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Nigerian Governors Forum: Moment of Truth

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

Nigeria’s 36 governors gather today to choose a chairman to pilot the affairs of their forum for the next two years. It is the culmination of intrigues that could fracture the frames of the increasingly controversial forum.

AFTER months of dithering procrastination members of the country’s most prestigious gang, Club of 36 go in for the election to produce a new captain.

Today’s election of chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF is coming after months of subtle campaign for the top job that has been laced with intrigues, backstabbing and sometimes open display of presidential power.

The NGF formed at the onset of the country’s democracy in 1999 has had five chairmen in the persons of Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, (Nasarawa, 1999   2004), Arc. (Obong) Victor Attah, (Akwa Ibom State 2004   2006), Chief Lucky Igbinedion, (Edo 2006   2007), Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, (Kwara 2007   2011) and the incumbent, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State.

Today’s showdown is in the eyes of many seen as an ego fight between President Goodluck Jonathan and his loyalists on one side and the incumbent chairman and a number of his supporters in the forum who are fighting to keep the body and the power of governors out of the reach of the president.

But it didn’t start as an ego fight. The bruising fight that has literally been taken to Amaechi started as a matter of money and politics before it became almost completely overshadowed by ego.

Deeper issues of governance
Under its first three chairmen, Adamu, Attah and Igbinendion, the forum was largely regarded as a chummy club where the governors came together to rub minds and relax. JOMECHI-Cartoon

However, under Saraki the forum began to take on deeper issues on governance and project the self interest of the governors as a collective and individually.

Saraki’s stewardship: Under Saraki’s stewardship, the forum helped the governors to win a share from the Excess Crude Account, money that the previous administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo had sought to save for the rainy day.

Politically, they also threw muscles. It would be recalled that a subset of the body, comprising essentially of governors belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP were at the forefront in the collaboration with the cabal in Aso Rock at the time of the sickness of former President Umaru Yar‘adua.

The governors in the early days of the last sickness of the immediate past president gave scant regard to the then vice-president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and according to some accounts worked together to see how they could project one of their own as a possible replacement for Yar‘adua. However, fate failed them.

Advent of Jonathan administration and Amaechi as NGF chairman: On the advent of the Jonathan administration and with Amaechi as chairman, the NGF continued to gain influence. The peer review mechanism conceived during Saraki’s chairmanship, became a notable instrument for advancing key goals of good governance under Amaechi.

Among the PDP governors, the NGF chairman also acted as unofficial leader and helped to articulate the interests of the PDP governors.

A case of how the PDP governors used their power to browbeat other stakeholders was reflected in how they chased former PDP national chairman, Dr. Okwesilese Nwodo out of office. Nowdo according to some accounts had followed Dr. Jonathan during his first official visit to the United States and during that time presented to him a game plan on how he as president could checkmate the power and influence of the governors in the party.

Central to Nwodo’s script was the e-registration of party members, a plan that would also make all members of the party financial contributors to the party, and as such, create independent funding for the party and remove it from the apron strings of the governors who largely fund the party. It was a plan that the president reportedly bought hook, line and sinker.

It was no surprise that the president fully backed Nwodo – a well known associate of former vice-president Atiku Abubakar who had left the PDP with Atiku for the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN – for the position of national chairman of the PDP.

Use of brain and brawn
The president it was assumed believed that Nwodo given his experience also as the pioneer national secretary of the PDP was sufficiently equipped to help him navigate the mines that the governors could lay for him. The president heartily launched the e-registration on August 10, 2010.

Few days later, the PDP governors rallied round to convince the president to stop the project. And in no time, Nwodo was himself clumsily forced out of office.

Saraki’s successor as NGF chairman: Amaechi further consolidated on the use of brain and brawn in the contest of power with the president.

Even more significant is the fact that Amaechi has been able to endear himself to his colleagues and the citizenry with his remarkable performance in office. The estimated 500 model schools built by Amaechi in Rivers State that can compare with any primary school in the world, the 130 primary healthcare centres, the farm projects among others are examples of legacy projects that Amaechi has executed that are now being emulated by his colleagues. But did the performance get into the governor’s head? Critics say so.

Not surprisingly, the governor’s domestic foes including associates of his predecessor, Dr. Peter Odili who have not found space in the present administration have teamed up with Amaechi’s enemies in Abuja to humiliate him.

Today’s election would largely be a contest between Amaechi and the candidate of the presidential villa. As at yesterday, the decision on who would contest against Amaechi was still being decided between Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State and Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State.

Amaechi is almost sure of all the votes from most of the Southwest governors. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State has been a key strategist in his camp and moved round the country with him.

Amaechi until recently was believed to have the backing of nearly all but one of the South-South governors but with unrelenting pressure from the presidency a couple of them are now distancing themselves from him.

It is as such no surprise that today’s vote would be decided by what decision is taken at an early morning meeting of the Northern States Governors Forum, NSGF scheduled to take place at the Asokoro, Abuja residence of Governor Babangida Aliyu, the Niger State governor.

At the meeting the northern governors are going to decide on how they would vote, either as a bloc or individually.

But even more will be the key decision on the mode of voting. It is generally believed that even some of those campaigning against Amaechi could even vote for him in the event of a secret ballot.

But whatever, it is almost generally agreed that given the key issue of 2015 and the stakes involved that today’s election could end up a deadlock or lead to the emergence of two chairmen of the forum!


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