From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
In the last eight years that the All Progressives Congress (APC) took over the mantle of leadership at the federal level, its governors, under the umbrella of APC Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), have left no one in any doubt of their indispensability in dictating the political and democratic trajectory of the country at both sub-national and national levels.
Hovering between a numerical strength of 17 to 22 members, the governors have for years now, constituted themselves into a formidable political force whose words, opinions, and resolutions have become a strong tool within the party and beyond.
When it comes to the decision of which geopolitical zone to produce the presidential candidate of the party, the unanimous voice of the forum usually resonates very loudly. In economic, governmental, socio-political, and ethno-religious matters, the dominant stands of the governors are respected and obeyed.
In conflict resolutions, the forum has always assumed the posture of alpha and omega that must not only be adequately consulted but also lobbied for support and solidarity by the political gladiators.
At the level of party administration, the governors have usually wielded the big stick to whip everybody into line in deciding the future of the party. To ignore their inputs over who becomes the party’s National Chairmen and other officers from the ward, Local Government, state, and zonal to the national stage is a risk on its own.
From their antecedents in the scheme of things, the governors have actively constituted themselves into the big boys of Nigerian politics, and the forum, by words and actions, has become a domineering force in the party.
For instance, on what became of the local governments’ autonomy, the wishes and commands of the governors prevailed in frustrating even the court judgment. On who becomes the National Chairman of the ruling party, the Progressive Governors has always made commanding inputs and sometimes reluctantly conceded to the wish of the presidency on the condition that they nominate the other members of the national officers.
In the 2018 elective convention, some of the governors supported John Odigie-Oyegun to continue as National Chairman, but they unenthusiastically granted the wish of then President Buhari to allow Comrade Adams Oshiomhole to take charge of the party.
But when the leadership of Comrade Oshiomhole was enmeshed in controversy and endless crisis, they did not only move against the former Edo State governor, they also ensured that one of their own, Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State, backed by few other governors like Niger, Sani Bello, Osun, Gbenga Oyetola took over the leadership of the party.
Again, they were visibly heard and seen in the intrigues and shenanigans that trailed the determination of who replaces the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee, even though they reluctantly supported Mr President’s anointed candidate, Abdullahi Adamu as the National Chairman but determined almost every other member of the national leadership.
The APC governors are so powerful that they sometimes ensured that nobody from their states, especially troublesome party members, emerged as national officers to curtail anybody who could question their overbearing authority. Cases abound where majorly party members from the states without sitting APC governors emerge as national officers.
A case in point of such an ugly scene was the dangerous rift between Adams Oshiomhole and his estranged godson, Governor Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo State. According to political analysts, Oshiomhole’s plot to undo Obaseki failed because the crisis divided the ranks of the APC governors, many of them sentimentally supported their own.
It is needless to recall that the rift resulted in both gladiators ending up as casualties with Governor Obaseki moving to the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) even as Oshiomhole was later disgraced out of office as National Chairman.
To further underscore the overwhelming powers of the APC governors, their decision reverberated and eclipsed every other counter-voice in the heat of the controversy over the zoning arrangement for the party’s presidential ticket.
And even when the presidency under Buhari insisted on endorsing the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan as APC’s anointed presidential candidate, the greater number of the governors’ forum unanimously bared their fangs, rose against the presidential cabal and ensured their wishes, and that their choice, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, scaled through in the party’s candidate.
As political analysts would argue, it would have been easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for President Tinubu to have finally emerged as the flag bearer of the party let alone the President.
Suffice it to say that from inception of the APC-led Federal Government, the Governors’ forum has wielded such colossal powers and influences that have dictated the direction the party is headed.
Such influences, not only limited to political but also financial, are understandably not by accident but by orchestrated design. Right from the era of Odigie-Oyegun, as the party’s Chairman through to Comrade Oshiomhole, Mai Mala Buni and the current Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, the indispensable roles the Governors’ forum plays have continued to loom large.
In many instances, the governors have over time proved that they are the financial backbone sustaining the ruling party as they usually bankroll and pick such bills like the renovation of the party’s secretariat edifice, settling electricity bills, funding state elections for the party, and sometimes paying the salaries of secretariat staff among many others.
Such is the influence of the APC governors and with the visible roles they played in the emergence of President Tinubu, in addition to their numerical strength in controlling 19 out of 36 states of the federation in the current dispensation, the governors, certainly, are still the necessary evil of Nigerian politics and democracy.
For the records, APC still has the enviable number and currently controls the following states, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi, Ondo, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Ebonyi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Sokoto, and Yobe.
