In this piece, CHIBUZO UKAIBE, looks at the peace meeting of the governors forum, tracing the intrigues that caused its split.
The cautious reunion of the Nigerian governors, under the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), earlier this week, testifies to the sore way they split in May, 2013.
Indeed, their split was the first real indication of how feisty the 2015 general elections would turn out to be, as the governors had picked and formed political allegiances that helped in shaping the political trajectory of the country today.
The meeting was the first time the governors sat as a united body after the forum was plunged into crisis in 2013 after a feisty election factionalised the body.
The Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi and his Plateau State counterpart, Jonah Jang, both laid claim to the chairmanship of the forum.
Earlier on Monday, chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF), Babangida Aliyu, had hinted about what was likely to transpire during the meeting.
Aliyu, who spoke after the NSGF meeting, barely hours before the commencement of the larger NGF meeting, revealed that northern governors are determined to broker a truce between the feuding factions in order to unite them for Nigeria’s progress.
However, at the meeting early signs of a common front emerged when they all resolved to adopt the Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, as the chairman of the forum.
Significantly also, the governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, emerged chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), symbolising the end of the divided forum.
Although Jang, the factional chairman, did not attend the meeting he was said to have sent an apology over his inability to attend the meeting, indicating that the meeting had his blessings.
However, as indication emerged last Sunday that the forum would meet and elect a new leader, the Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, in a statement demanded the postponement of the election.
In a bid to rally new governors, Dickson questioned why the outgoing governors would, after plunging the forum into crisis because of their egos, now want to decide the fate of the new comers.
However, Aliyu, outgoing chairman of the NSGF, brushed aside the issue raised by Dickson. He said all governors had agreed to bury their differences, come together as a united body and move on.
At the meeting, Amaechi, who is the leader of the NGF faction with 19 governors, attended the event in company of Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomole; the Zamfara State governor, Abdulaziz Yari and the governor of Osun State, Ra’uf Aregbesola. Other members of his faction in attendance were the Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima; Oyo State governor, Abiola Ajumobi; the deputy governor of Kano State, now governor-elect, Umar Ganduje, while the governor of Nasarawa State, Umaru Al-Makura was represented by his deputy.
In the absence of Jang, the Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, who is also the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum (PDPGF), led other members of the Jang faction to the meeting. They included Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda; his Delta State counterpart, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan; the Niger State governor, Babangida Aliyu; the governor of Kaduna State, Ramalan Yero; Kebbi State governor, Usman Dakingari; Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam and the deputy governor of Kogi State, Yomi Awoniyi.
Those who were absent from the meeting include the governors of Ogun, Ondo, Taraba, Plateau, Adamawa, Lagos, Gombe, Yobe, Bayelsa, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Katsina, Cross, River, Imo and Sokoto.
Evidently, the governors were battle-weary from the long fight and hurriedly cashed in on the season of forgiveness. More so, for the key actors of the split, their tenures would end in a matter of days, hence their decision to bond again.
But what better way to bond than to revert to a once common foe; the federal government – and their accusations on its use of the excess crude account.
Amaechi, who read the communiqué of the governors, said they have “reconciled and are united as a single umbrella association of the 36 state governors.”
Amaechi stated that in the light of the fact that funds in the excess crude account were last disbursed in May 2013, “there is the need for the minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to provide explanation for accruals to this account from June 2013 to April 2015 which is estimated at over N20billion”.
The split: The Amaechi factor, excess crude account palaver and 2015
With a fragmented and weak opposition at the time, the only viable opposition to the PDP-led government were elements within the PDP.
Inevitably, the NGF under the leadership of Amaechi, a PDP stalwart, became a thorn in the flesh of the Jonathan-led administration.
The constant sore point was the use of excess crude account and the establishment of the sovereign wealth fund. The Amaechi-led governors consistently questioned the management of the joint account accusing the federal government of making what they called illegal deductions.
Not pleased with the explanations of the federal government, the governors went to the Supreme Court, forcing the Jonathan-led administration to seek out-of-court settlements, which hardly sailed through.
