The Governors’ Forum Election and the Drubbing of the Ministers, By Dele Agekameh

The Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, took off as a mere association of governors of the 36 states of the federation. At that time, many people thought they were just like any other association bonded by the desire to create a forum to discuss mutual issues concerning them personally and the states they govern. Yet there were many who thought the governors were only creating a forum for themselves for a different kind of jamboree different from the usual rollicking and frolicking that have been the characteristics of men of means and power. I belong to the last school of thought.

However, events of the last five years or so, beginning with the election of the crown prince of Kwara politics, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, former two-term governor of Kwara State, as chairman of NGF, have proved cynics wrong. It was Saraki, the scion of the Saraki Dynasty of Ilorin, now a senator, who introduced glamour and candour into the group when he was chairman between 2007 and 2011.

Saraki’s exit in 2011 paved the way for the emergence of Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi as the chairman of the forum. The constitution of the NGF provides for a vice-chairman though both Saraki and Amaechi have, through their deft political moves, overshadowed that office and made the occupants more or less lame duck vice-chairmen whose voices are hardly heard anywhere beyond the day they are elected or handpicked. Amaechi upped the ante but has so far failed to display the political diplomacy and maturity of Saraki. Several times, the forum under the leadership of Amaechi has come into headlong collision with the Presidency on various national issues, including the issue of the creation of Sovereign Wealth Fund, which has seen the forum and the Presidency in various legal tussles in the courts, among other litigations. It is also under Amaechi as chairman of the NGF that Rivers State, the state he presides over as governor, took Bayelsa State, a sister state, on over the ownership of some disputed oil wells. The neighbouring Bayelsa State was carved out of Rivers State in 1995.

Perhaps, the greatest issue that is causing Amaechi headache at the moment is the forthcoming 2015 elections. Amaechi is speculated to be having a vice presidential ambition after his second and last term as governor of Rivers State in 2015. Ahead of the NGF’s election that took place last Friday, Rivers State has been engulfed in multiple political crises which many people believe are man-made problems designed to distract Amaechi and possibly stop him from pursing his agenda to return as second-term chairman of the NGF. Another issue is the grounding of Amaechi’s Bombardier aircraft by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, which has dominated the airwaves and engendered national discourse for some time now. Another matter that has attracted national attention is the sweeping-off of the PDP state executive in Rivers State and its replacement with the Felix Obuah-led group. Obuah was allegedly shot in the groins a few years ago by suspected assassins. Amaechi loyalists said it took the grace of God and Amaechi, who flew him out of the country for treatment in South Africa, before his health stabilized. Now the same Obuah has turned round to stab his benefactor in the back through his imposition as Rivers PDP party’s chairman by a surprise court ruling.

Amaechi has also been under the threat of impeachment for some time now. This impeachment moves are thought to be the handiwork of his foes, mainly some politicians in Abuja. The arrowhead of the sinister plots is said to be Nyesom Wike, the sitting minister of state for education, who is an indigene of Rivers State in the federal cabinet. Before that Godsday Orubebe, the minister of Niger Delta Affairs had traded volatile words extensively with Amaechi on the East-West Road Project. Both Amaechi and Wike have since been embroiled in a titanic struggle for political power in Rivers State.

The road to last Friday’s NGF election was long and tortuous. The entire nation was gripped with tension as the two camps in the contest – Amaechi and some PDP governors – made last-minute desperate attempts to ensure victory for their candidates. But Amaechi knew that it was one fight for his political life. The NGF election was postponed last March when it was earlier scheduled to take place. When the forum later met in April, the issue of election or no election never came up for discussion. Amaechi would have completed his term as NGF chairman last Monday, May 27, 2013.

Apparently, it was in the desperate bid by the PDP to stop Amaechi’s candidacy that the ‘Abuja politicians’, led by Wike, have continued to mount political pressure on him by instigating the crisis that is currently rocking Rivers State politics. The aim is to pressure him out of contention for the NGF’s chief helmsman’s job. After two major futile attempts by Bamanga Tukur, the PDP chairman, to stop Amaechi, Tukur and his click flew a kite: it floated the PDP Governors’ Forum and made Godswill Akpabio chairman of the forum. The PDP has 26 out of the existing 36 governors in the country. The main reason for taking this road is that Tukur believes he is facing stiff opposition to his position as chairman of the party from the NGF. He has, therefore, been surreptitiously doing everything to be a cog in NGF’s wheel of progress. Tukur believes that doing just that will whittle down the powers and influence of the NGF, take the shine of it and thereby cut whoever emerges as chairman to size. All these machinations didn’t work either. When this failed, PDP drafted Ibrahim Shema, the governor of Katsina State, instead of the charismatic and much-favoured Isa Yuguda, the governor of Bauchi State, into the race.

At the last minute on Friday, all other contenders were persuaded to step aside and David Jonah Jang, the second-term governor of Pleateau State, was put forward as the PDP candidate. Jang then approached Olusegun Mimiko, the governor of Ondo State, to be his deputy. Before the contest, Mimiko was reportedly caught in-between the two groups, which had both nominated him vice-chairman. That election ended in near deadlock with the two camps laying claim to victory. That was not the end of the matter. The seeming failure of the PDP to wield its influence at the election and swing victory to his side is largely believed to have been caused by the lacklustre performance of some ministers as PDP representatives in the states. It is true that 10 of the states are controlled by the opposition, but if the 26 states under PDP, except perhaps Rivers State, where Amaechi calls the shots, had defaulted, what happened in the other 25 states? By the last count, only 17 PDP governors have lined up behind Jang to divide NGF into two equal haves.

Many of the ministers, especially those who could not deliver their states to PDP last Friday, are believed to be out of tune with the political reality on the ground in their respective states as they regard the party as the only body they owe allegiance to and, therefore, their constituencies, which are their states back home, do not matter to them. Some are also in perpetual loggerheads with their governors because their obedience starts and ends with the PDP chairman, around whom they run rings and cringe. To those in this category, their people back home, especially their governors, do not matter. So instead of going to their respective states to consolidate and mend broken fences, at least for the NGF chairmanship election, they sat back in Abuja.

Therefore, the outcome of last Friday’s NGF election portends a dangerous signal for 2015, and may sound the death knell of NGF except tact and caution are applied. Certainly not the courts can be of any help!

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