NGF: A FORUM AND ITS MISPLACED PRIORITIES
Kwara State Governor, Bukola S
Many Nigerian leaders have a lot in common with Emperor Nero of Rome. While Rome was being consumed by fire, the emperor was rumoured to be on the summit of the Palatine playing his lyre. Although he was said to have rushed back to the city from Antium to direct efforts aimed at quelling the fire, many Romans believed the rumour that Nero was playing the fiddle (violin) while the city was burning.
Not a few Nigerians have expressed concern about the interference of the Nigeria Governors' Forum in issues that are purely federal when states are grappling with problems, particularly the cash crunch, that is threatening their existence.
Their constant trips to Abuja for matters that many consider as not within their purview have also been criticised in spite of benefits states can derive from the association.
Even though the forum was established in 1999, it assumed prominence in the polity in the last two years. The NGF, comprising 36 state governors, is aimed at promoting democratic ethos and strengthening the country.
The group, on its website, http://www.nggovernorsforum.org, also explained that it was meant to impact positively on 'public policies and common interests.'
As part of efforts to convince Nigerians that the governors have been giving democratic dividends to Nigerians, the forum set up a peer review mechanism.
According to the Director-General of the forum, Mr. Bayo Okauru, 'In the course of this exercise, we want to be able to harvest unique governance practices in a state that could be benchmarked by other states. This will also help us showcase strengths and opportunities in the various states.'
Since November 23, 2009, when the late President Umaru Yar'Adua travelled to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, the group has been influencing major national issues.
While the nation was battling with problems arising from the illness of Yar'Adua, the NGF was said to have supported the late president's cabal that wanted the ailing leader to continue in office in spite of his incapacitation.
Despite protests by the laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; Save Nigeria Group and other civil rights organisations against the vacuum created by Yar'Adua's absence, the forum preferred to maintain the status quo.
The NGF and Soyinka had condemned the late President for leaving the country without handing over to his deputy, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
In the heat of the crisis, the Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, presented a memo to the Federal Executive Council, asking Yar'Adua to write a vacation letter to the Senate as required by Section 145 of the Constitution.
Insisting on the need for the late President to submit the letter, Akunyili, said, 'We need to do what is morally right and constitutional for the President to officially hand over to the vice-president to function as acting president. If he does not, we can invoke whichever aspect of the constitution that should make the vice-president an acting president.'
The governors were said to have lambasted Akunyili for daring to write the memo, saying there was no vaccum.
After one of it meetings, the NGF Chairman, Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, said, 'The NGF appreciates the provisions of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in relation to the office of the President and Vice-President.
'The forum also identified with the judgments of the courts on the same and agreed that the position of Acting (President) could either be verbal or written and the vice-president has been appropriately acting admirably. The forum calls on all arms of government to continue to give full and total support to the Acting President until the President returns, in the interest of our dearly beloved country, Nigeria.'
When the voices of governors were drowned by the majority who were clamouring that the vacuum be filled, they (governors) had no option than to support the National Assembly which recognised Jonathan as Acting President in February.
Althoguh Yar'Adua returned to the country on February 24 after spending three months at King Faisal Specialist Jeddah, he had not recuperated enough to resume work.
The governors dismissed calls for the resignation of Yar'Adua, who in spite of his return, was held incommunicado by his cabal.
The cabal, again, found a strong ally in the NGF, which said that Yar'Adua should not resign. After a meeting with Jonathan at the Akinola Aguda House on March 2, the chairman of the NGF said that the resignation of Yar'Adua was not discussed but stressed that government officials (obviously referring to Akunyili) should 'watch their utterances.'
The governors opposed plans by ministers to declare Yar'Adua incapacitated. They said that Jonathan should continue in his acting capacity. The governors insisted that Yar'Adua would not be replaced until a new president was elected.
The forum was also said to have supported the retention of the former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu,, who was widely known to have conducted the worst election in the nation's history.
But while the governors have been intervening in policies at the federal level, reports have shown that their states are facing financial crises and may not be able to pay salaries of their workers. These reports came as roads and other infrastructure in many states are begging for repair.
An online financial intelligence website, economicconfidential.com, reported last week that the cash crunch was due to dwindling revenue from oil, reckless spending by some state governments and arbitrary deductions to pay for the Joint Venture Cash Calls.
The website learnt that only Lagos, Kano and Rivers states might survive the looming crunch, unless President Goodluck Jonathan approved the release of more funds from the Excess Crude Account, to beef-up the monthly allocations from the Federation Account.
The report said that with less than $5bn left in the Excess Crude Account, if revenues plummet further, many states would be grounded financially. It stated that only a few of them may be able to pay the salaries of civil servants salaries in the next three months. On Monday, the Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Ibrahim Dankwabo, said that the excess crude account had reduced to $4.6bn from $62bn in 2008.
In a desperate attempt to get out of the woods, some states have resorted to raising funds from the stock market. Ogun State and Cross River states recently declared that their revenues had dwindled. The Cross River State Government has been pressing the Federal Government to redress last year's transfer of 76 oil wells belonging to it to Akwa Ibom State on the grounds that the situation is hurting its finances.
Commenting on the activities of the NGF, the Secretary of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamc Affairs, Dr. Lateef Adegbite described the incursion of the governors into federal affairs as strange.
He said, 'The political system in Nigeria is strange with the inclusion of governors into the federal governance. I'm not accusing the governors of mischief, but I think the President ought to really liberate himself from any circle, whether it is from the governors or the National Assembly because the National Assembly can say they are the executive authority. So, the President must really extricate himself.'
Also, the National Publicity of the Action Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that the forum was alien to the constitution of the country. According to him, the NGF has assumed a larger than life posture.
He stated that although the constitution allows people to form association, the NGF was inimical to the interests of Nigerians.
Mohammed, said, 'They look after their own interests and are always in Abuja all the time. They should stay in their states and do what they are supposed to do.' According to him, Nigerians will lose nothing if there is no governors' forum.