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NGF: When regional, partisan affiliation is not solution

Though state governors have, at regional and partisan levels, proffered solutions to the nation’s security challenges, Nigerians are, however, of the opinion that such can have much impact if it comes from the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), the umbrella body of Nigeria’s governors, writes ONYEKACHI EZE

For Nigeria’s former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and one time Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubkar, the solution to country’s security challenges lies in unity, not just the unity of the people but of their leaders. The duo believe that unless the governors of Nigeria’s 36 states set aside partisan or regional affiliations, come together and proffer solutions, the country will find it difficult to overcome its challenges. Jonathan told journalists recently in Benin, the Edo State capital that state governors are actually the people in charge of the nation’s leadership and not the president who :is just one person in Abuja.”

His words: “The states, especially in a country where the local governments are very weak, it is the states that people fall back to. So, if the governors of the states meet and dialogue, interrogate things that are good for this country, we will move forward.” Jonathan, who decried what he described as antagonism between governors, said: “I don’t really love a situation where the Northern governors will meet and then the Southern governors will cry foul. Then the Southern governors will meet and the Northern governors will cry foul. That will not help our country.

If there are issues affecting one or two states, the governors should see how they can collectively come up with how to address them.” Atiku, on his part, noted that Nigeria is drifting and that it is only Nigerian governors that can rescue it. Like Jonathan, the former vice president said it was wrong for Nigerians to think that the power to make effective changes in the country resides with the occupant of the Aso Rock, the nation’s seat of power. His words: “Without the states, nobody can get to Aso Rock. That is why for anyone to emerge as president of Nigeria, he or she must secure enough votes in two-thirds of the states that make up the Nigerian federation.

“Let us apply this wisdom to our present challenges. I call on Nigerian governors to stop waiting on Abuja to make changes, and instead convene a national unity summit of all Nigerian governors to iron out the thorny issues affecting the destiny of our nation until they figure out a way to resolve them.

“Forget about your party. Forget about your tribe. Respect your religion and allow it to bring out the better part of you. Meet together. Talk together. Come up with the solutions to all our collective challenges. “And then go back to your states, and consult with your federal and state legislators, with a view to getting them to work with their colleagues to implement the solutions you came up with.” The former vice president also said he recognised the need for the recent meeting by governors from “some states,” and “understand the necessity of their meeting and the wisdom of their decisions.”

He however noted that “no matter how much you try to clap with one hand, the vibrations will not be the same as when you clap with two hands.” It could not be by telepathy that made the two leaders who are miles apart of each other, to speak on the same issue affecting the country, offering the same solution, and on the same day. Jonathan spoke on Sunday in Nigeria while Atiku issued his statement the same day in faraway Dubia, United Arab Emirates (UAE). This could be the recognition of the important role the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) played at some points in the life of the nation by the two Nigeria former leaders.

The forum presently led by the governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, is the umbrella body of the 36 state governors in the country. The non-partisan political platform was formed in 1999 by elected Nigerian governors. It was modeled after the American National Governors’ Association “to promote unity, good governance, better understanding and cooperation among the states, as well as a healthy and beneficial relationship between the states and other tiers of government.” Justifying the formation of the forum, a political commentator said it was “imperative for the states to assert themselves and to collectively influence the nature and course of policies at the national level.

“Given the state of the polity in the days following the end of many years of military rule, there was a clear need for states to re-assert themselves and exercise the level of independence that is the wont of a true federation. “It had also become necessary for them to regain their past glory of constituting a credible unit within the wider context of the federation,thereby removing the manifest distortion which militates against the realisation of true federalism,” he explained. This was demonstrated by the NGF in various ways.

The most notable was the role the forum played during the near constitutional crisis in the country following the hospitalisation of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia in 2010. The then president did not transmit power to Jonathan who was then vice president. What later became the “Doctrine of Necessity” passed by the National Assembly was conceived by the NGF. Jonathan was elevated to the position of Acting President on the strength of this resolution and that there is no doubt that the move saved the country from the brink.

Of course, there were other interventions by the forum in areas of good governance. These included the successful interruption of transmission of the wild polio virus and the subsequent de-listing of Nigeria from the list of polio-endemic countries by the World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2015. NGF had in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), intensified nationwide childhood immunisation against wild polio virus.

The Nigeria Governors’ Immunization Leadership Challenge was commissioned in January 2012, and all the 36 state governors and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) minister signed-up committing themselves towards pursuing integrated interventions towards eradicating polio by December 2013. That was later achieved in 2015.

The forum also developed the first ever State Peer Review Mechanism (SPRM) in sub-Sahara Africa, following the mandate of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting on the NGF secretariat to develop an assessment of projects among the states of the country. This provided an opportunity for the states to showcase their achievements as well as their areas of challenges. A comprehensive benchmarks and indicators were developed by the NGF secretariat, in collaboration with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) through its State Partnership for Accountability, Responsiveness and Capability (SPARC) programme.

While it is still debatable how far the forum has gone in the implementation of the peer review scheme, the role the forum played during the coronavirus pandemic, especially how it has mobilised member states in monitoring the implementation of inter-state travel ban to contain the spread of the virus, as well as the mitigation of the pains of the lockdown through provision of palliatives received commendations though the attack on suspected warehouses where the palliatives were stored in the wake of #EndSARS protest, nearly robbed off the gains. Perhaps, it is these influences that explain why Jonathan and Atiku, who, at one point or the other, witnessed the powers of the NGF, believe that much could be achieved if the governors remain united. Nonetheless, the bitter commentary was the unfortunate division in the NGF in 2013.

The power play between the then president, Jonathan and Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who was NGF chairman at that time, led to a controversial election that polarised the forum. Backed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), Amaechi defeated his Plateau State counterpart, Jonah Jang who was the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by 19 votes to 16.

But Jang refused to concede defeat and formed a parallel forum with his colleagues who voted for him. It is this scenario Jonathan and Atiku suspect might happen again if the governors resort to regional affiliations. Though the Northern and Southern governors’ as well as partisan fora have been in existence, they have not impeded NGF from recording past achievements. The point Jonathan and Atiku probably are putting forward is that national issues are better handled collectively. Nigeria is at crossroads and only by coming together can the problem be solved. Meetings at regional or partisan level might be viewed antagonistic.

Former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, said governors “should be driven by a nationalistic value system that if our country crumbles, no party would be saved. Until there are shared values, you can’t have united actions.” United action is what the nation needs at the moment to solve the security challenges and this is expected from the governors who form the second tier of government closed to the people.

A professor of Political Science, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, advised governors to leverage on the opportunity they have to come together as a forum to improve the lot of those who elected them, while at the same time helping the government at the centre to build a united nation. “The governors are a group of important people, who can be reckoned with in the scheme of things.

They are, however, needed more in the states than at the centre. As much as possible, they need to have clear idea of their mandates, which of course, include assisting in democratic governance in a federal set-up. “They drifted from the idea of having that type of forum in the first place, and other issues became their preoccupation.

It is inimical to good governance, which is not good for a federation like ours. There is nothing wrong in their coming together to share ideas and mutually reinforce others,” he said. Going forward, Nigerians expect the NGF to take a position on the state of affairs of the country as this is the only way the governors can ensure that their resolutions are implemented.

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