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Election That Puts All on the Edge

Written By Joseph Y. Musa on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | 4/30/2013 08:28:00 am

The election of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum chairman which is billed to come up in May has
thrown up more intrigues than those seen even in a general election. The reasons are not far-fetched.
The body of governors has become so powerful a bloc that even the president cannot afford to allow it run without any interference. Unfortunately, the subterranean bids by the presidency to have a say in who chairs the forum are not going down with the members, leading to the high-wire politics currently defining the proposed election. In discussing the development, however, Chuks Okocha unearths the undercurrents; the implication for the major characters and how the power-play could impact on the 2015 elections
Never before in political history has the election of the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) generated so much heat and discontent as its forthcoming May 2013 election has done.  On that day, the governors will be saddled with a not-so-simple task to either elect a new NGF chairman  or re-elect its current chairman and Governor of Rivers State, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi.
Since its formation in 1999, the NGF has had more than four chairmen, starting with former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Victor Attah. Others who have held the post are Alhaji  Abdullahi Adamu then of Nasarawa State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State and Dr. Bukola Saraki of Kwara State. None of the elections of the former chairmen attracted as much controversy as the impending election has done.
The only time that there was a semblance of controversy was in 2009 when a group of governors conspired to upstage Saraki and install former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, as the chairman of the forum. But the process that threw up Daniel was faulty and was immediately corrected without much ado. Saraki eventually returned to continue as chairman. But the development motivated the governors to come up with a constitution to guide their affairs as an organisation.

The NGF Constitution
Following the need to correct the mistake that threw up Daniel and to regularise the conduct of affairs of the forum, the NGF formally registered itself with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). In registering with the CAC, it listed its aims and objectives as “to provide a forum for discussion and exchange of ideas; to help strengthen and promote Nigeria’s federal system; to establish and maintain smooth federal-state relation; to uphold and promote accountability and transparency; to promote peace and peaceful conflict resolution; to promote good governance and best practices and to promote understanding among governors and states.”
The NGF constitution also stipulates the quorum for meetings of the governors, which it says must be half of the 36 state governors as well as how the governors should elect their leaders.
A copy of the NGF constitution obtained from the CAC and titled: “The Constitution, Aim and Objectives of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum’ Corporate Affairs Commission Verification, February 20, 2009,” with a Certified True Copy dated March 2, 2009, states in section 6.9 that, “The chairman or the vice chairman shall hold office for a term of two years, but shall be available for re-election for another final term of two years”.
Section 6.8.1 of the constitution states that the principle of federal character shall endure, while stating in section 6.8.2, “the need to reflect political party representation in the board so as to ensure that the chairman and vice chairman are not persons elected as governors of their states on the platform of the same political party but on the platform of two political parties with the highest representation in the board.”
In terms of quorum at the general meeting, the constitution prescribes half of the total number of the members.
Section 17 of the constitution also provides for amendment. “Subject to the provisions of this section, a general meeting of the governing board (all the governors) of the NGF may amend any of the sections or provisions of the constitution by the passing of a special resolution and a special notice shall require for such a resolution”.

But section 17.2 states that “a special resolution to amend the constitution shall be valid if and when passed by not less than two third (2/3) of the members present and voting, provided there is a quorum,” while in section 17.3, the constitution states: “Any addition, alteration or amendment made to or in the constitution must first be filed with the Corporate Affairs Commission.”
Based on these constitutional provisions, the forum had since conducted its affairs until the recent political challenges that have compounded the leadership crisis in the group.

The Crisis and Battle for Consensus
The crisis in the NGF came to the fore late last year when some hawks in the presidency felt that Amaechi was using his office to feather his political interest. It was also being speculated that Amaechi wanted to become the vice president in 2015. Although he has variously denied that there was no such thing, the speculations have refused to die.

There is the belief that President Goodluck Jonathan will seek a second term. Though, he has not come out to confirm this, he has promised to take a position next year. Before then, the hawks around him are leaving nothing to chance to ensure that whoever is perceived as a threat to his ambition is neutralised.
This is the root of the crisis in the NGF. For those on the side of the president, it is unthinkable that Amaechi could be pondering running for the vice presidency when he is from the same zone as the president. It is for this reason that Amaechi is believed to have been blacklisted by the presidency.
However, to check Amaechi, some of the governors have been drafted as foot-soldiers in a campaign to ensure that he did not secure re-election as the NGF chairman next month. To truncate Amaechi’s re-election bid, the foot-soldier governors, led by Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, came up with the consensus idea, contrary to the provisions of the NGF constitution.
To make this happen, governors protecting the outsider’s interest in who becomes the chairman of the forum are arguing that the PDP with the highest number of governors should be allowed to present a consensus candidate. A governor, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, justified the plot to stop Amaechi.
According to him, “In the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there is no provision for an independent candidate and it follows that at all times, the party should be seen to be sponsoring a candidate for any election that is under the constitution of Nigeria.
“Since there is no provision for an independent candidate anywhere in the constitution, the NGF cannot be seen to be operating outside the confines of the laws. By the planned amendments, PDP with 23 governors should be allowed to present the candidate for the office of the chairman of the forum.
“It is not going to be in the overall interest of the party to have two governors from the same party presenting themselves for election. It does not present PDP, in this case, with the highest number of governors, as a united and disciplined party,” he said.

