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Much Ado about Class Of ’99 Governors’ reunion with Tinubu, Akume

By Seye Olumide, Southwest Bureau Chief
23 July 2023   |   4:23 am
Recently, the 1999 set of state governors paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume.

George Akume

Recently, the 1999 set of state governors paid a visit to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume. And since that visit took place, several questions have been asked as to what it portends for the nation.

Some political observers and commentators have considered it irrelevant, describing it as a mere reunion of old friends, who had the opportunity to set the country on a new path after a long military interregnum but failed.

Others, however, believe that such a reunion of the first set of custodians of democracy in the country is needed to boost the morale of Mr. President, especially on how to move the country forward considering the numerous challenges if has faced in the last few decades. The thinking is that they may come up with better ideas and suggestions on the way forward for the nation.

The group had visited Tinubu and Akume primarily o felitate them on their election as president and appointment as SGF respectively. But beyond that, former Governor of Edo State, Mr. Lucky Igbinedion, who led the former governors, told the media that part of their deliberations bothered on how to move Nigeria forward.

In spite of the explanation, sceptics insist there are no genuine motives other than political, behind the meeting. Otherwise, they maintain that the union cannot play more than an advisory role, depending on Mr. President’s wish.

Some argued that President Tinubu is hoping to tap from the experience of his old contemporaries, who were the first set of custodians of democratic governance.

The meeting was also considered as a reunion of old political friends and foes, since it cuts across political divides. Another perspective from which observers looked at the meeting is that since most of the 1999 set of governors have attained the status of elder statesmen, it is possible that they will deploy their experience in governance to contribute to the development and growth of Tinubu’s administration to move the country forward.

Another importance attached to the meeting is the possibility that the so call ‘old men’ and or ‘political sages’ could as well help President Tinubu to shape ideas and policies that would assist the government in addressing insecurity.

For instance, former Governors Obong Victor Attah (Akwa Ibom), Segun Osoba (Ogun) and Bisi Akande (Osun) and few others who are currently in their 80s and were part of the reunion are known to be ardent advocates of restructuring, resource control and true federalism. Their rich experiences could as well be tapped into by President Tinubu.

There were other 1999 set of northern governors in the meeting, who also possess very rich experience on how to tackle insecurity challenges confronting their zones. These set of people may be favourable disposed to suggesting ideas to the President on what to do to douse the tension of insecurity in their zones.

A former Governor of Kaduna State, Ahmed Markafi, who was part of the union, had once narrated how he sometimes ago engaged former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the way to tackle some issues of insecurity in the state, which yielded results. President Tinubu may also be ready to welcome such interaction and debate with Markafi, who though has been a stalwart of major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Their interest in Nigeria may override their party affiliation.

In similar vein, there were also the likes of former Governors Chimarole Nnamani of Enugu State and Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State, who were part of the reunion. They may have a lot to share with the incumbent administration on what to do about the Southeast question in Nigeria.

Recall that in one of The Guardian previous articles, it was insinuated that President Tinubu may have layers or levels of advisers apart from his main and statutory cabinet, whose advice and suggestion may be like laws. The 1999 set of governors’ reunion with Tinubu and Akume may be a kind of pointer to such projection.

Whatever their shortcomings, either while in office or outside, cannot be equated with their being the first set of elected executive governors that took over from the military in 1999.

Former Minister of Power, Dr. Olu Agunloye, said despite the fact that majority of the 1999 set of governors are now old, they set Nigeria on democratic path and also did their best to reshape the country.

He also commended them for doing their best to ensure that democratic governance is sustained since 1999. Agunloye recalled that politicians in First, Second and Third republics were unable to sustain democracy for so long as the present set, of which the 1999 sets were the custodians, have done.

Agunloye added that whatever the case is, “President Tinubu cannot ignore the gesture of old people and therefore whether it was an arranged meeting or aimed to assist the government in whatever form, Nigeria needs their ideas to address certain challenges.”

For the skeptics, however, the meeting has no significance in the scheme of things in present day Nigeria other than a window dressing and an attempt to fraternise with the government in power for their personal and selfish gains.

