By Emmanuel Edukugho
There was an election held on Friday May 24, 2013, at the Rivers State Government House, Abuja by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) to elect a chairman. Against all odds, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of RiversState, who was having a running battle with the presidency, got re-elected for a second tenure as he defeated Governor Jonah Jang of PlateauState, said to be the candidate of President Goodluck Jonathan by 19 to 16 votes.
According to media reports, the results were announced by A.B. Okauru, the Director-General of NGF, immediately after counting of ballots. All the 36 state governors apart from Yobe’s Ibrahim Gaidam participated in the vote conducted through secret ballot.
Feelers getting to Saturday Vanguard indicated that the results shocked President Jonathan who was said to be angry and fumed privately while at the African Union Summit of Heads of State and Governments marking its 50th anniversary in Ethiopia. The President was so uncomfortable with the NGF election result which his perceived political adversary won convincingly but which the pro-Jonathan governors later disputed, eventually splitting the NGF into two factions. He had to return home without addressing the summit, leaving that duty to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Many Nigerians are at a loss about the relevance or otherwise of the Nigeria Governors Forum judging from its existence since inception of this democracy in 1999. While some believed that they’ve not been constructive enough and development-oriented towards providing the much-needed dividends of democracy to the people, others derisively termed them as looters. Jimoh Atere, an insurance agent said the governors are not relevant to the development aspirations of their people. “They’ve forgotten about governance and propagating their selfish interests. We need development. I’m disappointed with the governors. They have seized the local governments and made chairmen and councilors to do their bidding, refusing to grant them autonomy. These governors don’t allow free and fair elections to be conducted in local governments in their states, preferring to appoint caretaker committees to run the affairs of the councils.”
A university lecturer who spoke with Saturday Vanguard, expressed dismay over Governor Amaechi’s pronouncement against autonomy for local governments and even against the recent declaration of state of emergency in three northern states to check the activities of Boko Haram.
“We don’t need the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. They are just playing politics to the detriment of national development. How much change have they brought to their people. They are just holding the people to ransom and the forum should be disbanded. It’s a political pressure group being used by our presidents.” According to the don who declined to give his name, “these governors forum don’t have any worthwhile relevance. The forum has no basis in our constitution, only to protect interest of governors with penchant to loot and share public funds.”
In most of the states, no real development is going on. Bad roads, no drinking water, no functional hospitals or clinics, education system has collapsed, high rate of poverty, massive unemployment and lack of affordable housing scheme for the people.
Between President Jonathan and Governor Amaechi, what is the grouse? Who is abusing the process of acquiring political power or misusing power? Political office holders at all levels are supposed to be holding power in trust for the people that elected them and not to regard power as individual inheritance for themselves. This ongoing feud has the capability to overheat the polity ahead of 2015.
The PDP has suspended Governor Amaechi, an action he termed “political witch-hunting”. Amaechi had said it was ridiculous for the PDP to suspend him on the grounds that he refused to reinstate the suspended Obio-Akpor Local Government Chairman and 17 councilors, claiming it was the state House of Assembly who did that.
The embattled Rivers Governor alleged there was no fair hearing as he was not invited to get his own side before he was suspended by the party, wondered why the PDP should victimise him for what was a legislative action.
The crisis in NGF can be traced to the political ambition of some governors for the presidency which PDP is not ready to tolerate, as the party won’t compromise on discipline. “There is no vacancy in Aso Rock for any PDP governor in 2015. Any governor with presidential ambition is free to leave PDP, and contest on the platform of any opposition party,” a Lagos State PDP chieftain told Saturday Vanguard.
In his own reaction on NGF crisis, Mr. Femi Adeshina, President, Nigeria Guild of Editors, has said he had expected the outcome. “I expected the outcome. I expected a keenly contested election but not as messy as what we are seeing. I expected the victor to be magnanimous, the loser humble.”
Speaking on a radio programme – Fact File (Ray Power), monitored by this writer, he acknowledged there was election.
“Yes, there was an election. The Director-General of NGF came out to announce the results. He didn’t say there was no election. There is electronic proof. The organisation (NGF) is not recognized by the constitution, but it’s an influential association. Like the governors provided the Vice President for Jonathan. Everyone wants mileage. It’s about politicking, may not relate to governance, but peer group. Now, it has become do or die. “I am disillusioned, dispirited… the NGF is factionalised.”
Adeshina went on: “If 35 governors cannot hold election peacefully, how can we hold an election involving the entire Nigeria? Amaechi is not new to suspension., It’s second time around. PDP can say later it is a family affair and then re-unite. Other parties are now having governors. The NGF is now a political tool. It is not just about Amaechi, but our democratic rule, exercising our democratic right.”
Barrister Ubani, Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch, described the NGF crisis as “very worrisome.” He called on the governors to lead by example. “It’s appalling, alarming if our governors who pontificate a lot cannot now show us how to lead. They are in disarray. The acting president, and later becoming President came from the governors’ forum.
“Our governors have lost focus. There is no good governance. They want to arm-twist the President, just as they scuttle the fuel subsidy effort. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum should die and not rise again.”
Reacting also on the NGF crisis on radio, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the Governors Forum rift is “a mere distraction, completely unnecessary and uncalled for,” as the body not provided for in the Nigerian Constitution.
Presently, there are two claimants to the NGF chair. Governor Rotimi Amaechi who won in the first initial election involving all the 35 governors and Governor Jonah Jang the factional chairman presented by pro-Jonathan state governors. The nation is watching, awaiting what happens next.