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NIGERIA: To thy tents, O Governors

NGF MEETING: From left: Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State; Governor Aliyu Babangida of Niger State; Chairman, Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, and Rivers State Governor, Chief Rotimi Amaechi; Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State and other governors addressing newsmen shortly after the third meeting of the NGF, in Abuja.The avoidable but raging war among the governors, particularly those of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, which culminated in the birth of PDP Governors’ Forum from the all-influential Nigerian Governors’ Forum, led by the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Chief Godswill Akpabio, last week, points to a crack in the political machinery of the PDP and threatens to cause a major leakage in the party’s umbrella, if the discontentment among the contending forces is not well managed before the dawn of the 2015 polls.

The war had long been declared from above but the foot solders did not know they would be recruited to work for and against one another. At the firing line is one man, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Governor of Rivers State, who has been fingered as not showing enough respect to President Goodluck Jonathan and his exalted office. Those who are shooting darts at him accuse the Obima-born fearless politician of joining forces with strangers to battle Jonathan and his political empire, not minding the fact that he is one of the governors from the President’s backyard.
On the offensive is the President himself, aided and abetted by some loyal People Democratic Party, PDP, governors, his trusted political strategists and bystanders, who want to make a gain from the festering war of attrition that has largely been fought in the media than a real onslaught.

Although no bullet has yet been fired, the ripples are already reverberating in the land like a hurricane and not many can perfectly predict how it will end and who the victims will be at the end of the combat.  Not many of the foot soldiers can pinpoint to anything that Amaechi  has said and done in practical terms to warrant being isolated as being at war with or disrespectful of President Jonathan and family. But the fact remains that the daring governor shoots straight and is not given to the reigning invidious survival strategy of most Nigerian politicians who say one thing but mean the opposite.

Amaechi, it appears, has failed the Nigerian political test by refusing or not knowing how to call black white and vice versa, all in a bid to be seen as a ‘’good boy” to his political godfathers.
The governor has been, rather, indirectly and helplessly, plunged into the bad book of President  Jonathan, clearly by political soothsayers, whose calculation is that with Amaechi  in the saddle as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, the fortunes of the President may continue to plummet to a point that his 2015 ambition could suffer a discount. Those who made him the NGF leader two years ago, apparently out of selfish expectation that being a PDP governor and one of the six South-South governors, he would always dance to the tunes called by Jonathan, are rather disappointed by the turn of events. The President’s men and PDP leaders might have also expected Amaechi not to have a mind of his own but to sheepishly accept and chorus along any policy and programme fashioned by Aso Rock Presidential Villa and placed on the neck of Nigerians no matter how suffocating the effect may be.

But this has not been the case with Amaechi.
He must have unwittingly rocked the boat of the leader of the PDP and the largest party in Africa by, first, disagreeing with the way the Presidency was managing the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF, by dipping its hands and taking from it at will without involving the governors. He spoke out and when the Federal Government refused to stop pinching money from that fund, the NGF, under his leadership, went to court to stop the government from using the money the way it likes.  This perfidy, despite  the fact that a so called Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister for the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is a Bretton Woods protégé.

That action has paid off handsomely, at least.
Now, the government has been forced to set up a corporate legal body to run the fund and Nigerians may soon begin to see more transparent usage of the SWF instead of being kept in the dark as was the case before.

Although the Presidency did not like the ‘’confrontation”, the 36 state governors, who are expected to also derive more benefit from the fund, are happy with the steps taken by the Amaechi-led NGF.

While that imbroglio was just settling down, then came the spat between Amaechi’s Rivers State and President Jonathan’s Bayelsa State over the ownership of some controversial oil wells, which the two sister states claimed were rightly theirs.  Again, Amaechi, as the bastion of the Rivers people’s mandate, had to be put in the ring of contest, this time with the President, Bayelsa State Governor  Seriake Dickson and the people of his state. In the fight over the oil wells yet to be fully settled, many Nigerians also expected Amaechi to have backed-off, close his mouth and concede the wells, all because President Jonathan’s state is involved.

But, Amaechi decided to shout from his rooftop, insisting that he would not allow the commonwealth of Rivers people to be taken away on the altar of politics. He was quoted as saying that he would rather resign as governor than shy away from defending and protecting their interest in the controversial oil wells.
The refusal of Amaechi to concede the ownership of the oil wells was immediately followed by a report that he had been anointed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to run with his Jigawa State counterpart as vice president and president, respectively, in 2015 although the story bearers did not indicate on which party platform the two governors would run.

