2015: Presidency, governors in battle royale
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) under the leadership of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State is fast-assuming the role of opposition against President Goodluck Jonathan. Recent events have, however, shown that the Presidency is not leaving things to chance. Taiwo Adisa takes a deep look at the pros and the cons of the unfolding battle of wits.
LAST week, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) was in the front burner of national discourse. Members of the body had met in Abuja to deliberate on activities involving the Forum and the way forward. But insinuations immediately rent the air that the said meeting held on February 19 was not properly called. The story was that NGF chairman, Governor Chibuike Amaechi, had got wind of the discontent among the governors and of a planned arrangement to change his executive. The February 19 meeting was therefore called to secure a reprieve for Amaechi.
But while the discontent among members of the NGF was not that pronounced before the said meeting, the division grew in its aftermath. There were reports indicating that some PDP governors who were angry with the perceived use of the NGF to further the personal political ambition of Amaechi and Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, were moving to take control of the body. It was believed that such governors would be doing the bidding of the leadership of the PDP and even President Goodluck Jonathan. Though Jonathan has consistently declared that it is too early to play the 2015 card now, his camp has become suspicious of the 2015 moves credited to Amaechi. Some of the governors said to be seriously aggrieved then decided to cut Amaechi to size and take control of the NGF.
After the February 19 meeting, the Amaechi camp released statements that all was won and lost as the meeting allowed him to continue on his seat. But indications from some aggrieved governors were to the contrary. The grumbling that rocked the aftermath of that meeting immediately paved the way for another meeting on Monday, February 25. At the meeting, it was decided that members of the NGF would elect a new leadership in May after Amaechi would have fully exhausted his tenure.
It was learnt that notwithstanding the initial thinking that the NGF could be ignored as the leadership of the body would have to abide by the dictates of the PDP when election comes, there arose another feeling that the political space should not be left wide open for the anti-Jonathan forces to occupy for too long. The thinking among those governors believed to be loyal to the PDP and Jonathan was that even if the leadership of NGF would remain intact, a semblance of activity should be thrown up from among their midst so as not to create an impression that all sentiments in the NGF were in favour of Amaechi.
The leadership of the PDP was also in tune with such thinking, leading to the emergence of the PDP Governors’ Forum at a meeting in Abuja on February 24. The Forum of PDP governors, led by Akwa-Ibom Governor, Obong Godswill Akpabio, has the confidence of both the Presidential Villa and the leadership of the PDP. In the thinking of the Jonathan’s loyalists and the party, an antidote has been found to the growing antagonism between the NGF and the party. Incidentally, the Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Dr Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, also appears to be in tune with the antagonistic wing of the NGF loyal to Ameachi.
Why would a sitting president like Jonathan or his loyalists worry themselves over the activities of a group like the NGF? A variety of arguments have been proffered but sources said that in practical terms, the NGF is more or less a paper tiger. First, it was argued that the body comprised all governors in the country, both of the ruling and opposition parties, and that deep issues affecting the ruling party cannot be tackled at NGF meeting. Again, an example was given of former governor Lucky Igbinedion, who was Chairman of NGF but lost control of the party in his state including the bid to secure a senatorial ticket ahead of the 2007 election to showcase the futility of the powers of an NGF Chairman. But it was further raised that even for the sake of propaganda, the PDP needed to create its own identity so as not to allow many to mistake the developments in the NGF as the same with the situation within the PDP. Right now, the emergence of PDP Governors Forum appears the masterstroke from the party against Amaechi and the opposing tendency against the leadership of the party.
Throughout 2012, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) did not hide its preparedness to confront the programmes and actions of the Federal Government. Though the NGF is largely constituted by governors of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has 23 members, the forum acted more like the opposition platform. The forum had frontally opposed the implementation of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) and the Excess Crude Account (ECA). A suit still remains pending at the n the Supreme Court over the operations of the ECA as the governors continue to battle the Federal Government over the running of the Federation Account.
While the quest for their states’ share of the Federation Account remains a legitimate demand of the governors, it is obvious that any attempt to mix such quests with a tinge of politics will certainly crop reactions from stakeholders in the polity, especially when political power is at stake. The veiled reference to the 2015 political ambition of Amaechi and Lamido became the defining moment for the NGF and it was certain the political powers would react accordingly. Thus, what started as a flexing of muscles by the NGF soon snowballed into a battle for control of the ruling party, the PDP, and then a fledging battle among members of the NGF.
Though a segment of the ruling PDP had advised that the Presidency should ignore the activities of the NGF and its chairman, as the National Convention of the party will not be decided by the dictates of the NGF but interests of the party, there was a change of strategy along the line, following the belief that Amaechi had launched an all-out war against the National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, ostensibly as a way to get at President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of 2015.
Tukur’s decision to dissolve the Adamawa PDP state executive and replace the same with a caretaker committee raised eyebrows among governors, who believed that every state chapter of the party could be so treated if the move was not resisted. The governors felt that their hold on the party could just be wiped out in a twinkle of an eye if the Adamawa example was allowed to hold. Amaechi was believed to have taken up the challenge against Tukur, allegedly oiling Tukur’s removal bid. But the national chairman was able to tie his fate to that of President Jonathan, painting the fight against him as targeted at the president.
