This Day (Lagos)

26 February 2013

Nigeria: Governors' Forum Postpones Chairmanship Election Till May

Photo: vanguard
Nigerian presidency battles for power with the Governors Forum

Governors Monday deferred the election of chairman for the Nigerian Governors' Forum (NGF) until May to enable the incumbent, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State, conclude his two-year tenure in office.

THISDAY gathered that the decision to defer the election was reached after a stormy meeting during which some governors engaged in a shouting match.

The NGF has been enmeshed in crisis since last week when a plot to unseat Amaechi, which was reportedly sponsored by loyalists of President Goodluck Jonathan in the forum, was foiled by other governors.

Faced with stiff opposition from pro-Amaechi forces in the forum, another twist to the plot was executed on Sunday night with the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors' Forum (PDP-GF).

The forum, which was formed at a meeting of the president, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, PDP governors and the party leadership, is believed to be aimed at whittling down the influence of the NGF so that Amaechi would not use his chairmanship of the forum to undermine the rumoured second term ambition of the president.

Preparations for the Sunday night meeting, which culminated in the emergence of Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, as the PDP-GF chairman, started some days ago, THISDAY learnt Monday.

It was understood that Jonathan, who personally presided over the meeting of the PDP governors where he was said to have mandated them to decide on who will chair the forum, began reaching out to the governors about a week ago.

Jonathan purportedly summoned the governors privately to show them a video recording of Amaechi allegedly criticising the president over the oil wells dispute between Rivers and Bayelsa States.

A source said Jonathan personally invited some of the governors, including those in opposition parties, to watch video clips of Amaechi's supposed attack on him.

The video, according to those who had watched it, showed the governor at a retreat in Calabar late last year addressing top Rivers State Government officials on the oil wells said to have been ceded to Bayelsa State.

One of the sources said the video show was a replay of the dirty fight between the president and former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, who took on Jonathan when he tried to stop him (Sylva) from getting the PDP ticket for his re-election in the governorship election in the state over a year ago.

During the face-off between the president and Sylva, video clips were shown to prove allegations of the former governor's "disloyalty" to the president.

In the current battle against Amaechi, the president was said to have personally engaged the governors to ensure that Amaechi was not re-elected as the NGF chairman.

In this regard, the president was said to have initially planned a strategic meeting with a few select governors on Sunday, but was forced to expand it when the news of the invitation leaked to others that were left out.

The source explained that before the Sunday meeting started, Akpabio had been briefed on how the PDP-GF would be formed with him as its chairman.

At the Sunday meeting, one of the Northern governors, who gave an account of what transpired to THISDAY, said they were literally locked in, as no one was allowed to leave the venue until a decision had been taken on who would chair the PDP Governors' Forum.

During the deliberation, Jonathan was said to have expressed surprise that the NGF now has a constitution and a provision for a second term for its chairman.

"He spoke tough and firm and demanded the endorsement of the PDP Governors' Forum. Somebody nominated Akpabio as the chairman of the new forum and we were given only 10 minutes to consult within the room and not outside while the president waited for our decision.

"The overall plot behind the formation of the PDP Governors' Forum was to stage a walk out if Amaechi emerged as the elected chairman of NGF. Suggestions were made to cause the election to be postponed, but the president rejected it," the source said.

The source explained that shortly after the emergence of Akpabio as the chairman of the new forum, an elated Jonathan pledged to grant the group anything they might request of him.

After the meeting, a visibly excited Tukur, who introduced Akpabio as the chairman of the PDP-GF, told State House correspondents that the new body was different from the NGF.

Akpabio, while addressing State House reporters after his election on Sunday night, explained that the formation of the PDP-GF was not done in order to compete with the NGF, as the ruling party had taken a bold step to re-assess the performance of the party over the years to re-invigorate it.

On the allegation that some of the governors had been working with Jonathan to unseat Amaechi, Akpabio dismissed the speculation.

Referring to the meeting of the NGF last Wednesday when the plot was hatched, he said: "What you heard was total misinformation. That was not what we discussed at the last Nigerian Governors' Forum. Rather, what we discussed was that there was the need to fill all the positions in the forum.

"And so we adjourned to meet again to fill all the positions in the forum. The forum also made provisions for the position of a vice-chairman. And there is also another organ of the forum, which is like a small board of directors - a board of trustees made up of one person per zone.

"So, for the six zones of the country, we expect one governor per zone, which will form the board of trustees. We said in the next meeting, we will fill all the positions from chairmanship down to the membership of the board of trustees of the forum."

He also denied that there was any attempt to oust Amaechi, stressing that the Rivers State governor's tenure would expire in April.

However, THISDAY gathered that the Sunday meeting was the game changer in the NGF leadership tussle, as some of the 20 governors that had hitherto backed Amaechi as the chairman of the forum had switched camp by Monday.

Some of them were said to have been whipped into line to oppose Amaechi's continued leadership of the NGF out of fear that the presidency might unleash the state machinery to persecute them.

As a result, during the meeting of the NGF held yesterday afternoon, some of the governors told Amaechi to step down to save the NGF from a needless crisis being foisted on it by forces opposed to his leadership.

For instance, a source revealed that Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, pointedly told Amaechi yesterday that he should serve his two-year term and forget seeking re-election if he no longer had the support of his colleagues, as he had become a divisive figure in the forum.

THISDAY further learnt that the PDP governors, at another meeting hosted by Sokoto State Governor, Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko, in the wee hours of yesterday, decided to sponsor Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema, for the NGF chairmanship.

What this means, a source explained, is should Amaechi insist on seeking re-election in May, he might not be able to muster the support of his party colleagues, who form the major bloc in the NGF.

Besides, the source said the choice of Akpabio to lead the PDP governors was strategic because it would put Amaechi in a difficult position to re-contest as both of them are from the South-south and their other colleagues could kick against the domination of the two powerful groups of governors by persons from the same geopolitical zone.

Notwithstanding the position of some of the governors who have withdrawn their support for the Rivers State governor, another source said Amaechi has vowed to fight back and seek re-election in May.

He is said to be banking on the support of the opposition governors as well as some Northern PDP governors, which might give him the simple majority he needs to win the election.

Briefing reporters after the NGF meeting yesterday, Amaechi said the meeting "reviewed the affairs of the forum in the past 21 months detailing the activities, achievements and challenges experienced during the period.

"After the exhaustive deliberation on the issue of filling vacant positions, the forum resolved that elections in this regard be postponed till May when the chairman's initial two-year tenure will expire."

His deputy and Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, also said that the incumbent chairman was entitled to another term because of the provision in NGF constitution that allows him to seek re-election.

Akpabio, at an earlier meeting of the PDP-GF in Abuja yesterday, said he was elected chairman of the PDP governors to enable the party re-strategise in view of the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC) by opposition political parties.

According to him, the PDP-GF had set up a committee headed by Governor Shema to evaluate the situation in the South-west and to resolve the crisis in the zone. The committee has two weeks to submit its report.

The PDP-GF also called for the maintenance of the status quo on the crisis in the Adamawa State chapter of the PDP by allowing the Mijinjwa Committee to remain in office.

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