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When governors failed to provide anchor for Sylva

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Even the influential Nigerian Governors' Forum could not provide the much needed political succour to one of their own, Timipre Sylva, who has been edged out of the power play in the Peoples Democratic Party The Nigerian Governors' Forum has come a long way since its creation in 1999. It convened its first meeting in April 1999 with the then Governor of Nasarawa State, Abdullahi Adamu presiding as the chairman. To the governors, the need to come together and form a common front became necessary after 16 years of uninterrupted military rule. After Adamu, the then Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, took over as the chairman of the NGF in 2004 and was succeeded by Chief Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State in 2007. Thereafter, Dr. Bukola Saraki took over as the forum's chairman in 2009 while Governor Rotimi Amaechi was selected to perform in the same capacity in 2011. The role of the forum was not in doubt when it was established as it took some landmark decisions that shaped the political fate of the country. The NGF in 2007 supported the late Umaru Yar'Adua, who was then the governor of Katsina State, to become the President while the current President Goodluck Jonathan was backed to be the vice-president of the country.

  Before then, the forum had played a significant role by dissuading the National Assembly from impeaching Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as the country's President. With their input within four years of the establishment of the forum, the state governors, under the aegis of the NGF, became more powerful as their views were always sought on issues of national interest.

  In the last few days, the governors tried to stretch their powers to ensure that their colleague, the governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, wins the PDP's ticket for a second term in office. While the powerbrokers in the party are openly against Sylva's second term project, the NGF believes the Bayelsa State incumbent governor deserves a second shot at the seat of power in Yenagoa.

  Having been disqualified by the party after a lot of intrigues, the incumbent whose political fortunes continue to dwindle, is currently at the receiving end. To worsen his situation, Sylva's second term bid does not seem to have the blessing of the Presidency. This, to a large extent, affected his failed attempt to get the PDP's endorsement for his campaign.

  To save his political boat from sinking, Sylva had engaged members of the NGF to appeal to President Jonathan to have a rethink on his disqualification as a governorship aspirant of the ruling party. The move to save Sylva began with the governors of the South-South states, who visited the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

  All the South-South governors with the exception of the Edo State governor, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, were at the Presidential Villa to persuade the President to soften his mind. But when it became obvious that the powerbrokers were becoming intransigent on the issue of allowing Sylva to go for a second term, the governors remobilised.

  This time, it was a full house as all the governors, led by their chairman, Amaechi, who pleaded with President Jonathan to support their colleague's ambition. Not known to be hardhearted, Jonathan did not yield to the governors' plea to pave the way for Sylva, who was alleged to have offended the President sometime ago.

  The NGF had intensified effort to pacify the mind of the President on Sylva to no avail. But not a few were wondering why the governors were overstretching their influence as members of the forum in ensuring that one of their members gets a second shot. However, some stakeholders in the state had kicked against the governors' overbearing attitude in matters concerning the Bayelsa election.

  To the stakeholders, the governors have no right to determine who governs the state. Some of them had argued that the people of the state should be allowed to choose their governor. Elders and opinion leaders in Bayelsa did not mince words when they told the governors to mind their business and leave the state's issue as it concerns the governorship election for the electorate.

  They called on the NGF members not to meddle in the political affairs of the state. The elders, who spoke at a news briefing in Abuja, said it was wrong for the governors to continue to mount pressure on President Jonathan and the leadership of the PDP to clear Sylva for the party's primaries. According to the elders, rather than interfere in matters affecting the state, the governors should face the myriad of problems in their respective states with a view to finding solutions to them.

  Earlier, Governor Gabriel Suswan of Benue State had maintained that the pressure was necessary as what happened to Sylva could happen to any of them in the future. The PDP had released the names of seven aspirants for the primaries, but excluded Sylva and some other highly rated politicians and individuals from the state.

  Suswan, however, defended the governors' intervention when he said, 'Because he is our colleague, we take ourselves as governors and we expect that what affects one governor indirectly affects the others as well.' But the elders disagreed with Suswan's position, holding the view that the PDP should be allowed to make use of its internal machinery to determine its candidate for the governorship election.

  Col. Sam Inokoba (retd.), who is the chairman of the group, noted that it was the responsibility of the people of the state to determine who would govern them at all levels. In his words, 'What appears very disturbing about the Bayelsa situation is the attempt by the Governors' Forum to interfere in the PDP governorship candidacy by putting pressure on President Jonathan to ensure the return of Governor Sylva.

  'It is worrisome that the entire PDP governors will leave important state duties in their various states to converge on Abuja to lobby the President and try to convince him to ensure the return of Sylva irrespective of whether he has performed well or not in the eyes of Bayelsans. The chairman of the Governors' Forum, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, as a democrat himself, knows that this is not the best way to force through the candidacy of a colleague.

  'The future of Bayelsa State should be left in the hands of the people of that state and not in the hands of other elected governors, who in the name of camaraderie, want to push at all costs the electoral fortunes of their colleague.'

  Inokoba added that there was nothing wrong if the PDP governors gave a helping hand to a colleague through campaigning for him if he was the party's candidate, but until that decision had been made, the governors had no moral right to influence his adoption by the party.

  Such views were punctured by Suswan, who said the NGF's move was an exercise in self-preservation, adding that if the incumbent Bayelsa governor could be facing such a difficulty, any member of the forum could face a similar experience in future. He pointed out that the governors were interested in resolving the matter and were awaiting a meeting between President Jonathan, the leadership of the PDP and a five-man committee set up by the governors.

  A source in Rivers Government House, who preferred not to be mentioned, told SATURDAY PUNCH that there was nothing wrong in the governors' show of camaraderie on an issue affecting Sylva. He observed that the level of unity among the governors was high and could inform the steps they (governors) had taken to save the Bayelsa State governor. He, however, hoped that the state chief executives, who were mainly PDP governors, would not incur the wrath of the President if they continued to insist that Jonathan should allow Sylva to fly the flag of the PDP.

  But a political scientist based in Port Harcourt, Chief Jackson Omenazu, appealed to President Jonathan to allow the people of Bayelsa to decide who governs them in 2012. Omenazu stated that it was wrong for the President to have allegedly gone as far as using his executive powers to influence the disqualification of an incumbent governor from primaries. He said the President should have recognised the fact that the people of Bayelsa possessed the sovereign will to choose their governor through a primaries and general election.

  Omenazu, who is also a human rights activist, said, 'It is not in the place of Mr. President to usurp the sovereign will of the people of Bayelsa. Whether the governor has performed or not, it is necessary to allow the people of the state to decide. If he (Jonathan) has any interest, which we believe he should naturally have, he should show it by voting for any of the aspirants at the primaries.'

  He explained that the coming election in Bayelsa would only be seen as credible if a level playing ground was allowed to prevail in the contest. He, however, attributed the poor performance of most public office holders to their emergence through fraudulent means, adding that the people should be given the chance to choose their representatives.

  'The disqualification of Sylva can be traced to external interference in Bayelsa politics. It is undemocratic to use executive powers to meddle in Bayelsa politics. There should be a level playing ground for all the governorship aspirants. Let no individual determine who the next governor of Bayelsa will be. That is not acceptable in any real democratic setting,' Omenazu added. He urged the people of Bayelsa not to be deterred by the recent development and support any person they think was capable of developing the state. However, the PDP's confirmation of the disqualification of Sylva showed for once, that the Nigeria Governors Forum is not a political octopus it seems to be. By Chukwudi Akasike(Culled from Punch)