By Felix Nwaneri
The plethora of governors’ forums across the country, which ordinarily should serve as peer review platforms, but have turned to power blocs
The evolution of Governors Forum in Nigeria started the formation of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) in 1981 during the Second Republic when the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) held sway. Governors on the platform of the opposition then formed a forum, PGF, through which they intended to project and implement what they believe are “progressive ideals.”
With the re-emergence of democracy in 1999, the scope expanded with the formation of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), which has the governors of the country’s 36 states as members. The formation of the NGF was not only expedient but imperative for the states to assert themselves and to collectively influence the nature and course of policies at the national level.
Given the state of the polity in the days following the end of many years of military rule, there was a clear need for states to re-assert themselves and exercise the level of independence that is the want of a true federation. It was also necessary for them to regain their past glory of constituting a credible unit within the wider context of the federation, thereby removing the manifest distortion which militates against the realisation of true federalism.
NGF’s establishment can be tied to two phases; the first being from 1999 to 2008 and the second being from 2009 till date. The first phase was characterized by very minimal activity by the Forum as well as a paltry meeting attendance by members and a weak secretariat. The Secretariat then was merely involved in organising meetings and collecting annual dues, which was used for running the Secretariat.
The second phase started in earnest from 2009, two years after the then governor of Kwara State, Bukola Saraki, became the chairman of the Forum. He spearheaded a major restructuring and redefining of the NGF. His tenure ended in 2011 when he handed over to his successor, the then governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Amaechi.
With the new structure, the office of Vice Chairman was created with Mr. Peter Obi, Governor of Anambra State, emerging as the pioneer vice chairman. Amaechi’s inspiring leadership style transformed the NGF into a formidable association by reinvigorating the commitment of the governors in pursuing the main thrusts of creating the association until he fell out with the powers that be at the centre.
While the NGF operated side-by-side other regional groupings like the Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) and Southern Governors Forum (SGF), the number of governors’ forum in the country has continued to grow in leaps, standing at seven at the moment. They are Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), Northern States Governors Forum (FNSGF), South-East Governors Forum (SEGF), South-South Governors Forum (SSGF), Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) and Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum (PDPGF).
Many have persistently questioned the rationale behind the plethora of Governors’ Forums, saying that they have never taken any decision that improved the lives of the people and that is why those of them who feel that they were elected by their people always stick to their guns whenever national issues are discussed, others are of the view that the promoters of these platforms just hide under them to feather their political nest.
According to these analysts, the paroxysms that seized the NGF ahead of the 2015 general elections were clear manifestations and proofs that the conclave has always been irrelevant to the polity and to the individual citizens who voted for governors for the governance of their respective states.
Nigerian Governors’ Forum
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) took off as a mere association of governors of the 36 states of the federation. At that time, many people thought it was borne out of the desire to create a platform to enable the governors discuss mutual issues concerning them personally and the states they govern.
But, with time, the forum became one of the most influential power blocs in the country. NGF’s growth in strength began with the election of Bukola Saraki (then governor of Kwara State) as chairman. It was Saraki, the scion of the Saraki Political Dynasty, now a senator, who introduced glamour and candour into the group when he was chairman between 2007 and 2011.
Saraki’s exit in 2011 paved the way for the emergence of Chibuike Amaechi (then governor of Rivers State) as chairman of the forum. Amaechi upped the ante, but severally ran into trouble with the Presidency, then under Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
The forum assumed so much powers under Amaechi (now Minister of Transport) that there was hardly any national issue that that its view was not sought for. Many are not in a hurry to forget the role it played when the country was embroiled with succession crisis in 2010 over the death of the then president; late Umaru Yar’Adua.
Members of the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Leaders Political Forum (NLPF) will also attest to the forums’ political dexterity, especially those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which saw the choice of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2011 elections and his subsequent victory at the poll.
