Daily Trust (Abuja)

28 February 2013

Nigeria: Rumble in the Nigerian Governors' Forum

It was formed in 1999 to serve as a platform for exchange of ideas, but the Nigerian Governor's Forum became a political monster of some sorts, leading to criticisms over its overbearing powers. Now there is a crack within the Forum with the formation of a splinter group.

Barrister Mike Igini, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross River State, while moderating constitution review discussion by stakeholders in Calabar in October last year declared that governors in Nigeria are too powerful to the extent that they frustrate the electoral processes.

Speaking at the event which was organised by the Democratic Governor for Development Project in collaboration with the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), the REC accused governors of thwarting electoral processes going by the way they impose their desires and personal decisions on the system.

He said: "They (Governors) are so powerful that whoever they want to occupy which position in their states or represent them at the National Assembly, are exactly who will emerge during any given elections."

He decried a situation where governors not only blatantly ignore provisions of the constitution, but also disregard even the electoral rules and warned against the inauguration of state police because governors would unduly influence their actions to their own benefits.

In view of the foregoing Igini suggested that in the constitution review process in the country, governors' powers should be checked when the final constitution is made.

Igini is not alone in this school of thought. Former Defence Minister General Theophilus Danjuma is also worried about the overbearing powers of the Nigerian governors.

Speaking at the Leadership Newspapers annual conference in September last year, General Danjuma said there was too much concentration of powers in state governors, which they misapply to satisfy selfish interests rather than for the good of their people. He said state governors are at best sole administrators.

Danjuma said contrary to widespread belief, it is not only the federal government that needs its powers to be pruned but the state government also.

He said: "The most stifling concentration of power is not in the centre but at the state level. The governors, almost all the governors are sole administrators. The first thing they do when they come into power is to pocket the state assemblies, neutralize the judiciary, and abolish the local government. In PDP states, they proceed to even name candidates for ministerial posts at the centre. All PDP states are one party and are governed by sole administrators."

He elaborated: "So, there is nobody who can emerge as the president of Nigeria in PDP unless the governors want it; you cannot do it. The governors today are the most powerful group of people in the political system. Until we face up to that fact and find solutions to it, we are all in trouble."

Elder statesman and former minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark, has also taken exception to the monster which the Nigeria Governors Forum has become and the group's offending activities, which he describes as more dictatorial than the military regimes in Nigeria's recent past.

The elder statesman upbraided the governors for constituting and acting as an opposition party to the federal government with some of their activities driving the country to madness but which the governors care nothing about, provided that they achieve the purpose. He particularly accused the ruling Peoples Democratic Party governors in the Nigeria Governors Forum of exerting overbearing influence on the party and hijacking the party's supremacy.

In an open letter to the Forum last year titled "Enough Is Enough", Chief Clark said he had made enquiries about the governors counterparts in the United States of America and found out that an association called National Governors Association does exist but that their existence and operations are practiced and operated within the confines of the law and had never been a thorn in the flesh of the country even though it was formed as far back as 1908. The association is not politically ambitious as the Nigeria Governors Forum, he asserted.

Clark noted that when the NGF was formed under the chairmanship of then Enugu state governor Chimaroke Nnamani who later handed over to former governor of Akwa Ibom, Chief Victor Attah and later on to former Edo state governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, the forum behaved very much as its counterpart in the USA but that the NGF took a bad turn under the leadership of former governor of Kwara state and now senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Sen. Bukola Saraki who he accused of using the platform of the forum to achieve his Presidential ambition.

The elder statesman faulted the forum for its failure to have used its peer review mechanism to prevail on any of its erring members to do what is right noting that the forum made no comments about Chief James Ibori, former governor of Delta state all through his trial and conviction on corruption and money laundering charges both in Nigeria and in London neither did the forum condemn their Sokoto state colleague who was accused of beating up a follow a fellow Nigerian worker in this civilized world.

He pointed out that the NGF had no reason to hold President Goodluck Jonathan to ransom over the gubernatorial struggles in Bayelsa state between Chief Timipre Sylva and Seriake Dickson which made the gubernatorial contest in the state to assume national dimension as a result of the forum's interference.

Clark further pointed out a recent action of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the PDP where 10 of the members met to take a decision even when the national chairman of the party was not available and did not authorize his deputy to act for him and insisted that the act clearly showed that there was a problem in the party. He rapped the governors' forum for arrogantly supporting one side of the dispute instead of joining other party leaders to resolve the problem.

The Ijaw leader also blamed the controversy over the Adamawa state chapter of the party on the NGF which declared an "unholy support" for the governor of the state, Governor Murtala Nyako to the point of closing its eyes at Nyako's ambition of nominating his wife, Justice Binta Nyako, as the Chief Judge of the state. He noted that the problem in Adamawa state is as a result of the selfish interest of three leaders of the PDP in the state wanting their sons to be the next governor of the state. These persons, according to Chief Clark are the national chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the state Governor, Murtala Nyako and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, while the majority of Adamawa people look on helplessly.

He observed that the over bearing influence of the NGF in the polity has become a matter of serious concern noting that the activities of the forum's PDP members in particular has become very disturbing and calls for urgent correction as it is fast eroding the authority and supremacy of the party as well as posing a serious threat to Nigeria's democracy having become a powerful tool in the hands of the governors who now use the forum to promote their individual and collective interests with little or no regards to the letter and spirit of the party's constitution and supremacy.

