by Eniola Bello
Akwa Ibom State governor Godswill Akpabio is a voluble person. A man, who perhaps because he knows how to make his audience laugh while holding their attention, loves hearing his own voice, one may indulge him the right to be loquacious on the evidence of what he has described as an uncommon transformation of Akwa Ibom.
Indeed Akpabio is one of the few poster boys of PDP (People’s Democratic Party) governors in the area of changing the infrastructural landscape of their states for good. On the strength of how he has positively impacted on the state since he assumed office, a performance he has described as driven by anger, it might be difficult to fault those who say that Akpabio is one of the A-listers among the Class of 2007 governors. So confident is Akpabio’s belief in his “uncommon transformation” of Akwa Ibom that he says the people have even defined his tenure in a language adapted from Christian pantheon – BA (Before Akpabio) and AA (After Akpabio), an obvious copy from BC or Before Christ and AC or After Christ.
Perhaps because of the positive media publicity he had been getting for his achievements in Akwa Ibom, Akpabio has in the last few months been unduly careless. Here I am not referring to his handling, or lack of it, of a wedding gift to a musician. Neither am I referring to the negative publicity surrounding his N1m largesse to each of a few PDP leaders simply to buy lunch from Mr. Biggs. I am rather referring to his ignoble role in the break-up of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). Things would have been understandable if, in all this, Akpabio was dancing to his own drums. However, for a man of such intelligence and promise to allow himself to be so un-intelligently used in the pursuit of somebody else’s agenda is regretful.
What is all the furore about the Governors Forum? Why are so much energy, time and resources being dissipated into electing the chair of an association of 36 people, even if these are governors of states? On the surface the whole brouhaha is made to look as if Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi was using his position as chairman of the NGF since 2011 to challenge the authority of President Goodluck Jonathan. The evidence? The NGF opposition to the continued deduction from the federation account to fund the fuel subsidy payments in what different investigations have shown to be a gigantic scam. There is also the little matter of Sovereign Wealth Fund in which the governors are opposed to the forced savings from revenue belonging to the three tiers of government. The argument of the NGF is that the Federal Government, in a federation, should not decide for other tiers when and how to save for the rainy day, particularly in a situation where elected officials do not have enough resources to address pressing needs. You may fault the governors’ demands, as some people have done, as self-serving, but that is not to say there is no logic to their madness.
The NGF went to court after all attempts at reaching an agreement with the FG on subsidy payments failed. It was the lot of Amaechi as the chair to, after every meeting of the Forum, convey the governors’ decisions to the president, and the public. You may accuse Amaechi for failing to, like the typical Nigerian politician, talk from both sides of the mouth. You may accuse him of shooting straight, or to borrow the title of a movie, driving “fast and furious”. However, should a difference in opinion be equated to disrespect for the president in a democracy? Ordinarily, that shouldn’t be the case.
Unfortunately, that was how the Presidency interpreted it. The situation was not helped by the fact that few of the governors, particularly of the PDP, cared to join Amaechi in reinforcing decisions collectively reached. Most of the PDP governors easily hid behind the NGF chair to avoid expressing any opinion on the issues in dispute when they realised those issues rubbed President Jonathan on the wrong side. It was therefore easy for Jonathan to attempt to deal with Amaechi over some other long-pending issues, but using his leadership of the NGF as a smokescreen.
In a multi-pronged tactical battle against the Rivers governor, the Presidency first accused Amaechi of using the NGF to challenge Jonathan’s authority. Perhaps realising this accusation may be too tenuous to justify, Amaechi being only a spokesman of the NGF, then they accused him of having the ambition to contest the presidential election as a running mate to either Jigawa Governor Sule Lamido or Niger Governor Babangida Aliyu. Sponsored posters of Amaechi first with Lamido, and later with Aliyu, were pasted at strategic places in some towns in the North. However, those who printed the posters failed to concede even a little political intelligence to the Rivers governor. The fact is in the cloak and dagger politics of the PDP, it is practically impossible to successfully challenge a sitting president in the party primaries, and more so for Amaechi who is from the same geo-political zone as Jonathan. No matter. They, however, succeeded in tagging Amaechi a traitor to Jonathan’s second term undeclared ambition, and therefore a traitor to Niger Delta interests, a tag which characters like Asari Dokubo has been repeatedly amplifying, for obvious reasons.
Then there is the sponsored crisis in the Rivers PDP chapter and in which the minister of state for education, Nyesom Wike, is in the driving seat.
The multiple attacks on Amaechi is ultimately to achieve one objective – prevent him from having a hand in who becomes the Rivers governor in 2015. Like William Shakespeare would say, that is the be-all and the end-all. This is a project of the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, a ruthlessly ambitious woman. A daughter of Rivers by birth and Bayelsa by marriage, Mrs Jonathan just could not understand why any governor of Rivers would not be at the beck and call of the First Family. Shortly after her husband became president, she took on Amaechi publicly over the demolition of some shanties. The governor rightly ignored her heckling. Since then, the battle line appeared to have been drawn.
Having got her husband to forcefully install as governor in Bayelsa, Seriake Dickson, a man who almost acts as executive house boy of the First Family and hastily promoted Mrs Jonathan (described as a ghost worker by some uncharitable commentators) as a permanent secretary, the First Lady desires a similar experiment in Rivers. The initial plan was to stop Amaechi, just as they did immediate past Bayelsa governor Timipre Sylvia, from running for a second term in 2011. The plan could not be executed because of a court ruling that the Rivers governorship polls should hold like others in April 2011, not after.
Since Amaechi could not be stopped from a second term, he must be prevented from having a hand in the choice of his successor in 2015. That is the agenda to be executed by any means achievable. The NGF is simply a collateral damage as it is believed Amaechi could use his continued chairmanship of the body as a protective shield.
Sadly, it is this web of intrigue and subterfuge that Akpabio, a man one had thought is among the few state governors that held so much promise for the future, has made himself a willing tool against a governor-colleague. By whatever yardstick, his role in the crisis rocking the NGF is difficult to justify. I will commend to Akpabio the motto of The Three Musketeers in a 17th century novel of the same title by Alexandre Dumas. The musketeers usually sign off while taking on every challenge, “All for one, one for all”. In other words, each individual should act for the benefit of the group and the group should act for the benefit of the individual. With the apparent factionalisation of the NGF, could Akpabio beat his chest to have acted for the benefit of the group?
As things stand, the death of the NGF will be a collective loss to all the governors, including Akpabio. His will be a greater loss as his currency has been greatly eroded in the people’s court. At the end of the day, he will be more remembered for his ignoble role in the the politics of the NGF debacle than his achievements in Akwa Ibom State. What more, in the shifting sands of Nigerian politics, he may end up being eaten up by the same Presidency that has so used him in an ignoble project.
In the cult-like politics of PDP, particularly one in which Chief Tony Anenih is involved, there is always a heavy price for any mistake. The Fayose experience is a ready example. Then Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose was used against his governor-colleagues in the campaign for then President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term agenda. However, when Fayose stepped out of line and was gobbled up in a Presidency-engineered impeachment, there was nobody to stand up for him. Anenih, just as he was in the Obasanjo third term agenda, more by design than coincidence, is also the chief strategist in the on-going project to castrate the NGF. Will the result end the same way?
Let Akpabio take that as food for thought.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Eniola Bello