Though some analysts expressed discomfort then over what they described as “absolute powers of a group unknown to the nation’s constitution,” a few others argued that the NGF, apart from being registered under Part C of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 1990, deserved commendation for the unison with which it approach issues, despite different sectional and political leanings of its members.
Other issues which the NGF had in the past taken a common stand include revenue formula review; Sovereign Wealth Fund; new National Minimum Wage and even fuel subsidy removal (apart from governors on the platform of the then Action Congress of Nigeria).
On the revenue sharing formula, the governors up till now still insist on a ratio that will see states take 42 per cent of the total revenue accrued to the nation, while the federal and local governments take 42 and 23 per cent, respectively. Their argument is that states, being closer to the people, bear more responsibilities than the other tiers of government.
A common stand was taken by the governors when they fuel subsidy debate raged. They backed the Federal Government on the removal of the subsidy and even threatened a legal action against deductions from the Federation Account to offset the subsidy payment.
On the minimum wage, the NGF was unequivocal and stated at inception of debate on the issue that state governors will not be able to pay unless the revenue allocation formula is reviewed. Some even went ahead to argue that the Federal Government lacks powers to fix salaries for states under the federal system of government which the country is practicing.
The crisis over the forum’s 2013 election, however, split the once powerful group into two factions. While Amaechi wanted a second term, some powers that be in the presidency mobilized to stop him. Their fear was that with then Rivers governor as NGF chairman, Jonathan’s second term presidential bid would be threatened.
The intrigues threw the entire nation into tension as the two camps in the contest – Amaechi and some PDP governors – made desperate attempts to ensure victory for their candidates. The then PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, waded in, but Amaechi, who knew that it was one fight for his political life held on his ground. And after several attempts to stop him failed, the PDP national leadership floated the PDP Governors’ Forum and made Godswill Akpabio (then governor of Akwa Ibom State) chairman.
The PDP was in control of 26 out of the 36 states then, but this machination still could not break Amaechi’s back as he went ahead to defeat the party’s anointed candidate, Jonah Jang (then governor of Plateau State). The outcome of the election further polarized the forum as Jang Jang refused to accept defeat and formed a parallel NGF with his colleagues who voted for him.
The crisis festered until May 2015, when members closed rank and elected Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State as chairman.
Northern States Governors’ Forum
The Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) has its history dated back to 1968 as the Interim Common Services Agency [ICSA] made up of governors of the six states that succeeded the Northern Region upon its dissolution in 1967. Its only regional counterpart in those days was the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liabilities Agency [ESIALA], the successor to the old Eastern Region.
ICSA inherited the staff members as well as the assets and liabilities of the old Northern Region. Though these were shared along the way, the governors decided to run some assets jointly. These include the New Nigeria Development Corporation [NNDC], Arewa Hotels Limited, New Nigeria Investments Limited [NNIL], New Nigerian Newspapers Limited, Bank of the North, Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna Polytechnic and Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria [BCNN] among others.
This arrangement continued even after the Northern states increased in number from six to 19, even after some of the agencies were taken over by the Federal Government and even after General Murtala Mohamed dissolved ICSA and ESIALA in 1976. Renamed Northern Governors’ Forum, it existed throughout the years of military rule.
Whereas the major objective of the NSGF is to promote unity, political and economic development of the region, there is no doubt that the forum currently led by Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, has achieved little or nothing in terms of tackling the problems facing the region. This has prompted many northerners perceived it as failure.
Shettima, who replaced Babangida Aliyu (then Niger State governor), had in acceptance speech assured that they will work as a unified front to tackle the challenges facing the Northern region, but many people have continued to question the idea behind the NSGF in view of the peculiarities of the various states within the region. While they appreciate the lofty intentions behind the forum, they lament the continued escalation of the problems of the region despite the meetings of the governors.
Progressive Governors’ Forum
The Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) comprises of governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC). The Forum was formed in the wake of the merger of legacy parties, which merged to form the APC.
