Governors of the 19 Northern states took different positions over the choice of NGF chairman. While some of them supported the return of Rivers State governor, Rotimi Amaechi, as chairman, others opposed it but supported Plateau State Governor Jonah Jang. When a vote was held in Abuja, Amaechi secured 19 votes to Jang’s 16, but Jang’s supporters rejected the outcome and went on to proclaim him as the NGF chairman.
The resulting crisis spilled over into NSGF when Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda, announced that he would no longer participate in NSGF’s activities until his colleagues in the forum explained their alleged breach of an agreement to adopt Jang as Northern states’ consensus candidate for NGF chairman. Benue State governor Gabriel Suswam followed Yuguda’s lead and announced that he too was quitting NSGF, noting that the NGF election had polarized the unity of the 19 Northern governors who he said no longer trusted each other.
In reacting to Yuguda and Suswam’s stance, Governor Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso of Kano State confirmed that some pro-Amaechi governors played along with the Northern consensus candidate idea at the NSGF in order to trick their pro-Jang colleagues. Kwankwaso said Jang’s supporters had assumed that they would win the election on the strength of a supposed ‘presidential backing’, but that his colleagues and himself “taught them a political lesson they will not forget.” The point of all this, he said, was that governors would resist attempts by the Presidency to impose a chairman on them. He added too that Yuguda and Suswam might not be able to win any election again in the North because both had made ‘the biggest political mistakes of their lives.’ From the sidelines, Jang remarked that he never begged any governor to nominate him to contest to become NGF chairman.
Clearly, a lot of ill-feeling has been generated in NSGF as a direct spill over from the NGF. It was therefore no surprise that, at the NSGF meeting in Kaduna on June 6, only five of the 19 Northern governors were present. These were the governors of Niger [who is the forum’s chairman], Kaduna [who is the host], Jigawa, Gombe and Nasarawa. The governors of Sokoto, Kebbi, Kwara, Kano, Kogi, Borno and Zamfara states were represented by deputy governors while the Plateau and Benue governors were represented by the Secretary to the State Government [SSG]. Five states were not represented at all, even though the chairman said Adamawa and Taraba sent their apologies. That still left Bauchi, Katsina and Yobe with undetermined status.
While it is clear that the chasm created in the governors’ ranks by the NGF affair is deep, this should be no reason at all to seek to wreck the Northern States Governors’ Forum. The NSGF has a more solid reason for existence than the NGF. While NGF was created upon this country’s latest return to civil rule 13 years ago, NSGF was created in 1968 as the Interim Common Services Agency [ICSA], made up of governors of the six states that succeeded the Northern Region upon its dissolution in 1967. Its only regional counterpart in those days was the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liabilities Agency [ESIALA], the successor to the old Eastern Region.
ICSA inherited the staff members as well as the assets and liabilities of the old Northern Region. Though these were shared along the way, the governors decided to run some assets jointly. These include the New Nigeria Development Corporation [NNDC], Arewa Hotels Limited, New Nigeria Investments Limited [NNIL], New Nigerian Newspapers Limited, Bank of the North, Ahmadu Bello University, Kaduna Polytechnic and Broadcasting Corporation of Northern Nigeria [BCNN] among others. This arrangement continued even after the Northern states increased in number from 6 to 19, even after some of the agencies were taken over by the Federal Government and even after General Murtala Mohamed dissolved ICSA and ESIALA in 1976. Renamed Northern Governors’ Forum, it existed throughout the years of military rule. The feuding governors should therefore get their act together and uphold this great and enduring institution that was bequeathed to them by their predecessors. They should not destroy it on the altar of political bickering.