Red chamber, council chamber…as ‘retirement’ enclave for former governors
With eight ex-governors nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to serve in his cabinet and 14 others as members of the 9th Senate, Nigerians are raising eyebrows at the increasing occupation of the political space by former state executives. But the constitution allows them while the political system also encourages that, writes ONYEDIKA AGBEDO
The list of ministerial nominees submitted to the Senate last Tuesday by President Muhammadu Buhari has again underscored the obsession of Nigerian ex-governors to remain in the corridors of power. Literally, they can be described as a group of public servants who came to serve their people, then served to the best of their abilities within the constitutionally stipulated period and left office, but have continued to bestride the political space in a manner that suggests they need the system more than the system needs them. Although this tendency has been there since the restoration of democracy, especially from 2003, it became more pronounced under the present political dispensation.
If the Senate confirms the list of 43 ministerial nominees as sent by the President, there would be eight ex-Fourth Republic governors in the next federal cabinet; the highest since 2003 when the country held the first general election under the republic. In 2003, the only ex-governor that made former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s cabinet was former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who served as Minister of Defence from 2003 to 2006 after losing his re-election bid to Ibrahim Shekarau. In 2007, the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua appointed just three ex-governors as ministers. They included former governor of Imo State, Achike Udenwa who served as Minister of Commerce and Industry; former governor of Ebonyi State, Sam Egwu, who served as Minister of Education; and former governor of Kebbi State, Adamu Aliero who served as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). When former president Goodluck Jonathan took over in 2010, no ex-governor served in his cabinet until he left office in 2015. A former governor himself, only Jonathan knows why he chose not to patronise his ‘constituency’.
Thus, the insatiable quest of the ex-governors to hang on in the corridors of power began to fully manifest in 2015 when Buhari appointed four former governors into his cabinet. These included former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, as Minister of Power, Works and Housing; former governor of Anambra State, Chris Ngige, as Minster of Labour and Employment; governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, who was then out of power, as Minister of Solid Minerals; and former governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, as Minister of Transportation.
The president’s current list of eight ex-governors comprises Fashola, Ngige, Amaechi; former governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola; former governor of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo; former governor of Benue State, George Akume; former governor of Akwa Ibom, Godswill Akpabio; and former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva.
The footprints of the ex-governors are also well established in the Senate, starting from 2007 when seven of them chose to retire to the upper chamber, including Akume of Benue State, Ahmed Makarfi of Kaduna State; Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State; Ibrahim Saminu Turaki of Jigawa State; Aliero of Kebbi State; Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe State and Ahmed Sani Yerima of Zamfara State. Since then, the trend has continued unabated. Currently, 14 of them are representing their districts at the Senate. Among those elected in the current dispensation include two ex-governors of Abia State, Orji Kalu (Abia North) and his successor, Theodore Orji (Abia Central); ex-Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima (Borno Central); ex-governor of Ebonyi State, Sam Egwu (Ebonyi North); ex-Governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central); ex-Governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha (Imo West); ex-Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle Amosun; and ex-governor Nnamani of Enugu State (Enugu East).
Others include ex-governor Shekarau of Kano State (Kano Central); ex-governor of Nasarawa State, Tanko Makura (Nasarawa South); one of his predecessors, Adamu Abdullahi (Nasarawa West); ex-governor Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto North); ex-governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Geidam (Yobe East); ex-governor Adamu Aliero of Kebbi State (Kebbi Central). The number would have been more by one but for the Supreme Court judgment, which quashed the election of All Progressives Congress (APC) candidates in Zamfara State as ex-governor Abdul’Aziz Yari, had also won election to represent Zamfara West.
This points to the fact that the Red Chamber and the Council Chamber are fast turning into ‘retirement’ enclaves for former governors. They see the two government divisions as the next places to go after leaving office and in so doing appear confine the political space in their states almost completely to themselves and kitchen followers. This is exactly what obtains currently in Abia and Nasarawa states where four ex-governors are occupying four of the six seats available to the two states. While some political analysts see this trend as abnormal, others think otherwise.
To former Minister of Information and Culture, Prince Tony Momoh, as long as the ex-governors have not breached any provision of the Nigerian constitution by offering to serve as either senators or ministers, they are totally in order.
Momoh said: “Everything that we do in this country must be regulated by a road map. The road map is the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended. What qualifies someone to be a minister? What qualifies someone to be a member of the National Assembly? What qualifies someone to be a member of the House of Assembly? What qualifies someone to be a governor? In other words, any political office held in Nigeria, if you want to address it, you look at the constitution to know what qualifies someone to occupy it. Don’t forget that Salisu Buhari, who was a member of the House of Representatives and became Speaker had to withdraw because it was discovered that he forged his university certificate and did not qualify to be a member of the House.
“So, any issue we raise about who is a minister, who is a member of the Senate or House of Representatives must be something that accords with the provisions of the constitution or that does not so accord. That is my yardstick for measuring, not sentimental reasons of so many people who were governors, who were not governors, who were not ministers and so on and so forth. Are they discovered for only the reason that they had been in certain positions? My answer is no.”
