Nigeria As a Social Club, By Ogaga Ifowodo

As the battle for control of the Nigerian Governors Forum continues, we are reminded once again of how our pretence at nationhood reduces governance to absurdity. Depending on your disposition, we are currently being entertained or embarrassed by the fight for greater access to the main banquet hall where the national cake (actually, petro-dollars) is shared. If you consider this a gross exaggeration of the face-off between Governor Rotimi Amaechi and Governor Jonah Jang (as captain of President Jonathan’s forces), then recall just one telling fact: so agitated by Amaechi’s election as chairman of the NGF was the commander-in-chief that he could not rouse himself to address the 50th anniversary summit of the African Union.

I do not believe the wicked rumour-mongers who claim that prior to his speech the president had been driven to despair by the news and had had one too many. Suffice it to say that since then, his People’s Democratic Party has decided that its umbrella is not big enough to cover the president and an enemy-Governor, causing it to push the latter into the rain. Moreover, Jang has accused his victorious opponent of rigging and proclaimed himself the duly elected winner, even though he secured only sixteen of the thirty-six votes. With a straight face, Jang revealed to us that God is a democrat made in the image of the PDP. Which, naturally, makes God disapprove of only unsuccessful election riggers. “God is a democrat “[who] does not support rigging but if you rig and succeed, that means God approves of it,” Jang said. It goes without saying that winners of free and fair elections are approved by Satan.

But what is the connection between a do-or-die battle by thirty-six governors to choose their chairman and the bloodsport called elections in our country? First, the well-considered thought by the anti-Amaechi excellencies of smashing the ballot box to prevent voting, as Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, has disclosed. Then, ask: why would the commander-in-chief care so much who leads a voluntary association as to play the good old politics of divide-and-rule? Answer: because power is all that matters in Nigeria. And the C-in-C knows something about the clout of the NGF, being a former club member. If, despite his dismal record of non-governance, Jonathan is to “win” the second term that he so plainly covets, then all of the PDP governors must swear a blood-oath to implement Verdict 2015. Unfortunately, the NGF under Amaechi had become a “strange” instrument “used to oppress . . . the president,” according to Senator Jubril Aminu; a “formidable group of power wielders seeking to control governments at all levels,” according to PDP enforcer Tony Anenih, also known as Mr Fix-It. Something had to be done.

Funny, isn’t it, that a social club—no different from, say,  the Police Officers Wives Association, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, or the Nigerian Union of Pensioners, except in the matter of power and trillion-naira budgets—should give the president sleepless nights? And even funnier that governors belonging to six political parties should have been such happy bedfellows until now? Funny, because we ought to assume ideological differences among the parties and so imagine, say, a PDP or ACN governors forum. For, what, ideologically-speaking, does Abdul’aziz Abubakar, PDP governor of Zamfara State, have in common with Babatunde Raji Fashola, Action Congress governor of Lagos State? What Olusegun Mimiko, Labour Party governor of Ondo State, with Kashim Shettima, All Nigerian People’s Party governor of Borno State? But not funny at all because in a country where states exist as appendages of the federal government attached to the petro-dollar super pipeline that runs from the Niger Delta swamps to Abuja, and from there to every state government house, all ideological differences vaporise. And thirty-six governors, party manifestoes be damned, could form a country club for the primary purpose of lobbying for an ever greater flow of petro-dollars into their coffers. That and nothing more pretentious!

Which is why, with only one exception, they agreed with Jonathan to remove, for the thousandth time, a corruption subsidy on oil products if a great proportion of the moneys to be realised would come to them. Why, top of the NGF’s list of fourteen “achievements” since 1999 is that it was “instrumental in facilitating the release of excess crude funds . . . to the States in 2008” and that “the funds have been distributed several times since then.” The rest of the alleged achievements are in the areas of study committees, seminars, working tours, etc., mostly with international agencies. Oh, I forget: they “intervened in the lingering Jos Crisis by setting up a standing committee to review the immediate and remote causes of the crisis and identify solutions” and you know by now how that stemmed the bloodshed! Incidentally, nothing about regional co-operation for economic integration and development, say along the lines of joint rail and road transport authorities, technology or industrial parks and trade zones, or environmental protection.

If you still question my analogy, then perhaps you did not hear Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State declare that it is the turn of the north to rule the NGF. In Yuguda’s opinion, the contentious NGF election was unnecessary; similarly, Anenih wants to abolish primaries so the PDP can have Jonathan as its consensus candidate. “You can see,” said Yuguda, “that the need for election did not arise in the first place given the fact that we the governors of the north, who are in the majority, had chosen a consensus candidate before the election.” Sound familiar?

In the absence of any genuine sense of nation, patriotism and public service, our so-called leaders see Nigeria as no more than an elite social club. Which is why elections are a joke to them. What matters is the power, together with the prestige, conferred by position, and not the principled democratic means by which it is attained. Mimiko might disagree, but in the end, his camp smashed the ballot box by scorning the outcome of an election in which it participated.

Professor Ifowodo teaches Literature at the Texas State Central University in the United States. He is also an award winning poet and a lawyer. Please reach him via email at omoliho@gmail.com


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