Nigeria Governors’ Forum: Time to use coercion, persuasion and pressure to achieve results

Many observers, including leaders in the country have said that Nigeria was at a cross-roads. The security situation in the country is getting worse. The socio-economic and political morass the country has found itself is threatening its unity as a nation.

People no longer have a sense of belonging in a country they once called theirs. The nepotism and injustice under the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari have forced some citizens to want to go their separate ways.

Amidst the hue and cry, the political elite, thatis supposed to be speaking out against these despicable acts, are keeping mum. The very few that are bold enough to speak up are intimidated and harassed by security operatives. Things have utterly gone awry that Nigeria can best be described as “a country on a motion without movement.”

The level of poverty amongst Nigerians is just mind blowing as many families can no longer afford a square meal a day. Many farmers have abandoned farming as they have become targets of Fulani herdsmen. Though food inflation has marginally dropped from 22.95percnt in March 2021 to 22.72percent in April 2021, many households still eat from hand to mouth.

Kidnapping is now a thriving business in Nigeria where government and individuals pay huge amount as ransom. This has further emboldened the kidnappers to go about their nefarious activities without remorse.
In 2020, the South West Governors’ came together to form a regional security outfit called ‘Amotekun’ following the unprecedented killings in some parts of the zone. The South East has since joined the fray by floating its security outfit christened ‘Ebube-Agu’ to put an end to the mindless attacks by hoodlums.

Each of the six geopolitical zones of the country has its peculiar challenges and concerns and this explains why these initiatives were set up (to address these regional challenges).

Today, we have: South-East Governors’ Forum, the North-East Governors’ Forum, the South-South Governors’ Forum, the North-West Governors’ Forum, the South-West Governors’ Forum and the North-Central Governor’s Forum. There are also the PDP Governors’ Forum and the APC Governors’ Forum. We also have Northern Governors’ Forum and Southern Governors’ Forum.

There is nothing wrong if the North-West Governors’ come together under one platform to find solution to the problems of banditry and kidnapping ravaging the zone. The same applies to the South-South governors if they decide it is high time the issue of militancy and oil bunkering became a thing of the past.

Now that the issue of insecurity is a major concern in the six geopolitical zones, the NGF is taking the bull by the horns by meeting and proffering solutions. Therefore, some of the points being put forward by the Southern Governors’ Forum such as ban on open grazing, devolution of powers, restructuring and state police should be supported whole-heartedly. Interestingly, these views were already expressed by some northern governors.

It is therefore, safe to say that the criticism that trailed the communique issued by the Southern Governors’ Forum by some northern political elite was not supposed to arise since all is working toward achieving same goal.

The applause that greeted the 12-point communique by the Southern governors on May 11, 2021, particularly their unanimous ban on open grazing has shown the yearning of the Nigerian people and their real expectation from government.

Unfortunately, that decision was misconstrued and appears to have created a face-off of a sort between the Northern Governors’ Forum and their counterparts in the South.

The bone of contention has been that before the Southern Governors’ can ban open grazing of cattle, they must first of all give land to the Fulani herdsmen, otherwise they would be violating the Land Use Act.

Section 41 of the1999Constitution (as amended) talks about the right of every citizen to move freely throughout Nigeria, to reside in any part thereof, and not to be expelled from the country or refused entry or exit therefrom. But on the other hand, many analysts have argued that the constitution in Section 41 does not grant the right of free movement to cattle.

When this became a serious security threat in Benue State, the state government had to pass the ‘Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law 2017′. Some states have also passed similar laws to checkmate the unwholesome activities of killer herdsmen.

Governor Umar Ganduje exhibited a rare sense of patriotism when he suggested that Kano State has enough land and water for ranching; and that all herders and cattle should find their way to the state as a way of ending open grazing. But his admonition has since been ignored by his colleague governors in the North.

Herders and their cattle have continued to move freely. People are being raped, slaughtered and displaced by these herdsmen and the only thing Nigerians get from the Federal Government is a deafening silence – as if all is well.
Nigerians in their hundreds are daily leaving the country because they feel they are no longer safe in their fatherland. The wanton destruction of life and property across the country is just alarming.

The situation has gotten so scary that a cleric, Paul Adefarasin, a senior pastor of the House on the Rock Church Lagos, urged members to have an alternative plan.

