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The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), tailored after the governors’ forum in the U.S., has steadily grown over the years to become one of the most powerful institutions in the country, even though – as Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, has claimed – it was never intended as a pressure group but a peer group review mechanism. It probably reached its peak of influence during the virtual interregnum of 2010 when the ill-health of late president, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, left a vacuum in Aso Rock, despite the presence of a Vice President. The forum was considered to have played an ignoble role then, having worked to prevent the recognition of then Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, as Acting President. If that incident taught President Jonathan anything, it was probably that he must be wary of the forum. Indeed, a series of events since his assumption of power as Nigeria’s president may have reminded him time and time again of this reality. And after months of a running battle between the Presidency and the forum, President Jonathan may have, in the opinion of critics, decided to find a way of taming that body, or infiltrating it. No other occasion appears to justify that thinking more, at the moment, than the campaigns for 2015. Manifestation of this has assumed intriguing proportions in the last few weeks as the Presidency attempts to put a leash on the governors’ forum, albeit in his own style.
Amaechi’s re-election bid
The immediate opportunity for the Presidency to achieve in its intention would be the NGF election coming up in this month. Whereas the incumbent chairman, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, whose tenure is at its expiration, wants to retain his position for another term, the Presidency is allegedly scheming to replace him with a loyalist, especially in view of the President’s speculated reelection bid. The epic battle between both forces reached a heady level last week.
Two attempts to sack Amaechi last month failed, as the Presidency and the Bamanga Tukur-led PDP executive were unable to muster the numbers to unseat him. Perhaps, in desperation, Aso Rock orchestrated the formation of the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum (PDPGF), led by Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio.
On Wednesday, last week, the manouvres continued in Abuja with series of meetings. But there were indications that Amaechi still had the upper hand with many of the Governors from the North pledging their support.
Also, 19 Governors from the North, under the aegis of Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) met at the Niger State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, took decisions on the ongoing schism even though they also discussed other national issues such as security.
It was believed that the forum had decided to back Amaechi in order t keep the body strong enough to avoid manipulation by the President.
Amaechi has been having a running battle with not just the Presidency but also the leadership of the PDP, and, according to reports, his strained relationship with the leadership of the PDP and the Presidency culminated in the formation of the PDP Governors’ Forum led by Akpabio.
It was also in a bid to stop Amaechi from returning as the NGF chairman that the leadership of the PDP, backed by the Presidency, is presently pushing for the adoption of a consensus PDP candidate for the chairmanship of the NGF since the party has majority of the Governors.
Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina State has reportedly been penciled down for the NGF chairmanship if the PDP makes an inroad into the Forum.
Amaechi and Akpabio reportedly met on Monday night at an undisclosed location in Abuja to resolve their differences. Both have been torn apart since the failed attempts to unseat Amaaechi as NGF chairman, even as the formation of the PDPGF further deepened their rift.
Details of the meeting were kept secret but a source told Daily Independent that both Governors later conferred with former Kwara State Governor, Senator Bukola Saraki, who is the immediate past chairman of the NGF. At the brief parley with the two feuding Governors, the Kwara politician was said to have admonished them not to allow outsiders destabilise the NGF.
Though the PDPGF held successfully, not all the PDP governors were present, an indication that the situation is still quite difficult for the PDP leadership.
Pulling down Amaechi’s support base
In what is regarded as a very potent move, the party national leadership is believed to have encouraged dissension in the Rivers State chapter of the PDP in order to reduce Amaechi’s control of the party’s state chapter. An Abuja High Court on April 15, sacked the Akeh-led leadership of the PDP in Rivers State.
Justice Ishaq Bello, in his decision, endorsed the election of the party faction loyal to Minister of State for Education, Nyson Wike, led by Felix Obuah and the entire members of the factional executive.
But on Wednesday last week, the state government described the Abuja High Court judgment that removed the Godspower Akeh-led leadership of the PDP in Rivers State as a bastardisation of the nation’s judiciary.
Speaking while receiving Rivers State indigenes in Abuja who paid him a solidarity visit, state Liaison Officer, John Enebeli, called on men of goodwill to speak out against what he called politicisation of the nation’s judiciary.
He said: “We are happy and overwhelmed with this visit; Nigerians are watching our judiciary.
The case in question is a party matter and we expect that it should be settled within the party; however we call on men and women of goodwill to speak out against this act which is bastardising the nation’s judiciary because it could be anybody.”
Presidency’s alleged offensive
The pattern of offensives by the Presidency against Amaechi would appear to have commenced in earnest in addition to allegations of compromise made against the judiciary over the Rivers PDP case.
An indication of this occurred on Friday when aviation agencies prevented the aircraft of Governor Amaechi from leaving Akure Airport in Ondo State shortly after the governor and his aides returned from the burial of late deputy governor of Ekiti State, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Olayinka, in Ado-Ekiti. Amaechi was said to have joined Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, in his aircraft out of the airport.
Many see the action as part of the continuing effort of the Presidency’s to see Amaechi off as NGF Chairman in the next meeting scheduled for next month.
