2015: Who Needs A Governor’s Forum?

The Nigerian Governor’s Forum (NGF) has no place in the constitution yet it wields overwhelming powers over national issues and elections. EDEGBE ODEMWINGIE writes on emerging concerns.

Depending on who is talking, the unconstitutional Nigerian Governor’s Forum (NGF) formed in 1999 to serve as a platform for exchange of ideas, has become a political monster of some sorts. Many have criticised the forum as having overbearing powers, too powerful others say. It is stale news now that there is a crack within the forum with the formation of a splinter group.

The same NGF has been recognised as a political joker for anybody with the intention to become president in Nigeria. Past presidents since 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo; Late Umaru Musa Yar Adua and incumbent Goodluck Jonathan will explain better.

With Nigerian governors in firm grip of their respective states, they posses overwhelming powers to swing votes to candidates of their choice, evident in past presidential elections. So, gathering under the forum, the potency of the governors powers becomes all too glaring, scary too especially when they (governors) take a unified position.

Many including former Defence Minister, Theophilus Danjuma and the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Cross River State, Mike Igini have called for the review of the constitution to check the powers of state governors.

“…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.” Danjuma said at the LEADERSHIP Newspapers annual conference in September 2012.

Well, if Jonathan decides to have a grip on the workings of the NGF, It is a smart and safe move if he has intentions to return in 2015 – a plan confirmed by people in the know. Although the President is mum on that.

?In February, the President 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.

Political pundits saw the parallel forum of the governors from the PDP as intending to achieve the emergence of a 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.

The PDP Governors’ Forum is to work towards Jonathan’s 2015 re-election bid, pundits also say.

For clarity, the leadership of the PDP and the presidency tried to engineer the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi’s exit as chairman of the forum leading to the formation of the PDP Governors Forum headed by another PDP governor, Godswill Akpabio.

Amaechi’s tenure as NGF chairman comes to an end in May, although he is eligible for re-election. The Rivers State Governor is also said to be among the PDP governors opposed to President Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015.


Jonathan Victimizing Me – Amaechi

Amaechi claims strongly and publicly that the corruption in the petrol subsidy payments by the federal government must stop. President Jonathan has decided to ostracize him from some official programs.

The Rivers State Governor stated that not only is there a crisis between him and the presidency over petrol subsidy and other issues, the presidency’s reaction has been not only to blacklist him from some functions, but also scheming to remove him as chairman of the NGF. Amaechi stated this last Saturday in Ikogosi Ekiti at a seminar organised by ‘The Future Project’.

He said, “It is one reason they (the presidency) don’t want me as governor’s chairman,” Amaechi stated.

He alleged that the presidency had stopped inviting him to join Mr the President’s entourage on official visits.

It is the norm in Nigeria that when the president is travelling for official functions outside the country, some governors, ministers, and top businessmen accompany him in order to use the opportunity to attract foreign investors to their domains.

Amaechi said the last time he was invited for such was a trip to Turkey before his recent disagreement? with President Goodluck Jonathan.

“That (the Turkey trip) is about the last trip. They don’t like taking me again to come with them,” he said.

The governor said many senior PDP and government officials had approached him to stop making public statements about the federal government’s actions and inactions.

“Amaechi, don’t talk again now,” the governor quoted some advisers as telling him in order to return to Jonathan’s good books.

The Rivers State Governor however said he was not disturbed by the president’s actions despite the fact that “When the president talks, everybody catches cold.”


Stop Meddling

Reports say Amaechi, has said enough is enough; and has warned President Jonathan and his handlers to hands-off the affairs of the NGF, else he will quit the PDP and join the opposition merger All Progressive Congress (APC).

Going by the progressive toga bandied by the APC, Amaechi will be well received. Fitch, a global rating firm, has given Rivers State under Amaechi an AA+ in fiscal policy.

Amaechi reportedly sent the missive to Jonathan through the Chairman of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih, when the latter led a high-level delegation to Port Harcourt Tuesday ostensibly to plead with Amaechi not to defect from the PDP.? Among other BoT members on the delegation were the PDP National Vice-Chairman, Dr Sam Jaja, Prof Jerry Gana, Chief Tonye Graham-Douglas and Chief Ebenezer Babatope. The visit came amidst growing speculations that Amaechi along with his supporters were preparing to decamp to the APC.


Governors And A Botched Constitution Review Report

Recall that the collated report of the Peoples’ Public Sessions on the Review of the 1999 Constitution conducted by the House of Representatives in the 360 Federal Constituencies of Nigeria initially scheduled for presentation on January 31 suffered ill-fate in circumstances many say were due to machinations of the governors.

Official reasons given for the postponement was to allow Honourable Members of the House more time to verify that the results reflected the voting in their various constituencies.

The collated report is now due for public presentation on Thursday April 18th, 2013.

In a report by ACE-NIGERIA partners who served as members of the steering committees in different constituencies in the country, the conduct of the Peoples Sessions was largely transparent, inclusive and credible.

ACE-NIGERIA gives a detailed account of happenings in its report “Constitution Review: The Journey So Far”:

On 19th November 2012, Rt. Hon Emeka Ihedioha, Chairman House of Representatives Ad hoc committee on constitution review set up a collation sub – committee to centrally collate and analyze the results from the proceedings of the Peoples Sessions.? Members of the collation sub-committee were pooled from representations of diverse segments of the Nigerian society; Civil Society (ACE-NIGERIA), Nigeria Union of Journalists, labour movement (NLC/TUC), ASUU, National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), youth organizations and special interest groups. Reports and votes from the Peoples session were transparently disclosed to members of the sub-committee. At the end of its work, the collation sub-committee was able to garner reports and votes from 318 Federal Constituencies. The remainder of 42 constituencies later submitted their reports to the ad hoc committee on constitution review.


The Birth of Controversies:

On the day of the public presentation, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Aminu Tambuwal, announced to the consternation of Nigerians that the leadership of the House of Representatives had decided to cancel the public presentation of the report of the Peoples Session. That was after keeping guests waiting for nearly three hours. The Speaker claimed that there were contentious issues that the House needed to resolve before taking further steps on constitution review. Apparently, this did not go down well with diverse segments of the Nigerian public present at the event. Apart from public angst about the delay of the event and perceived sense of disrespect for Nigerians, a number of civil society groups present at the botched public presentation believe that the House leadership was economical with the truth on the reasons for the cancellation of the event. Earlier, immediately after the Peoples Session, governors under the aegies of the Nigeria Governors Forum met in Abuja and disowned critical decisions reached by Nigerians at the Peoples Session. This led to fears that state governors were the unseen hands trying to undermine the will of Nigerian people as expressed at the Peoples Sessions.”


Nigerians Have Spoken!

From available report of the already collated votes at the Peoples Session, it is clear that Nigerians have reached a consensus on critical issues of constitution review especially as it concerns the quest for good governance, popular participation and public accountability. Over 240 Federal Constituencies out of the 318 collated voted for the justiceability of Chapter two of the Nigerian Constitution.

This amendment when eventually passed into law would empower Nigerians to sue government where it fails to provide good governance and social welfare especially as enunciated in Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution. On the issue of local government reform especially with regards to explicit constitutional designation of local council as the third tier of government, abolition of joint state local government accounts, financial autonomy of local governments, definite terms of office for local government officials and scrapping of state independent electoral commission, more than 80% of the Federal Constituencies voted in favour of far reaching local government reform.