Amaechi, Shema battle for soul of Nigeria Governors’ Forum

Former Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi

PDP may settle for Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, as consensus candidate.

The 36 states governors, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, will on Friday decide who between the incumbent, Chibuike Amaechi, the Rivers State Governor, and his Katsina State counterpart, Ibrahim Shema, will lead them

The governors will pick the next chairman of the Forum at a meeting which its Director General, Asishana Okauru, said will hold at the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja from 4 p.m.

Mr. Okauru confirmed in a notice sent to the governors that the meeting has only two issues on its agenda, namely the election of the Forum’s chairman, vice chairman and the vacant seats on the Board of Trustees, BoT; and Any Other Business (AOB).

He explained that the South East, South West, North East and North Central geo-political zones have one vacant seat each on the Board while the North West has two.

“Notice of intent to run for these positions should kindly reach the secretariat before May 24, 2013. Thank you,” Mr. Okauru told the governors.

Already the governors have started arriving Abuja for the crucial meeting of the NGF, which has become a major player in the nation’s polity.

The candidates

When PREMIUM TIMES visited the secretariat of the Forum in the Asokoro District of Abuja, Thursday afternoon, the staff members were noticed preparing documents for the meeting and the election.

It was gathered that so far only Messrs Amaechi and Shema, both members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which has 23 members out of the 36 in the Forum, have picked the forms from the secretariat for the chairmanship slot.

The Rivers State Governor, who is completing his two years tenure as the boss of the group by the end of this month, had proclaimed publicly at a prayer session in Port Harcourt few days ago, that he would seek re-election, despite his face-off with the Presidency and some PDP leaders.

“I want you to pray for me on the forthcoming Governors Forum chairmanship election,” Mr. Amaechi pleaded with the officiating priest who led over 100 other priests to the prayer session.

“The reason for the present crisis rocking the state is because I indicated interest to re-contest the election. I know that after the election, the crisis will come to an end. Please pray for me because I must seek re-election.”

Mr. Shema, on his part, declared last week that he was deep into the chairmanship race, as according to him, the office is not the preserve of any individual.

Apparently referring to the decision of his opponent to seek re-election, the Katsina State governor insisted that the NGF’s chief position is rotational in line with the group’s constitution.

The presidency

However, there are indications that the Presidency propped up Mr. Shema to challenge Mr. Amaechi who has fallen out of favour with President Goodluck Jonathan and some PDP leader because of his disposition to major national issues.

The NGF is, therefore, reportedly polarised with some queuing up behind Mr. Amaechi and others, Mr. Shema ahead of tomorrow’s election.

Both governors and their backers have intensified lobbying for the Forum’s top seat.

Although the campaign for the chairmanship seat can be traced back to last February when there were unsuccessful moves to oust Mr. Amaechi, allegedly instigated by the Presidency and some members of the PDP leadership, it peaked in the last few weeks.

The failed attempt in February allegedly led to the PDP creating its own Governors Forum, PDPGF, whose leadership they handed over unchallenged to the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio.

The establishment of the PDPGF was believed to have been done to whittle down the influence of the NGF and ultimately frustrate Mr. Amaechi from seeking re-election.

Part of the scheme, it has been alleged, was the judgement by an Abuja High Court, which deposed the governor’s loyalists as members of the executive committee of Rivers State PDP and installation of those loyal to the Minister of State for Education, Nyesom Wike, Mr. Amaechi’s former Chief of Staff.

Since this week there have been several meetings particularly in Abuja, where the campaigns have shifted to, aimed at boosting the chances of the candidates.

Campaigns

The two contenders have also approached some major blocks in the group, notably the Northern State Governors Forum, NSGF, an umbrella of the governors of the 19 states in the North, for support.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Akpabio and his Benue State counterpart, Gabriel Suswam, allegedly in concert with the presidency to oust Mr. Amaechi, met with the NSGF chair, Babangida Aliyu, who is the Niger State Governor, to root for the group’s support for Mr. Shema.

That same night, Mr. Amaechi and one of his strong backers, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, also held discussions with Mr. Aliyu. The immediate past NGF chairman and now a senator, Bukola Saraki, also met with the Niger Governor rooting for peace within the Forum.

Northern Governors

A meeting of the NSGF earlier scheduled for Thursday in Abuja to take a common position on the coming election was shifted to Friday.

Although, the reason for the postponement was not clear as at press time, the NSGF is reportedly divided with some supporting Mr. Shema, one of its members, and others Mr. Amaechi. Those reportedly in favour of Mr. Amaechi’s return include Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State, and Mr. Aliyu.

Also, as if lending credence to a remark by the chairman of the PDP BoT, Tony Anenih, last week in Asaba that the opposition have hijacked the NGF, there are also strong indications as at Thursday that nearly all the 13 opposition governors drawn from the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and Congress for Progressives Change, CPC have pledged support for Mr. Amaechi. Eleven of the opposition governors, with the exception of Peter Obi of Anambra and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo, are part of the new opposition merger party, the All Progressives Congress.

The opposition parties are also said to be plotting a replacement for Mr. Obi, a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, as the vice chairman of the Forum. The opposition governors are said to believe that if Mr. Shema emerges, the NGF will be a tool in the hands of the presidency.

Opposition PDP

Even as the candidates dig in, some concerned PDP leaders have been mounting pressure on Mr. Shema to drop his ambition for a consensus candidate whom they are already shopping for. This is in spite of the campaign for his emergence reportedly spearheaded by Mr. Akpabio, Theodore Orji of Abia State, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, and Mr. Obi.

Sources have repeatedly touted the name of the Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, whom the presidency is allegedly now disposed to. The same forces are also discreetly pressuring Mr. Amaechi to drop his ambition and mend fences with the President.

One of the reasons the PDP leaders are giving for asking Mr. Amaechi to drop his ambition, apart from returning peace to NGF, is that since Mr. Akpabio, the PDPGF chairman and Mr. Jonathan are both from the South-South zone, the position of the NGF chair should go to another zone.

Apart from the zonal consideration, the Rivers State Governor is also having some challenges from the home front.

On Wednesday, some elders in the Rivers State PDP, which he has lost control of, asked him to drop out of the race, alleging that his insistence on seeking re-election as NGF chair is aggravating the political crisis in the state.

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