NGF’s Dirty Linen

Amaechi

The May 24, controversial Nigerian Governors’ Forum chairmanship election split the body and creates more problems for Chibuike Amaechi, Rivers State governor within his ruling Peoples Democratic Party

|  By Olu Ojewale   |  Jun. 10, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

GOVERNOR Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State is a man under siege. In the past few months, Amaechi’s face-off with the presidency and the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has remained a permanent feature in the media. After his controversial re-election as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, on Friday, May 24, his problem with the authorities took a turn for the worse. The National Working Committee of the PDP, after an emergency meeting, suspended the governor on Monday, May 27.

The party accused Amaechi of abuse of office by refusing to obey the lawful directive of the state executive committee, which mandated him to rescind his decision on the dissolution of the elected executive council of Obiokpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. According to Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, the decision to suspend Amaechi followed a petition submitted by the PDP Rivers State executive committee against the governor, following his refusal “to obey the lawful directive of the Rivers State Executive Committee to rescind his decision dissolving the elected Executive Council of Obiokpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.”

In a communiqu← issued and signed by Metuh, “The NWC after preliminary hearing, in exercise of the powers conferred by Articles 57 (3), 59 (3), 59 (5) and 29 (2.b), hereby suspends Governor Amaechi as a member of the PDP,” adding that the governor’s action violated Articles 58 1 (b), (c), (h) and (m) of the PDP Constitution. The communiqu← said the issue against the governor would be referred to the appropriate disciplinary committee of the party for further action. In line with that, Metuh said the NWC had constituted an 11-man panel chaired by Joe Kyrai-Gadzama, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to investigate the said petition.

Amaechi, who described his suspension as “political witch-hunting” has denied the allegation and vowed to seek redress in court. On Tuesday, May 28, the governor had a closed-door meeting with a team of lawyers led by one of the leading senior advocates of Nigeria on the matter. Addressing an inter-party summit on “Cohesive inter-party relations as a panacea for peace and sustainable development in Rivers State” in Port Harcourt, the state capital on Tuesday, May 28, he alerted the nation that there was a plot by the PDP to impeach him and remove him from office.

Jang
Jang

A South-South governor was said to have been given the assignment to fund the plot by inducing seven lawmakers in the state House of Assembly to join the anti-Amaechi camp. The Rivers State House of Assembly has 32 members, five are against Amaechi. But the governor is not perturbed. “Indeed, it is only the PDP that has the guts to suspend a governor without a reason. I leave them to God and to you (the people)ナ. We must come together to defend Rivers State. It’s not about me; I have served eight years as speaker, nearly six years as governor. Even if I am removed tomorrow, I am satisfied that this state, this country and history will recognise and remember me.” Nonetheless, he promised not to relent in fighting for his rights, especially his re-election as the chairman of the NGF.

Amaechi was said to have defied the directive of the PDP leaders not to contest the NGF chairmanship election which result is now mired in controversy with both Amaechi and Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, claiming victory. A newspaper report said that a video on the disputed election result actually showed that Amaechi won by 19 votes as against Jang’s 16 votes.

According to the report, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State captured most of the proceedings of the election on his mobile phone. “When the arrowhead of the opposition against Amaechi, Akwa Ibom State Governor Godswill Akpabio realised the proceedings were being taped, he charged angrily at Aregbesola,” the report said. The video was said to have shown the intense manoeuvring by the governors on both sides, documenting how the 35 governors voted, the counting of votes and the declaration of result by Asishana Okauru, director-general of the Forum.

Contrary to his claim, the video also showed that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State played the role of the presiding officer, “standing by Okauru all through the sorting and counting of the votes and giving instruction to the DG on how to handle the ballots.” After the counting, Uduaghan then went back to his seat after the result showed that Amaechi had won. Okauru eventually declared Amaechi the winner based on the result and to the disappointment of the pro-Jang governors.

Apart from vindicating the embattled governor, the video clip will also help the Presidency to know who, among the PDP governors, did not follow the party line. But some of them don’t care anyway. Some of the governors are believed to have abhorred being directed by the presidency. “The PDP governors are divided and the party cannot feign ignorant of that. That is why (Tony) Anenih, the party BoT chairman, has been trying to reconcile them to the party,” an analyst said. Besides, some of them are also said to have resented the way Governor Akpabio emerged as chairman of the PDP NGF earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, the PDP has a friend in Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State. In his reaction to Amaechi’s re-election, he said the re-election of a sitting chairman has no place in the NGF’s constitution. According to Obi, the NGF, is modelled after American Governors’ Forum constitution, which prescribes only a single two-year term for a sitting chairman with no provision for a re-election.

