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NGF: Summing it up

Yet unknown that it is, it must have been broken at the recently concluded election of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF. As…

Yet unknown that it is, it must have been broken at the recently concluded election of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF. As we all know, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is a nonpartisan coalition of the 36 elected governors in the country; and it is set up to “provide a common platform for collaboration amongst the executive governors on matters of public policy; to promote good governance, sharing of good practice and [to] enhance cooperation at the state level and with other arms of government and society.”

It is just not at all clear how the collective of governors can do more than the sum of its individual parts. Few care about the formulation, analysis, implementation or review of public policy in their states. So, how on earth can they promote what they are unable to do at home among their members in their various states? That, at least, is the job they gave themselves, but in Nigeria, substance is always sacrificed for the shadow—and the nation knows and sees little else at their meetings that is different from what one will expect at a get-together of governors at their private club and retreat.
The election for the chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, produced a real surprise—not for the one who was elected, but for the one who was not. It would appear that Northern governors had, at their meeting on May 24, nominated Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang as the Northern consensus candidate for the election to the office of the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. The consensus was in order to present a Northern candidate for a rotational turn that had now swung back to the North. However, by election time, some decided to dump him and he lost the election 16 t0 19 t0 Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
Bad losers that the Nigerian politicians are, Jang and some members of the presidential cheerleading team rejected the outcome. Some turned round to question the conduct of the election in which they participated without raising any question while it lasted. Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda got angry and furious as if governors have no right to depart from a consensus they [were forced to] reach. Others brandished the piece of paper on which signatures for the consensus were appended, thinking that this would help the case for Jang. If it did anything, it was perhaps to show proof, if one were needed, that there was nothing democratic about an election that was fixed, changed and re-fixed. The paper was proof enough that PDP governors were not free agents in elections in which votes were cast presumably according to one’s conscience. This raises some questions.
The first question is: With whose mandate did they reach their consensus? In view of the standing and general view of Governor Jang in many states in the North, it was highly unlikely that Northern governors had reflected on or represented the wishes of their constituencies in making their choice. Which, in fact, makes it even more plausible that Jang’s candidature was not the result of the camaraderie of Northern governors, but was a project by the president to replace both Bauchi State Governor Isa Yuguda and Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shema, whose earlier candidatures were just as disruptive of the unity that the consensus was ostensibly adopted to preserve. At any event, a democratic election is a definitive and inclusive election, conducted by casting votes and counting them—and not by remembering a past or future consensus.
The second question is: What has come over M. Isa Yuguda? Considering the fact that Governor Jang had previously always accused Yuguda of being behind the trouble in Plateau State, the Bauchi State governor must have such a large heart that, in the pursuit of Jang’s perceived rights, he would cry more than the bereaved.  In this, he even threatened to withdraw his membership of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, NSGF; and if he does discontinue his membership of the NSGF, this will in no way adversely affect those who deviated from his alleged consensual position.
The third question is: Is either consensus or rotation a word of God? It is necessary to ask this question in Nigeria. And, as they say, if it is the turn of the North to produce the chairman of the NGF, that’s good news for those interested in it; but since when has the North been known to press for its right? By his decision to run for the presidency in 2011, he, on whose behalf all this strutting was being done, clearly respected no consensus or agreement or electoral arrangement. If respect for rotation was sacrosanct, why didn’t we see the same energetic vehemence by these governors to set matters right when Jonathan reneged? If supporters of the president now insist on actualising power rotation between the North and the South, will the nation not be entitled to laugh?
Being a governor in Nigeria is no laughing matter; it is hazardous business, not unlike being out at sea on a rickety ship in a storm: the prospect of reaching land is always there; but so also does the risk of drowning rise with every tempestuous current. And, therefore, the third question is: What is the answer?
But while there may be no answer to that, something more ominous has also been indicated. The alliance that defeated Jang could as well have defeated President Goodwill Jonathan; and in a general election, the alliance would be numerically stronger, especially considering the fact that one of the parties which is currently moving into another and which in truth controls more of the electorate than any other party—or perhaps all of them combined—is represented by only one vote on the NGF.
This fact was not lost on the government: the result of the election was one small step for a governor; it was a giant leap for the opposition. All too obviously, now, Jonathan is a goner: the omen of defeat was palpable and all too obvious for a president who could not install the leadership of a forum in which his own party holds almost an absolute majority. This fact is what all Northern governors, legislators, business elite and traditional rulers should have been applying their minds to in order to find a way out for a beleaguered region.
But just when all political caucuses are supposed to be strategising on how to wrest power or use what they have to get what they need, members of the Northern States Governors’ Forum are busy fighting each other over who will be the president’s man. To be sure, some of them twisted the electoral machine to ensure that he arrived at the presidency, even though some of the more outrageous undertakers are today at the receiving end of the presidential stick—a suspension, an emergency and what is yet to come.
The region itself has never been laid this low—flat, comatose and frightened of its shadow, it is at its most impoverished—divided along religious lines; and led by small, thieving, uncreative despots too rich to worry and people too poor to care.
And while the region expects its liberation at the hand of these governors, its true liberation should in fact be from their hands. In other words, the North today needs to be liberated first from the stranglehold of its governors even before it looks for ways and means to liberate and save itself from the Jonathan presidency. That is why it is important for it to find out that elusive third rule of politics—and apply it.
So far, what the conduct of the election of the chairman of the NGF proves is that the governors’ collective cannot and will not conduct a credible election among its members; it will not accept an outcome it considers unfavourable, even if the election is free and fair; and they will take the law into their own hands even if this will lead to a permanent division in the not-so-useful forum, and eventually in the nation, unfortunately. But if, after all that has happened in this country, Northern governors will still lead in rigging or ignore and let those who will indulge in it to do so in order to return an administration without any redeeming feature to power, what we need is not a new constitution. What we need is a new country—and a new people.