This Day (Lagos)

25 February 2013

Nigeria: Splinter Group Emerges in Nigerian Governors' Forum

Today is Decision Day for the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) as governors of the 36 states of the federation will meet in Abuja to resolve a leadership crisis that has split the state helmsmen into factions.

Top on the agenda is whether or not to re-elect Rivers State Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, as the NGF chairman.

But as the 36 governors meet to determine Amaechi's fate today, President Goodluck Jonathan last night held a closed-door four-hour meeting with the governors of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the State House, Abuja, during which Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State emerged as the chairman of a newly formed PDP Governors' Forum.

Although no clarification was made on what the parallel forum of the governors from one party intends to achieve, political pundits saw the emergence of the splinter group as a counterweight to neutralise the influence of the larger NGF and/or any other similar associations that may be formed by the opposition governors.

One pundit added last night that the real purpose of the PDP Governors' Forum is to work towards Jonathan's 2015 re-election bid.

Divisions emerged in the ranks of the NGF last Wednesday when an attempt, championed by three governors described as Jonathan's loyalists, was made to unseat Amaechi.

The plot, however, failed as other governors rallied support for their Rivers State colleague.

THISDAY learnt Sunday that as the plot to unseat Amaechi thickens, at least 13 northern governors have come together to ensure that he is re-elected today.

Many of their counterparts from the South are also said to be in favour of continuity in order to ensure that the agenda of those with "divisive tendencies" do not prevail.

Some of the governors have also decried the intervention of outside interests in what they described as the "mere election of their chairman."

One of the governors told THISDAY Sunday that contrary to the belief of associates of the president and some presidency officials, the governors' forum was not fighting Jonathan.

The re-election bid, which has sharply divided the governors, is also seen as a litmus test for the perceived second term ambition of Jonathan.

It was gathered that the governors supporting Amaechi's re-election include: Aliyu Wamakko of Sokoto, Usman Dakingari of Kebbi, Sule Lamido of Jigawa, Musa Kwankwanso of Kano and Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State. All of them are from the North-west.

However, their colleagues from Katsina State, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema and Kaduna State, Alhaji Ramalan Yero, are said to be against Amaechi's re-election.

Yero's position is understandable due to the influence of Vice-President Namadi Sambo, who was instrumental to his rise in politics.

From the North-east, the governors of Borno (Kashim Shettima), Yobe (Ibrahim Geidam), Adamawa (Murtala Nyako) and Gombe (Ibrahim Dankwambo) are also in support of Amaechi.

The acting governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Garba Umar, is said to be neutral, while Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi is opposed to Amaechi's re-election.

A source told THISDAY that Yuguda is being tipped to jockey for the position with Amaechi.

In North-central, the governors of Niger State (Babangida Aliyu), Kwara State (Abdulfatah Ahmed), Nasarawa State (Tanko Al-Makura) and Kogi State (Idris Wada) are also said to be in support of Amaechi while Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State is said to be sitting on the fence.

However, Benue State Governor, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, is against Amaechi's return as he is being positioned to become the chairman of the governors' forum.

THISDAY gathered that all the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governors of Lagos (Babatunde Fashola), Oyo (Abiola Ajimobi), Ogun (Ibikunle Amosun), Ekiti (Kayode Fayemi), Osun (Rauf Aregbesola) and Edo (Adams Oshiomhole) also support Amaechi's second term bid.

Their counterpart in Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, it was gathered yesterday, was still undecided, but pressure was being mounted on him by interests outside the forum to vote against Amaechi.

It was also learnt that Amaechi's candidacy was facing challenges in the South-east where only Imo State Governor, Chief Rochas Okorocha, is behind him.

His Anambra State counterpart, Mr. Peter Obi, who is the deputy chairman of the forum, is said not to have given anybody an inking into where he stands on the leadership tussle.

Others from Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu were said to be either undecided or would back a rival candidate.

From the South-south zone, the governors of Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson, and Akpabio are said to be the arrowheads of the anti-Amaechi movement.

THISDAY gathered that the governors opposing Amaechi were yesterday considering Yuguda or Akpabio as replacement for the Rivers State governor.

According to a source, "Of course, Amaechi will vote for himself, but it is not certain what the positions of the governors of Delta and Cross River States are.

