Getting the Nigeria Governors’ Forum on a competitive course

June 10th, 2018

Among the most powerful political pressure groups in the country is the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF). The NGF has in various ways expressed its might, especially in determining who gets what in the country’s political equation. Not just in determining who becomes the presidential flagbearer of their political parties and eventually win presidential elections, state governors have also become one recurring powerful force in who grabs which position at the local government, state and national level.

The impact of the NGF in the polity since May 29, 1999 shows that state governors are the ones who actually call the shots. For instance, apart from determining occupants of leadership position in the political parties where they belong, they also determine who flies the flag of their respective political parties at the Senatorial, House of Representatives, House of Assembly, and Local Government elections.

They equally nominate candidates for ministerial portfolio, ambassadorial portfolio, select those to head the parastatals and agencies (both at the federal and state level), they also have a say in who becomes non-career ambassadors. With the NGF, state governors became so powerful they cannot be easily dismissed. Many people believe they hold the yam and the knife.

According to a statement published on the NGF website, “the evolution of the NGF can be tied to two phases: the first being from 1999 to 2008 and the second being from 2009 till date”. It noted that “the first phase is characterized by very minimal activity by the Forum, as well as a paltry meeting attendance by members and a weak secretariat. The Secretariat then was merely involved in organizing meetings and collecting annual dues, which was used for running the Secretariat.

“The second phase started in earnest from 2009 two years after the Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki became the Chairman of the Forum. He spearheaded a major restructuring and redefining of the NGF. His tenure ended in 2011 when he handed over to his successor, the then Governor of Rivers State, Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi. With the new structure, the office of Vice Chairman was created with Mr. Peter Obi, Governor of Anambra State, emerging as the pioneer Vice Chairman. His inspiring leadership style transformed the NGF into a formidable association by reinvigorating the commitment of Governors in pursuing the main thrusts of creating the association. The emerging unity of purpose and a desire to find common ground on issues with a potential of directly impacting on the wider polity, was paramount”. And truly, Nigerians agree that state governors have been very powerful these past 19 years in our polity.

But, what should be the cardinal thrust of a body like the NGF in a majorly oil driven economy like ours? Shouldn’t they approach governance from a peer review prism to engineer healthy competition for the well-being of the citizenry? That was what the Premiers in the regions did in the First Republic, resulting in mega projects that even today remain citadels.

There is no gain saying that NGF could engineer the process that could restore the instincts that brought about such successes in a short period after independence. For instance, in 2012, state governors had developed a collaborative arrangement on polio eradication involving the Federal Ministry of Health and the Gates Foundation, whereby states that met laid down threshold criteria were awarded a $500,000USD grant provided by the Gates’ Foundation to support their top health priorities.

According to Mr. Asishana B. Okauru, the head of the NGF secretariat, “the level of cooperation between States has increased significantly, as has the relation between States and the Federal Government. This is manifested during deliberations at NGF-NEC meetings and interactions on many key national issues. Zonal groupings, which mirror the Forum, are increasingly effective as they discuss ways of overcoming their commonly shared developmental challenges”.

Plausible as Okauru stated, Nigerians are yet to practically feel the positive impact of the NGF in their well-being. For example, it is difficult to find state governments that maintain federal infrastructure especially roads that pass through their states. Simple things like asking the various local governments through which such infrastructure passes through to clear off sand and other debris that block free flow of water in drainage channels, culverts and bridges is a mirage. State governments are not seen engaged in healthy competition for the establishment of industries so as to engage the millions of unemployed youths (graduates and non-graduates). Hardly also do we see state governors peer review to create industrial clusters where the low income earners could engage in small-holder craft and trade.

Rather what we find are state governments in competition invoking stringent tax regimes. We see them in competition in retrenchment of workers. We see them in competition imposing their political godsons to run the affairs of the local government. State governments should as a matter of urgency be in competition to build or attract world-class hospitals to reduce medical tourism; we need to see NGF stoke up its members to compete in the area of improved security; transparency in governance; erosion of political godfatherism and thuggery in the polity. We need to see NGF lending practical support to genuine entrepreneurs in their states, rather than sit by and watch such companies fold up through obnoxious government policies or by noxious tax policies.

State governors should re-enact those healthy competitive spirit that made the regions the centers of excellence that they were in the 60s. NGF should be seen as the major catalyst for growth and development, rather than being seen as mere political force that strives to satisfy selfish desires of its members even to the detriment of their states and the nation.

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