matters misses the point.

This is because the Governors are even more shrewd in economic matters where they have used their union quite often to also claim ascendancy in the land.  This explains why recent calls for the abolition of the State and Local Government Joint Account into which funds allocated to states and local governments from the Federation Account are paid cannot materialize.

Although analysts like Engr. Elias Mbam, Chairman of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) have argued that we need to forestall the abuse of the funds by state governments which often for frivolous reasons withhold much of the amount due to Local Governments, the debate will remain puerile in the face of a formidable interest group like the Governors’ union.

In the case of the minimum wage, the Governors played Machiavelli’s ‘lion and fox’ game by first accepting it before it was signed into law and when it was convenient, reneged on it so as to hold on to so much resources. It is for the same reason that they are currently opposed to the sovereign wealth fund (SWF).

At a recent meeting of their forum, the Governors called for a suspension of the implementation of the fund with the argument that it lacked constitutional backing.

To the undiscerning, this is a strong point but it is without doubt an argument that can only be advanced by unionists and not statesmen because the SWF is a good design for catering for unforeseen circumstances in the future, particularly the benefit that posterity can derive from it.

Progressive Governors like Al Makura of Nasarawa state know that to oppose the fund which is a saving for the future is anti-people.

In fairness, some of the Governors who are opposed to the fund because of the fear that the big brother – the federal government is likely to miss use it, have a point as well articulated by former Governor Tinubu of Lagos state. Besides, can Governors trust their big brother?

During the Yar ‘Adua administration, they went to court to stop the federal government from making a similar arrangement to deduct certain sums from the excess crude account. They were persuaded to withdraw the case and get a refund. They did, but as usual, the federal government broke the promise. As we opined recently in the case of ASUU, it appears there is a special duty office in government whose job is to ensure that she does not honour agreements.

The situation now is fascinating as it is one tier of government that is making such a case against another as if any is better in matters of honour. We are thus unable to accept that the opposition of the Nigerian Union of Governors to the sovereign wealth fund has to do with only the fear of its misappropriation because ther are many options open to the union.

It can insist for example on a common ownership method of managing the fund such as having some Governors as mandatory signatories to the accounts of the fund. Since a position such as this was not adopted, we suspect that the Governors are simply being tight fisted- a posture which also appears to explain their support for the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy.

Interestingly, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Chairman of the Governors’ forum says the forum will not go to court over the SWF matter! So what will it do? We just hope that the forum will not be provoked to make history by going on strike as many unions do. If unfortunately that happens, would all the rules of the game including the popular ‘no work no pay’ policy be followed and would pay here extend to the famous security vote? We suggest that because democracy presupposes the rule of law, Governors should lead by example and resolve their grievances through the due process of law. That would indeed strengthen democracy. And talking about democracy, let us recall that its main feature is the sovereignty of the people and not the union of any powerful group.

Against this backdrop, we are unable to support the role of Governors in the unfolding scenario in Bayelsa state where they are ganging up as a union to save one of theirs. As elections are around the corner in that state, it is time for the people and indeed only the people to evaluate performance and make rational decisions.

Who built the one or two roads they have; is it the out-going Governor or interventionist agencies like the NDDC? Is the cost of a signboard announcing the contract of a project competing with the cost of the project?  Only the people and not the Nigerian Union of Governors should have the say. It is time for the powerful to be told to let the people be the subject and not the object of politics.


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