One of the beliefs of sceptics is that President Tinubu must have deliberately gathered the old folks to give his administration some kind of acceptability.

A source, who did not want his name mentioned, said, “The meeting must have been arranged. For instance, Akume, who is now the SGF, is probably getting rewarded for his loyalty to President Tinubu.”

Recall that Akume was one of the senators, whom Tinubu initially tipped for the Senate Presidency in 2015 before former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki outsmarted the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) then.

The new SGF, who is also a set of the 1999 governors, is one of those that have remained active politically since then. Although he defected from PDP to APC, he has since remained a loyal ally of Mr. President.

Other observers also said the meeting was merely an association of old boys and contemporaries, with nothing to do with the Nigerian contemporary challenges.

Another source, who preffered anonymity, said those who were not members of the ruling party but were part of the meeting can as well be accused of engaging in anti-party activities.

It was said that since the major opposition PDP is still in court challenging the victory of President Tinubu, does it mean that their visit to the presidency to identify with Mr. President and support him is a nod and acceptance of the incumbent president?

According to the source, “As long as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is still in court, I do not see why any PDP past or present governors should be part of the visit. If we frowned at former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and Governor Seyi Makinde, over their visits to Tinubu, what then do we do concerning this?”

Meanwhile, except for few among the former governors, majority have lost political relevance in their various states and can no longer pull any string in politics.

Taking a look at the political relevance of few among the August visitors, the likes of Osoba, Akande and Attah are in their 80s. Although Southwest politics and ruling APC has kept Osoba and Akande very active politically since they left office, Niyi Adebayo, a former governor of Ekiti and immediate past minister, could not be said to have had any serious political relevance since he left office in 2003. But the beauty of their careers is that they have never been accused of any form of corruption ever since. They have also been very close allies of Tinubu.

Similar testimonies could not be advanced for the likes of Kalu, who though has been relevant politically and is now a serving Senator, has been tried for corruption.

For the likes of Boni Haruna, a former governor of Adamawa State was part of the union and campaigned vigorously for Atiku in the last presidential poll, could his loyalty to the PDP be questioned.

A former governor of Cross Rivers, Donald Duke, who is probably the youngest among the 1999 set of governors, has not only remained relevant politically but his integrity has also been a kind of blessing to the younger generations in the area of positive motivation. His relevance is not just limited to his state but other parts of the country. Despite being a young governor as at then, Duke maintained a life of integrity that has made him acceptable to many youths till date.

James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State, who was part of the meeting, has also been involved in corruption charges and jailed in London. But in spite of that, he remains a factor to reckon with in Delta politics even though he played mostly from the background.

About 10 among the 1999 set of governors has passed on. But while explaining the purpose of the visit, Igbinedion said the reunion was to assure Mr. Tinubu of their support and cooperation.

He said, “We met the president as a colleague governor that laid the foundation of the current democracy in Nigeria in 1999, which has continued to strengthen up to today.

“We also congratulated him on his election and thanked him for appointing one of us as the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (George Akume).

“We spoke about security and electricity supply because these are key factors in development of any economy. He assured us of the administration’s preparedness to tackle them headlong,” he said.

Mr. Igbinedion said the former governors took cognisance of the fact that now is the time to separate politics from national development, adding that all hands must be on deck to rebuild Nigeria now.

“We are now talking of the project Nigeria and not about political affiliations. It is time to work for the progress of the country.

“The president (Tinubu) assured us that it is his dream to see a better Nigeria where all citizens will feel a sense of belonging. He also said that Nigerians should be patient with recent decisions taken by the administration.

“We also acknowledged that the issue of fuel subsidy removal is a right decision and palliatives should be provided.” Among the former governors in attendance at the meeting with President Tinubu were those of Plateau, Joseph Dariye; Kebbi, Adamu Aliero; Sokoto, Attahiru Baffarawa; Ekiti, Niyi Adebayo; Jigawa, Saminu Turaki; and Bauchi, Ahmed Muazu.