Politics

A nation of forums

NGF, PDPGF, PGF, others blocs battle for political relevance

 

In this report, WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the plethora of political groups and forums set up by various elected political office holders, and the relevance or otherwise of such groups

 

With advancement into the civil rule, politicians who have held particular public offices, or those presently holding similar offices, have developed a new fad of coming together to form a common front to protect their interests and project for their future, in a bid to remain relevant in the politics of the nation.

 

So, they form and register different groups, associations and forums by which to present these common fronts. They also go ahead to elect executive officers to represent them where and when necessary. But like most things Nigerian that have to do with politics, these forums, relevant and irrelevant are increasing on a daily basis.

 

They have executive members as well as secretariats, mostly in Lagos and Abuja, and in some cases paid staff. While the existence of some of such forums has been lauded as necessary and worthwhile, some are laughable, tending to the ridiculous.

 

In many cases, state funds are spent to maintain the secretariats, and staff of these forums and associations even as the serving public officials among them, also make use of state funds and time to attend to the affairs of their groups, collecting allowances and pecks for trips meant to attend to their forum’s affairs.

 

Also the hierarchical arrangement of some of the forums, especially the respective governors’ forums do sometimes get confusing, as a chairman of one forum is just a member in another. Nigerian Governors’ Forum By far, the most popular of these forums is the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), which attained popularity, and near notoriety when leadership crisis within the fold produced factions, which later branched out to form other forums under different names.

 

Established in 1999, the NGF a coalition of the elected governors of the country’s 36 states is portrayed as a non-partisan association which seeks to promote unity, good governance, better understanding and cooperation among the states, and ensure a healthy and beneficial relationship between the states and other tiers of government.

 

The influence of the governors stems from the fact that, among others, they control appointments into the federal cabinet and federal parastatals, an issue that hitherto, was done in close collaboration with the party’s leadership. Indeed, party officials who should be calling their governors to order, kowtow to the governors’ whims, and soon become appointees.

 

The Forum descended into crisis in May 2013 after the election of officials split the body into two. The battle to control the forum created a sharp divide between the then governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Jonah Jang of Plateau State, who both claimed to be the chairmen of the forum.

 

As things presently stand, Amaechi and Jang control two factions of the forum, with each parading himself as chairman, after election to the position created so much friction, and ended up controversial.

 

Given the level of influence of governors in the polity, the struggle for who leads the group took a new dimension, when the presidency needed to have the leadership of the group on its side, and Amaechi, the incumbent chairman as at then, was viewed as anti-Jonathan. This led to a scheme to unseat him, and install a more presidencyfriendly candidate.

 

The scheme to remove Amaechi was tied to accusations that he was using his position to advance his presidential ambition as a possible running mate to  Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State in the 2015 elections.

 

This ambition pitched him against President Goodluck Jonathan, who is eyeing a second term. In the crisis that trailed the NGF election, then Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, had alleged that the presidency had given N2 billion each to the 16 governors who voted for Jang, claiming, that the 19 governors, who supported Amaechi to win the vote did not get any gratification from the presidency, describing the action as illegal and unfair.

 

His words: “We are having difficulties in coming together as one forum because the Federal Government is not respecting democratic tenets. For rapid progress to ensue, governors in the country must work as brothers.”

 

But Jang said it was the dishonest role played by the Kano governor during the NGF election that led to the division amongst the governors.

 

Jang declared that Kwankwaso’s act, which was aided by a few other governors, sowed the seed of discord amongst the governors, claiming that the Kano governor and his group were now finding it difficult to cope with the consequences of their action.

 

Kwankwaso later provided a vivid account of the politics, horse trading and direct negotiations that preceded the chairmanship election of the NGF.

 

According to him, “because we  realised that they were very desperate and that even when we did the election and they were defeated they will not accept, we decided to deny them of their first choice, second choice and any choice at all. We gave them who we feel should be the minority leader of G-16. “They refused to take us seriously that Ameachi should continue.

