2015: Year of governors’ dilemma | Independent Newspapers Limited
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2015: Year of governors’ dilemma

Posted: Apr 29, 2015 at 12:22 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Augustine Adah,  Lagos


It is a common practice in Nigeria for an outgoing governor to make sure that his successor is his choice candidate. Many Nigerians would not forget how in 2007, the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, did all he could to ensure that governor Theodore Orji who was his Chief of Staff, succeeded him as the governor of God’s Own State, despite the fact that Orji was in EFCC’s detention at that time. The situation was not peculiar  to Abia as several state governors like Ibrahim Idris of Kogi State,  Peter Obi of Anambra State,  Donald Duke of Cross River State, Bukola Saraki of Kwara  State,  among others, were other examples of governors in that category. They believe that if they succeed in enthroning a political godson, there would be continuity in policy direction. But more importantly, commentators point out that installing a choice candidate as governor would ensure that past misdeeds were not exposed by the incoming administration. That could be the reason why many of them use all forms of political devices to ensure that they have their way. Very often, their preferred candidate may not be the choice of the people.


Antithesis of godfatherism

Judging by the result of the last general elections, one may be tempted to say that the former all-powerful governors are now losing grip on grassroots politics in their states and it may not be business as usual. Some of the governorship candidates who have the backing of the second term governors did not only lose out in the election, some of the governors failed to realize their own senatorial ambitions in their respective states, especially in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In Benue State, the desire of the outgoing governor of the state, Gabriel Suswam, to ensure that his preferred governorship candidate, Terhemen Tarzoor of PDP, succeed him as the next governor of  Benue State did not only fail,  Suswam who was the former member of House of Representatives also had his dream of becoming a senator representing  Benue North-East  crashed. He was defeated by a sitting senator and former National Chairman of PDP, Engr. Barnabas Gemade.

Similar fate befell the governor of Niger State and Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, who lost the Niger-East Senatorial election to David Umar of APC. The governorship election was also won by the candidate of the APC, against the governor’s plan. The PDP candidate, Umar Nasco, was defeated by Abubakar Bello of APC.

Though the governor of Plateau State and factional Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Jonah Jang, won the contest to represent Plateau North Senatorial District, the governorship candidate of the party, Gyang Pwajok, who was fully backed by Jang, was defeated by his APC counterpart. It was believed that Jang and his godson, Pwajok, had intended to swap positions so that while Jang would take over Pwajok’s senatorial seat, the latter would take over the former’s governorship position. Pwajok ended up with nothing.

In Delta State, it was popularly believed that Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was initially backing a retired Permanent Secretary in Government House, Tony Obuh, but was rumoured to have back-pedalled, especially as it became clear that the PDP leadership preferred Senator Ifeanyi Okowa who later won the election. However, Uduaghan is also believed to have sacrificed his ambition to be senator when it became clear that political arrangement in the state as perfected by the party would be affected.


Imposition and impunity

It has been argued that one of the reasons why the governors lost in their bid was as a result of imposition that characterized the earlier primary elections.  For example, the Benue State governor-elect, Dr. Samuel Ortom, contested the governorship primary under PDP and left the party to pick the APC ticket after he was schemed out of the primary election which was described by some political analysts as a charade.  Ortom who was the former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, according to some political observers, possessed a better political clout than the candidate of the PDP in the state.

Many believed that it would have been difficult for APC to defeat PDP the way it happened without the self-seeking ambition of some influential politicians in the state chapter of PDP, including the governor. The failure of PDP to win the governorship election was attributed to protracted crisis in the state chapter of the party. For a long time, leaders of the party in the state, including the former governor of the state, Fidelis Tapgun, were not happy with the way the governor of the state, Jonah Jang, had been handling the affairs of the state. They complained that the governor took decisions without carrying leaders of the party in the state along.

The climax was his imposition of the governorship candidate of the party, Senator Gyang Pwajok by undermining zoning arrangement in the state. Senator Pwajok hails from Plateau North, the same zone as himself. Analysts and political observers did not expect the next governor of the state with different ethnic and religious differences to come from the same zone as the outgoing governor.

But Jang worked to ensure that other aspirants did not succeed in the primary except Pwajok. In Plateau State, the understanding among the people is that Plateau South should produce the next governor of the state because the other two zones have had their turn. For example, Joshua Dariye who was the governor of the state between 1999-2007 is from Plateau Central, while the incumbent governor who would be completing his two term tenure on May 29 is from the North. It was therefore expected that in 2015, the south should be given the opportunity to produce the next governor of the state.

But according to Tapgun, Jang did not listen to the voice of wisdom but insisted of having his way in ensuring that power still remained in the northern part of the state where he comes from.  Though PDP won the presidential and national assembly elections in the state, its candidate was defeated during the governorship election.