The source also drew inferences from the National Assembly to buttress the position of the PDP governors seeking amendment of the NGF constitution. “It is the party with the highest number of legislators that is constitutionally allowed to present candidates for the office of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives and the NGF shall not be an exception.
“The planned amendment will also include that the term of office for the chairman of the forum at all times shall be for a single term of two years and that before any election, an incumbent chairman shall set up a three-man committee to conduct the election, even if the election is unanimous,” the governor said.
But in contention here is the mode of voting. The presidency and the anti-Amaechi governors, who unfortunately, are fewer in number, don’t want the election to be conducted through a secret ballot. But the governors supporting Amaechi are insisting on a secret ballot.
The controversy is spurred by the fear that if secret ballot was allowed, the outcome could favour Amaechi and this was what a governor described as the ‘whole gist of the crisis’.
Another governor said: “We want the NGF poll to be conducted in line with the secret ballot method in the nation’s electoral system. We are making a strong case for secret ballot instead of the open system the presidency seems to favour. With secret ballot, each of the 36 governors will be able to vote according to his conscience.”
Of course, by agitating for an open ballot, it is clear that the battle is not just between the president and Amaechi but that the presidency and his backers may have hit the panic button as far as the matter is concerned.

Between Amaechi and Shema
In the push for a consensus candidate, the PDP governors, at a meeting on March 12, 2013 resolved that Amaechi and Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State should be allowed to contest the NGF chairmanship. In the minutes of the meeting, chairman of the PDP governors, Akpabio, was quoted thus:

“The chairman of the forum, Chief Godswill Akpabio, stressed the need for the forum to agree on a consensus candidate for the chairmanship of the NGF and six members of the Board of Trustees. The matter was discussed and members noted the sensitive nature of the upcoming election of the chairman of NGF and stressed the need for the matter to be handled carefully so that at the end of the election, the unity of the newly formed PDP Governors' Forum and that of the NGF would be preserved.

“Opinions were generally divided on the issue of choosing a consensus candidate for the chairmanship position of the NGF. After an exhaustive consultation and deliberation, members did not agree on a consensus candidate. However, two candidates finally emerged for the chairmanship position of the NGF as follows: Rotimi Amaechi, the Governor of Rivers State and Alhaji Ibrahim Shema, the Governor of Katsina State.

“Finally, members agreed that Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State and Chairman of NGF and Alhaji Ibrahim Shema, Governor of Katsina State, be presented as candidates for the chairmanship position of the NGF.”
Following this outcome, the PDP governors resolved the issue of consensus candidate for the NGF election whilst the situation gets messier with the push for open secret ballot. Although, observers believe there is no basis for comparison between Amaechi and Shema, that the subsisting intrigues have put up the two for consideration show the dilemma the PDP and the presidency has found themselves.

Saraki Intervenes
The constitution of the NGF listed former NGF chairman, Senator Bukola Saraki, as one of its trustees. It was by virtue of his position in the NGF that Saraki, last week, launched a peace move to resolve the leadership crisis rocking the NGF. His initiative came against the fear that governors from the opposition political parties might quit the forum.

First, Saraki met with Amaechi, Akpabio and the Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda. Though, the outcome of the meeting was not disclosed, it was not unconnected with ensuring that the crisis does not consume the forum that has provided a platform for governors' unity across geo-political party divide.

Saraki who met with the three actors between 7pm and 9pm last Tuesday at his Lake Chad Street home in Maitama District, Abuja, expressed fears that the leadership crisis among governors could lead to the disintegration of the forum. He was said to have pleaded with them to look at the broader objectives of the NGF against the squabble over its leadership.

A source who hinted THISDAY said: “I think the peace meeting was at the instance of Akpabio who felt that PDP must be united ahead of 2015 than the present culture of wrangling and uncertainty in the party. Each of the governors explained to Saraki the genesis of the wrangling within the NGF but all agreed that ambition had begun to tear the forum apart.

They also expressed the need to put the forum in order ahead of its election in May else, those in the opposition might pull out of the NGF. They offered their readiness to sink their differences and make sacrifice for the survival of the forum.”
But there were strong indications that opposition governors might pull out of the forum if the presidency imposes a candidate on them. “We hope the PDP will not impose a chairman on the NGF. If they do, the progressive governors in opposition cannot be forced to accept such an arrangement. The alternative will be for the opposition governors to opt out of NGF until sanity prevails,” one of the opposition governors told THISDAY.

The Crisis and Its Implications
Amaechi, who is at the centre of the crisis last week spoke on the development. He said: “If I am not re-elected as the chairman of the governors’ forum, there is nothing to lose, I will still remain a member of the forum, and also work towards its success.”
At another occasion, Amaechi dismissed speculation of a frosty relationship with the president. “I am not aware that Mr. President and I are quarrelling. At all, I am not aware, as far as am concerned,” he said last week during a visit to Kano State.

Whilst many see Amaechi’s statements as purely political because he understands the implication of not returning as NGF chairman and what he is up against- the presidency, same cannot at least be said of the presidency which has gone all out for Amaechi.
While the presidency sees the return of Amaechi as a defeat that holds grave consequences, observers say it will be victory for true federalism and an entrenchment of democratic tenets in the country if the governors were able to ward off presidential meddlesomeness in deciding on who chairs the forum.
Although, the NGF election comes up next month, at the centre of the ongoing positioning is the jockeying for the 2015 elections. And because of the strategic position of Amaechi as NGF chairman, the exercise has thrown up more intrigues and complications because he is not on the same page with the presidency.
Also, beyond the Jonathan/Amaechi diatribe is the place of constitutional sovereignty of the states within the nation's federalist structure. It is therefore, believed that by pandering to the whims of the president, the states may be conceding a major part of their sovereignty to the federal government, a situation that analysts say portends grave danger to true federalism.
Again, analysts believe that by coming out to openly interfere and take a position on how the NGF is run, the president has shown that the group is critical to his survival, the more reason the governors also need to firm up their stand on whether to remain independent or subservient to the government of the federation.
But whatever the outcome of the election in May, it certainly will throw up fresh extrapolations ahead of the 2015 elections. Not only will it give considerable picture of the president’s support base, it will also determine what becomes of Amaechi’s political career.
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