However, with 2015 on their minds, the PDP was uncomfortable with the hard stance adopted by the NGF under Amaechi. Besides the embarrassment it was causing the party, the alleged illegal deductions or withdrawals posed a threat to the second term ambition of Mr President; a scheme to tame the NGF was inevitable.
Amaechi, who had indicated interest to seek reelection for the chairmanship of the forum, was already in the bad books of his former party (the PDP), under the chairmanship of Alh Bamanga Tukur.
This paved way for the emergence of the PDP Governors Forum (PDPGF), headed by the new power broker in the party, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State.
The emergence of the PDP Governors Forum was strange as the tradition in the forum had been that since the PDP had the majority governors, it naturally produced the chairman of the NGF and as such, there was no need for a PDP Governors Forum.
But, for the pro-Jonathan forces, the emergence of the PDPGF was long overdue as the opposition parties then had a governors forum of their own.
However the PDPGF was a deft move at whittling the influence of Amaechi, who had since fallen irredeemably out of favour with the PDP and the presidency.
With Amaechi ostracised by the PDP and the presidency, there was a campaign to stop him from contesting a second term as NGF chairman by May 2013.
Moves to stop his ambition to remain chairman of NGF for a second term intensified with postulations and arguments that traditionally, the emergence of NGF chairmen had never been by election, but by selection based on consensus; an argument the pro-Ameachi governors resisted, insisting rather on election.
Some governors, days to the NGF election, were invited to the villa to sign undertakings, pledging to stop Amaechi from seeking reelection. It was alleged that they were ‘appreciated’ for their loyalty.
However, the friction between Amaechi and the party came at a time the PDP governors were not happy with the leadership style of Bamanga Tukur.
As such, new alignments and alliances were formed. For the opposition governors, they were naturally drawn to Amaechi’s leadership. But the Rivers State governor also had the backing of some PDP governors, including those of Kano, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kwara, Adamawa, Niger, which later metamorphosed into the G7 governors.
On the other side, the Akpabio-led group was able to rally the other PDP governors and governors of Ondo (Labour Party) and Anambra (APGA) which were very cozy with the PDP.
On the day of the election and at separate meetings, last minute moves were made to halt the election. While the anti-voting governors stuck to their guns, the pro-election governors insisted on having a vote.
However, the PDPGF was forced to adopt a reluctant Jonah Jang of Plateau State as their candidate because, it was alleged, governors of Bauchi and Katsina states, Isa Yuguda and Ibrahim Shema, who had indicated interest for the post didn’t want to back down.
Jang was also presented at the Northern Governors Forum as their candidate upon the argument that it was the turn of the north to produce the chairman of NGF.
But on arrival at the Rivers State governors lodge for the NGF meeting and feeling confident of victory by a higher number, the anti-voting governors yielded to arguments to go for election.
To their shock, Amaechi defeated his Plateau state’s counterpart, Jonah Jang, by 19 votes to 16.
Humiliated by the defeat, governors loyal to the presidency and the PDP fumed out of the meeting and declared Jang winner of the election.
Few days later, the PDP suspended Amaechi, citing a petition written by the Rivers State chapter of the party against the governor, alleging he violated some sections of the party’s constitution.
With 2015 in sight at the time, attempts to unite the forum, including moves by former president and chieftain of PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo, failed.
Ever since, both factions had held separate meetings at cross purposes, particularly on the excess crude account and other national issues.
Governors’ over bearing postures in the polity
For an unconstitutional body, the overbearing tendencies of governors, as NGF, in the polity had a direct correlation to how powerful they were within their party, especially the ruling party.
The NGF became much more influential in the polity at the twilight of Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
Before then, an attempt by the governors to rear their head, rallying behind the then vice president, Atiku Abubakar, was met with firm resistance by Obasanjo.
The former president bared his political fangs against the governors after his tortuous and humiliating experience at getting PDP’s presidential ticket for a second term in 2003.