 

They thought they could play games and, you see when we left the place, they went and had a meeting and accepted our nomination and at the end of the day, they brought him to the general meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and at that Forum, we told them that Amaechi should continue as our chairman.

 

They made all efforts to frustrate voting, saying that there should not be voting….,” he said. In his view, the election showed that the 16 governors who backed Jang did not know the art of politics, contrary to their posturing.

 

He explained how he nominated Jang as a strategy to show that some of the G-16 governors are novices in politics. After all said and done, former Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State took over from Amaechi in May 2015 and piloted the affairs of the group till May 2019 when Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State emerged the new and current chairman of the NGF through a consensus arrangement.

 

Fayemi was nominated by Malam Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State, seconded by the Governor of Delta, Ifeanyi Okowa and unanimously elected by the governors to lead the forum till 2021.

 

One of the key issues that the Fayemi’s leadership has been confrontating on behalf of the Forum with the Buhari administration is over the guideline of the Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), which sought to restrict governors’ access to local government funds.

 

Last year, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, who is a member of the forum, described it as nothing but Beggars Forum or a toothless bulldog that does nothing in the face of infractions, adding that the NGF has lost focus on its role in defending the nation’s rule of law.

 

PDP Governors’ Forum

 

With the leadership crisis in the NGF, the PDP and presidency formed PDP Governors’ Forum with the then governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State as the chairman. The move was an apparent effort to whittle down the power and influence of Amaechi. According to then chairman of the party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, the formation of the PDPGF, was borne out of necessity.

 

To weaken Amaechi’s chances of returning for a second term as chairman of NGF, his South-South colleague, Akpabio was unveiled as the new helmsman of PDP Governors’ Forum after a meeting which stretched into the earlier hours of the morning, of the same day the chairmanship election of the NGF was to hold. Akpabio said his election was borne out of the urgent need for the party to re-strategise.

 

The meeting which held at the Presidential Villa with President Jonathan presiding also had in attendance Amaechi, other PDP governors, and the party’s leadership. On realising the success of the operation to unseat him as chair of PDP governors, Amaechi left the venue of the meeting.

 

Akpabio, however, denied any move to remove Amaechi from his position, as chairman of the NGF, adding that the new body would not in any way disrupt the larger body of NGF.

 

According to him, other political parties also had the right to form a similar organ, if they so wished. Formed as a child of necessity on February 24, 2013 at the instance of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as at that time, the PDP Governors Forum abbreviated PDPGF is a political and policy thinktank consisting of the state governors affiliated with the PDP.

 

Presently, the Forum has 16 Governors as members and the incumbent Chairperson of the Forum, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto State took over in January 2020 from Seriake Henry Dickson, the immediate– past chairman of the Forum.

 

Northern States Governors’ Forum

 

The 19 northern governors also formed the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) to protect and advance the interest of the North.

 

The NSGF is currently headed by Plateau State Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong. Lalong succeeded the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, whose tenure ended after piloting the affairs of the regional governors’ forum for four years. Shettima took over from former Niger State Governor, Babangida Aliyu in 2015. The Forum courted controversies recently when it expressed its decision to reject the recent dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigerian Police Force.

 

At a point in the lifespan of the Forum, crisis also hit the body when former Governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State pulled out of the fold, and his then Bauchi State counterpart, Isa Yuguda, also announced a temporary withdrawal from the meetings of the northern governors.

 

Their actions were direct fallouts from the crisis that trailed the larger NGF, in which they felt deceived and betrayed by their colleagues. Suswam stated that with the high level of distrust and wrangling among governors in the country, the meeting of Northern Governors may have ceased to exist.

 

The impact of the forum has not been felt in the North even with the security challenges confronting the area with the Boko Haram insurgency.

 

Progressives Governors’ Forum

 

Not wanting to be left out of the fad, the governors who are members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) formed the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) and unanimously elected former Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha as its maiden chairman.