Responding to the barrage of criticisms against the Forum Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam described as unfortunate the comments credited to the critics saying they may not have thought of the implications of the statements before making them.

At an interactive session with newsmen in Abuja, Suswam insisted that governors have not done anything to warrant the attack adding however that he is aware that Aminu and Clark are having problems with their respective state governors saying instead of addressing their issues as local level, they preferred to generalise it for reasons best known to them.

"I find the comments of some of our leaders regarding the governors' forum very unfortunate. "These are well respected leaders who have held positions in the past. "When people have problems with the governors in their own states, instead of them to address such, they now generalise and say it is the whole forum", he said.

On the allegations that they want to hijack the presidency, Governor Suswam said the people making the allegation are trying to pitch the governors against the president as nothing of that sort exists as he insisted that governors have no problem with the president.

"They just want to create an artificial problem between the governors and the president. We don't have problems with the president, we are all totally supporting what he is doing and we believe that the only way we can move forward is to raise issues that can help the government and the country and that are what has happened. We are not opposing what the president is doing. It is in the imagination of the people that are saying it", he said.

Clipping the wings of the NGF?

In what appeared like a descent however, a splinter group emerged within the Nigerian Governors' Forum last Sunday with the formation of the PDP Governors' Forum. This followed a meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party at the Presidential Villa.

At the end of the meeting which was attended President Jonathan, the PDP National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur and governors elected on the platform of the party, the Akwa Ibom State governor, Godswill Akpabio, was presented to journalists as the chairman of a newly formed PDP Governors' Forum.

Sources familiar with the intrigues that threw up the new group and Mr. Akpabio say the move was a last gasp effort by Mr. Jonathan and Bamanga to dilute the perceived growing political influence of the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was elected chairman of the NGF in June 2011 for an initial two-year term.

Since 1999 when the NGF was formed, and until last night, whoever led the NGF had always served as coordinator of an informal association of PDP governors. But the presidency and the top brass of the PDP had of late become uncomfortable with Mr. Amaechi who is believed to be leading a massive opposition against Bamanga and the President. He is also believed to be using his post to strategically position himself as vice-presidential candidate of the party in the coming 2015 election.

Bamanga is believed to have been holding on to his position with a hair's breadth after governors and some elements within the National Working Committee reportedly launched a plot to oust him. With the new development, the party would most likely not back Mr. Amaechi for a second term of office when his tenure expires in May.Instead, Akpabio might be presented as the party's candidate for the position.

But while Bamanga told journalists that the formation of the PDP Governors Forum was "out of necessity", Akpabio said his election was part of the plot by the PDP to re-strategize, and that there was no plan to remove Mr. Amaechi from office.

"There was never a discussion to remove him "The tenure will end by April, though he has the right to re-contest," Mr. Akpabio said. "There will be no crack. Other parties are also meeting. It will strengthen the forum," he said.

Daily Trust gathered that with the plot to hijack the PDP bloc from his grip, Mr. Amaechi is now turning to his sympathetic colleagues to ensure the presidency is not allowed to foist a chairman on the group.

The embattled Rivers State Governor, who attended the meeting with the President and reportedly opposed the formation of the PDP Governors Forum, is said to enjoy the support of opposition governors and some of his colleagues within the PDP.

Those believed to be opposed to him are Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Theodore Orji (Abia), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) , Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Isa Yuguda (Bauchi),) and Acting Governor Garba Umar (Taraba).

However, speaking on his emergence as the chairman of the new forum, Godswill Akpabio said that his selection is to help the PDP iron out issues that concern the party. According to him only the interest of the PDP governors will be protected in the new governors forum which he said was not in competition with the Nigerian Governors Forum led by Chief Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers state.

Akpabio said that the PDP is making concerted effort to reunify the party beginning with the governors and denied reports, that there were efforts to remove Rotimi Amaechi as the governor of the Nigerian Governors Forum.

He insisted that there was need to galvanize the PDP governors the same way other parties have in response to the issues of the day.

Jonathan can now go to sleep: National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bamanga Tukur, has said with the creation of a splinter group within the Nigeria Governors' Forum and the purported clipping of Governor Rotimi Amaechi's wing, President Goodluck Jonathan can now sleep with two eyes closed

Speaking when the chairman of the new splinter group and Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio, visited him on Tuesday, Bamanga admitted that he and President Jonathan were having sleepless nights because of the combative attitude of the PDP governors then led by Mr. Amaechi.

"Now I can see very well because I know, in form of leadership of PDP Governors Forum, they are for us. I can tell President Goodluck Jonathan, if he was sleeping few hours in the night because he does not know how the party is going, he can now go and have siesta", Bamanga said.

On his part Akpabio said he would soon embark on the cleansing of the party with a view to sending away members working against its interest.

Describing those working against party's interest as "Judases", the PDP Governors' Forum Chairman noted that the internal crisis in the ruling party could be attributed to its size and the pursuit of parochial interest by some members he did not name.

He, therefore, counselled them to have a change of mind or risk being thrown out.

He said, "What has happened to PDP is because of self implosion. When there is an implosion, where there is treachery, where there are more Judases than you have disciples, we want to have good disciples. We know that even in Christendom when Jesus Christ has 12 disciples there was one Judas, but if the Judases were up to nine then Jesus could have been in trouble, the gospel would have been in trouble today."

"What the PDP is trying to do now is to cleanse its house, to try to identify the ones they called Judas and whisper it to them and said go out, the train is moving and you cannot stand otherwise we will crush you."

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