LOOKING BEYOND THE DISTRACTION CALLED GOVERNORS FORUM
One of the biggest obstacles to democracy in Nigeria is the fact that it has been hijacked and is being piloted by elements who are deeply allergic to democratic principles. Indeed, when our governors (through the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF) opted to freely elect its new chairman some days back, I had suspected that such a move would be akin to asking a group of chronically anaemic patients to freely donate blood. Assuredly, the end-result of such a contemplation was bound to be inevitably catastrophic.
True to expectation, the unfolding, sordid spectacle that has characterized the conduct of the NGF election has shown quite forcefully that the commitment of our governors to democracy is hugely superficial and largely self-serving. To appreciate this point, one has to be clear on the true essence and purpose of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, and second, we need to remind ourselves about the real character and predispositions of its constituent elements - the governors themselves.
In principle, the logic that underlies the evolution of the body called Governors Forum, especially in saner societies, is dictated by the need for peer review i.e. providing a platform where governors exchange meaningful experiences and ideas regarding best practices for effective governance in their respective states. Paradoxically, the Nigerian version of Governors Forum has metamorphosed into a veritable hostage-taking outfit; one where even the country's president is a potential captive. As a body, it has become so powerful (and indeed, so politicized) as a means of marshalling power and projecting narrow, political interests. It had always played a pivotal role in defining the political equation during major elections, determining who becomes the president and even ensuring that such presidential nominees emerge exclusively from its fold.
At such, the exercise of political control over the NGF has become a major determinant factor for political survival. The simmering acrimony between the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, and the estranged Chairman of the NGF, Rotimi Amaechi, has made this struggle (this battle of control) particularly intense, fiery and highly implacable. Contrary to the democratic pretensions of the NGF, the group has remained functional as a weapon for the pursuit of power. This point becomes clearer when we take a closer look at what these governors (these supposed champions of free and fair election within its fold) has done in their various states in the name of democracy.
In the guise of practising democracy, our governors have killed the local government system and rendered it completely useless as the closest tier of government to the Nigerian people. By insisting on operating joint accounts with the L.G.As, our governors are virtually engaging in daylight robbery by wilfully hijacking resources meant for local governments and expending them in ways that are immensely arbitrary and clearly unaccountable. Our local governments have, so to say, become glorified, institutional Almajiris; their capacity to deliver developmental projects within their constituencies strictly tied to the whims and caprices of state governors.
While some of our governors wax so eloquent about being "the best governor," "action governor," "most performing governor." etc, countless number of communities and hinterlands within their various states remain completely detached from civilization and qualitative life. In most of these areas, feeder roads are completely broken down and un-navigable, sanitary conditions are appallingly precarious while social services such as education and health remain an extortionate luxury.
Apart from the issue of fiscal autonomy for L.G.As and its repudiation by state governors, the issue of local government elections have become one huge joke due, essentially, to the inclination of our governors to corrupt everything and bend every process in the service of naked power. In the name of organizing local government polls, the various local councils are treated as conquered colonies and candidates imposed on the people through imposition or executive fiat. To secure electoral victory, every known democratic tenet is wilfully subverted under the watchful eyes of state governors to secure electoral landslide for their parties.
Worse still, the hypocrisy of most of our governors to democracy is brutally exhibited in the way they serially annul the positions of elected chairmen and councillors at their various councils and, in preference, impose caretaker chairmen to run the affairs of such councils. They shy away from conducting elections into council seats to give themselves ample leverage to absolutize power, monopolize the affairs of the councils and exploit their resources without let or hindrance.
Nothing better illustrates the anti-democratic tendencies of our governors than the degree to which they have succeeded in bastardizing the principle of separation of powers by ensuring that the various Houses of Assembly in their states are roundly castrated and rendered subservient to state governors. Our Houses of Assembly lack the independent-mindedness to exercise the powers conferred on them by the Constitution and to work in defence of the overall interest of the public. More often than not, their actions are usually reactive and intended to legitimize the fantasies of an imperial governor. The state legislatures have, in one phrase, become a specie of "zombified", robotic appendage to the various state governors.
To put it succinctly, our governors have remained strongly opposed to grassroots democratization and have, impliedly, become a major impediment to democracy in Nigeria. Democracy is in grave danger when one man superimposes his will tyrannously on the rest of the people, unwilling to permit any dissenting opinion, only interested in hearing echoes of its own voices and seeing shadows of its own images.
Today, our governors are entrapped in a serious controversy propelled by their lack of consensus and unanimity regarding the question of whether its conduct of its chairmanship election was free and fair. As the controversy intensifies, and as the two factions persist in their desperate bid to outmanoeuvre and overrun each other, I end this piece by asking a fundamental question: in whose interest is this struggle being waged and who will be its ultimate beneficiary? How I wish these distractions were truly about ordinary Nigerians and the advancement of their collective wellbeing.