Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
It is common these days to see people who belong to the same trade, vocation or profession among others form associations in order to continue to protect their interests and those of the people they represent.
The case is the same in the political circle. There are groups for local government councillors and chairmen; there are fora for state government officials; state governors are also not taking the back stage.
At the level of state governors, there are different levels of groups they belong to. They have groups at the geopolitical zone levels, at regional level, as well as based on political party affiliations. That is why we have groups such as South-East Governors Forum; South-West Governors Forum; North-East Governors Forum; Northern Governors Forum; Southern Governors Forum, Peoples Democratic Party Governors Forum and Progressives Governors Forum among others.
The highest body as far as the groups that bring state governors together is the Nigeria Governors Forum which has all the 36 state governors in the country as members. The forum is an influential one in its own right. It is at that level that state governors take common stands on national issues and take their positions before the Federal Government.
Expectedly, leading such a forum consisting state executives is not a mean feat. It is a big task. This perhaps may explain why only experienced and tested hands are allowed to lead this group of eminent Nigerians.
It is in line with the above that the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, was recently unanimously elected by his colleagues to lead them after the exit of the former chairman and immediate past Zamfara State Governor, AbdulAzeez Yari.
Fayemi is no doubt coming into the job with rich experience in Nigeria’s political space. Apart from being a second term governor, the new NGF chairman also served as a minister under President Muhammadu Buhari up until he resigned to contest the governorship election in his state, which he won.
His emergence attracted congratulatory messages from those who know his worth both within and outside the forum. The president too was not left out among those who publicly congratulated Fayemi and wished him well in his new task of leading his colleagues.
With almost all the states of the federation grappling with the issues of insecurity, unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure, lack of health care, salary arrears, pensions and allowances, there is no gain saying that after the congratulatory messages, back slapping and all, it is time for the new NGF chairman to face the reality of the huge task before him.
The NGF is a legally registered entity with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). It therefore has a constitution, and abides dogmatically by it. Its secretariat on the other hand is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-political development agency and so it has evolved over the years.
The forum’s constitution stipulates that the chairmanship of the forum must rotate between the North and the South and only a second term governor is eligible to lead the forum. The chairman must also belong to the ruling party. Being a second term governor and being a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress-led (APC) Federal Government, Fayemi, from the South, is therefore qualified to take the mantle of leadership from Yari from the North.
The new NGF chairman is a known liberal leader, cerebral and progressive politician who has built bridges across all divides. He is also close to President Muhammadu Buhari, having served as his minister at a time. This, pundits say, is a plus for him as it will help the governors get listening ears on topical and pressing needs that affect the forum and their respective states.
Many have also suggested that Fayemi’s tenure promises to witness a turning point in procedure and methodology as indicated by the sitting of Wednesday June 19, which was the first meeting under his chairmanship.
“Discussions were all-encompassing and penetrating. Debates were allowed and comments were more intellectual than the previous ones which was usually terse but resolute. This is not to say that the former chairman lacks depth, but that chairmanship which was very successful in getting the president’s nod for disbursement of funds reposed so much confidence in his bulldozer style of leadership. Technically, Yari’s era can be referred to as a one-man riot squad method,” sources at the forum’s secretariat said.
In his address, the new chairman hinted that there is likely going to be a return to the practices of the past, where States Peer Review Mechanism (SPRM) was deployed. He said he would like to see more comparative activity among governors and advocated a situation where governors learn from one another and abide by global best practices.
The governors spent over an hour discussing security. They have also agreed that there would be emphasis on health, education, agriculture and IGR.
Particularly, Fayemi said he would like to redeem and rebrand the forum especially the image of the governors as the regular punching bag of the country’s critics, informed or otherwise.
The chairman also expressed his position on the conduct of governors themselves saying, “Only we ourselves can redeem our image and we can only do this by displaying spectacular performance and staying over par in our social contract with our people.”
Fayemi promised that the NGF would be positioned for optimal national service. As proof, Fayemi met with the IGP who became his very first visitor to his office at the NGF secretariat. The maiden meeting of his chairmanship also took time to review the security situation in the country and also heard from different states.
For example, governors demanded the right to participate in the choice of security chief posted to their states.
The Deputy Governor of Katsina State for example reviewed the security situation in the state and concluded that it had improved immensely because of certain pragmatic steps taken by the government in conjunction with a delegation of national security officials who visited Katsina.
Others were advised to follow suit. For example, they pinned the insecurity in the country to poor leadership in the security architecture in the country.
Another of Fayemi’s colleague decried a situation where more than 15 Police commissioners had served in his state in the last six months. The DSS in his state also witnessed the same “rocking chair” situation and made a joke to the effect that maybe there would be a new security team in his state before he returns from Abuja, saying that kind of instability is unacceptable.
The issue of state Police also reared its head again. The chairman explained that the matter should be approached with caution because it broke their ranks in the past.
“We all resolved that we should agitate for state Police but when we got to the Villa, some of us reneged on the plan. I want to recommend that we be careful on this matter and those who want state Police should have it and those who don’t should be allowed to keep the federal Police,” Fayemi said.
At the maiden National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, President Buhari urged the governors to pay special attention to security, education, agriculture and health.
The president said their success in the four areas would go a long way in enhancing the standard of living of the citizenry.
He specifically urged the governors to “enforce very vigorously” free and compulsory basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
Buhari reminded the governors that providing free and compulsory education is a constitutional provision, adding that “Section 18(3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended places on all of us here an obligation to eradicate illiteracy and provide free and compulsory education. Section 2 of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act provides that ‘every government in Nigeria shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.’ It is indeed a crime for any parent to keep his child out of school for this period. In my view, when a government fails to provide the schools, teachers and teaching materials necessary for basic education, it is actually aiding and abetting that crime. This is, therefore, a call to action. I would like to see every governor rise from this meeting and rally his local government chairmen towards ensuring that our schools offer the right opportunities and provide the needed materials and teachers for basic education, at the minimum. If we are able to do this, the benefits will surely manifest themselves,” Buhari said.
How Fayemi will galvanise his colleagues to take up this challenge thrown at them by President Buhari will be seen as time goes on.