Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, takes a look at the initial steps of the new chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), Chief Rotimi Amaechi, since he assumed chairmanship position of the powerful group.
FROM relative obscurity, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) has moved into a strong position of reckoning in the polity. What started as a gathering of equals sitting down to share experiences and ideas has now grown into a strong pressure group, whose view is virtually relevant in almost all critical political decisions.
Hitherto, kudos for that visibility had gone to the immediate past chairman of the forum, DR. BUKOLA SARAKI, former governor of Kwara State, now a serving senator of the Federal Republic. While former Governor Victor Attah of Akwa-Ibom State and former Governor Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State attempted to give meaning to the NGF when they variously held the office of the chairman, SARAKI was said to have exhibited the inherent powers of the forum when he served as its chairman between 2006 and 2011. He was exceedingly close to the powers-that-be under the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, and was seen as one of the main insiders in government at the national level. During his tenure, the forum became a visible player in the polity, and it was obvious that from such a point, no one could ignore the group.
But much of the gains the NGF recorded under the immediate past Kwara State governor were largely in the area of political influence and power.
SARAKI’s tenure was able to wean the NGF as a potent political tool. With the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at a stage, controlling 28 of the 36 state governors, the word of the governors was almost becoming law. The NGF showed its predatory political power during the days of the late President Yar’Adua, while SARAKI held sway. While the whole nation was looking forward to the National Assembly to either impeache the then ill president or proclaim him unfit to continue in office, the NGF became a power player. Many of the lawmakers who should have taken independent decisions were said to be listening to their governors and then the federal lawmakers foot-dragged. The polity was forced to wait till some interest groups, including some members of the National Assembly, campaigned vigorously against the continuous delay in declaring Yar’Adua unfit. When it became obvious that the polity was becoming uncomfortable with the state of uncertainty around the late Yar’Adua’s health, the NGF also joined the path of public opinion and it was when the influential group gave some form of backing to the resolution of the political logjam that the National Assembly got the courage to go ahead with the now popular Doctrine of Necessity.
While the powers of the NGF have never been in doubt, it was obvious that much of its relevance before now were deployed in the area of politics. With the coming of the Rivers State governor, Chief Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the tide appears to be changing. The NGF appears to be deliberately diverting its energy to the area of service delivery and welfare.
Notwithstanding the uproar that greeted the declaration by members of the NGF, earlier in June, that the implementation of the new minimum wage will be predicated on the review of revenue allocation formula, the intention still remained clear that the Governors’ Forum was not merely out to showcase the nakedness of its collective power. Everyone of the stakeholders in the polity seems to agree that the current revenue allocation formula in place at the federal level has outlived its usefulness.
After absorbing the outrage surrounding the declaration on the revenue formula, the NGF, under Amaechi, moved on to the practicality of stopping the planned industrial action by organised Labour originally fixed for July 20. From Sunday, July 17, tense atmosphere had started pervading the polity.
Workers had started massive mobilisation, preparatory to the three-day warning strike, as if it was the main strike. Their decision was apparently based on the feeling that the Federal Government and the governors were not ready to implement the new wage except with a fight. The governors have all arrived Abuja that Sunday to attend the series of meetings preceding the planned Labour strike.
The Rivers State governor immediately took charge, leaving no one in doubt that the welfare of the Nigerian workers and, indeed the entire people and the nation was uppermost in the minds of his colleagues and the NGF set-up. Members of the NGF had earlier agreed, at a meeting on that day, that they would pay the new minimum wage. That, however, did not douse the tension, as labour leaders insisted that the Wednesday strike must go on as planned.
Late on Monday, Amaechi’s Senior Media Adviser, Mr. David Iyofor, quoted the governor as further appealing to the organised labour to shelve the proposed strike. In a passionate appeal, the Governors’ Forum chairman, according to his media aide, called on the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to put off the planned strike, as government at all levels had agreed to pay the N18,000 minimum wage.
Iyofor, in the statement, said that the governor was appealing to the workers “For the sake of our country and in the interest of Nigeria.’’ The
statement indicated: “Labour should please not embark on the strike action tomorrow. With governors now agreeing to pay the minimum wage, I believe the fundamental issue that should have led to labour going on strike has been resolved. If there are other issues that are still outstanding, these can be easily resolved through dialogue. We, the governors, have accepted to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage, which I believe is the main issue at stake.”
A close observer of the forum said in Abuja on Saturday that the coming of Amaechi at the helmsman of affairs of the NGF had coincided with the new lease of life the forum was being given, adding that the forum was currently directing its attention towards service to the Nigerian people.
“In the past, the NGF battled with an image problem and the general perception that the group is insensitive to the needs and general well-being of Nigerians. But all that now seems to be taking the back seat with the renewed energy put into the fight against the proposed Labour strike by all the governors. With Amaechi as the leader of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, and the role he led the governors to play to avert the labour strike of last week, the forum is setting a new focus for itself,” said the observer.
To political watchers, the dedication of the NGF members to the push to avert the July 20 strike was a sign of new things to come from the forum.
Another source, who have closely being monitoring the activities of the forum, particularly in recent weeks, said: “The meeting between the organised labour and the Federal Government was deadlocked on Monday. Labour and the Federal Government team could also not reach an agreement on the issues and Labour was definitely set to go ahead with the three-day warning strike. But Governor Amaechi and his colleagues in the NGF would not go to sleep until the issues are resolved.
“It was a meeting between the labour leaders and the NGF on Tuesday that broke the ice. After many hours of deliberation, it was agreed that the strike be called off. Labour then went ahead to reach a similar agreement with the Federal Government, which was finally ratified before the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF)”, he said.
With the Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi-led NGF now pushing for an amendment of the revenue allocation formula, which is also being called the quest for true federalism, more practical achievements may be on the way of the forum and the governors, and which may translate into a greater development for the nation.
On the role the Rivers State governor is playing in the new focus of the NGF, Iyofor confirmed that the achievements being attributed to his boss were natural, since, according to him, the man brought extreme commitment to whatever he was doing.
“As an individual, Governor Amaechi brings extreme commitment to whatever assignment or responsibility he is given. Over the years, Governor Amaechi has shown that, to be put in a position where you are able to offer service to the people is a rare privilege that must come with a strong commitment to serve. It is that same spirit that Governor Amaechi has brought into the Nigeria Governors Forum”, he said.
Indeed, Nigerians are watching as Governor Amaechi and his colleagues continue in their strive to more meaning into public administration and effecive governance.