Obi
Obi

The governor alleged that the amended constitution which Amaechi relied on for re-election was not only doctored, but was never ratified by the larger body of governors. If that was so, why did all the governors take part and the issue of ratification never sorted out before the controversial election? Another issue begging for an answer is that if the election was held without an approved constitution, why did governors go ahead to vote? Although they claimed that Amaechi’s re-election could not stand because he was not the consensus choice of the body, democracy actually recognises the candidate with the highest number of votes and, in this case, Amaechi scored 19 votes while Jang, his opponent, got 16 votes.

As could be understood, Obi apparently has a grouse with Amaechi which he did not disguise in his recent press interview. According to Obi, in 2009 when the then Governor Olusola Saraki of Kwara State was having problems and his colleagues wanted to remove him, they decided to formalise everything concerning the forum. Thus, they adopted the United States Governors’ Forum constitution which prescribes for positions of a chairman and vice chairman. The chairman would serve for two years and then leave to allow the vice to take over, thereby allowing a new vice chairman to be appointed. So, based on that, Obi was appointed the vice chairman to Saraki. Obi said his appointment was made by consensus and not by actual balloting.

But instead of being allowed to succeed Saraki in 2011, he said: “Everybody was like, it was going to be me because I was the vice based on the constitution. The then governor of Bayelsa State, (Timipre) Sylva said Amaechi, then the PDP governors said Amaechi. Nothing else, nobody said ‘raise your hand.’ It was just like that. It has always been through consensus, when we agree, we agree. Initially what worked against me was that they argued that I’m a non – Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, governor. In fact, I have letters, documents to back what I am saying.” Obi is thus, supporting Jang based on his understanding of consensus and on the agreement of his zone. “The way I see it is that it is a voluntary organisation which nobody should insist on being the chairman. If the quorum is 12 and 12 people have said no, it should end there,” he said.

Aregebesola
Aregebesola

But the likes of governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Aregbesola and Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, have insisted that Amaechi’s re-election must stand. Fayemi said it was victory for democracy, saying that the decision of the forum to opt for election instead of consensus was as a result of democratic growth. The governor urged Nigerians to see the emergence of Amaechi as a demonstration of his colleagues’ confidence in his leadership of the Forum and not a victory over the presidency. Fayemi said: “It is a contest among governors for the chairmanship position and it would be wrong for anyone to consider it a contest between President Goodluck Jonathan and Amaechi as the president was not a contestant.”

But the feelers from the Presidency suggest that Jonathan was disappointed that Amaechi was re-elected. Although the PDP leadership has also tried to further distance President Jonathan from Amaechi’s travails before and after the election, there seems to be hiding away from the fact. On Wednesday, May 29, a news report said the secretariat from where Jang will operate as NGF chairman is now located in Maitama, Abuja. On Thursday, May 30, Vice President Lamadi Sambo declared it open with only pro-Jang governors in attendance. Confirming the report, Osaro Onaiwo, sole administrator of the secretariat, said letters had gone to invited guests including Amaechi. This apparently contradicted a statement by Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, recently that Jonathan had no partisan interest in who became the NGF chairman.

But a good number of Nigerians are not convinced. Abubakar Tsav, a retired police commissioner, seemed to have captured what discerning Nigerians think about the whole saga. He said: “Every person, who is elected and who took oath of office and allegiance as a state governor, is expected to be above reproach, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, reliable, impartial, dependable, honest, forthright and God-fearing. The governors agreed to form an association and named it Nigerian Governors’ Forum. They unanimously agreed to hold an election for the chairmanship position. Election was held and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State was declared the winner. A few hours later, Governor Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, who is neither the returning nor electoral officer, declared Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State, as winner. Couldn’t the governors resolve this quietly or they simply wanted to satisfy the President? Now, Amaechi is suspended from the PDP. Is this Democracy? What are the factional governors teaching the youths? Shame of a nation!”

Akpabio
Akpabio

Besides, the suspension of Amaechi and some other moves targeted against him came on the heels of his re-election as NGF chairman. Recently, lawmakers said to be loyal to the governor were ‘suspended.’ Added to that, security details of key political office holders loyal to Amaechi were withdrawn just as the state’s controversial aircraft has been grounded by the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, which accused the Amaechi administration of contravening aviation regulations in the handling of the facility.

Amaechi’s battle with the PDP is a long-drawn one that started more than a year ago. As chairman of the NGF, he had rallied his colleagues to fight against the way the federal government handled excess crude account and the sovereign wealth fund. Whereas the federal government would want to keep the funds involved in its coffers, the governors backed Amaechi who insisted that the funds be shared by all levels of government. Besides, the Presidency is said to have been worried that Amaechi has an ambition that does favour Jonathan retaining power in 2015. It is widely believed that Amaechi wants to be a running mate to a northern candidate.

At press time none of the gladiators appeared to be ready to shift ground. But how it will all end, depends on if the good counsel of leaders of thought in the country is allowed to prevail.

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