A major crack has set into the once boisterous Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, following last weekend’s re-election of Governor Chibuke Amaechi as chairman and the determination of his opponents within the forum not to recognize his election. The fissure is a firm fit into alleged plans of presidential minders to clip Amaechi’s wings and give the presidency unfettered leverage in its unfolding political plans.
The split in the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF did not come as a surprise. The failure of the Presidency to cage the forum under the leadership of Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State was an attraction to slice the body into factions.
The allegation against Amaechi by his opponents is that he has been using the NGF to confront President Goodluck Jonathan on many serious national socio-political issues thereby stifling the president’s performance in office.
Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers State Governor
Whether that assertion holds water or not, the pro-Jonathan’s loyalists in the NGF would not want to hear his name as their leader any longer and had laid a political ambush to cut him to size last Friday but failed woefully to achieve their aim.
The intrigues laced with high wired blackmail and some level of intimidation would have caught fire and sent Amaechi packing if his opponents led by Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State had put their acts together before and during the tension-soaked NGF election. But many things went awry for the pro-Jonathan faction even before the ballots were cast.
Of course, same elements had convinced President Jonathan that Amaechi was aligning forces with those from the North, who were opposed to his re-election bid in 2015 and why he should be shoved aside as the NGF chairman.
Paradoxically, while they were emboldened by the strong backing of the Villa to uproot the Rivers governor, the delivery of the plot, however failed to sail through. For those who know Governor Godswill Akpabio, the arrowhead of the campaign to flush out Amaechi, no one would accuse him of not working hard to accomplish to goal. But many blunders came along.
Indecision killed the Jonathan camp: Of all the blunders committed by the pro-Jonathan group that gave easy ride to Amaechi, none was as disastrous as the refusal of the camp to stick to a single candidate for the poll on time.
Thus, its greatest undoing because the shifting of candidates up to the last moment and the results hit them below the belt, leaving them and President Jonathan with a sour taste in the mouth.
All along, the presidency, through Akpabio, had been presenting the Katisna State Governor Ibrahim Shema as the beautiful bride being courted by the Villa as its candidate to challenge Amaechi.
Although Shema was still not acceptable to all the PDP governors, it was clear to all that he could pose a serious threat to Amaechi. Curiously, barely five days to the vote, the same presidency, through the PDPGF leader, had a change of mind on Shema and suddenly drafted the Bauchi State Governor, Mallam Isa Yuguda, into the same race, jettisoning Shema for reasons yet to be made public.
Jonah Jang of Plateau State
The signing on of Yuguda, it was learnt, was even more attractive to both the PDPFG and the Northern Governors’ Forum, headed by Dr. Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, a recent political enemy of Jonathan. Aliyu got into the bad books of the Presidency when he challenged Jonathan to remember that he had signed a document with them in 2010 to do just one term in office and vowed that the North would not support his re-election in 2015.
However like a stillbirth, the duo of Shema and Yuguda, who had already been railroaded into the ring of contest and their supporters ignited in the process, found it difficult to agree to step down for each other until last Friday.
All attempts to browbeat them to see reasons to withdraw for the other fell on deaf ears and the Northern States Governors’ Forum had no option than to force them to pull out of the contest and give way to a neutral candidate in the person of Governor Jonah Jang.
The ‘sudden’ drafting of Governor Jang into the race to replace Yuguda, who was the last candidate favoured by the presidency, significantly altered the voting pattern against the presidency and its candidate.
Some governors from the core north opposed Jang, whom they claim is grumpy and politically powerless and began to look in the direction of Amaechi, whom they claim, had led the NGF effectively and did not see why the president wanted to sacrifice him.
“We know that Amaechi has not done anything wrong. Whenever we ask what his offence is nobody has been able to advance one concrete reason apart from saying that he has a problem with President Jonathan.
Governor from the north And if we ask what type of problem Amaechi has with the President, some would say that it is something that is best known to Jonathan himself,” a governor from the north loyal to Amaechi, said.
A shot in the foot: Apart from the indecision over the choice of candidate to fly its flag, the pro-Jonathan group was also in a fix to get its supporters to work together at the venue of the election because of the blocking of all forms of communication by security agencies in and around the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro District of the Federal Capital Territory, where virtually all the governors’ lodges are located.
Misfire: Apparently convinced that it had a simple majority of governors based on those who had signed a prepared document in favour of the Presidency’s candidate, the security agents were instructed to jam all GSM phones around the venue of the voting so as to prevent the pro-Amaechi governors from infiltrating the pro-Jonathan’s camp.
Gov Akpabio of Akwa Ibom state
Thus, as early as 4pm when the NGF meeting was about to start, hordes of security agents had stormed the venue and blocked communication channels making it difficult for anyone to communicate with the outside world. It was a shot in the foot as the move ironically worked against the pro-Jonathan governors.
A governor, who was at the venue lamented that those who jammed the GSM phones contributed to the failure of the President’s candidate.
The governor said, “Well, what the pro-Jonathan governors plotted actually turned against them and I think that is the way the Almighty God wanted it to be. They blocked all forms of communications around the Rivers Governor’s Lodge for over four hours making it impossible for anyone to use their phones.“I believe strongly that if they had not blocked the phones it would have been possible for the supporters of the camp to brief the Villa on how the election was going and they could have stopped the voting when they realised that Amaechi was poised to win.
