Polity without active governors’ forum
Eight days from now it would be clear two years since the 8th class of state governors mounted the saddle. By virtue of their tenure, the current state governors could be described as the third generation of governors under the fourth republic dispensation. As the first generation of governors served out in 2007, they gave way to the second generation that terminated with a surprising defeat of an incumbent president.
Given this trajectory, it could be argued that Nigeria’s democracy has come of age, going through turbulence and systemic trials, spewing variety of content, process and style. It is however in the area of capacity that state governors have helped in small way to deepen the democratic experience in Nigeria.
The first termers, the class of 1999 governors were experimental and as such, most of them brought their personal vision and backgrounds to bear on the job. Eighteen years after their stints as chief executive of their states, only very few of these pioneer governors are still visible on the national political turf.
Few of the class of 1999 governors aspired for the presidency and affected leadership of their political parties. In 2015 former Kano Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso aspired for the Presidency before ending up as Senator representing Kano Central.
While former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, played crucial roles in the merger of opposition political parties into a mega one, All Progressives Congress (APC), his peers, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu and Senator Ahmed Makarfi were associated with the leadership of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The class of 1999 governors has continued to provide a ready pool of politicians from which Nigeria draws its leadership. For instance, six of such state governors are presently in the Red Chamber of National Assembly as Senators. These pioneers in the Senate include, Senators George Akume, Sam Ominyi Egwu, Kwankwaso, Joshua Dariye and Ahmed Sani Yerima Bakura.
Being the first time Nigeria was experiencing unbroken democratic succession, including not only transition from one political party to another, but also from an incumbent to a leader of opposition, state governors have shown themselves as the necessary fulcrum for Nigeria’s democracy.
Although one of the first set governors, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, described his set as door mat governors, prevailing circumstances show that the governors of that era rose to the occasion by initiating strategies that motivated them towards innovations.
Capacity Building, Peer Review Mechanism
IT was during the experimental days of Nigeria’s fourth republic that Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), was founded. NGF, which began like a little acorn, was later to be nurtured in political superstardom.
The buildup to 2015 historic election clearly showed how big and strong the NGF had grown in political stature and relevance. Although the forum was programmed as a non-partisan contraption, politics later coloured the noble vision that led to its formation.
Without knowing it NGF had gradually risen to the status of an influential clearing house for power and influence, serving the added purpose of preserving and fostering unity, good governance, harmonious working relationship among the various arms of government, both vertically and horizontally.
It must be noted that given their majority in the forum, PDP had some measure of influence on NGF at birth. It was therefore not surprising that successive chairmen of the forum came from the then ruling party. From Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu (Nassarawa), through Obong Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom) to Lucky Igbinedion (Edo) it was obvious that chairing NGF confers prestige and power and access to all foci of power in the country.
Chairman of NGF was like a class prefect, as such, carrying the power and influence of the group, he asserted authority in the constant contest for supremacy between a rampaging Presidency and military fabricated Constitution.
It was perhaps on the power and national visibility which the office of Chairman of NGF carries that one of the chairmen, Attah, decided to try his luck through a presidential ambition in 2006. And to fill the sudden vacuum in leadership of the body, Igbinedion was drafted onto the saddle.
Igbinedion did not travel a long distance because before he could adjust to his new responsibility, his tenure as governor expired. With a new dispensation and away from the President Olusegun Obasanjo years, the coming of a first University as President brought about a deepening of the democratic culture enunciated by NGF.
Coincidentally, Obasanjo’s successor emerged from the fold of the class of 1999 governors in the person of Alhaji Musa Yar’Adua, who served Katsina as governor. As if to complement the change of tactics and orientation in the Presidency, NGF anointed Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
It was during Saraki’s tenure that the seed of political activism and intellectual rigour entered NGF. Having been associated with power politics, and as the son of former Senate Leader, Dr. Olusola Saraki, Governor Saraki navigated the NGF with panache such that when President Yar’Adua started battling with some health challenges, the governors’ body provided needed balance.
Imbued with courage by virtue of his position and deploying some political skills learned from his father, the then Kwara State Governor was able to play crucial roles in the emergence of Yar’Adua’s former Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, as substantive President. As voices of approbation and opposition clashed over what to do in the light of lack of transference of letter empowering the Vice President to act on his behalf while he was away, NGF intervened, throwing its weight behind the upholding of the constitution.
While Saraki held sway as NGF Chairman, the forum organised a lot of capacity building workshops for the 36 members, in active collaboration with PDP national chairman, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, set up peer review mechanism for governors to compare notes and copy good initiatives on good governance from each other.
