NGF: A Catalyst For Development And Peer Review

Eremie-CopyWhat is your reaction to the revival of the NGF?
FOR me it is a positive one given the promise the forum holds for Nigeria’s development. Positive because I think they would learn from their mistakes and have a determination to work harder and better for the development of the nation. They can come together and move their states forward through that forum.

What will you blame for the polarisation of the forum?
Politics; it became the overriding consideration, instead of development and governance. And by the time they started playing intra and interparty politics, naturally the NGF had to collapse. It got to a point where the governors became commited to their parties and the faction of their parties they belong to. I think the just concluded 2015 general elections didn’t help matters. Shortly after their own election, they went into serious national campaign, leaving the forum where it is now.

Factions unknown to many people are parts and parcels of democracy. We cannot all agree on procedure, issues and all that, but the problem of the NGF was its failure to manage its factions. And part of it, is because many of the people there were looking at their political future and in considering their political future, the NGF became secondary. But we now have a new dispensation, which affords everybody the opportunity to rebuild the forum and to move the nation forward.

By your estimation, of what relevance really is the NGF?
Very relevant. The fact that the forum has not been able to put its house together does not make it irrelevant. It is a relevant organisation. Though, it is not in the constitution, if they use that forum very well, it will bring about development and peer review. They can be a powerful lobby group, when it comes to the centre; they can also be used to develop inter-state trade and to do a lot of things. You know labour is a Federal issue. If government is dealing with labour, they say labour and Federal Government and when a resolution is made they say go to the state. NGF could be a forum, where state level labour leaders can go and discuss with the governors and get things done faster. So far, the NGF has not lived up to these expectations. It holds a lot of promise, but because of politics they have not been able to do what they are supposed to do. This kind of forum exists elsewhere and we can make it work better here. Let us have the political commitment and determination, then, we can move forward.

Can you highlight some of the achievements of the NGF since its inception?
It has been a worthy talk shop. Governors from all the states, before they fell apart, use to meet and interact. As a forum for discussion, they have achieved a lot in the past, but we want it to go beyond that. When you discuss we want to see your resolution been implemented in the states. We want to see your membership bring direct positive development to the states. Until they do that, with what they have now, they have not done so much.

What are these expectations?
Firstly, they should tell Nigerians that they exist and that these are their aims and reasons for coming together. Secondly, they should also tell Nigerians the relevance of the forum and when people begin to see direct derivatives from it like good governance, basis amenities, then people will appreciate the forum. When good policies and programmes in one state are seen replicated in other states, then you can say they are doing well.

Isn’t NGF then a distraction?
It is not, but it has to be reorganized or restructured. It should be assessed the way we assess other institutions in this country. The problems we are talking about in reference to the NGF is not limited to it, because such problems exist at all the levels of governance in this country. We need restructuring, determination and commitment to have a good forum. It is not a distraction. Like I said, it is a peer review mechanism. If it is reorganised, it is going to be a place for lobbying, collective bargaining and building interstate relations. The governors don’t even understand why that forum should be there in the first place. If they know why they should belong to that forum they will work together. If they know that the membership of that organisation is a good one, then they will work towards it. For now, it is just a way of parading affluence and all that. They should go beyond that.

How can the forum insulate itself from politics ahead of 2019?
They need maturity. The tendencies for it to meddle in politics will come up, but they need to downplay it. They can resolve to say look, you can go to your party and do all the politics there, but when you come to the NGF, they will insist these are our goals. Don’t come here and show party slogans, don’t come here and campaign, but lets talk about our forum. They need to put some checks in place and anybody who is not ready to play by the rules can be excused out. I think until they cage the demon of politics, they will not move forward.

How can the demon of politics be caged in a forum of politicians?
Again, I will say commitment and determination. You have been voted into power and your people want to see you working for them. So, if you are ready to use the NGF, as a forum for getting resources for development of your state, then you will downplay politics. There is no governor or president who can succeed in Nigeria except he is able to downplay politics. If you insist on politics, then you cannot even get the best brains. If their primary preoccupation is how do we create employment in our various states, how do we have alternative sources of revenues, how do we manage our funds better, and because these issues are so engaging, politics will not even be considered. Politics will be deemphasised.  You want at the end of the day to say this is my scorecard, this is what I did for my people, so, politics becomes a secondary issue.