“Unfortunately for them they hit themselves with their own weapon because while the Amaechi’s camp was united and determined to return him, the camp loyal to the President was divided over the sudden change of candidate. I can tell you that if Mallam Isa Yuguda or Shema had been allowed to run against Amaechi, the situation would not have been the same.
While the battle to get a consensus candidate for the Jonathan’s camp lasted, it was learnt that a lot of water passed under the bridge and altered the political formula already agreed with the presidency regarding the poll.
Under the arrangement, the list of the 19 PDP governors, who had earlier appended signature to a secret document in front of the President shortly after the Nigeria Economic Council meeting in Abuja, was to be presented to the meeting of the NGF as the decision of the governors. Thereafter, the pro-Jonathan group was to insist that Amaechi should step down as the NGF chairman since they already have a majority of governors on its side.
Nonetheless, when the Jonathan governors arrived the venue of the meeting and saw that they still had the majority of governors in attendance, they opted for secret balloting believing that all the governors whose names were on the list would vote for Jang. It was an optimism carried to far in a murky political game where anything could happen.
Shocker for Amaechi’s opponents: By the time the result of the election was read out by the Director General of the NGF, it was already too clear to the anti-Amaechi group that they had shot themselves on the foot and that the only way out was to mount a belated protest in a bid to salvage what they had lost through a transparent ballot.
In all, there were 35 governors present at the Rivers Governor’s Lodge, venue of the voting and all of them voted in a free and fair manner, believing that Amaechi had been booted out peacefully. But that was not to be, as he trounced Governor Jang by three votes coasting home with 19 votes to 16 netted by his Plateau counterpart.
The result shocked Akpabio and the other governors in his camp. It was equally very difficult for them to swallow such a bitter pill. What will the governors report back to Jonathan, whose aides had been working round the clock to stop Amaechi and whose ears were on the ground to get the results and forward to him in far away Addis Ababa, where he is attending an AU summit?
Protest as a panacea for pro-Jonathan’s camp: Protesting the outcome of the vote, Akpabio, leading 17 other governors, accused Amaechi of not stepping down before contesting, thereby violating the election procedure. He said the group would henceforth have nothing to do with Amaechi, having ceased to be their leader on May 26, 2013.
The pro-Jonathan governors, who spent most of the weekend trying to confer legitimacy on Jang, who actually lost the election, met at the Benue Governor’s Lodge in Asokoro after which they read a six-paragraph communiqué, affirming their support and loyalty to Jang. They promised to set up a parallel secretariat in Maitama so as to disengage from Amaechi.
Shortly after that meeting on Saturday, they met with the Board of Trustees Chairman of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih in his Asokoro residence and tried to convince him to support their camp. The Akpabio group did not end there. They then proceeded to the Presidential Villa where they met with Vice President Namadi Sambo and also briefed him on the actions they were taking to stop Amaechi from being recognised as the leader of the NGF.
Discrediting the process Analysts believe that the full participation of the pro-Jonathan governors in the NGF election from the beginning to the end and the belated attempt by them to discredit the process after the defeat of their candidate is like disowning one’s wife after she had delivered a baby not liked by the husband.
But Amaechi has chosen to remain calm and calculated, savouring the victory he recorded against all the forces arrayed against him by the Presidency and others opposed to him.
In a terse response after his victory, Amaechi said there was neither victor nor vanquished but democracy at work. Despite the obstacle allegedly planted against him before the poll, the governor still pledged to work with President Jonathan to achieve peace, development and unity in Nigeria.
‘’We remain committed to supporting our leader, the president and commander in chief of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to realize the development dream of all Nigerians by reducing tension, uncertainty and insecurity in our beloved country.
‘’We want to pledge our steadfastness and resolve working alongside Mr. President to better the lives of our people as we render transparent and accountable stewardship,” Amaechi pledged shortly after being declared winner of the election.
Nigerians react: Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has berated the governors crying foul over Amaechi’s victory.
Describing the action of the anti-Amaechi governors as self-embarrassing, Falani said the victory complied with the NGF’s rules and could not be faulted by any of the members.
Plausible next steps: The script being played by the anti-Amaechi governors, it was gathered, fits into one of the game plans that had long been drawn up by the forces loyal to the President and President was not in the mood to recognise the governor as the NGF leader.
In fact, some of the Presidential strategists are said to be very comfortable with the decision taken by the Akpabio-led group to discredit Amaechi’s victory so that at best two factions of the NGF would emerge to stop the governor from further prodding the political landscape.
There were also suggestions that some powerful PDP chieftains might be on their way to lobby Amaechi to back down on his rumoured vice presidential ambition with Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State so as to appease the President to recognise him as the NGF leader.
The beginning of the end: How soon this will happen remains to be seen and leaves many at the brink. But as a democrat and acclaimed stickler to the rule of law, will Jonathan feign ignorance of the re-election of Amaechi and recognise Jang, who lost the election?
Now, if Jonathan recognises the loser of the election, the issue then is, of what relevance is Jang to Jonathan’s re-election in 2015. What is Jonathan going to lose if Amaechi remains the NGF chairman? As the nation awaits answers to the posers, one thing remains on the horizon for the NGF: a dirge, as the denouement is already unfolding.