Last week, the crisis in the NGF moved into Aso Rock Presidential Villa with dramatic effects. This is the story of how Governor Amaechi was humbled one night, while he drew level the following day, with the active collaboration of his majority governors – both drama inside the Villa.
By Ben Agande, Abuja
Never before has the country witnessed so much drama as it did last week since the imbroglio over the election of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum. Since the controversy that erupted following the rejection by some governors of the election of Rotimi Amaechi as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, every action or inaction of Amaechi who is seen to be in the bad books of the presidency has been subject to microscopic scrutiny. So when the meeting of the Nigerian Governors Forum was convened last Wednesday night, some loyalists to the president interpreted the action as a further affront on the president who had scheduled dinner to honour women in his cabinet for that same night. For many, Amaechi and his group of nineteen governors who had all been invited for the meeting may not attend the dinner to further drive home their spite for the president. They were utterly mistaken.
About thirty minutes into the dinner which had in attendance President Goodluck Jonathan as well as the president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, the former Ghanaian President, John Kufour, the president of the senate and other high ranking government officials, governor Rotimi Amaechi and his supporter-governors were ushered into the Banquet hall of the presidential Villa when the programme of event had already started. His admission into the hall was an aberration that had never taken place for a long time. Once the president is seated for a function, no other person is allowed to come into the venue especially as noisily as Governor Amaechi and his colleagues were allowed to do.
According to a security source in the presidential Villa, ‘the decision to allow the governors come in even against protocol was to avoid the situation whereby unnecessary politics would be read into our action if we stopped them from entering. We decided to allow them through the back door so that they would not distract the programme and we would not be accused of playing politics. It was a delicate decision that we had to take with a view to balancing our security obligations while not providing reasons for unnecessary politicking”.
It was a decision that they later came to regret, Sunday Vanguard learnt. As soon as the governors were allowed in, while a few of them like Governor Rotimi Amaechi went to the front seats which had had been reserved for them, other governors like Murtala Nyako of Adamawa and Magatarkada of Sokoto chose to seat at the back of the hall where seats had been reserved for the media.
But while the Secretary to the government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim was reading his welcome address, another drama was to play out between the governor of Rivers state, Rotimi Amaechi and the president’s security details. Few minutes after he sat on his seat, Amaechi moved from his seat and made to towards where the president and his guests were seated. It was a decision that he apparently did not think through. His journey was truncated as a security detail of the president politely but firmly told him that he could not access the president at that point in time.
Giving reason for the action of the security operatives, a senior security source at the Villa confided in Sunday Vanguard that it was a decision that was solely informed by security considerations and not politics. “The president and his guests were listening to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who was delivering his speech. Allowing governor Amaechi to approach him at that time would have caused a huge distraction. We could not have afforded to allow that” he said.
But the drama involving governor Rotimi Amaechi reached its crescendo on Thursday last week at the meeting of the National Economic Council. The council is a meeting of the governors under the chairmanship of the Vice president to forge a common economic front for the state and the federal government. Before the controversy over the chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors Forum, the chairman of the Forum usually occupies a prominent place and his seat is clearly marked to indicate that he is the leader of the governors present. But obviously following directives from above, the sitting arrangement was changed from the usual. Previously the Chairman of the Governors Forum would usually sit directly opposite Vice President Namadi Sambo who chairs the council but last week Thursday, no seat was allocated for the NGF chairman ostensibly to avoid a situation whereby the presidency would be accused of taking sides in the controversy surrounding the NGF elections.
Instead, the seats were rearranged in alphabetical order and since there is no State with Q, this brought both Ameachi and Jang to sit beside each other, probably the first time they were sitting so close to each other since the NGF face off.
so when governor Rotimi Amaechi came into the council Chambers and headed for where he thought his seat would be, he was politely informed by the protocol officers that his seat was the one marked with R, representing Rivers state. It was at that moment that it dawned on him and other governors present who his neighbour was going to be.
Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu who is also the chairman of Northern Nigeria Governors’ Forum, voiced out the anxiety that had dominated the hall when he told Amaechi: “So you are going to sit with Jang. This is very nice oh. Somebody is trying to be diplomatic here.”
To this Amaechi replied : “We are still together. So, I am going to sit with him. The real chairman and the… (laughter).
The arrival of governor Jang created a frenzy amongst supporters of governor Amaechi who apparently wanted to take advantage of the presence of the media to send a message from the seat of power which is widely perceived to be the real power behind Jang.
The Edo State Governor, Adams Oshimole whose theatrical abilities may have been honed by several years of his experience in the labour movement led other governors to where Jonah Jang was seated and pointed to Amaechi, saying “that is my chairman!”. He added for dramatic effect still looking at Jang “you are the leader of the other PDP extended faction”, drawing laughter from those present in the Chambers hall. By this, Amaechi drew blood too, to even the scores against Jang and the presidency after the incident of the previous night
For governor Oshiomhole and his colleagues, though the comment was supposed to be a joke to lighten the mood at the council chambers, the moment may have presented a sobering moment for governor Jang who wore a bland face for most of the encounter. This drama is bound to be repeated again and again for as long as the crisis in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum remains unresolved.