The former minister, however, predicted that if the trend continues, only ex-governors would sit in the country’s Red Chamber in the near future. His words: “We are watching a trend which will eventually, unfortunately, lead to the whole of the Senate being populated by retired governors. That is one thing we must accommodate; that is where we are going. As long as they are not otherwise disqualified, the retiring forum of the governor who has served is the Senate of the National Assembly. That is where they will all end up and it’s democracy. Have you ever heard of any president going to the Senate? No! It’s because the constitution bars the president from taking up any appointment after leaving office. The president cannot take up any paid job after he has left the Presidency. So, if the constitution does not bar the ex-governors from taking up such appointments, they will take them up.”
Momoh also faulted the claim that former governors were gradually commandeering the political space. “What I am saying is that the constitution does not bar them from doing so. Where do you want them to go to? Once upon a time, many of the politicians were going to farm when they leave office. During the military regime, anybody who left the military, a retired general, went to the farm. That’s what they were doing. The average retired military general went to a farm. But now, where do the governors retire to? If there were no National Assembly, they can’t go. If we restructure Nigeria today and say there is no Senate anymore, where will they retire to? So, there is a place to go to and all of them go there. It’s unfortunate but that is the fact. You see, what I predict is that the Senate may be populated in the nearest future by only governors who are retiring,” he stressed.
He argued that just like in the jungle, it is survival of the fittest in politics, maintaining that ex-governors are at liberty to deploy every legitimate political arsenal available to them to achieve their constitutionally guaranteed dreams.
He added: “Politics provides an arena for competition. So, it’s survival of the fittest. The ex-governors go there because they have the money to spend, because they have been in charge of the whole state and they are coming from the state where they are leaving office. So, they have an advantage and any other person coming can be crushed. And they are crushed! So, it’s survival of the fittest.
“We are in a democracy. Look at many people who were very, very popular on social media; they went into politics as presidential candidates. But even though they had thousands and millions of followers on social media, they couldn’t register up to 10,000 votes because your prayers as a candidate are answered in the votes.
“So, the constitution is our road map. Anything you do which is not in the constitution you should be called to order. And the medium given the responsibility of doing so under Section 22 of the constitution is the media. The media have the responsibility to call everybody to be accountable. Yes, you can suggest that the ex-governors are there after being in power for eight years but where do you want them to go? Where do you want them to go to when many of the governors are not up to 60 years by the time they have served eight years? There is no upper limit to holding political office in Nigeria.”
A public affairs analyst, Mr Jide Ojo, on his part argued that the performance of the ex-governors while in office should be the yardstick for their continued involvement in public service. Ojo said: “You can look at it from two angles. One is about experience that such ex-governors bring to bear on the polity. We always call for experienced and knowledgeable people to be in governance not people who will start to learn the ropes in the saddle. So, if you look at it from that angle, having a former governor or a former senator becoming a minister is preferable.
“However, on the reverse side, the question is how did these former governors and senators perform in their previous assignments. How can you justify somebody, a former governor, who is answering corruption charges and then you are rewarding him with a ministerial appointment without discharging the burden of corruption cases against him. I know about two on this ministerial list. So, if someone has performed woefully as a governor but by power of incumbency, he moved into the senate, should you be rewarding him with a ministerial appointment when his people reject him or should you be distancing yourself from him even if he played a vital role in your election?
“If at all you want to compensate them, you could have asked them to nominate someone so that the anti-corruption war will not be tainted. I know politics and morality do not mix; they are like oil and water. But if you campaigned on change and you want people to take your anti-corruption seriously, then you need to do better in the assemblage of people who will help you to run your government.”
Nevertheless, Ojo concurred with Momoh that only the fittest survives on the political terrain, also pointing out that the ex-governors by virtue of the previous positions already have an edge over other contenders. He stressed that power is not served ala carte, adding: “You have to lobby and struggle for power. And because we run a winner takes all type of political system, people support, bankroll and work for a candidate based on the understanding that they will be rewarded for their efforts. And who are the people who can put a lot of resources down? These are mostly people who had previously held electoral offices like former governors and former senators. There are some who have gone the full cycle. They have been governors, they have been senators and they are now ministers.
“There are people who have been in the corridors of power in the last 20 years. When you have people like that how would the young ones get opportunity to gather the necessary political experience? So, the issue of who will give you experience is a million dollar question. For those who have political interest, I think sometimes it’s better for them to start at the lower rungs of the ladder. Somebody like Senator Ita Enang started as a councillor, from there he became a local council chairperson, member of the state House of Assembly, member of the House of Representatives and then Senate. He is now Senior Special Assistant to the President on Senate. So, people go through different routes to gather those experiences and get that exposure. But I think we need to understand the nature and character of African politics and Nigerian politics in particular. Nobody will give you that opportunity, unless you are ready to fight, lobby and work for it.”
This is the challenge. If Nigerians feel that ex-governors have taken or are taking too much from the system; if they feel some of them have been recycled enough, the power is in their hands especially with regard to elective positions. Those of them there now are simply enjoying their constitutional rights.