Despite strenuous denials by both men that they are not running, Jonathan’s men appear to have already marked down the Rivers governor as a ‘bad boy’ not loyal to the PDP leader and Nigeria’s helmsman, who has curiously found it rather difficult to openly declare his interest or otherwise in the 2015 presidency till date. His claim that he is working actively to fix Nigeria and does not want to be distracted with the next election while his hatchet men prod the land with unprecedented gusto, does not really catch fire, since his body language points to the opposite direction.

In a bid to keep Amaechi at bay and whittle his alleged influence, which the President’s minders believe stems from the NGF, Ijaw leader, Edwin Clark, who is regarded as President Jonathan’s godfather, openly taunted the governors platform but merely stopped short of calling for its disbandment.

In a strongly worded letter Clark sent to the NGF on January 24, 2013, the elder statesman  noted, “The Forum has become a powerful tool in the hands of the governors who now use it to pursue and promote their individual and collective interests with little or no regard to the letter and spirit of the Party’s Constitution and supremacy.

“The PDP as a political party has lost control of its various organs and, for some time now, proper elections at congresses and conventions have not been held democratically due to the imposition of unqualified members on the good members of the party, contravening Section 87(4) of the Amended Electoral Act 2011 and the Independent National Electoral Commission’s law.”

Although the Ijaw leader did not mention Amaechi as committing any infraction in his personal letter to the NGF, the meaning was not lost however that he was making indirect reference to what was considered to be the overbearing influence of the governors’ platform under the stubborn leadership of the Rivers governor.

But to put the President’s anger and disappointment over Amaechi in proper perspective and put the heat on the governor, the Niger Delta Affairs Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe, on February 2, 2013, knocked Amaechi almost below the belt. While on inspection of projects in the Niger Delta with reporters, Orubebe fired a debilitating shot at the governor, accusing him of not showing respect to President  Jonathan.

“Today, Amaechi sees himself as the governor of governors and feels that he is even bigger than the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,”, an angry Orubebe roared while accusing the governor of leaving the governance of his state to poke nose into the non-completion of the 337-km East West Road, whose contract was awarded by the Obasanjo administration in 2006 but could not be completed before it was transferred to the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry in April 2009.

Not done with his frustration with Amaechi’s style of leadership of the NGF, Orubebe added, “Even governors from the South-South, particularly, Rotimi Amaechi, have no respect for the President of this country.” He did not however provide any evidence to support what Amaechi did to show disdain to President Jonathan.

Amaechi’s attempt to respond to the verbal assault on him by Orubebe, was already too late, as a lasting impression appears to have already been made in the minds of Jonathan’s men that the governor was not with them and should be taught some lessons to make him realise who controls the levers of power in Nigeria and the PDP where he belongs.

Reports say that although the Presidency had long nursed the game plan to deal with Amaechi by out-rightly removing him from the NGF or creating a splinter group to whittle his enormous power and influence among the 36 governors, the prosecutors of the agenda were mindful of the need to execute it with utmost diligence to avoid a backlash that could rob the Presidency of the needed sympathy and support for 2015.

Convinced by advisers that it would be difficult to oust Amaechi from his post, the Presidency and the leadership of the PDP settled for the more innocuous and ingenious idea of creating a splinter group to be headed by a ‘core loyalist’ from among the PDP governors, who would be willing to stand by Jonathan even if he is sinking. The President’s men settled for Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio is said to have  fitted the bill because those close to him and Amaechi suggest that they are not the best of friends and do not intend to be so even in the near future. They seem to have fallen apart over disagreements bordering on the controversial 176 oil wells, which they claim belong to them until the court ruled that the wells were Rivers’.

Once assured that it could woo some PDP governors to its side and that Akpabio was willing to head the splinter PDP Governors Forum so as to cut Amaechi to size, the President summoned with some degree of glee a meeting of the PDP governors with him at the Villa last Sunday.

Insiders said as the meeting was in progress, Amaechi and Akpabio were excused to leave the venue of the meeting at House 7 only for Akpabio to be announced shortly as the new chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum.

The President, his party and advisers were in a joyous mood when Akpabio, still basking in the euphoria of his election as the PDP GF, stormed the Wadata Plaza to present himself to the PDP National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur, and other NWC members and made some heart-warming statements that obviously elated Jonathan’s camp.

