The election of chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) finally held on Friday, May 24 and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State has emerged victorious. He polled 19 votes out of 35, while his opponent Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau got 16 votes. The election result was significant not just for the NGF but for the nation’s democracy. One governor, Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State, was absent and did not vote. The election would have held since February but was postponed about twice.
Development around the NGF election is not so much about Amaechi, Jang or the NGF as an association but about the process of affirming the values that recognise producing winners and losers through acceptable processes. More important, it was about producing leaders through fair elections. The drama and episodes around the emergence of PDP flag-bearers for the election (from Shema to Yuguda and finally Jang) are issues that definitely reflected existing power configurations and the normal divisive strategies using regional boundaries, especially in PDP.
Important as personalities represented by Amaechi or Jang and organisations such as NGF are, it is the meaning and value associated with them that might have generated interest. Values not necessarily associated with partisan affiliations or ideological commitment but largely driven by current relationship with the presidency. Somehow, given the high interest of the leadership of the ruling PDP against Amaechi and the strategic move to mobilise (and perhaps intimidate) PDP governors against Amaechi, many would have expected that Amaechi would lose the election.
So far, what has happened over the years in the case of the NGF is that consultations have become regular, on monthly basis, and decisions taken were given some life. Successive leaders of NGF, from former Governors Abdullahi Adamu, Victor Attah and Bukola Saraki to current Rotimi Amaechi, all made their contributions. Through these leaders, NGF gradually evolved and it is still being shaped by so many factors. The interests around the May 24 election of Amaechi have produced additional factors in shaping the process of the development of Nigeria’s democracy. There are basically two interests that have developed and become very formidably antagonistic to each other. It is President Jonathan and PDP leadership on the one hand against the state governors represented by Amaechi on the other. The interests have broken party lines. How did this happen?
This may perhaps be as a result of two fundamental factors. The first is that NGF being an association of mainly state governors is an association of equals. The second is that although they (governors) may have come together to form NGF without clear understanding of their potentials,
challenges of responding to authoritarian orientation of the presidency, which was inherited after years of military rule, come with enormous financial challenges, and over time, activities of NGF since its formation have created very high consciousness among governors about the capacity of state governments, acting as a collective, to neutralise or contest issues with the Federal Government, represented by the presidency.
One of the things that made the NGF elections very interesting was the strong interest of President Jonathan in getting Amaechi out of the NGF. Largely on account of perhaps the role of Amaechi as NGF chairman in providing leadership to governors which resulted in situations where the governors contested some
issues with the Federal Government, President Jonathan wanted Amaechi out of NGF by all means. Some of the issues that pitched the NGF against the presidency include the Sovereign Wealth Fund, campaign for constitutional review to reduce powers of the Federal Government in favour of states, review of revenue allocation formula, etc.
In some ways, the fact of the consciousness by governors about their capacity as a collective to contest issues with the presidency is not something that can be nullified through even the defeat of Amaechi. Assuming Amaechi had lost the election, it would have just been a matter of time before any person taking over the position of NGF chairman finds himself in opposition to some position of the president, including Jang. For instance, will Jang or anyone on the side of PDP support the presidency on matters of discretionary declaration of oil revenue bearing in mind that what they get from the federation account is a function of what is declared, which often is less than actual receipt? Will Jang or anyone tolerate unilateral policy initiative from the Federal Government that will result in committing state governments to expend resources?
These are issues that in so many respects conferred undue powers and privileges to the Federal Government on matters of controlling resources and revenue therefrom over states. They are matters that are at the heart of national efforts to redefine the orientation of our federalism. There may be the temptation to dismiss these issues with reference to the performance of the governors, especially with regard to problems of lack of accountability and mismanagement of resources in our state governments. This no doubt does not invalidate the principles that democratic leadership is driven by the needs of members determined through processes of consultations.
We may disagree with the specification of what any category of people
would define as their needs. The fact remains that members of organisations should have the right to determine what they want and it is a normal healthy democratic requirement which should proliferate on a national scale to guarantee national democratic order. Apart from the needs of members, the right of dissent is also an important attribute of democracy. Unfortunately, this too is continually being trampled upon.
Being a member of PDP, Amaechi’s candidature is in itself clearly an act of dissent, if you like rebellion against his own party. Together with Amaechi in this rebellion would be all PDP governors who supported and voted for him. From the result of the election, there are clearly eight PDP governors, Amaechi inclusive. On the other side is also the fact that two so-called opposition governors, Peter Obi of Anambra and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo, have joined PDP in the anti-Amaechi presidency plot. What this means is that the presidency is gradually facilitating a process of restructuring Nigeria into a bipartisan political orientation based on PDP and anti-PDP divide. From the NGF election, it is a divide in which there are many in today’s PDP that are anti-PDP. They include certainly the eight PDP governors that are on Amaechi’s side. Peter Obi and Olusegun Mimiko who are today not direct members of PDP are aligned to PDP and it will only be a matter of time before they take their rightful places inside PDP.
Given the contemporary political reality of Nigeria whereby citizens are just fed up by the ruling PDP and all the governance crises it has produced, any rebellion against PDP may be popular. Beyond rebellion, however, there is the fact that the Ameachi rebellion against PDP has all the attributes of being well organised.
Note: This piece was written before Amaechi’s suspension by the PDP on Monday
Lukman writes from Abuja.
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