Between now and the next election is four years, so, we can go back to the issue of governance. But the tragedy of the Nigerian State is that, the day the man takes oath of office, he thinks of reelection and so politics comes in. let them deemphasise politics. In the National Assembly, how do they pass bills? Even when you have many parties there, they still pass bills into laws. You also know that the laws that are passed by the National Assembly come from different parties, yet they still cooperate to get things done. So, the governors can do the same thing, if they put the interest of their states first, if they do this; they will be able to achieve a lot through the forum.

Will you describe as healthy the NGF and Federal Government disagreement in the past over sharing of excess crude fund and sovereign wealth fund?
The NGF as a group can say the states are not getting their fair deal from the Federal government and vent their frustration within the acceptable and available legal means. I don’t see anything wrong in that. I don’t even consider that as being confrontational. If they are not getting what they are supposed to get, they should complain, seek redress and they should meet federal authorities concerned. It is not a problem, as long as they are doing it within the acceptable constitutional, legal and moral means.

How will the NGF avert the presidency meddling in its affairs?
The president taking sides is a matter of how one looks at it. If the intervention of the president makes the NGF to collapse, then we will put a big question mark on the governors. What were they doing in that forum in the first place? If they had clear objectives and goals, nobody will break them. They should let any president know that they are not there to fight Federal government, but to develop their states. If the country develops, he (the president) too can claim part of the glory whether he is working with the governors or not. They should put their cards on the table and I think any government at the centre will want to work with the forum because with it he can reach all parts of the country with ease. Through the governors you can tap a lot of resources for development.

The problem of public office holders in Nigeria like we have been saying is that criticisms of their policies and programmes are seen as attacks on their persons. It shouldn’t be so. If the NGF does not support the policy of the Federal Government, the Federal Government should be democratic enough to allow differences of opinion, approaches and so on. However, for whatever policy the NGF is not comfortable with, let the governors give alternative policy choices. Look, we don’t like this policy, which then is the best option? They should be able to tell us what to do. If this happens, they become more relevant, they become agents of development, they become co-labourers with the Federal government in administering the country.

How can the new NGF leadership avoid the pitfalls of the past?
By first studying what were the causes of the problems and once you have a good understanding of those problems, the second thing is a resolve not to make those mistakes again and then determine to move the NGF forward. What are the aims, objectives and goals of the NGF? Let them go back to these. They should be accountable to the Nigerian people who voted for them in their various states. When you do this, the forum will become more productive, more relevant and the membership of the forum will become more rewarding to the states.

What kind of NGF do you envisage for Nigeria?
I envisage a new NGF that will be a forum for the articulation of state interest in this country. I envisage one that will take peer review very seriously, where they will look at what is happening here and say can we copy this, what are your advise or what can we avoid from what is happening here? I envisage a forum that can position itself as an agent for engaging labour. There are lots of strikes going on in the states. I see a forum that should come up with new ways of raising revenues for their states; this over-dependence on federation account for revenues is not helping them. So, they should come up with ways of diversifying their economies now. If you diversify the economy at the state level, you have diversified the economy of the country.

How should the NGF select its leadership?
They need level headed governor to be their leader. Let me say this, it is not a crime, according to our law books for anybody to have an ambition. But the NGF should have a standard. Whatever your ambition is do not use this forum as a platform to advance it. They need a leader, who is moderate in his views and means to pursue his objectives. They need a mature leader that can handle hot issues, make them cold and not the extremist type.

What is your advise to those who are opposed to the NGF?
They should allow it. It is good. It would enable the governors tap from one another or lean on one another. The failure of the past should not discourage them from trying again. It could serve as platform to resolve their differences.

What is your advice to the new chairman of the forum?
I will advise him to look at what went wrong in the past and avoid them. He should be open-minded and convince the presidency and the National Assembly that they are not a parallel Federal Government, but that they are out to develop the country.

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