In one of his recent sermons, Adefarasin said: “No country in the world history has survived two civil wars.”

Citing incidences of civil unrest, attacks, and killings in Nigeria, he alluded that some security experts, politicians, and ethnic groups have raised fears that the country might be going the path of another crisis.

Adefarasin said the situation in the country threatens every human life.

The pastor even disclosed that his wife (Pastor Ifeanyi) is currently out of Nigeria helping to create their own Plan B – an alternative plan to relocate from Nigeria in the case of an eventuality.

Unfortunately, the Federal Government and the various security operatives have remained helpless in the face of these monumental killings and wanton destruction.

Nigerians are daily being fed with sad news of school children being kidnapped from their schools, communities being ransacked by bandits, farmers being massacred by A-K47 wielding Fulani herdsmen right in their farms, and other atrocious deeds going on across the country by evil people.

The pronouncement by Governor Ganduje, ordinarily, should have ended the issue of open grazing if indeed Nigeria wasa serious nation.

At this period when many Nigerians are losing faith in the corporate existence of the country, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces should have quickly stepped in and provide the needed leadership that will reassure the masses that all hope is not lost after all.

In view of the continued destruction of lives and property, the governors have called for devolution of powers to the federating units so they can have the constitutional powers to provide security for their people.

For instance, the current centralised police structure whereby a chief security officer of a state has to first run to Abuja to see the president before a battalion of security operatives is sent to his state is certainly defective.

Nigerians wonder the essence of having so much powers and not using it for the benefit of the people?

This could be the reason former president Goodluck Jonathan observed that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum remains the best platform to discuss issues affecting Nigeria. He stressed that the NGF should be a platform for uniting Nigeria and not polarising it.

According to the ex-president, “Governors themselves should continue to meet, I don’t really love a situation where the Northern governors will meet then the Southern governors will cry foul.

“Then the Southern governors will meet then the Northern governors will cry foul, that will not help our country.
“The governors through the governors’ forum should meet; they are the people who run this country, the President is just one person in Abuja.”

According to him, “The states, especially in a country where the local governments are very weak, it is the states that people fall back to. So, if the governors of the states meet and dialogue, interrogate things that are good for this country, then we will move forward.

“I don’t really enjoy the antagonism between governors, they should come together and discuss. If there are issues that are affecting one or two states. I think the governors should see how they can collectively come with a way to address those issues.”

An Abuja-based Political Analyst, JideOjo, was of the opinion that without the president’s support, the governors, under the platform of Nigeria Governors’ Forum cannot make any head-way on any issue being canvassed. He posited that issues that border on constitutional amendment such as restructuring, devolution of powers and state police are beyond their brief.

“I think the former president was just being naive to think that without the president’s buy-in, the governors, under the platform of Nigeria Governors’ Forum can make any head-way with issues of restructuring, devolution of powers, open grazing and state police.

“For me, it will be naive to leave it to the governors. They can only sponsor executive bills within their state Houses of Assembly and issues that border on constitutional amendment are beyond their brief; it is the president they can pressure to take the initiative while they support at the state level,” Ojo said.

According to him, “The Northern Governors have met and taken a position on open grazing. The Southern Governors have met and taken a position on open grazing. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum have met and taken a position on some constitutional matters. It is now left for them to meet with the president and argue that they are the link between the president and the Nigerian people. They should say they are in the middle; and they feel the pain; so, Mr. President, send an executive bill articulating some of these positions so they can have a constitutional amendment; but if the president refuses to bulge, there is little or nothing the governors can do.”

He further said: “I think it is very naive to leave it at the door steps of the governors. It has to be across board – federal, state and local governments. No matter the dialogue the governors are having in their states, it cannot change anything. Who controls the instrument of coercion? It is the federal government. Why do governors whose states are under terrorist attacks have to run to Abuja? It is because they know that they cannot meet the Chief of Army Staff or Inspector-General of Police without the express permission of the president. But, if the governors meet the president, he can summon the relevant security chiefs and give them a matching order. So, we have an imperial presidency; we have an executive presidency; we have a presidency that has enormous powers.

“Nevertheless, I quite agree that the governors can quite do a lot as chief executives in their respective states; they can move in quickly to douse tension when there are communal clashes, but there are limits they can go. The real power lies with the president and unless there is a buy-in of the president, nothing will move.”