It has been reported that President Jonathan and his 2015 re-election project henchmen decided last week to move decisively against Amaechi and stop him, if need be, from “flying around the country to attend political meetings.”
Part of the move, sources claimed, was the grounding of the Governor’s plane by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). The aircraft was alleged by the aviation authorities to be operating illegally with expired documents.
The no-fly order came 24 hours after the Bombardier -BD 700, Global Express aircraft with registration number N565RS was grounded on Friday for two hours at the Akure Airport in Ondo State because its pilot failed to produce the manifest.
The story, however, changed on Saturday with the Director, Airworthiness Standards, Benedict Adeyileka, saying the plane’s clearance approval expired on April 2. He spoke to reporters few hours after Amaechi insinuated that the grounding of his plane at the Akure Airport on Friday had political undertones, referring to the ongoing cold war between him and the Presidency over the 2015 Presidential race.
The National Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) in a separate statement restated its position that the refusal of the pilot to submit the passengers’ manifest as required by the new safety regulations caused the Akure Airport saga.
The Governor’s office dismissed the agency’s position as “a cock and bull story, blatant lie and monumental embarrassment.”
The Presidency was said to be uncomfortable with the decision of Amaechi to continue his campaign for the NGF’s plum office despite many emissaries sent to him to “honourably withdraw from the race.”
Daily Independent reliably gathered that President Jonathan was furious that the aircraft was making it easy for Amaechi to do the necessary netwoking in preparation for the crucial election which has become more of an ego war between the President and the Governor.
It was also gathered that the Presidency had decided to punish any airline that agrees to hire any of its aircraft to the Rivers State Governor until after the election.
Part of the plot is to use the full weight of the Presidency to frustrate any commitment the Governor and his supporters were making at both national and international levels that require Presidential support.
Before now, the Governor was said to have been finding it difficult to get the cooperation and support of federal institutions for smooth running of his state.
Stalling NGF election
In addition, there are speculations that the Presidency may have given orders to its loyalists, among the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors, to do whatever it would take to stall and stop the NGF election from holding until it is able to get enough governors on its side to support its candidate and stop the re-election of Amaechi as NGF Chairman. The Presidency is said to be backing the candidature of Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema, for NGF chairman. But the Presidency does not appear to have the support of most of the governors, majority of who want Amaechi to return for a second term.
To actualize its intention, the Presidency is said to have mobilised its staunch allies among the governors such as Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Gabriel Suswam (Benue) and Seriake Dickson (Bayelsa) to drum up support for the Presidency’s candidate.
Their mandate, it is believed, is to ensure that the NGF election billed to hold sometime in May does not hold until the Presidency can muster enough governors to drop their support for Amaechi and back its candidate for NGF chairmanship.
But it has been revealed that the Presidency’s spirited efforts to make the PDP Governors Forum adopt Governor Shema as the consensus candidate of the PDP governors for the NGF chairmanship election has not yielded much dividend as the governors reportedly opposed the move.
Reports of the PDP governors Forum meeting held at the Akwa Ibom Governor’s lodge in Abuja showed that the governors opposed the consensus candidate option, as opinion was generally divided on the issue of choosing a consensus candidate for the chairmanship position of the NGF.
It was gathered that after an exhaustive consultation and deliberation, members could not agree on a consensus candidate. The governors then agreed that Amaechi and Shema be presented as candidates for the NGF chairmanship position.
With this new development, both governors are likely to slug it out in May for the position, barring any last minutes decisions. However, most of the governors in the country, especially those in the opposition, save a few, appear opposed to the Presidency’s interference in who heads the Forum. As a result, many of them have vowed to vehemently resist any attempt by the Presidency to foist anyone on them as chairman; hence a handful of them seem to be disposed to Amaechi’s second term bid.
Notwithstanding newspaper reports, Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Dr. Ahmed Gulak, has maintained that the Presidency’s interest was in upholding the rule of law. According to him, the President as a loyal member of the PDP, will be delighted to have another PDP governor taking over from Amaechi as the NGF chairman as his tenure draws to a close.
Gulak said the President was ready to work with any of the governors of the PDP that would eventually replace the Rivers State governor. When asked whether Jonathan would be ready to work with the embattled chairman of the NGF if re-elected, the presidential aide said the issue of re-election of Amaechi did not arise.
Gulak said: “The fact that the President met with the PDP governors was an indication that he is united with the governors. When has it become an aberration for him to meet the governors? It is not about removing Amaechi. Amaechi’s tenure as NGF chairman is ending this April, so nobody is talking about his removal. When Bukola Saraki’s tenure ended, he handed over to Amaechi. Since Amaechi’s tenure is ending too, he must hand over to somebody else.
“The President is interested in any PDP governor, not necessarily Shema, taking over from Amaechi at the expiration of his tenure. There is no re-election for Amaechi. His tenure has expired except if he wants to extend his tenure and there is no tenure elongation in the NGF.”
The intrigues would continue in the following days preceding the NGF election, and the outcome of that event would determine the colouration of Project 2015 as it concerns Jonathan and the enlarging camp of opposition within and outside the PDP.


Article Credit: Daily Independent Newspaper

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