Jonah Jang And The Phantom ‘Chair’



By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Events in the last few days in the political firmament of Nigeria clearly show that our so-called new breed politicians have not learnt any lessons from the nation’s political experiences right from the first Republic when the same politicians through their greed and wanton disrespect for democratic tenets invited the military to destabilise the nascent democracy.

These political shenanigans and reactionary attitudes that reared its ugly head in the last few days reached a considerable crescendo with the petty squabbles that characterised the outcome of the hotly contested position of chairman of the controversial Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF).

In that election which took place at the weekend in Abuja, one person among the 36 State governors was expected to emerge to occupy the single chair of the chairman of the Governors Forum but at the end of the exercise two men emerged to claim the right to seat on that ‘single chair’.

What emerged from the venue of that election is that the Rivers State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi was re-elected and therefore is the bona fide leader of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. But the oldest man among the governors and the Plateau State helmsman Jonah Jang, a retired military officer who benefitted twice from some coup plotters to emerge as military governor, has also emerged as the second claimant to the chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum but not without the groundswell of opinion that he indeed is occupying a ‘phantom chair’ since the bureaucrats at the Governors’ Forum have indeed declared the Rivers State governor as the duly elected chairman.

There are two strands of opinions from this election which are diametrically opposed to each other and each of the proponents are holding on to their divisive positions regarding the accuracy of who indeed is the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum.

Nigeria’s most media ‘friendly’ Governor of Akwa Ibom State and a lawyer of several years of post call, Obong Godswill Akpabio, who was previously handpicked as chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party’s Governors’ Forum is at the head of those governors championing the claim that Jonah Jang is the rightful occupant of the chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum.

Others who have supported him but are not active members of his political platform are the Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko and the Anambra State governor Mr. Peter Obi. But the illogicality in their claim is that those who went into political battle and got bruised cannot at the same time lay claim to impartiality and therefore cannot be seen to play the role of an unbiased umpire. So their claim falls flat on its face irredeemably.

The second strand of argument led by the Ekiti State Governor Dr. Kayode Fayemi is the one that maintains that the Rivers State governor is the real and only winner and therefore the rightful occupant of the only chair of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum.

This opinion finds favour with critics and other independent stakeholders who believe that since their claim corresponds factually and substantially with the position of the unbiased umpire and the Executive Director of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, it is therefore very likely that they are right.

An interesting dimension is that Jonah Jang’s occupation of what looks like a ‘phantom’ chair is said to have been endorsed by the Abuja Headmaster and the President of the Federal Republic Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who was in Ethiopia to celebrate the golden jubilee of the African Union. From Ethiopia, the President was quoted conspicuously in the media as saying that his name brings ‘good luck’ to Nigeria.

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The trouble I have in accepting this presidential verdict of goodluck is that his candidate for the Nigerian Governors’ Forum headship [Jonah Jang] did not seem to have benefitted from the ‘good luck’ that flows from our President’s name [whatever that means].

Back to the issues relating to the actual election, Nigerians were told by the returning and/or presiding officer and the head of the forum’s bureaucracy, at the election that Governor Amaechi of Rivers State defeated Jonah Jang of Plateau with 19 votes to 16.

However, Jang’s supporters said the entire body of PDP governors endorsed the candidacy of Jonah Jang prior to the election. But elementary logic and common sense tell us that endorsement prior to actual election is different from the real election. For instance, before the kickoff of the European football league championship in Wembley Stadium in England between Bayern Munich and Borusia Dortmund, all of Germany and some of us endorsed Borusia Dortmund and prayed fervently that the team emerges victorious but our hope faded when Bayern Munich defeated our endorsed team. Do we then cry blue murder because our beloved and endorsed team did not win?

Who told the PDP governors that in secret balloting, some of those who had consented to a group accord may not betray the consensus and go for their own consciences instead because they are not robotic items to be remote controlled from somewhere?

My sincere advice to governor Jang who is called “Baba” (meaning father) by his political supporters in Plateau is that he should fully concentrate on governing Plateau State given that the beautiful state of Plateau has more than its own fair share of troubles. Inter-ethnic and inter-religious crises are tearing that most beautiful State in Nigeria apart even as terrorists have severally targeted Plateau State because of what it represents in the North. Plateau is home to the largest Christian and ethnic minority population in Northern Nigeria and is therefore a target for destabilisation by anarchists who parade as religious fundamentalists of the opposing religion to the dominant religion of the people of Plateau State.

Please Baba Jonah Jang govern Plateau well and leave the political intrigues of Nigerian Governors’ Forum alone for young men to contend with. When young men are engaged in hot debates, it is a sacrilege to find an elder statesman also take side in such argument because this biased intervention may rob off on his good reputation as a statesman who should remain as completely detached and unbiased as he possibly can.

Although the President through his spokesperson has denied nursing ambition to crown his own stooge as chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum, the fact that Jonah Jang proceeded to pay a courtesy visit to the Presidential Villa to meet with the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, whereupon he was introduced as chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum clearly shows that President Jonathan has interest in the entire scenario.

The opposition Action Congress of Nigeria has raised alarm that the rejection of the result of the election of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum by the Peoples Democratic Party is a dangerous dress rehearsal of what will happen in the much talked about 2015 election.

My take is this: President Jonathan has pledged to conduct free and fair general elections in 2015 even though he hasn’t indicated if he will participate as a presidential candidate or not.

I am prepared to give Mr. President the benefit of the doubt. The Peoples Democratic Party or indeed the opposition political platform must know that Nigerians will spontaneously embark on revolutionary revolts should the electoral commission deny the majority of Nigerians, the fruit of a transparent outcome of the 2015 election.

•Onwubiko is head; Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria. He could be reached at: [email protected];

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