FAYEMI: We Need Robust Engagement Among Governors, And The Federal Government
Dr. Kayode Fayemi is former governor of Ekiti State. Speaking with KAMAL TAYO OROPO on the crisis that rocked the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), under former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, he said the continuous existence of the body is paramount to the deepening of democratic ethos of the country
There are fresh attempts at repositioning the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). As one of those who endured the 2014 crisis, what would you say constitute the importance of the forum to the growth of the nation’s democracy?
WELL, in my understanding, the governors’ forum was a creation of necessity. In every polity, where you have the governors playing the roles that they play as the drivers of federating units, they have interests, they have concerns, they have issues that are critical to the running of their states, as well as, the stability of the polity.
And giving the critical power that they have been invested with by the Constitution, it stands to reasons that they would normally want to live up to the responsibilities of their offices. And one of the ways of doing that is by ensuring that they promote the interest of their states within the polity, in accordance to the Nigerian Constitution.
One thing we must also get clear about them is that Nigeria is not the only country in the world where the governors have forum to agitate collective interests.
We have the Forum for Provincial Premiers in South Africa, we have the National Governors Association in the United States of America, we have similar forum in Canada, and also in Australia.
There is nothing that the n Governors Forum does that is uniquely Nigerian. It is an association of governors, dedicated to promoting the interest of governors, ensuring that they can peer review themselves and learn from one another in the interest of deepening our democratic governance in the country, and I believe they play that role quite effectively in the course of the past 16 years of our fledging democracy.
To what extent should the presidency be involved in the leadership of the governors’ forum?
Well, I guess the president is the father of all and he, as an individual, also has personal interest to stabilise the polity and strengthen his own position too, as well as, his own capacity to deliver on the promises he has made to the country. And if he feels that governors are very critical to ensuring that, that happens, he would want to be on the same page with governors, or at least to be in the good books of the majority of them. But in a situation where he runs counter to the general body of opinion, amongst governors, then that poses some challenges to such a president.
What we saw in the unfortunate development in 2014, was a president who decided that he needed to control what is going on in the governors forum, whereas governors, chose that the president really does not have any controlling right over the activities of governors and should not have the controlling right over the activities. But that does not mean that they should not cooperate with him on matters that are pertinent to the running of the State.
But in that particular scenario, there were challenges that the governors had with the president regardless of political party affiliations. They had issues with the running of the Excess Crude Account (ECA). They had issues with the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), which was unitarily and unconstitutionally put in place by the government. There were issues of the illegal deductions from the federation account. The governors, as I said, regardless of party affiliations, had issues with money being spent without being appropriated. These were the fundamental issues.
Unfortunately, some people leave the fundamentals aside and focus on the personal and the personality issues that were there at a time, ‘oh, Governor Amaechi does not get on well with the President. Mr. A has problem with Mrs. B’ and so on. These were not the fundamental issues at stake. I was not a member of the ruling party of the time, but I was with the (campaign) managers during the NGF election and they had nothing to do with party affiliations. It was later that some came and joined my own party.
Now that your party is in clear majority at the state and federal, comprising the executive and the legislature, what assurances are there that the forum would play expected roles and not relapse into controversies?
It is the same advice that we gave former President Goodluck Jonathan that we will give our own president. Governors should run their own affairs; it is their association. If the President wants them to engage on issues that are of mutual benefit to states and the Federal Government, there must be a forum for meeting and discussing such. And even before coming in, the APC governors have gone to see the President-elect to discuss issues that they considered to be fundamental to the development of the Nigerian-state. And these are issues that would continue to run, including challenges that they are having with the economy of their states, regards to payment of salaries; we discussed issue like that with the President. And those are not issues that are strictly APC related; states that are not paying salaries are not just APC, there are also PDP states.
So, it is in the collective interest to the Nigerian-state that we do not run into a belaboured gate in the immediate assumption of office of the new government and I believe that is an issue that will interest the new president, it’s an issue that will interest all the new governors and it is an issue that will interest all the returning governors. These are issues we have discussed, fully resolved that should be eradicated through no small effort of the governors.
There are issues that are specific to political parties and then, there are issues that are generic to all governors, as well as, issues that would necessitate dealing with the President of the Federation.
In specifics, what are the assurances from your party that the public would not be entertained with a repeat performance of the in-fighting and intrigues that crippled the NGF?
Frankly, anyone who knows the new President knows that he is a systems man. I don’t see President Buhari unduly interfering in matters that are specifically related to the governors. I don’t see him playing the invisible roles that his predecessor, President Jonathan, played in undermining the Governors’ Forum and setting it on the path of divide and rule, which has only just been resolved recently with the coming together of both sides. And I commend all those involved in that effort. I commend Governor Godswill Akpabio, Governor Rotimi Amaechi, Governor Gabriel Suswan, Governor Adams Oshiomole and all the other governors that have come from both sides of the divide in ensuring that we move forward; that we heal the wounds.
What lessons are there to learn?
There are lessons to be learnt from that. That is, governors’ business is their businesses. But there are businesses that they, the governors, have that also infringe on the interest of the Federal Government.
In matters of that nature, I will hope that the new President would engage them in a robust manner, listen to the point of view, state the point of view of the Federal Government, ensure that the rule of law and the constitution is followed and amicably resolve whatever issues arising between the Federal Government and the states.
And I believe President Buhari is going to do that. I believe he is not going to ride roughshod on the states. He knows these states are federating unit and they have jurisdictional responsibilities and where these things intermingle, they would work together. And don’t forget, we in the majority with 22 states of the federation. Consequently, they are his own people, but more importantly, President Buhari is not going to restrict his support just to his own party men, which was another problem that we had with former President Jonathan at a time.
There was such irresponsible preferential treatment for those who are from his side of the divide, to the detriment of all other governors regardless how well stated our cases were. I don’t think the President should behave in
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