"But Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State's position is certain. He will tow the position of his colleagues in the opposition parties."

THISDAY also gathered that unless there is a consensual resolution to the leadership crisis rocking the governors' forum, the outcome of today's election could hasten the planned movement of some PDP governors to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Already, there are reports that 12 PDP governors are plotting to defect to the new party.

"They (PDP governors) are merely bidding their time, but the outcome of what happens at the election of the chairman of the governors' forum would only be an added impetus to their joining APC," a source said.

"The governors' forum is a bipartisan body. What some of us don't like is the interest shown by non-members of the body. Some of us don't like to be pushed around like children.

"What is so special in the forum of governors that is supposed to be a gauge for peer review among the states?

"Why this partisan interest? Without the forum, governors can exist and relate with like minds, but the forum serves as a gauge for peer review for the overall interest of the federation," the source added.

He explained that the tension generated so far by the election of a new chairman has introduced a new dimension to the general permutation for the 2015 election.

He added: "Whichever way one looks at it, the election that is expected to take place tomorrow (today) will be a minus or plus, depending on the side one comes from.

"If Amaechi wins, to some people, this is a negative for outside interests; and if he loses, it is a plus for outside interests. But by and large, the forum will no longer be the same, because of the political colouration."

The source said the unity of the governors had been tested in the past when outside interests mounted pressure on former Ogun State Governor, Chief Gbenga Daniel, to run for the chairmanship of the forum, but added: "I hope we don't play a divisive agenda again and we should remain focused as a body."

One of the governors confided in THISDAY yesterday that the governors were not fighting Jonathan but would not entertain attempts by external forces to meddle in their affairs as a body.

He explained that the governors remain united on basic issues that bind them together, chief amongst which is money.

The governor, who described some of the reported developments in the forum as a clear misreading of the real issues, said the forum recognised the Office of the President and had no reason to take on the occupant unnecessarily.

He dismissed insinuations that many of them were against the retention of Amaechi as the NGF chairman, saying majority of his colleagues who believe in the Amaechi leadership have already rallied round him and his re-election today is considered a fait accompli by majority of them.

He said for as long as they have a chairman who discharges his duties well and with a great sense of commitment like Amaechi, "I don't see anything that will stop his re-election.

"Like every trade union, we have our aims and objectives with set rules that guide the actions and activities of the governors. But what we will not tolerate is for external influences to shape or direct what goes on in the NGF.

"Nobody is fighting the president and we recognise his place as such. But what we will never allow is external influence from anywhere to control the governors."

He observed that the governors "have absolutely nothing against the president but were concerned about their money. The issues are always about the Excess Crude Account, the Sovereign Wealth Fund and so on. So, this has nothing to do with the president but the governors."

He added that although some governors believe that Amaechi sometimes did not show enough tact which is required in the management of certain situations, "what he has going well for him is the sincerity of purpose and his ability to deliver to the letter and that is all that we need. He delivers on every assignment and does just as the governors say."

"He has never gone out of his way to deliver on his own assignment; he has never used the office to his advantage or used his chairmanship to favour some against the others.

"He is never oblivious of the fact that we are first colleagues and as such, the need to level up on every issue. He has not allowed the office to get into his head."

But ahead of today's election in the governors' forum, the president met last night for four hours with the PDP governors at the State House, Abuja.

Emerging from the meeting with the president, Akpabio announced that he had been elected the chairman of a newly formed PDP Governors' Forum.

He said this was the outcome of the meeting held between the president, the PDP leadership, governors of the ruling party and other stakeholders.

Akpabio, however, told State House correspondents that the new forum was not meant to sound the death knell on the NGF, stating that it shall continue to subsist.

He added that other opposition political parties are free to set up their own governors' forum, if they so wished.

Sources privy to the meeting told THISDAY that when Amaechi read the handwritting on the wall, he recused himself from the meeting with the president, stating that he had another meeting to attend.

Sources further explained that Jonathan had summoned the meeting to find out what was responsible for the leadership crisis within the ranks of the governors.

"The president wanted to mediate as a father in this unsettling affair. It was not about him taking sides. It was about putting the PDP house in order," the source explained.

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