“It is certainly more agreeable to have power to give than to receive.” Winston Churchill
An amusing report in one of the dailies last week claimed that PDP governors are demanding N46b worth of projects for their states for voting for President Jonathan in 2015. Apparently, the new leadership of the PDP Governors Forum is spearheading a move to get the President to acknowledge the loyalty of his colleague by siting at least one federal project in each PDP state. The report says they will take up the issue with the President this week. The same report claimed that chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees appealed to them to avoid divisive tendencies, to commit more firmly to the party and forgive past transgressions. He also drew their attention to security challenges in the country, which can only be solved by cooperation of all governments.
If this report is true, it will speak volumes of the difficulties which the PDP is facing at its top echelons. Spin it right or left, but a meeting of PDP governors taking place at a period of unprecedented rancor among them which resolves to ask President Jonathan to give more for their loyalty can only mean that the governors are yet to enlist in his project. Presumably this is the same meeting which the governor of Rivers State was reported to have half-attended. This could be the same meeting which discussed whether to allow Amaechi to continue as chairman, or put the President’s man, Governor of Katsina State on his seat. It could be the meeting which was deadlocked over the matter, and may have resolved to allow them to slug it out in an election.
The drama around Ameachi will suggest that the BOT Chair’s efforts to whip governors of the PDP into line has not been entirely successful. It would appear that the Rivers State governor is being chased left, right and everywhere, including airports which refuse his planes approval to take off, but it is very doubtful if he is implementing a one-governor agenda. Chances are that Amaechi is the arrowhead of an entrenched resistance against President Jonathan, which has a number of options and flexible strategies.
Governors are very powerful people. There is a way they are, collectively, more powerful than the President: they control party structures in their states which at critical moments, can make or mar presidential ambitions. President Obasanjo was the first near-victim of the awesome powers of their grip over delegates that turn into zombies from state capitals to Eagle Square and back. Vice President Atiku Abubakar saw the effect of PDP’s labour from 1999 to 2007 on his ambitions in 2011. Twenty-three of them in the PDP is a nightmare to contemplate for a President who wants a ticket. They have already shot down his pet project around the national leadership, and have effectively grounded the Bamanga Tukur chairmanship. They will walk around Chief Anineh for a while, since he appears to be holding an olive branch, but they are unlikely to sheath their swords.
The damage to the PDP in the President’s stronghold, the south-south, is largely the handiwork of the governors. Those among them who have dug in in resisting Jonathan’s ambitions will encourage Amaechi, but stay in the shadows. The new PDP governors’ chair, Godswill Akpabio will wield a stick, but whether it is the big stick or a straw will be determined by the manner Ameachi’s seeming rebellion is affected. No one believes governors Sule Lamido and Ameachi when they claim they have no hand in the plethora of billboards and posters proclaiming their ambitions to run in 2015 on the PDP’s presidential ticket. Nor, for that matter, does anyone believe that Dr Muazu B. Aliyu is as innocent as he says he is; or that Shema is not Jonathan’s pointman in the north; or that Yuguda has no presidential ambitions of his own. They could all be innocent of course; but in a political party where integrity and credibility are in very short supply, Nigerians would rather hang them as guilty than see them as injured parties in a war which takes no prisoners.
The power of governors goes beyond determining the President’s political fortunes. They can frustrate key policies, such as the Sovereign Wealth Fund. Some can raise storms around key legislations such as the Petroleum Industry Bill (P.I.B), and substantially cripple them. They can frustrate constitutional amendments and other legislations they do not like. On the other hand, they are supreme in their states. They have local governments and the legislature in pockets, and huge resources which they use as they please, thanks to weak or corrupted regulatory mechanisms they set up themselves.
In the next few months, the maneuvers around presidential tickets in 2015 will intensify. Governors will sneeze, and the nation will catch cold many times. PDP governors have President Jonathan’s political future in the hands for now. If he can find a weapon in the party’s considerable arsenal to whittle down their powers and resistance, he will sleep better. But it will have to be the type of instrument which gives them the assurance that he can win an election in 2015; will be a better candidate than any of them; will protect them from the law after 2015; and will guarantee that as many of them as possible get to the Senate. But he has to be President first, and this is the big issue. Many do not believe he will win. Others will not dare campaign for him openly.
Governors in the emerging opposition will also be extremely influential in determining political fortunes of ambitious flagbearers. With six governors, the ACN holds the aces here in terms of determining who is a candidate, and whose ambitions are scuttled. The CPC, with a solitary governor, will appear to be in the weakest position, yet it will put forward its leader as the most qualified to win the ticket and the elections. The ANPP has a number of ambitious members who may think they can effectively step in, and their governors may team up with ACN governors to squeeze General Muhammadu Buhari out.
The framers of our constitution could never have envisioned creating the albatross which governors have become around our democratic process. For all their powers, northern governors have failed to make a dent on poverty in the North. They have watched over the escalation of an insurgency in their midst, and have limited themselves to funding security operations and setting up committees on it. There are quite possibly more almajirai today in the north than there were in 1999, and the economy of the North has virtually collapsed under their watch.
Governors in the south-south have cornered the unprecedented resources accruing to their states around government houses, cronies and favoured circles which pass for communities. Criminal activities around oil and gas are increasing, and the threat of increased violence is feeding sentiments that there is still scope to make more money from kidnapping and crude theft than waiting for government contracts or being an ex-militant. In the southwest, an elaborate arrangement allows governors and their leader to keep out opposition and the public away from massively-subsidized politics using public funds, while the choreographed image of real development are created in the media. Governors in the southeast have erected high walls and retreated, leaving the space to marauding criminality which is ravaging some of the most enterprising communities of the nation.
In 2015, Nigerians will have a chance to elect people into offices who will not treat the law, public funds and their mandates as personal property. A substantial improvement in the quality of our democratic process can be made if governors who will serve, rather than be served by a weak system are elected.