In Ebonyi State, the choice of the state governor, Martin Elechi, who was the former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, could not make it at the PDP governorship primaries. He was defeated by David Umahi who won the April 11 governorship elections in the state.  Several states like Rivers, Katsina, Jigawa, Bauchi, witnessed the failure of the outgoing governors to install their favourites as governors of their states.

The decision of the national secretariat of the party to handover the leadership of the party to the sitting governors, irrespective of other leaders in the state, has contributed to a lot of impunity in the party. Many of the governors who were given the party structures became undemocratic and started using the party machinery to their own advantage without consideration for the overall interest of the party. Those who did not support the idea because they believed that before the governors, they were some party elders who should not be ignored, attributed the failure of some governors to their high-handedness, caused by the party’s directives.  The imposition of candidates brought wrangling in many state chapters of political parties which in most cases could not be resolved before the elections.


Poor performance

Another thing that counted against some governors in the last election where they failed to get a ticket to the National Assembly or install their political surrogates as governors was bad governance.  Some of the governors were disconnected from the people at the grassroots and the people were only waiting for election time to pay back the chief executives in their coins.  For example, the loss of Gabriel Suswan in the senatorial election and the PDP governorship candidate did not come to many political watchers as a surprise.  The governor never had it cordial with civil servants in the state. For many months he was unable to pay them and when they complained, he described many of them as ungrateful because he increased their salaries when he came in as governor. In addition, when the race for Benue-East Senatorial seat became a contentious issue between him and Chief Barnabas Gemade who was the former Managing Director of Benue Cement Company Ltd, and former National Chairman of PDP, several stakeholders, including the leadership of the party, advised him to step down for his elder brother but he turned down the advise and vowed that he would defeat Gemade at the poll.

All this happened in addition to the internal crisis that engulfed the governorship primaries as a result of the non-transparent manner the election was held which produced the former speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, Terhemen Tazoor, who was the governor’s favourite as candidate of the party. It was therefore not surprising in many quarters that APC won the general elections in the state.


Triumph of the people’s will

Political observers who gave INEC kudos for conducting better elections this year, compared with what happened in 2011, described the failure of some governors as a good omen for our political development. They argued that it is a good omen for our democratic experience. Mallam Usman Bichi, a political commentator based in Kaduna, told Daily Independent that the outcome of the last general elections has sent a warning signal to governors and politicians to shape up or shape out.

‘I believe that our democratic experience is getting more mature and, with few years to come, political godfathers would be put in the place they belong,” he said. He further stated that with what has happened in some states, the incoming governor will be better positioned to prove some of the misdeeds of the outgoing governors which may not be necessarily to witch-hunt but for administrative planning and to guide against such mistakes in the past. In addition, many Nigerians believed that unless the political influence of godfathers was whittled down, the much talked about delivering dividends of democracy to the people will be a mirage. At a sensitization workshop in Lagos recently, members of civil society groups lamented the growing influence of godfathers in the nation’s democratic experience.

While they did not condemn the existence of the group, they expressed deep concern that the manner in which godfather politicians have dominated the political space with their selfish interests. They compared the present situation with the politics of the First and Second Republics and concluded that the present godfathers were self-centred and thought more of themselves than the good of the society. They further expressed delight in the conduct of the last elections and described them as the beginning of great things to happen in the country.


End of political career

The defeat of some governors at the last general elections may have a question mark on their future political career. Though the governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, has ruled out the possibility of defecting to the ruling APC, his political career may suffer a setback as a result of his defeat. Aliyu was quoted as saying recently that he would rather resign from politics than join APC. The chief servant governor as he usually refered to himself was one of the seven PDP governors regarded as Judas among those who clamoured for reforms in PDP.  Later the group formed what they called the New PDP, but when the group found it difficult to operate without legal backing they all, except Aliyu and Lamido, defected to the APC after it had been registered as a political party by INEC.

Their recent humiliation at the poll may temporarily send the governors to some sort of political wilderness or retirement because if PDP fails to get power back in 2019 as expected, many of them would lose political relevance. The former Minister of Works has described the desire of PDP to get power back in 2019 as unrealizable. While speaking to Daily Independent recently in Lagos, Ogunlewe said: “Anybody who is strategizing to take power back in 2019 is wasting his time because the power will remain in the north for the next eight years.”

Similarly, the President of Arewa community in Lagos, Kabiru Abdullahi,  said it was difficult for PDP to get power back because they failed to utilize the opportunity. “PDP cannot get the opportunity again because APC government will perform to the admiration of Nigerians,” he said. “Once a government is performing there is no need to change,” he said. It is not clear what may be the fate of the governor of Jigawa State who was a member of the group that initiated the nPDP, but recently, the governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, described Lamido as a betrayal.

He claimed that they both agreed to dump PDP but he later had a change of mind. Some political pundits are speculating that the governor who failed to deliver the state to PDP may defect to APC or may champion the reformation of PDP in preparation for future elections. Lamido who is alleged to be very close to former President Olusegun Obasanjo was former Minister of Foreign Affairs during Obasanjo’s first term in office.