The recent statement credited to Governor Chibuike Amaechi, the Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum and Governor of Rivers State (who spoke on behalf of colleagues) on the current move to grant financial autonomy to local councils in Nigeria has elicited reactions and condemnation from across the country. Governor Amaechi was quoted as saying that the governors would do “everything possible” as a “pressure group” to stop lawmakers from granting autonomy to local governments in Nigeria.
The position of the governors is in direct contrast to the views of the generality of the Nigerian people as shown from the opinions expressed at the Senatorial and Federal constituencies public hearings were Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for financial autonomy for the councils. According to Hon. Zakari Mohamed, a member of the Federal House of Representatives from Kano State, “the issue of local government autonomy as far as Nigeria is concerned is long overdue. Arising from our Peoples’ Public Session as true representatives of the people, our constituents do not agree with the current status where local government funds are being pilfered at the expense of the people and chairmen who are seen as mere boys for the job”
The federal lawmaker said it is unacceptable, “a situation where governors turned themselves to demi-gods in the name of joint account. It is only in Nigeria that an elected governor of a state would speak to the media, frontally eroding democratic ideals of which he is a beneficiary. It is saddening to note that LGs elections have not been held in some states since 1999, wondering what sort of government states are running.
The reason why Nigerians demand for financial autonomy for the third tier of government is not farfetched; council funds now serve as slush funds looted as the state chief executives’ desire. The local government/state joint account is abused at will as states are supposed to contribute to the funds for the benefit of the councils but instead spurious joint projects are presented but never executed while the funds so earmarked grow wings. Currently, about two-third of the councils in Nigeria are being run through care-taker committees appointed by state governors, a position that is unconstitutional.
Many are wondering why our governors are opposed to the interest of the people they govern, this accounts for the reason they are now being seen as clogs in the will of progress and development in Nigeria. Not a few now ask what the essence of democracy is, if the will of the majority cannot prevail and against the whims of a very small minority in power?
While there is a semblance of democracy at the federal tier of government with the Senate and Federal House of Representatives often challenging the executive arm; state legislatures are near comatose and merely serve as rubber stamps for their governors. While one can hear opposition views and opinions on Nigerian Television Authority, NTA and Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, FRCN; state media organizations serve as the mouth piece of state governments alone with the opposition shut out completely. Opinion analyst and stakeholders challenge the president without fear or favour, let or hindrance while opposition figures at the state level often hide in Abuja were they make statements and issue press releases. While we all know how much accrues to the federal government and account of its stewardship often made public, governments at state levels operate like cult groups were certain information is known only to a limited and privileged few. While ministers and heads of federal agencies and departments are summoned to the national assembly to clarify certain issues, mum is the word at the state level. State governors have succeeded in strangulating the third tier of government and this is the prime reason they are fighting against granting them autonomy. At the last count, over two-third of the councils are being led by care-taker committees handpicked by state governors. These chairmen operate more like aides of the governors than council chairmen
In Nigeria since the return to democracy, state governors have come to determine who gets what and when, even at the federal level. During the re-election of President Obasanjo, governors came together and nearly scuttled his second term bid as they had chosen to support Vice-President Atiku Abubakar who later bowed to pressures from his principal. Again, when President Obasanjo was looking for a successor, the governors forum allegedly demanded that whoever would succeed him must be a governor and that is chiefly why the late President Yaradua and his then Vice-President now President Goodluck Jonathan who were then state governors, emerged. Today, President Jonathan, a former governor of Bayelsa state also has as his deputy, Alh. Namadi Sambo, himself a former governor of Kaduna State.
States governors under the umbrella of governors’ forum have dominated our polity at all levels. At the Senate since the fourth republic, some ex-governors like Sen. Chris Ngige, Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, Sen. Bukola Saraki, Sen. Ibrahim Turaki, Sen. Chimaraoke Nnanami, Sen. George Akume, Sen. Bukar Ibrahim, Sen. Yerima etc have since gotten themselves “elected” to the hallowed red chambers of the national assembly.
Not done with executive and legislative powers, the governors have moved into seizing party machinery ensuring one of their own remains at the helms of affairs. The Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, has Alh. Bamanga Tukur (former governor of old Gongola State) and as National Chairman; Olagunsonye Oyinlola until recently was the National Secretary of the ruling party and a former governor of Osun State. In the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party, ANPP, Chief Ogbonnaya Onu, a former Governor of Abia State, presides as National Chairman; while ACN has Chief Lam Adesina an ex-governor of Oyo state.
In the PDP at the moment, the state governors are up in arms against their National Chairman and are hell-bent on sending him parking to pave way for a more malleable fellow who would do their bidding. Similarly, the governors were responsible for the fall of Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, a former national chairman of the PDP, when he tried to challenge their control of the machinery of the party by introducing e-registration and other measures that would have whittled down their influence and control of the party structures. The “offence” of Tukur is similar to that of Nwodo as Tukur is making moves to bring back disgruntled and founders members of the party back to its fold. Only recently, Gov. TA Orji of Abia State led a delegation to the national secretariat of the party protesting the move to bring back his predecessor, Mr. Orji Kalu back to the party he partly founded.
The desire of the governors to dominate our polity at all levels seems clearly to be selfish and self-centered. In the last constitution review exercise, state governors got the state houses of assembly to vote down the move to grant financial autonomy to the state legislature inspite of the benefits the move would have portended for our democracy. The governors seem ready to stop any move that does not serve their purpose no matter how laudable.
State governors now determine who becomes minister, ambassador, board member etc. They determine who gets party tickets as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, and who succeeds them as well. They determine solely in their states, who becomes council helmsmen, councilors and all.
How did we get to this sorry pass and what accounted for the enormous powers our state governors are now enjoying to the detriment of the people of Nigeria?
The current muscle flexing of our governors is traceable to the second and alleged third term bid of ex-President Obasanjo who was ready to trade in just about anything to get what he wanted. He allegedly bargained away positions to the governors such as their successors, Senatorial candidates and party executives in their states just to remain in office. These benefits the governors are no longer ready to relinquish.
The concept of governor’s forum was supposed to be an avenue for governors to meet and discuss issues of mutual and national interest and hold common positions on them but this noble initiative have been turned to a monstrous “pressure group” that grabs anything it fancies and pulls down anything on its way. The forum which was formed in 1999 with Alh Adamu Abdullahi as her first chairman, became more aggressive in 2007 with the emergence of Sen. Bukola Saraki as chairman.
Nigerians must start to question the role of the forum and oppose any agenda it projects that is not in our collective interest.
Ik Ogbonna (08037203559)is an Owerri based media consultant.