The inability of governors to rescue one of their colleagues, Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, from being forced out of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has further exposed how powerless, the once-powerful and influential forum in the country has become.
Under different fora, governors in the country, until this administration, wielded enormous powers, dictating who gets what at both state and national levels; directing party affairs and dictating for the president as the case was under previous administrations.
From pillar to post, governors of the APC under the aegis of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), chaired by Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, made frantic efforts to save Obaseki.
From their respective states, seven governors, on a rescue mission led by Bagudu, went to Lagos to seek the intervention of the leader of their party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
From Lagos to Abuja, the governors met Adams Oshiomhole and the mission was crowned with a visit to the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
All efforts by the governors, however, didn’t yield needed result as Obaseki was disqualified from participating in the party’s primary over discrepancies in his certificates.
A development that led to the governor’s sojourn to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Obaseki is on the verge of picking his new party’s ticket.
Will his colleagues back in the APC support him to actualise his second term bid in another party?
Pundits are watching.
Obaseki was not the first to be treated in such manner, former Lagos State Governor Akinwumi Ambode, got the same treatment in 2018.
Following his rift with Tinubu, Ambode was edged out of the governorship race when he was defeated by the anointed candidate of his godfather, (Tinubu), Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at the party’s governorship primary.
From the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) which was birthed in 1999 with Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa) as pioneer chairman, governors now have many fora to champion and advance their interests including the PGF for governors elected on the APC and the Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum (PDPGF) for those elected on the platform of PDP.
Regional fora of the governors also exist.
During the 16 years reign of the PDP, governors were not only influential in states, their influence was extended to the federal level.
Ministerial, board and other federal appointments were decided by the governors.
Through the party, the governors nominated those to be considered for appointment by the president.
The trend changed when President Muhammadu Buhari came on board.
As president-elect, Buhari jettisoned the tradition which was embedded in the polity by the PDP when he told governors elected on the platform of APC that he would not consider nominees from them for ministerial appointment.
Before Buhari was sworn-in in 2015, the then PGF chairman, Rochas Okorocha, led members of the forum to visit him.
During the visit, they reportedly submitted names of their preferred ministerial nominees to Buhari.
He, however, rejected them, and he was quoted to have jocularly asked the governors whether he appointed their commissioners for them.
Pundits believe that, by that action, the president laid the foundation for whittling down the governors’ powers.
In March, a gang up of more than half of the APC governors to oust Oshiomhole failed when Tinubu, a former governor came to the rescue of the former labour leader regarded as his stooge.
Buhari using enormous power to keep govs at bay – Prof Odion
Commenting on the development, Prof. Sylvester Odion, a Political Scientist at the University of Lagos, said former President Goodluck Jonathan was more urbane and humble.
He said the governors capitalised on his humility to trample on him.
He said President Buhari, on his part, has not tolerated the governors like his predecessor and deployed the enormous power of the presidency to keep them at bay.
Odion noted that many of the governors cannot control the president because they are also “heavily compromised”.
The don said in a proper federation, the governor was an autonomous chief executive of the state with coordinate powers with the president.
“So if the governor violates the constitution, the state House of Assembly has the power to impeach him.
“It happened in the Second Republic and people wondered whether there was rationale to do so.
“Balarabe Musa was removed in Kaduna.
“We have seen a few impeachments in the last couple of years.
“The structures of political parties currently in the country have not allowed for state legislatures to be able to exercise their autonomy because the governors have acted as gatekeepers in terms of who gets elected, who gets the party’s ticket or any position.
“That’s an abnormality,” he said.
It negates party growth – Prof Baba
For his part, Professor Yahaya Tanko Baba of the Department of Political Science, Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, said the influence of governors dwindled between 2015 and now.
“From 1999 up until 2015 when the APC wrested power from the then ruling PDP, governors and particularly governors’ forum constituted themselves as the most powerful and influential political platform in Nigeria’s democratic process,” he said.
Baba said in 2011, Jonathan wouldn’t have been endorsed as the PDP flag bearer without the support of PDP governors forum.
According to him, the breakaway of five PDP governors in 2015 contributed largely to the defeat of the incumbent PDP in the April presidential elections.
“Ever since, however, the power and influence began to diminish as the ruling APC recognises the supremacy of the party in decision making process,” he said.
The don said the popularity of President Buhari and his non-interference disposition in party affairs made matters worse for the governors.
“This led to the emergence of ‘big men’ in the ruling party that call the shots.
“Party leaders and elders such as Tinubu and the chairman of the party began to eclipse the powers and influence of governors.
“This is, however, not without consequences for the party.
“Intra-party conflicts intensified, which affected the standing and performance of the party in the 2019 elections,” he said.
Also speaking, Dr. Kayode Esuola of the Political Science Department, University of Lagos, said every administration has its own peculiarities and aura, noting that the body language of the Buhari administration from day one proved that his government would be “highly centralistic and dictatorial.”
Therefore, he said one would not expect the governors to be as “powerful” as they were under Jonathan.
Esuola stated: “If you look at Jonathan, he was a liberalist. What you would read on him was somebody who wasn’t prepared for Presidency, he got there and was eager to take ideas and suggestions to make him better.
He was not as assertive and declarative like what we have in Buhari who was coming with the mind-set that he has been there before, he knows all these things and he could do all things.
“Because of these peculiarities within these two civilian structures, you don’t expect them to be the same.
“So in clear terms, governors this time have not been showing as much power as they showed during the Jonathan era.”
He said so long as economic power concentrates in the centre, the central government would continue to dictate to the states.
According to him, the NGF which is the platform that brings the governors together, has not been assertive because it does not have any constitutional backing.
A political strategy and communication consultant, Dr. Abbati Bako, said governors have the right to use their executive power provided by the nation’s constitution to shape their current and future political interests and ambitions.
He said the NGF has been given the opportunity in a democratic system to mould and shape the game in accordance with their interest and ambition.
According to him, key principles of democracy have competing values, interest and ambition.
“Conclusively, in my opinion, the central government must allow the governors to play their cards for the fact that they are the pillars of democracy and they are closer to the people and democratic system is by the people, for the people and the government has to do what the people want,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu did not respond to a message sent to him on the issue.