I am sure of what happened at the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) elections held Thursday, May 23, 2013 – Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, erstwhile chair defeated his rival, Jonah Jang of Plateau State by 19 votes to 16 to retain his position. But I was entirely not surprised by the subsequent turn of events! Before the vote, I had made two predictions – the elections would be very close – indeed my analysis showed a tally of 18-18, 19-17, or 20-16. At the event, one governor was absent during the voting and the outcome was altered only to that extent.
My second prediction was that irrespective of whichever side prevailed, the group would be splintered, probably irretrievably, at least as long as its make-up consisted mostly of the current holders. This second projection was a consequence of the first – with the elections having being elevated into a pre-2015 test of power between President Goodluck Jonathan and forces ranged against him within his party and the opposition, the political stakes had probably become so high that no side was likely to accept defeat.
Remember that in the run-up to the elections, PDP had already formed a “PDP Governors’ Forum” headed by Akwa Ibom Governor Godswill Akpabio, while a “Progressive Governors’ Forum” had similarly emerged headed by opposition Governor Kayode Fayemi.
The president’s real opponent was not just Amaechi, but the Northern regional power groups opposed to his re-election and the All Progressives Congress (APC) coalition that wishes to displace Jonathan and the PDP in 2015. In fact, Amaechi’s 19 votes came from 10 APC and nine PDP Northern governors, while Jang’s votes came from the South-South, South-East, Middle-Belt, the sole Labour and APGA governors allied with Jonathan and a minority of seven PDP governors currently in the president’s camp.
In my view, the practical outcome is a strategic failure, a lose-lose outcome for both Amaechi and President Jonathan – the president has been severely embarrassed losing a very public political battle; Governor Amaechi has avoided a defeat that may have been politically ruinous at home, but the NGF has been damaged and divided into two almost equal halves, its credibility and influence eroded; Amaechi is in effect fighting a proxy war for political forces opposed by-and-large to the political sentiments in his base and may yet face pressures to reconcile himself with local interests (don’t they say “all politics is local”); and while it suffered a public embarrassment, the presidency has at least curtailed the powerful and united threat it perceived from the NGF.
In my view, all this is highly unfortunate! The NGF could be a force for good in our nation as a non-partisan policy mechanism focused on sharing best practices, peer review and fostering collaboration across political divides among governors and between governors, the presidency, National Assembly and other inter-governmental agencies like the non-partisan US National Governors Association.
I am familiar with some of the important policy work the NGF has done – on polio eradication in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; in the area of peer review, with a strong institutional mechanism and two concluded reviews on Ekiti and Anambra states; in the areas of primary health care and taxation; and even sharing best practices such as the Lagos State Security Trust Fund, which some other states have emulated. Sadly, with the current imbroglio and the focus on politics, rather than policy, such benefits are now in danger of being lost.
The NGF crisis has had other consequences – solidarity within the Northern States Governors has also been fatally wounded with Governors Yuguda and Suswan of Bauchi and Benue states in effect accusing their colleagues of treachery and disavowing further participation. The Northern Governors carried out a charade of endorsing Jang as their consensus candidate and most of them including their chairman, Babangida Aliyu, evidently did the opposite! It is not difficult to anticipate that trust between the Christian Middle-Belt and Northern Muslims has also been further eroded by what now appears to be deliberately setting up Jang for failure!
The image of Nigerian democracy has been disparaged as the absurdity of controversy over an election involving only 35 governors in one room with 36 ballot papers questions our integrity and nobility as a people. The general interpretation is that this forebodes ill for the 2015 election – if the pre-run involving only 36 electors is so controversial, will the actual elections involving millions of voters not lead to similar or worse consequences?
I have even before this confusion projected several possible adverse scenarios for 2015 – intensification of regional posturing and incendiary comments from the North and Niger Delta; the run-up towards 2015 already resembles a volatile zero-sum game; the rhetoric with which the president is addressed and with which his spokesmen respond already fosters a sense of antagonism in the polity; and the question of how the Niger Delta, currently lapping up the spoils of office and “our oil” would get used to cessation of easy money in the event that Jonathan loses in 2015, all pose difficult scenario implications for 2015.
What all these tells me is the need to de-escalate the current crisis – return to a harmonious NGF focused on policy and peer review, and not as a lever of power; toning down the “war” rhetoric over 2015; an electoral contest between PDP and APC (?) based on alternate policy prescriptions, rather than mutually assured destruction; and reconciliation between President and Dame Jonathan and Governor Amaechi.