Amaechi himself had denied harbouring 2015 presidential ambition, but he has also stated that he is constitutionally qualified to pursue any such ambition. In the beginning of the last quarter of 2012, Amaechi was said to have visited President Jonathan in Abuja, during which he declared his readiness to back the president’s programmes and actions. He also denounced the rumoured 2015 ambition as merely a media creation. Just as peace appears to be returning to the midst of the duo, the crisis that engulfed the PDP towards the end of the year threw up Amaechi’s name again.
Some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the PDP were said to have met with a particular South-South governor, who was said to be the arrowhead of the plot to dislodge loyalists of the president, especially Tukur, from the party. After the said meeting, members of the NWC moved against Tukur and passed resolutions which were in direct conflict with the decisions taken by the chairman. Indeed, the meeting reversed Tukur’s earlier decision to dissolve the State Executive Committee of the PDP in Tukur’s home state of Adamawa and replace it with a caretaker committee.
Once again, Amaechi was said to have been linked with the plot and rebellion by the NWC members. It then became obvious to the national chairman and loyalists of President Jonathan that a battle for 2015 had been ignited. It became obvious that a response from the two camps will not be delayed for long.
Though Governor Lamido has also denied having his eyes on the 2015 presidential contest, the widespread belief among PDP members was that Amaechi was using his position as Chairman of the NGF to draw attention and further gain popularity. It was also believed that the Rivers State governor was using his position to seize the party and possibly show that the current leadership structure of the PDP can be challenged and probably taken to the cleaners right in their own backyard.
The decision was then said to have been taken to the effect that if there was the need to dilly dally over Amaechi’s real intentions earlier in 2012, his actions towards the end of that year were indicative of a political plot. Jonathan’s men as it were then had no second thoughts to unleash the salvo against the NGF and provide a level ground as they claimed. That decision is today at the heart of the full-fledged tussle rocking the fold of the governors.
Initially, members of the NGF said to be loyal to the structures of the PDP and the presidency had decided to play along. But with the outcome of the February 19 meeting, many started speaking out. A number of governors were said to have compared notes leading to the decision of no fewer of 13 of them insisting on the adoption of democratic tenets in the running of the Forum. The group of 13, which was said to have tabled a “minimal demand” before the leadership of the NGF ahead of February 24 meeting, were said to have issued a threat that they might be forced to pull out of the Forum if its leaders would continue to refuse to adopt democratic tenets.
One of the governors had released details of the rift during a confidential discussion with our sister publication, the Sunday Tribune: “We were selectively invited to the last NGF meeting. And when we made enquiries, Secretariat, they claimed they sent out invitations to all members accordingly. But when some of us who were not invited got wind of the meeting, we dashed in to attend.
“You will be shocked to discover that even those that got invitations, the issue of election was not on the agenda. But the issue suddenly found its way into the agenda.
“Two things actually caused crisis at the last meeting. Some of us demanded the score-card, the achievements for the outgoing tenure. We believe that it was the legitimate demand and a normal thing to do at the end of the tenure of every executive of any Association. Again, we also demanded that elections should not be by affirmation. We wanted an open space for interested candidates. There is the general feeling that election should be through democratic tenets or even semblance of it. These are our minimum demands and at least 13 of us are speaking with one voice.”
He further asked: “Do we look like people that could be sponsored? At how much? In the NGF, we are all equal. Nobody is the boss.’’
The governor had further said: “Look, if the right thing is not done, some of us are ready to pull out of the NGF in the next meeting. That is given already. And everybody knows this.”
Now that Akpabio has emerged Chairman of PDP governors, what will be the fate of the Amaechi-led NGF? Will the NGF Forum Chairman, who has to attend meetings of PDP Governors’ Forum as a member, not lose his perceived larger than life image hitherto acquired as NGF chair? There is certainly a challenge to Amaechi’s hold on the NGF with Akpabio’s emergence.
But the ongoing battle has a long history. It all started with the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s support for the governors in 2002, in the build up to the 2003 elections. The governors had, prior to that time, come under vicious attacks from politicians mainly classified as Abuja politicians. There were the ministers, ambassadors, senators, members of the House of Representatives and Board of parastatals chairmen, who moved to take control of the party from the governors. Obasanjo’s decision to back the governors then led to the growing powers of the NGF which today is reaching for the heights. Governors were later to discover that with their control over the party in the states, they could collectively also dictate the outcome of National Conventions and then determine who becomes the presidential candidate.
Perhaps, Amaechi attempted to up the ante, thereby crossing the line of fire of presidential power. As a source said, slowly and steadily, the Jonathan presidency is responding to the battle at hand. How far he goes in courting the support of the newly formed PDP Governors’ Forum would determine the extent of internal squabbles he would face in the bid to control the party machinery.
Culled from tribune
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