 

 

According to them, the election of Okorocha is in furtherance of their commitment to strengthen democratic governance structures in the country, with the overriding goal of rescuing Nigeria and facilitating the emergence of accountable leadership at all levels led by the APC.

 

The group also stated that considering how PDP has attacked the foundations of Nigeria’s democracy, and the subsequent erosion of Nigerians’ hard-won freedom, the PGF would mobilise citizens towards expanding and deepening democratic structures, by focusing on initiatives to guarantee the development of participatory governance structures as well as the guarantee of transparent, credible and free elections.

 

Currently, the PGF has 20 members with Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State serving as its chairman after taking over from Okorocha of Imo State, whose second term as the state governor ends on May 29, 2019.

 

South-East Governors’ Forum

 

South-East governors also have their own too, with former governors of Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji and Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, holding the chairmanship position for several years before the current chairman and Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, took over.

 

The forum was put together to discuss issues concerning South-East, adding that over the years they have been committed to ensuring that South- East remains and works together in issues that border on development of the region.

 

BRACED Commission

 

Governors of the oil-rich South-South also meet on occasions as South South Governors’ Forum, converging under the platform of the BRACED Commission, comprising Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta States; where they meet to discuss issues affecting their region.

 

In 2010, Ambassador Joe Keshi was appointed the Director- General of the Commission.

 

The vision of the BRACED Commission is to ensure economic integration of the region, by promoting cooperation of the geopolitical zone and accelerate socio-economic development.

 

Its focus is to among others address issues of integration and harmonisation of policies, provide guidelines on cooperation and setting benchmarks, mobilising investment, developing programmes and initiating joint projects as well as organising cultural and sporting activities of the BRACED states.

 

Southern Nigeria Governors Forum

 

The idea of Southern Nigeria Governors Forum was muted at a time by the then governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. He then revealed that consultations were on to bring the governors in the southern part of the country into one forum, to be called the Southern Nigeria Governors Forum, to equate the Northern Governors Forum. He gave the indication at the 4th general conference of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA) in Asaba, the Delta State capital.

 

His words then: “We (South- South) governors and South- East governors are meeting and we are making moves to involve the South-West, so that we have the Southern Nigeria Governors’ Forum, if we are able to deal with our individual political differences.”

 

He did not however state whether with the forum, the other existing regional governors’ fora in the south will cease to exist, or they will still be there side by side the new forum.

 

Northern Governors’ Wives Forum

 

Wives of state governors also seek to be relevant in the system, under their capacity as first ladies.

 

Those in the north  ern part of the country meet under the aegis of Northern Governors’ Wives Forum, and now and then add their voice to national discourse, in hopes of righting societal wrongs. Wife of the Niger State governor, Dr Amina Bello, became the chairperson of the forum in 2019. She was made chairperson after the husband of the former chairperson lost re-election.

 

The wife of a former Bauchi State Governor, Hajiya Hadiza Abubakar, was the former chairperson of the Forum.

 

Former Governors Forum

 

Even after leaving office, former governors still do not want to be irrelevant. This must have led to the establishment of the Former Governors Forum (FGF) led by Chief Jim Nwobodo, who governed old Anambra State.

 

The group has strived to contribute to national discourse, while also trying to be seen in the right places. It would be recalled that the FGF was called upon by the Federal Government to take part in the 2014 National Conference, where a former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba led a team to represent them.

 

Other ex-governors, who he team were Mohammed Goni (North-East), Fidelis Tapgun (North-Central), Saidu Barda (North-West), Achike Udenwa (South-East), and Victor Attah (South-South), while Osoba represented South-West.

 

Forum of Former Deputy Governors of Nigeria

 

Deputy Governors who are mostly regarded as spare tyres in the polity are not left out.

 

There is also a Former Deputy Governors’ Forum to project or protect their interests, as the case may be, so that they do not become extinct, as far as governance is concerned. The group was founded under the leadership of former President Goodluck Jonathan, then as vice president.