From Consensus To Constitutional Amendment
IT should be noted that at the tail end of his tenure Saraki aspired to be president like Attah, but his ambition was cut short by the consensus arrangement devised by North in an unsuccessful attempt to field a common candidate against President Jonathan, who was campaigning to be president after serving out the remainder of Yar’Adua’s mandate.
However, as Saraki winded up his governorship mandate, he whimsically handed over to then Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi. It was during Amaechi’s term that NGF constitution was amended, stipulating that a chairman can only serve for two years. The fact that Saraki and Abdullahi Adamu before him, served as long as their governorship mandates dictated, may have informed the new thinking in NGF warranting the constitutional inclusion of mandate limitation.
As if to say that Amaechi came into office hand in hand with controversy, the governors began to agitate for election, instead consensus or whim, as basis of leadership selection in NGF. Furthermore, unlike during the tenures of Adamu and Saraki, Amaechi had the singular (mis)fortune of coming from the same geopolitical zone as the President.
Having therefore to contend with the internal Niger Delta politics and future political aspirations, both Amaechi and President Jonathan tangled in a shadow political combat. Espying the schism between the powerful figures, those who were experimenting with the idea of ensuring that the first President from a minority tribe, did not exceed four years of grace as President, saw Amaechi as possible arrowhead.
It was against that suspicious background that not long after Amaechi mounted the saddle that cracks developed with the auspicious NGF. At first it emerged as contention over the methodology of leadership selection, but it soon became obvious that the insistence of some governors on democratic orientation was but a ploy to get rid of Amaechi as chairman of NGF.
Falling back on his school days activism, the Rivers State governor cleverly reached out to governors from parties outside PDP. That scheme made it possible for the NGF to garner more supporters than those opposing his continued stay as NGF chairman.
As the governors prepared to hold the first ever election to select a chairman, words started making the rounds that the Presidency was intent on removing Amaechi, the incumbent. Governors of Bayelsa, President Jonathan’s home state; Benue, Delta and Katsina; were soon fingered as those working in cahoots with the Presidency to cut short Amaechi’s stay as NGF chairman.
Matters came to a head when the governors acceded to the demand on election to re-elect or find a successor to Amaechi. However the NGF election of May 24, 2013 turned out as a nasty turning point in the history of the 36 governors’ common fellowship.
Perhaps because most of the governors were serving out their tenures and were therefore not so sure of what their political future would look like, the concern for good governance, which underscored the founding of NGF was lost on the altar of political manouvres. That fact came to light when at the end of the ballot, the governors could not agree whether victory should go to the contestant, Jonah Jang (Plateau State) who scored 16 votes or the incumbent, (Amaechi) who against party calibration, garnered 19 votes.
With the controversial election, all good deeds and seeds sown for a better future of the organization and good governance, especially the hyped NGF Strategy Plan, NGF and Partners, as well as, Moving NGF Forward, went down the drain.
Surprisingly and in a bid to rebuff the rebellion of its strange faithful, the ruling party experimented with the idea of a PDP Governors’ Forum and suspended Amaechi, who had already adorned the garb of in house opposition.
From Bad To Babel
AT the turn of the acrimonious and vengeful 2015 election, the winners lost and the losers became Lords as everything went awry. The country went into suspended animation. While Nigerians were expecting a new lease of life as promised by the APC, which defeated PD after long planning and schemes, the crack in NGF developed into a crater.
Having transited from opposition into ruling party, even what used to be the Progressive Governors’ Forum of the APC became bereft of ideas. Why the new administration tarried to set up governance structures, the governors found their voice only to complain of lack of funds to execute their mandates.
While the governors minded their individual challenges they came together only to join in the blame against their predecessors and immediate past administration for carting away all funds they could have used to even pay salaries of workers.
When he visited his counterpart, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, in Enugu, new Chairman of bedraggled NGF, Governor Adulaziz Yari of Zamfara State told journalists that their era was the worst time to be state governor.
Though Yari emerged by consensus for an initial one year term, nothing has come out of the NGF to make it as relevant as its forebears. Lacking in direction both in political and economic strategy, the absence of the once robust institution has become evident with the caliber of governors in the present dispensation.
A situation quite similar to what happened during Saraki’s chairmanship is playing with President Buhari’s health challenge and subsequent travels overseas for evaluation and care. When Saraki and Yakubu Dogara, as Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, traveled to London last two months to meet with the President, the recessive lot of NGF became apparent.
All in all, the scorecard of Nigeria Governors’ Forum has come to mirror the state of affairs in the present dispensation that most citizens are wondering what manner of state governors came on board as the third generation state chief executives. Only the present crop of governors in NGF could tell whether the outcome of 2015 election was a blessing or a burden.