Akpabio said he was on a rescue mission to sanitise the PDP and chase out untrustworthy members he described as Judases.

The governor noted, “What the PDP is trying to do now is to cleanse its house; to try to identify the ones they called Judas and whisper it to them and say ‘go out, the train is moving and you cannot stand otherwise we will crush you.’”

But even with such self-assuring boast, many of the PDP governors, especially those who are serving out their second term and do not have much to fight for politically,  are not in sync with the party and do not seem to be in a hurry to do the bidding of the Villa as far as 2015 is concerned. They, too, are not willing to leave Amaechi to be swept away by the ill wind that is sweeping through from the President’s men.

To show the President that they mean their support for Amaechi, they still went ahead  and prepared to re-elect him for a second term, before the tensed election, which was slated for Amaechi’s lodge in Asokoro, a stone throw from Jonathan’s Villa, was called off when it dawned on the President’s men that they could not secure the needed support from the governors to flush out Amaechi.

The election has been pushed to May this year apparently to enable the camp of the President and the PDP to use the Akpabio’s PDP GF to prevail on others to ditch Amaechi and elect Governor Ibrahim Shema of Katsina, who has been tipped as a Jonathan’s admirer, supporter and loyalist to the core, from the North-West.

That notwithstanding, the Northern Governors’ Forum, headed by vociferous Babangida Aliyu, who is also not in the good books of the President for daring to say that Jonathan signed a pact with them to serve only a term, may also not go along with Shema when he stands election as chairman of the NGF.

Aliyu is said to be nursing a presidential ambition and he does not appear to be in a hurry to reconcile with Jonathan. He is reported to have engaged in a shouting match with Akpabio for accepting to head the splinter PDP GF at a time the opposition is fusing to consolidate ahead of 2015.

What may spill the beans for PDP is that while its ranks is being split into groups, thereby weakening its unity and cohesion, opposition governors are working together to ensure that Amaechi retains his position as the NGF chairman. Their reasoning is that Amaechi is not fighting the President as alleged by some sycophantic elements but working for the overall interest of Nigeria.

“I am sure the Presidency is aware that it has lost the battle against Amaechi and that the latest attempt to force PDP governors to remove Amaechi has even  attracted more support and sympathy from the governors for the NGF chairman,” a member of the NGF said.
The furore generated by the emergence of the PDP GF is likely to shape the PDP political landscape for some time to come and may largely determine how far the party can go in the next general elections.

Although the Presidency and the PDP have dismissed the fusion of four opposition parties into the All Progressives’ Congress, APC, as a non-issue, the lingering war by PDP governors and the assumption by its leadership that it is a family matter that can be resolved as usual before the polls, may hasten its defeat at the polls and halt the advancement of the party in the country after 14 years of dominance.

Kano State elder statesman, Tanko Yakassi, has warned that the PDP GF is capable of weakening the party, saying that there was no justification for its formation in the first place.

Yakassi noted, “I do not know how the PDP came to the conclusion that the best thing to do at this point in time is to set up its own governors’ forum.  As far as I am concerned, the move has no motive than to strip Amaechi naked and make him and Babangida Aliyu subservient to Akpabio.

“What those behind the action should know is that it does not speak well of the party especially at a time when the opposition parties have seen the need to work together and they have merged into one strong entity.

“Those who mooted the idea of the new PDP governors’ forum should remember the simple saying that ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.

“Whatever must have informed the decision to set up a separate PDP governors’ forum, I do not think that it is a healthy development.

“If PDP has been surviving as a single party, I do no reason for splitting into small units now,” Yakassi said.

But Bamanga Tukur, the PDP National Chairman, on Wednesday tried to play down on the resentment that has attended the formation of the PDP GF, saying that it was not meant to weaken the NGF, headed by Amaechi, who he praised highly during a flying visit to Port Harcourt during which he was taken round some projects by the governor.

Tukur also dismissed as a personal opinion the suggestion by Babangida Aliyu that Jonathan formed the PDP GF to kill the NGF.

“Well, it is an opinion by the Niger State governor. It doesn’t mean that all our governors agree with him,” the PDP Chairman said.
Whether the crisis that has engulfed the PDP governors on one hand, and the NGF on the other, is real or imaginary remains to be seen in the days ahead and only then will the nation know who wins or loses the war of attrition that has just begun in earnest.

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