5th June, 2013
By Salihu Lukman
The election of Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, finally held on Friday, 24 May and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State emerged victorious. He polled 19 votes out of 35 and his opponent, Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau, got 16 votes. The election result was significant not just for the NGF but for the nation’s democracy. One governor, Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State, was absent and did not vote. The election would have held since February but was postponed about twice.
Development around the NGF election is not so much about Amaechi, Jang or the NGF as an association but about the process of affirming the values that recognise producing winners and losers through acceptable processes. More important, it is about producing leaders through fair elections. The dramas and episodes around the emergence of PDP flag bearers for the election (from Governor Shema to Governor Yuguda and finally Jang) are issues that definitely reflected existing power configurations and the normal divisive strategies using regional boundaries, especially in PDP.
Important as personalities represented by Amaechi or Jang and organisations such as NGF are, it is the meaning and values associated with them that might have generated interest. Values not necessarily associated with partisan affiliations or ideological commitment but largely driven by current relationship with the presidency. Somehow, given the high interest of the leadership of the ruling PDP against Amaechi and the strategic move to mobilise (and perhaps intimidate) PDP governors against Amaechi, many would have expected that Amaechi will lose the election.
So far, what has happened over the years in the case of the NGF is that consultations have become regular, on monthly basis, and decisions taken were given some life. Successive leaders of NGF, from former governors Abdullahi Adamu, Victor Attah and Bukola Saraki to the current tenure of Amaechi, all made their contributions. Through these leaders, NGF gradually evolved and it is still being shaped by so many factors. The interests around the 24 May election of Amaechi have produced additional factors in shaping the process of the development of Nigeria’s democracy. There are basically two interests that have developed and become very formidably antagonistic to each other. It is President Jonathan and PDP leadership on the one hand against the state governors represented by Amaechi on the other. The interests have broken party lines. How did this happen?
This may perhaps be as a result of two fundamental factors. The first is that NGF being an association of mainly state governors is an association of equals. The second is that, although they (governors) may have come together to form NGF without clear understanding of their potentials, challenges of responding to authoritarian orientation of the presidency, which was inherited after years of military rule, come with enormous financial challenges, and over time, activities of NGF since its formation have created very high consciousness among governors about the capacity of state governments, acting as a collective, to neutralise or contest issues with the federal government, represented by the presidency
One of the reasons that made the NGF elections very interesting was the strong interest of President Jonathan in getting Amaechi out of the NGF. Largely on account of perhaps the role of Amaechi as NGF Chairman in providing leadership to governors which resulted in situations where the governors contested some issues with the federal government, President Jonathan wanted Amaechi out of NGF by all means. Some of the issues that pitched the NGF against the presidency include the Sovereign Wealth Fund, campaign for constitutional review to reduce powers of federal government in favour of states, review of revenue allocation formula, etc.
In some ways, the fact of the consciousness by governors about their capacity as a collective to contest issues with the presidency is not something that can be nullified through even the defeat of Amaechi. Assuming Amaechi had lost the election, it would have just been a matter of time before any person taking over the position of NGF Chairman finds himself in opposition to some positions of the President. For instance, will Jang or anyone on the side of PDP support the presidency on matters of discretionary declaration of oil revenue bearing in mind that what they get from the Federation Account is a function of what is declared, which often is less than actual receipt? Will Jang or anyone tolerate unilateral policy initiative from the federal government that will result in committing state governments to expend resources?
These are issues that in so many respects conferred undue powers and privileges to the federal government over states on matters of controlling resources and revenue therefrom. They are matters that are at the heart of national efforts to redefine the orientation of our federalism. There may be the temptation to dismiss these issues with reference to the performance of the Governors, especially in regard to problems of lack of accountability and mismanagement of resources in our state governments. This no doubt does not invalidate the principles that democratic leadership is driven by the needs of members determined through processes of consultation.
We may disagree with the specification of what any category of people would define as their needs. The fact remains that members of organisations should have the right to determine what they want and it is a normal, healthy democratic requirement which should proliferate on a national scale to guarantee national democratic order. Apart from the needs of members, the right to dissent is also an important attribute of democracy. Unfortunately, this, too, is continually being trampled upon.
Being a member of PDP, Amaechi’s candidature is in itself clearly an act of dissent; if you like, rebellion against his own party. Together with Amaechi in this rebellion would be all PDP governors who supported and voted for him. From the result of the election, there are clearly eight PDP governors, Amaechi inclusive. On the other side is also the fact that two so-called opposition governors, Peter Obi of Anambra and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo, have joined PDP in the anti-Amaechi presidency plot.
What this means is that the presidency is gradually facilitating a process of restructuring Nigeria into a bipartisan political orientation based on PDP and anti-PDP divide. From the NGF election, it is a divide in which there are many in today’s PDP that are anti-PDP. They include certainly the eight PDP governors that are on Amaechi’s side. Obi and Mimiko who are today not direct members of PDP are aligned to PDP and it will only be a matter of time before they take their rightful places inside PDP.