He, after getting reelected, unleashed his fury against all those governors that were supposedly opposed to him.
Reportedly, impeachments and more potently, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), were deployed to check the governors. The politics of reallocation of oil wells among states was also deployed, allegedly. The then NGF under Lucky Igbinedion and later Victor Attah, had to deal with a strong character of Obasanjo, a former general and head of state, who was older than them and perhaps more experienced at power play.
However, with the emergence of the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as president in 2007 and with the role they played in his campaign, governors under the leadership of Bukola Saraki, loomed large in the polity.
Their influence was again brought to bear during the health crisis of the late Yar’Adua and the transition of then vice/acting president, Goodluck Jonathan, to substantive president.
It was gathered that the famous doctrine of necessity which elevated Jonathan to that status enjoyed the huge buy-in of the governors who rallied their senators to endorse the move.
By 2011, Amaechi emerged the NGF chairman and since most of the governors were gunning for a second term, they all rallied behind Jonathan to secure their tickets as well as deliver him the presidential victory.
However, with the controversy over the one-term agreement purportedly signed by Jonathan brewing and political ambitions at stake ahead of 2015, the party and by implication, the polity, took a different shape. As such, the presidency moved to curtail the influence of the governors within the party.
Hence, in 2012 when a new chairman of the party was to emerge, the presidency threw its weight behind Bamanga Tukur, a much older politician and former governor in the second republic.
The governors had perceptibly wanted a malleable person, just like they did with the emergence of Vincent Ogbulafor. And so, they allegedly opted for Musa Babayo, a politician of their generation and a former party executive. They had then just kicked out the then chairman and former governor of Enugu State, Okwesilieze Nwodo, for bringing reforms they were not comfortable with in the party and for challenging his state governor, Sullivan Chime, with regards to party affairs in the state.
However, Tukur as chairman of the party, attempted to ensure party supremacy as against the status quo where governors ruled supreme. By his reckoning, his age and pedigree was enough to make the governors obey him and do the party’s bidding.
It was not surprising that before long, he started having issues with the governors, starting with his then state governor, Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State. More so, his style of leadership was branded too autocratic by the governors and even by his National Working Committee (NWC).
Nevertheless, while the NGF split and lost its potency under Tukur’s watch, the PDP became the bigger casualty as the party bled away formidable members, including influential governors, legislators, former president and vice presidents, which gave APC its victory at the last polls.
What next for NGF?
It is doubtful whether the governors forum can be the same again. If anything, it might not be as powerful as it once was.
The next set of governors might not be able to wield so much influence on national polity as they will be up against a much older and experienced administrator in the mold of Gen Muhammadu Buhari; much like Obasanjo.
Already, if reports are anything to go by, the president-elect, was said to have refused attempts by the APC governors to have major inputs in the setup of his cabinet.
More so, with the APC leadership insisting on party supremacy, it will be test of wills on how events will pan out with this set of governors.
That said, it will also be hard to ignore the governors, who in the absence of a viable local government structure, remains the field marshals in the states.
Also, with the state assemblies tending to be appendages of the governors, on account of the resources being controlled by the executive arm of government, it would be hard to ignore governors.
Moreover, the governors forum which was modeled after the United States, will perhaps continue to function as an institution.
This much was declared by Amaechi, who at the last meeting said an “induction programme for new and returning governors would be held in June 2015.”
He said the induction is aimed at equipping new and returning governors with knowledge of global best practices of establishing and running their offices.
In addition, Mr Amaechi said the forum resolved at the meeting to set up a Governors’ Forum Academy to be called “The NGF Leadership Academy” which would be responsible for capacity building of governors and other officials holding public offices. He said the academy would be overseen by the NGF secretariat.
But it just might not be uhuru yet considering the grievances expressed by the Bayelsa State governor, Seriake Dickson, accusing the outgoing governors of trying to determine the fate of new governors.
While questions as to what use the forum has been to the polity rages, a united forum could either spell doom for the polity or serve as catalyst for the much needed development.