The parties are Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
The PGF at inception in August 2013 had 11 member governors comprising of Borno, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Lagos, Nassarawa, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Yobe, and Zamfara states. The number later increased to 16 when five additional governors from the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) defected to the APC after a crisis that gave rise to a faction known as the new-PDP. The states were Rivers, Adamawa, Kwara, Sokoto and Kano.
The number, however, reduced to 14 after Ekiti’s Kayode Fayemi lost his re-election bid and Adamawa’s Murtala Nyako was impeached, in June and July 2014 respectively. But the APC recorded overwhelming victory in most states during the 2015 general elections and the number of member governors increased to 22 after the April, 2015 gubernatorial elections. It presently stands at 24 with the party’s victory in Kogi and Ondo governorship elections.
The forum has as its main goal, implementation of policies that will develop human capital in member states and improving the quality of life through job creation, which would, in turn, eradicate poverty.
Other objectives are promoting the APC’s social democratic ideals as enshrined in the party’s constitution and manifesto by undertaking policy actions which reflect these in APC-governed states; partnering with other progressive governors in Nigeria, irrespective of whether or not they are members of the APC, in order to promote good governance and deepen the democratic process in the country; setting a uniform agenda especially with respect to healthcare and education across all APC states, with the aim of establishing and replicating results across board and carrying out initiatives which would make the electioneering process credible and that results truly reflect the wishes of the people.
The PGF also aims to support the party, the APC, in engaging other stakeholders with the aim of strengthening democracy and accountability in government; to support the party in its leadership orientation efforts across the country and to implement initiatives which would aid the development of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), and enable it take its rightful place as a democratic institution not prone to partisan influences.
Members of the PGF are supposed to meet monthly, with meetings sometimes rotated among states governed by APC governors but that has not been the case, while a secretariat in charge of the Forum’s day-to-day activities is run by a Director-General.
The secretariat is saddled with the responsibility of implementing the decisions reached by the governors from member states and generating programmes, proposals and recommendations for consideration by the governors. The current chairman of the forum is Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State governor, who was elected in December, 2013.
PDP Governors’ Forum
The Peoples Democratic Party Governors’ Forum (PDPGF) is a political and policy think-tank consisting of the state governors affiliated with the People’s Democratic Party. The Forum was formed on 24 February 2013, when it split from the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF).
While the promoters of PDPGF at its formation said the forum aims to provide a platform for governors to interact and exchange knowledge, ideas and experiences about how to move the party forward as well as to better coordinate programmes and policies in their various states, the underlying factor was politics. The formation of the Forum was a calculated attempt by the then leadership of the party and the Goodluck Jonathan presidency to polarise the then Governor Chibuike Amaechi-led Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF). Its first leader was Godswill Akpabio (then governor of Akwa Ibom State), a known ally of Jonathan, believed to have what it takes to whittle the power and influence of Amaechi, who was then accused of working against Jonathan’s reelection in 2015. Expectedly, the power play started manifesting with Akpabio vowing on his emergence that all Judases in the party would be flushed out. “What the PDP is trying to do now is to cleanse its house; to try to identify the ones they call Judases and say to them ‘go out, the train is moving.’ We will ask them not to remain standing otherwise we will crush them. “There is an explosion of treachery, where there are more Judases than the number of disciples. We want to have good disciples. We know that even in Christendom when Jesus Christ had 12 disciples, there was only one Judas. But if the Judases were up to nine, then Jesus could have been in trouble, the gospel would have been in trouble today,” he then said. The then PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, who commended the emergence of the PDP Governors’ Forum, said Jonathan, would sleep well. “I can now tell Mr. President to sleep well. If he has been sleeping for three hours before, I can even ask him to start observing his siesta regularly,” he said. But some analysts advised then that acceptance of such counsel would amount to political suicide. Their fear was confirmed when five aggrieved governors of the party defected to the APC. The PDPGF is presently led by Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose. He took over in January 2017 from Olusegun Mimiko (the immediate past governor of Ondo State) who was the second chairman of the Forum. Members of the Forum said they settled for Fayose based on his record of performance and as the most senior governor under the platform of the PDP. They described Fayose as a real party man who would boost the growth and development of the party. The Ekiti State governor, in his acceptance speech, described his election as call to service and promised not to let the party down. He added that he was out to build the wall of Jericho around the party with a promise to embark on the total mobilisation of party members nationwide ahead of the 2019 general elections. He also assured that the party would work very hard to reclaim its lost states and as well formed the government at the centre in 2019.
