NGF Crisis: Matters Arising

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Mike Akpan

EVER since the disputed May 24,chairmanship election in the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, a section of the media has been projecting Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State and chairman of the NGF, as a victim of political persecution and President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as the persecutor. This reporting slant is very unfortunate because it heaps the blame of the entire crisis on the president’s interest in who should become the chairman of the forum. On the other hand, the president’s spokespersons have been at pains to counter this impression and to distance Jonathan from the NGF crisis. For instance, Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, had, before and after the crisis, consistently denied that Jonathan had any hand in what was happening in the forum. Such denials were unnecessary and dishonest because the president would be politically naive or even digging his own political grave, if he failed to show interest in who leads the forum more especially as Amaechi’s political ambition clashes with his own. As chairman, Amaechi could use the forum to promote his political ambition and effectively frustrate the second term ambition of the president. More so, the NGF is a strong factor in national politics and often times tries to influence decisions in the Presidency and the National Assembly. So, all those who have accused President Jonathan of showing undue interest in the NGF chairmanship election were either out rightly dishonest or mischievous. They wanted the president to do what they would not do if they found themselves in his predicament.

When it started in April 1999, the NGF was meant to be a forum for the governors to meet regularly to compare notes, share experiences, discuss common problems and benefit from the experiences of their colleagues. That was why the NGF constitution was modeled after that of the American Governors’ Forum, AGF, which prescribes a single term of two years for its chairman and the vice- chairman who moves to occupy the chair when the chairman’s tenure expires. There was no provision for an election of either the chairman or the vice- chairman. Both were to hold their positions by consensus appointment. Over the years, the NGF had operated as a non-partisan forum until 2010 when it suddenly transformed into a political pressure group. Its first major task then was to determine who becomes president of Nigeria. In this regard, the forum tried to obstruct the emergence of Jonathan as the acting president after late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua spent more than five months on medical vacation in Saudi Arabia without transmitting a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker, House of Representatives, as prescribed in section 145 of the 1999 Constitution, that he was proceeding on medical vacation, and that in his absence, Jonathan should act as the president.  The NGF was also said to have stood against any attempt by two-thirds of the members of the federal executive council to transmit a resolution to the National Assembly declaring Yar’Adua incapable of continuing to discharge his functions as president. In the absence of none of these constitutional stipulations, it became very difficult for Jonathan to perform the functions of the president in an acting capacity. But it took the mounting pressure of various interest groups and the civil society, most especially, the Save Nigeria Group, SNG, for the Senate to invoke the doctrine of necessity to make Jonathan the acting president.

Even after Jonathan became the acting president, and subsequently, the president after Yar’Adua died on May 5, the NGF insisted that he should pick one of its members as the vice-president. Jonathan eventually succumbed to that pressure by nominating Namadi Sambo, who was then the governor of Kaduna State, as his vice-president. Encouraged by that success, the governors pressed on as a formidable group to oppose any policy of the Jonathan administration or appointment made by it without their input. This was an intolerable posture because they were trying to force on the president what they would never tolerate from local government chairmen.

As said earlier, in the 14-year history of the NGF, there had never been an election to pick a chairman or a vice-chairman for the forum and the positions had been rotating among the geopolitical zones. Amaechi, who represented the South-South geopolitical zone, was a product of consensus appointment and should have vacated the office last February, after two years, for the vice-chairman to step into his position. But he chose to upset the apple cart. Was he encouraged by APC governors whose party is strategizing to take over power from the PDP in 2015 and who are boasting that they wanted an election so that they would support Amaechi to defeat and disgrace the president? If the NGF constitution was amended to provide for an election, was it only for the position of the chairman since there was also no election to fill the position of the vice-chairman on May 24? Has that position been abolished or would it continue to exist through the consensus arrangement? When was the NGF constitution amended? Was the amendment ratified? If it was, when and by how many members? Was the process documented? Was the crisis deliberately contrived by Amaechi to win sympathy and support for himself and his political ambition? Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State, has been quoted as saying that the decision of the forum to opt for an election instead of a consensus arrangement was because democracy is growing in Nigeria. Does democratic growth negate due process and majority decision? These are some of the pertinent questions that are begging for answers as the crisis deepens and irretrievably divides the governors into two opposing camps.

Even though Fayemi had said that Amaechi’s victory was not a victory over the presidency because it was a contest among governors for the chairmanship position, analysts believe he was speaking from two sides of his mouth. His position is, in no way, different from that of his APC which is boasting that Jonathan has been beaten and disgraced by the opposition and that what happened at the forum’s election was an indication of what would happen in the 2015 presidential election. In view of all the intrigues associated with the May 24, NGF election, the anti- Amaechi group has itself to blame. It chose to buy hook, line and sinker, the dummy the pro-Amaechi group sold to it. It failed to critically study the implication of the adoption of Jonah Jang, governor of Plateau State, as the consensus candidate of the Northern Governors’ Forum, most of whose members support Amaechi, as its candidate for the NGF chair. That development ought to have aroused the curiosity of its members. If the 19 governors of the north had already picked Jang as their consensus candidate, why did they agree to still go into an election using a constitution that was never ratified? Why did the 19 northern governors not oppose the holding of an election if Jang was really their candidate for the NGF chair? Secondly, the anti-Amaechi group failed to look at a gift horse in the face. The members must have had a short memory not to remember that a leopard does not easily change it color. The same northern governors who prevented Jang from being the chairman of their forum could not easily have agreed for him to lead a larger body. The pro- Amaechi group felt that was the only strategy that could hoodwink its opponents to drop their guards. Their strategy worked and probably, made the anti-Amaechi governors to agree to an election confident that victory was theirs because of the endorsement of Jang already in their kitty. So, they did not care about the preparations made for holding the election and completely lost sight of the fact that election can be rigged at any stage. Didn’t Amaechi’s insistence on going for an election despite the northern governors’ endorsement of Jang send a curious message to them? They must have been politically naive if they ever thought Amaechi, as the incumbent NGF chairman, could make preparations to conduct an election he would lose.  Godswill Obot Akpabio, governor of Akwa Ibom State and chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum, complained that the ballot papers used for the election were not serialized, why was that not ascertained by his group before the election? Didn’t he foresee the possibility of manipulating the ballot papers? The whole episode was a big shame that 36 governors could not organize a transparently acceptable election. In view of this disappointment, what hope is there for Nigeria in 2015?

— Jun. 17, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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