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New Governors Forum Or Political Party?

Paul Yovo critically writes on the real motive of ‘The United Governors’ Forum’ that held yesterday in Abuja with the hint that it looks more like another political group in the making.

When all serving governors gather for the scheduled meeting of the erstwhile defunct Governors Forum yesterday at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, it soon became clear that there was a difference between the open agenda of giving updates on its activities and the hidden, real agenda of providing a cover for the emergence of another political party in the future. Having won and lost the polls, many of the governors from across the two major political parties have been finding it hard to weld in the polity the enormous power they were used to prior to the May 2013 crisis that broke the forum into two irreconcilable factions with Rivers Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State leading a faction and his Plateau counterpart, Jonah Jang leading the other.

For agreeing to set aside their differences and come together under the leadership of the Amaechi led faction has made observers to say that there is more to the meeting than meets the eye. Many of the governors end their tenure on May 29 when the new dispensation is expected to be kick-started by the swearing in of the new administration the FCT, Abuja and the 36 states across the federation.

Though pundits see the unified NGF meeting as a sign of the new spirit of reconciliation and peace sparked by the acceptance of defeat by incumbent President Jonathan, some believe it is better to wait for the outcome of the meeting better any conclusive statements can be made after the outcome of the meeting. For this group situating the NGF crisis of May 2013 in proper perspective would give a background to the meeting.

The NGF meeting of that month two years ago split the body into two. At the election, which held at the Rivers State Governors lodge in Abuja, Mr. Amaechi defeated his Plateau State counterpart, Jonah Jang, with 19 votes to 16. There were insinuations that the presidency had a hand in it in the sense that it wanted a preferred candidate other than Amaechi, the incumbent, to emerge winner.

All attempts by the Presidency to deny the allegations fell on deaf public ears. But on Thursday, May 14, some of the truth behind the crisis came from no other person than leader of the APC , Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Speaking at the public presentation of a book on Ameachi titled, “Dynamic of Change: The Amaechi Years”, written by the duo of Dr Yemi Ogunbiyi, former Daily Times Managing Director and Dr Chidi Amuta, Managing Director of Post Express, Tinubu praised Amaechi exploits in the crisis that marred the Governors Forum, stating that the PDP’s fall started then. Of course the fall out generated so much bad blood in the polity leading to a long stand off between the Rivers governor and the presidency, with the APC exploiting the tiff to its advantage.

For most governors that crisis still rankles but many now may be willing to forgive and forget the past and face the realpolitik of the moment denominated in the personal as interests as some governors have won re-elections and others, like Jang, are heading for the Senate. For one, the factions have made no attempt to reconcile even after both made changes in leadership, with Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, leading the PDP arm and Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State leading the APC faction. That was how they went into the recent general elections. For many of the governors , if not all, the elections were a great revelation.

The powers they once welded had melted away. Time it was when even the President could not dare the Forum and ignore their bidding. In fact Mr Fix it, Chief Tony Anenih, in a political gathering of the PDP in Asaba in 2010, said the Forum was so powerful that they determined who goes to the National and State Houses of Assemblies, filled the offices of the Local Government Chairmen and dominated the party to the extent that the President had to listen to them for the polity to be peaceful. But with the May 2013 crisis, all those power filter away and rested power t kingmakers like Tinubu in the Southwest, former Education Commissioner, Chief Edwin Clark, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, former military President Inrahim Babangida.

Many have seen the effect of this slip in power. In the APC as in the PDP, the story has been the same. During the search for Buhari’s running mate last year, the governors in the party who wanted one of them to fill that position, because as a source said, they felt Buhari who has been out of government circle for a long time would need an experienced and serving governor as a guide, could not muster the support among their rank against Tinubu, the leader of the party, owner of the party in the Southwest and a money bag to boot, who railroaded his candidate into the position.

Even now as the party source for a candidate for the Senate Presidency, the governors are still finding it hard to match Tinubu again. For the PDP, those who managed to get their way by fielding successors of their choice had found it had to hold their houses together in their states because of the inter-party protests, leading in some cases like Niger and Benue where the incumbents lost their bids for the Senate or in Plateau where the party candidate lost to the opposition candidate. The reality of the situation highlighted by the Senate battle has ignited the need for many of them to come together and put their acts together and see if they could reclaim their lost glory.

In fact a week ago Senator Bukola Saraki, last week wrote a congratulatory letter Senator- elect and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Goodswill Akpabio, eulogizing his leadership qualities. Saraki was once Chairma of the Governors Forum and after the 2013 split Akpabio assumed the leadership of the PDP Governors Forum. Most of his supporters in his battle for the Senate presidency are his colleagues led by Amaechi and Kano Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso. It is also instructive to observe, say some pundits, that the PDP governors are the ones in the forefront of those calling for change of guard in the party following the shocked lost of power at the center.

Yesterdays meeting saw the assumption of office by re-elected governor of Zamfara Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari, Amaechis’ deputy since 2013. But for those highly suspicious of the meeting, something is fishing. Who else should know other than Bayelsa State Governor, Mr. Seriake Dickson who had been part of the Forum and its inner workings since that faithful day in May 2013. He has revealed how leadership of the polarized Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) frustrated efforts of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo to reconcile warring factions and unite the NGF.

But Dickson said that efforts made by Obasanjo including midnight meetings with the factional heads was frustrated by both Jang and Amaechi. According to him, both failed to heed advice to step down for a neutral person to head the NGF. “They failed to show leadership by example, when it mattered most. They played politics with everything and put their personal ambitions and egos above national interest.

As a democrat, I believe in robust dialogue, disagreement and the need to accommodate a variety of opinions and consensus building where the national interest so dictates. “Therefore, as true democrats and nationalists, whether we agree or disagree, it must be in the national interest. These they did not show throughout the crisis, even after the tireless and fatherly intervention of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who held series of late night meetings with us. Most colleagues took the view that both Governors Jonah Jang and Rotimi Amaechi should step down for a neutral candidate to emerge. Again, they disagreed”, he said.

Dickson said he is revealing the information due to attempt by outgoing members of the NGF to foist leadership on the entity by fixing in a hurry an NGF meeting for Monday, 18, 2015. “It has come to my knowledge that my distinguished and respected senior colleagues, the out-going governors, whose tenures will be ending May 29, 2015, have summoned a meeting of the purported Nigeria Governors’ Forum for Monday May 18 2015. “Among other things on the card for discussion, I understand, may be the selection of a new leadership of the forum”, he said.

According to him, “having participated in the activities of the NGF at the period during its crisis with my respected colleagues, most of whom are now ending their respective governorship tenures, and having also known the roles played by most of the key actors of the forum in the orchestration and mismanagement of a needless crisis at such a critical phase   in our nation’s political journey, I owe it as a duty to our country and its fledgling democracy to alert the nation and caution my respected colleagues, especially the in-coming governors of the dangers in allowing themselves to be railroaded by the out-going governors, most of whom created the NGF crisis, to foist on our country and political system another NGF contraption (in their own image and likeness) that will in due course threaten the stability of our democracy and be a distraction to citizens and the leadership of our country, as the NGF tussle has done between 2012 till date”, he said.

With the governors in the PDP baying for the blood of the NEC leadership for the poor outing of the party in the general elections and the APC governors battling to have their way with Tinubu over his buccaneering ways coupled with the snub many got from the President- elect over ministerial nominee, the meeting today may be another way to fellowship with colleagues with bruised egos

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