South-East Governors’ Forum
The South-East Governors’ Forum is the umbrella body of the governors of the five states that make up the South-East zone. The states are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. It was at a time the mouthpiece of the zone, particularly when the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, held sway as chairman until it went numb given the political leanings of the governors during the 2015 general elections. Even before then, signs of strain in the relationship among the five governors of the zone were evident. The governors of Imo and Anambra states, Rochas Okorocha and Willie Obiano, stopped attending the Forum’s meetings. But, the Forum was recently resuscitated with the election of Ebonyi State governor, Chief David Umahi, on February 26. Umahi took over from former Abia State governor, Theodore Orji, who left on May 29, 2015. His emergence was at a crucial moment in the political history of the zone given the agitation for the state of Biafra by some youths of the zone. But, few months in the saddle, the Ebonyi State governor has been able rally round his colleagues to take common positions on issues affecting the people of the South-East.
The Forum has gone a step further by resuscitating its economic team with a mandate to come up with a blue print for the zone’s economic integration. According to Umahi, the decision was taken to meet appropriate federal authorities, to take up issues bothering the zone, which ecological problems, power and security challenges. “We approved two representatives from each state for our economic committee for the South-East governors and we have mandated them to immediately meet and fashion out a roadmap towards our economic integration,” Umahi said.
South-South Governors’ Forum
The South-South Governors’ Forum (SSGF) established in 2011 was at a time a powerful association of governors of Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta states, but its influence in the oil-rich region waned like similar fora in other zones of the country. The Forum, had before its relapse, sought to deepen the collaboration of member states in the areas of education, human capacity development, information and communication technology, infrastructural development, agriculture and investment. The bid to forge closer economic collaboration similar to the Economic Committee of West African States (ECOWAS) led to the formation of BRACED Commission by the SSGF. The governors also proposed to invest in a regional Oil and Gas Company and a regional Electric Company, but nothing tangible came out it. Also the regular meeting of the governors ceased. But the present governors in the zone recently revived the SSGF and the BRACED Commission. To his end, the governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, who is the oldest serving governor in the South-South was unanimously appointed as chairman of the Forum. Dickson’s appointment was after a meeting the South-South governors had with their South- East counterparts. Dickson, who thanked his colleagues for the confidence reposed in him called for the support and robust partnership of the governors, leaders and people of the zone to reposition the South-South. He slated the forum’s inaugural meeting in Port Harcourt on August 28.
South-East/South-South Governors’ Forum
The newly formed South-East/ South-South Governors Forum is a non-partisan organisation consisting of state governors from the geo-political zones of South-East and South-South. It was established to pursue interregional cooperation for greater integration and to politically work together towards realigning as a people that shared common heritage, culture and affinity. Akwa Ibom State governor, Udom Emmanuel, was appointed chairman of the Forum at the first meeting held at the Nike Lake Resort in Enugu, the capital of Enugu State. He said the governors from the two zones have resolved to pursue inter-regional cooperation for greater integration. His words: “Having reviewed the state of the nation, particularly as it affects us in the South-South and South-East regions, we have agreed to pursue inter-regional cooperation. This will be for integration and for the economic benefit of the two regions. We also have resolved to politically work together and realign as a people that shared common heritage, culture and affinity.”