 

Forum of House of Assembly Speakers

 

Lawmakers are not left out of the fad as there is also a forum of House of Assembly Speakers, who gather under the umbrella of Conference of Speakers of State Legislature of Nigeria, with a national secretariat in Abuja.

 

The body was also involved in a leadership tussle not too long ago, when it was unable to elect a new leadership. Currently, the governor of Plateau State, Lalong, is the chairman of the forum.

 

A former Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Rotimi Amaechi (now minister of Transportation) was the pioneer chairman of the group.

 

Speakers’ Forum

 

The South-South Speakers’ Forum is a meeting point for House of Assembly speakers in the South-South.

 

There are six states’ speakers that make up the Forum. Also, the Northern Speakers’ Forum is a meeting point for lawmakers from the 19 northern states of the country, who claim the organisation is to deepen democratic tenets in Nigeria.

 

At a point in time, Hon. Olumuyiwa Jimoh, a member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, also canvassed for the creation of a Speakers’ forum amongst the progressive State Houses of Assembly, which he said will deepen and consolidate democratic culture in Nigeria.

 

The new forum, when it takes off, will be Progressive Speakers’ Forum. North-East Governors Forum Arguably, the latest of the interest groups in the country, the Forum, which has its six members drawn from Adamawa, Gombe, Borno, Bauchi, Taraba and Yobe states, recently nominated the Borno governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, as its maiden Chairman.

 

The Forum was established to collectively tackle the common challenges facing the subregion especially on insecurity, economic and human development. Expectedly, Zulum, who will preside the Forum for a period of two years, has been firing from all cylinders.

 

The governors also agreed to make Maiduguri headquarters of their forum. Debate on forums The relevance or otherwise of these forums has continued to dominate debates in many quarters, with many analysts insisting that a good number of them are mainly set up to cater for the selfish interests of the members, and that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the general good of the people that such public, or former public officials were elected to promote.

 

In some instances, especially in the case of the NGF, many people have questioned the fact that such governors do not have the mandate of the people they claim to serve to join any such forums, or expend state funds on same.

 

They contend that if it is really necessary to have such fora, they can be compressed into a single forum for all the governors, instead of the several as presently obtains.

 

This school of thought is of the view that the regional groupings create more harm than good for democracy, as they tend to highlight the differences among the regions and encourage the promotion of regional and ethnic sentiments above the national interests.

 

But then, proponents contend that the meetings at the level of the geopolitical zones are not sufficient to represent the overall interests of the south or north of the country in the overall interest of all, hence the need for regional fora.

 

According to them, the states too have differing interests and peculiar challenges, which cannot be addressed by one overall forum, hence the need for regional fora. And that the existence of various fora at the geopolitical zones will help build a brotherly rapport and network among the governors, enabling them get a unifying template of best practices within their individual zones.

 

They also argue that the North/South dichotomy or the unitary regional formations are better for our democracy as it would enable developmental rivalry between the North and the South. Speaking to New Telegraph, public commentator and Executive Director, Centre for Public Accountability (CPA), Comrade Olufemi Lawson, said the forums are exploitative avenues aimed at aggregating partisan interests even after exit from political and public offices.

 

He said: “The truth is that these forums have become nothing but another in the series of the penchant of our political leaders to always exploit avenues for the expansion of their individual ambitions and personal economic empowerment.

 

“What ordinarily should have been associations for creating a common front for the advancement of collective goals, especially those that seek to protect the interest of the citizens, have now been reduced to social clubs, where mainly the interests and ambitions of individual members are championed.

 

“For instance, the Governors’ Forum, has given birth to so many offsprings, serving no significant purpose, that ordinarily it was serving, at the inception.

 

We are in the period of pandemic, what categorical thing can they point to as their contribution to the people during this challenging time. Instead, some hoodluma only succeeded in locating their warehouses and looting palliatives they kept in those stores.”

 

 

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