Little wonder in their determination to remain politically relevant in the scheme of things, they have packaged themselves into the usual dominant force by first electing a brand new chairman in the person of the governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma who met with the party’s leadership, the National Working Committee (NWC) and President Tinubu last week.
Aware of the enormity of their influence in the scheme of things, the ruling party’s National Chairman, Adamu had invited them for a heart-to-heart discussion last week at the APC national secretariat in Abuja.
Curiously, many pundits have described it as a move by the national chairman to woo the governors to his side against the fierce battle from several antagonists ahead of him in consolidating his bleak future with the party.
However, reading the riot act to the 10 members of the Governors’ forum in attendance, the party’s Chairman had mandated that they religiously implement the manifesto of the party, reminding them of the strict observance of the general framework of the party for the governance of the country.
Speaking during the closed-door meeting that lasted for hours, the party’s boss said: “For us, what we will want to say to you is adherence to the manifesto as much as you can. We have a general framework for the governance of the country. You represent those who fly the flag of the party and it is expected that whatever you do, you will have in mind the manifesto that the party gives the country.
“You as the Chief Executive Officers of the states must key into this manifesto but there are peculiarities, there are priorities you must have set and you are bound to do, as much as you can, to meet the expectations of those who voted for us.
“We are in a very difficult moment and you have come at a very difficult period. Even with the timing of the lifting of the fuel subsidy, this is going to be very specially challenging to us, particularly to you because you are where it matters most.
“From national politics, you are the shock absorbers in the various states of the federation. You live with the people. You wake up with the people and you work with them. The expectation is that you could have a better appreciation of their pains as citizens of this country. So, a lot of expectations will be on you as governors of the federating units of this great country,” he charged the governors in attendance.
The former governor of Nasarawa State added: “as far as the party is concerned, we will give you all the cooperation you need. If you have any problem, turn to us and we will give you the best advice we can. But whatever we do with you, you are the one wearing the shoes and know where it pinches.
“Two years are for actual governance. Before you know it and before you finish with the election tribunals, it will be getting to two years and you will start seeing posters and billboards flying, newspaper publications. This is a tradition in our democracy, fortunately or unfortunately. We must be ready for that. So, you have no time to waste.
“Fortunately, you are lucky to have a President who will listen to you. He has come with the same urge, the same desire to deliver. So, you are lucky. But whatever you do, do not forget that you will bear your cross. We will not as a party stand in your way for a good programme. If someone does so, please draw our attention so that we will stop it.”
Sounding unassuming and unassertive, the governors’ forum, assured the party’s leadership of unalloyed loyalty, painting a sweet picture of a rosy relationship in the future.
Speaking through its chairman, Hope Uzodinma, the forum noted: “We are very delighted to meet with you after the last electoral victory of our great party. We want to also use the opportunity to congratulate you, members of the NWC, for the wonderful showing you put up during the last elections.
“There is no doubt that Progressives Governors Forum has been in place before this time and there is no doubt that we are loyal members of our great party. I want to assure you that the APC governors understand very clearly that the government each of us are presiding over belongs to the party and we know both at the federal and sub-national level, the government belongs to APC, it is APC-led government.
“Under my watch, we will be very close to the party. The purpose of the forum is to have the impetus for the activities of the party and the government. We are only going to act as salesmen that will market the policies and programmes of the government.
“Arising from the manifesto promised to the people before the election, I can assure you that you had a team working together. With the kind of men I have seen as Progressive Governors members, I think we have gotten all it would take to ensure that policies of our government were fully marketed.
“APC is the only party we got in Nigeria. The governors of APC seem to be the most active governors in Nigeria. So, my assurance is that we are just constructive partners to work with the party and our loyalty to the party is absolute.
“And indeed, the party will become the envy of other parties in Africa. Whatever we did not get before, I am sure under my leadership, the party will get it. It is going to be a synergy, we can’t do much without you and conversely, I don’t think you can do much without us. So, we are married in this business and there is no going back,” the forum assured the party’s leadership.
However, a chieftain of the party, in a chat with Daily Sun, described the marriage between them as a fragile one, arguing that their true nature will soon be seen when the plot to remove Adamu gets thicker.
“Don’t mind those pleasant words from both parties. We all know the influential roles the governors have continued to play in every sensitive issue concerning the party. I challenge anybody to stake his neck if this forum will still remain the same when the plot to unseat Adamu gets fiercer.
“Depending on their interest and the body language of Mr. President, be sure they will swing with the pendulum. Be sure that they will go against the party on everything that threatens their interest. At the end of the day, don’t be surprised that they will hold the ace in resolving the contentious fuel subsidy removal,” the party chieftain argued.