Given the contemporary political reality of Nigeria whereby citizens are just fed up with the ruling PDP and all the governance crisis it has produced, any rebellion against PDP may be popular. Beyond rebellion however, there is the fact that the Ameachi rebellion against PDP has all the attributes of being well organised. The fact of the All Progressive Congress, APC, governors being united may have definitely played a role. However, more significant was the mobilisational capacity of the anti-PDP rebellion in NGF having succeeded to win the support of eight PDP governors. It demonstrated the fact that with organisation, the powerful and mighty can be defeated and the people can take charge of their destiny.
Nigerians may have their individual opinion. What is very instructive with the events around the 24 May NGF election of Amaechi was that an election held and Amaechi was declared the winner. In so many ways, it was a victory against President Goodluck Jonathan and a victory against PDP. The interesting thing was that, acting perhaps under the instruction of President Jonathan, Governor Godswill Akpabio as Chairman of so-called PDP Governors Forum convened another meeting at Akwa Ibom House shortly after and declared that it was Governor Jang that was elected and circulated some purported results showing that 19 governors had elected Jang. Interestingly, among the 19 governors that were alleged to have elected Jang was the Yobe governor who was absent at the 24 May meeting where the election held.
It is not so much that the result of the election is being contested but the manner of contest which seeks to basically generate confusion and in the process create legitimacy crisis for the second tenure of Governor Rotimi Amaechi as the Chairman of NGF. One would ordinarily expect that the governors under Akpabio would seek to redress all grievances from the 24 May election through due process.
Due process could have meant that they make demands which may include asking for another meeting to review the conduct of the elections. And given that they are claiming to have 19 governors on their side, it would have been a comfortable majority that could have given them the confidence to even move for the removal of Amaechi at the next meeting. The second option would have required that they seek legal intervention through the courts. There is the third option of sanctioning Amaechi and all PDP governors that may have acted contrary to party decisions. This may result in dismissal of all PDP governors that are on the side of Amaechi from the party.
The only explanation to justify the position taken by the Akpabio-led group of governors would have been a reflection of their weakness, which would have signalled inability to get any of the three scenarios highlighted. Since the PDP through the presidency is in control of security agencies, any confusion may translate into influencing the conduct of security operatives in favour of the Akpabio/Jang group and to that extent therefore, coercing structures of the NGF, especially the secretariat, to compromise its loyalty to the Amaechi leadership. This will be in tandem with what can be described as garrison mentality that has been driving our democracy since 1999 whereby the position of the President must reign supreme and all party functionaries must subordinate themselves to that. In some ways, this means that the President must win every election in which he/she has interest. Supremacy of members or sovereignty of the people is at best a cliché for those who are interested.
The concern now is not so much that there is an election that was contested and has produced the defeat of the candidate promoted by the PDP and presidency. The main challenge is that the response to the defeat by both the defeated candidate, Jang, and perhaps the ruling PDP is to create confusion that may lead to the dismantling of the NGF as an organisation. The implication of this is that it will give the federal government and the presidency unfettered and uncontested power to govern the country, including trespassing into matters that are constitutionally reserve for states.
This is going to be very inimical to our democratic development as a nation for two reasons. First, it would mean that all organisations in the country must exist at the pleasure of the PDP and presidency. Secondly, should the current approach to orchestrate confusion and delegitimise the NGF succeed, it would mean that any attempt to unseat President Goddluck using constitutional means can be greeted with similar response in 2015. It was the strategy that Laurent Gbagbo employed in 2010 in Cote d’Ivoire following his defeat by Hassan Ouattara which led to months of crisis resulting in loss of lives and property. The international community had to intervene to restore sanity and affirm the sanctity of the 2010 elections.
The lesson therefore is that, with the Presidency and PDP being in the driving seat in the unfolding leadership drama in NGF, it may as well be a prelude of what to expect in 2015 should Nigerians decide to vote out PDP and President Jonathan out of office. The possible response of both PDP and President Jonathan may be to refuse to accept the result and declare himself the winner of the election as opposed to whatever INEC may return. One will hope that this will be a complete wrong scenario. However, it is no doubt a possible scenario.
Against the background of warmongering noise of some militant groups from Niger Delta warning the nation about the consequence of not returning Jonathan for a second tenure in 2015, this may be a way to say that Jonathan will rule Nigeria for a second term with or without the votes of Nigerians. The capacity of Nigerian governors under the NGF to affirm the sanctity of their choice of leadership therefore is the first test of whether as a people, Nigerians can begin to send the right signal to PDP and President Jonathan. That signal should in unmistakable terms resoundingly highlight that all leaders must be elected through constitutional means.
It is also instructive that the victory of Amaechi reflects some political engineering that recognises the need to mobilise across ethnic, religious and regional lines. In fact, what is very attractive with respect to development around the NGF’s 24 May election is that divisions are not influenced rigidly by our old primordial lines. What this means is that moving towards 2015, the defeat of PDP may only be possible through strong mobilisation across all ethnic groups, religions and regions.
For our APC, given the central role of our governors in the NGF’s 24 May election of Amaechi, to what extent will this experience help to prepare our merging parties for the rollout of APC? There may be the temptation to over-celebrate. The truth is that APC leaders just need to recognise that Amaechi’s victory is just a reflection of the strength of mobilisation. The message to APC therefore, is if APC is to be taken seriously as a party coming with strong potential to defeat PDP, it must come with a strong membership mobilisation strategy!