Past or present: Governors as deciders of Nigeria’s fate

Whether past or present, state governors continue to influence the fate of Nigerians, deciding who becomes what and when, STEPHEN ANGBULU writes

They depose and enthrone monarchs at the stroke of a pen. They control the fortunes of their political parties in their respective states. They largely determine who stands elected in states’ Houses of Assembly and local government areas.

Since they fund their party structure from the state to the national level, they influence party policies and personnel considerably. They also exercise powers of patronage by nominating candidates for federal appointments, including ambassadorial postings and national honours.

In addition, members of this elite group have exclusive access to a field of diamonds that their counterparts in some other countries can only dream of – the security vote, a wad of cash at their disposal, which they spend without being monitored or questioned.

Once in office, the Nigerian taxpayer funds the governors’ personal expenses. That includes accommodation, feeding for their family and friends, household expenditures, clothing, vehicles, etc. It does not matter if the state is hugely indebted or has unmet financial obligations; their welfare comes first.

Once out of office, the state bears responsibility for their livelihood and compensation until they breathe their last. Even in death, in some instances, their family members continue to live on state funds.

Unlike presidents, governors have no complex bureaucracy, independent legislature to contend with or any serious scrutiny from the people they govern. With little or no resistance, their policies carry so much weight, affecting many people, events and places in real-time.

Nigeria may be governed by a President, whom many believe wields all the power. But with the ever-watchful eyes of the nation and the international community, Presidents often tread on eggshells daily, pairing each action with the possible aftermath. For most state governors, however, that is hardly the case. They enjoy a level of benefit and power most Nigerians have yet to understand.

In the immediate past administration, 18 outgoing governors left at least N3.06tn debt for their successors. Data from the Debt Management Office revealed that this translates to N2.27tn domestic and $1.71bn in foreign loans.

Despite the prevailing economic hardship occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy, 17 two-term outgone governors (among the 18) are entitled to humongous statutory pensions and other perks, including mansions, luxury cars, allowances, security and holidays.

Yet, the combined internally generated revenues of the 18 states amounted to N275bn in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Beyond these, they play huge roles in who succeeds them and who stands a chance to become the President – through their party primaries.

Season of Returning Governors

Till date, former governors populate the political landscape, starting from the days of former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he picked the newly elected Governor of Adamawa State, Atiku Abubakar, as his deputy.

Also, former President Umaru Yar’Adua earlier served two terms as the governor of Katsina State. His deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, earlier served as the governor of Bayelsa State. When Yar’Adua passed away in 2010 and Jonathan assumed office, he chose a governor, Namadi Sambo of Kaduna State, as his deputy.

Currently, the current President, Senator Bola Tinubu, served as the governor of Lagos State for two terms from 1999 to 2007. After leaving office, he played significant roles in the formation of the All Progressives Congress in 2013, Nigeria’s major opposition party prior to its victory in the 2015 presidential election.

Also, his deputy, Senator Kashim Shettima, is a former two-term governor of Borno State, after which he was elected to represent Borno Central at the Senate. Today, he heads the economic planning team and reports to the President.

The number three man, the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio, was also a two-term governor of Akwa Ibom State. He was later elected into the Senate, served as a minister and has returned to the red chamber as the president and chairman of the National Assembly. Interestingly, his closest rival, Senator Abdul’aziz Yari, was also a two-term governor of Zamfara State.

In the same vein, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, is a former governor of Benue State. After his tenure, he was elected into the Senate, served as a minister in the Muhammadu Buhari administration, and now serves as the SGF.

Until his resignation on Monday, Senator Abdullahi Adamu was the National Chairman of the governing All Progressives Congress. Adamu was the governor of Nasarawa State between 1999 and 2007, after which he became a senator.

Influence in primaries

During the presidential primary of the APC, the governors on the platform of the party played a huge role in the emergence of Tinubu as the candidate. Amidst the debate on zoning before the primary, the 14 APC northern governors met in Abuja and issued a statement backing power transfer to the South after Buhari’s eight years. Consequently, they asked aspirants from the North to withdraw from the race.

The statement read, “After careful deliberation, we wish to state our firm conviction that after eight years in the office of President Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC for the 2023 elections should be one of our teeming members from the southern states of Nigeria. It is a question of honour for the APC, an obligation that is not in any way affected by the decisions taken by another political party.

“We affirm that upholding this principle is in the interest of building a stronger, more united and more progressive country. We, therefore, wish to strongly recommend to President Muhammadu Buhari that the search for a successor as the APC’s presidential candidate be limited to our compatriots from the southern states.

“We appeal to all aspirants from the northern states to withdraw in national interest and allow only the aspirants from the South to proceed to the primaries. We are delighted by the decision of our esteemed colleague, His Excellency Governor Abubakar Badaru (then of Jigawa State), to contribute to this patriotic quest by withdrawing his presidential aspiration.” Eventually, he withdrew on the day of the primary.

El-Rufai later alluded to how northern governors agreed to support the ‘most sellable aspirant’ after they dismissed the announcement by Adamu that the party had settled for the then Senate President, Ahmad Lawan.

By these, the APC northern governors ensured Tinubu won. At the end of the two-day exercise on June 6, 2022, Tinubu garnered 1,271 votes to defeat his closest rival, former transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi, who scored 316 votes.

Tinubu later admitted that he won the primaries through the help of the governors.

During a parley with leaders of the socio-cultural group, Afenifere in Akure, the Ondo State capital, he said, “Northern APC Governors resolved that the presidency must go to the South and especially South-West.

“Governors Nasir el-Rufai, Abdullahi Ganduje and others supported me to the end. The battle was tough and at one point, I was in doubt. There were many rumours and I became confused about what to believe.”

Even in the PDP, governors on the platform of the party also had huge influence in the outcome of the presidential primary and the election.

It is believed that the refusal of the five aggrieved governors to support Atiku’s candidacy contributed to his loss at the February 25 election. The G-5 and the larger Integrity Group insisted that the then party chairman, Senator Iyorchia Ayu, should step aside, a demand Ayu dismissed.

Interestingly, three out of the four most popular candidates in the election – Tinubu of APC, Peter Obi of Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party – were former governors, while the fourth, Atiku of the PDP, was once elected as a governor but wasn’t sworn in before he became the vice-president under Obasanjo.

Govs and party conventions 

At the party level, past and present governors are influential party members who continue to play significant roles in the emergence of national executives.

At the APC National Convention in March 2022, a number of those who expressed interest in the party’s chairmanship were former governors. They included two former governors of Nasarawa State, Adamu and Tanko Al-Makura; Akume of Benue State; and Yari of Zamfara State.

Eventually, Adamu, who was the candidate of the President, became the chairman. Meanwhile, prior to the convention that produced the Adamu-led leadership, the caretaker committee put in place after the dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee was headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State for months.

In the PDP, reports indicated that Wike and his colleagues were instrumental to Ayu’s emergence as the party chairman.

While responding to Ayu’s remarks where he described Wike and the rest giving him problems as children, the former Rivers governor said, “Your business is not to show arrogance to your party. Yes, the children brought you to be chairman of the party. The children brought you from the gutter to make you chairman…Now Nigerians have seen how ungrateful some of you can be.”

In the months that followed, there were allegations that Wike and others played certain roles in the eventual ousting of Ayu as the chairman.

Former governors as ministers

As President Tinubu’s administration nears its 60th day, Nigerians eagerly await the next ministers, some of whom will likely be former governors. This is more believable and complicated when viewed from the lens of the enormous political debt he owes the governors who ensured his victory in the keenly contested presidential election.

The PUNCH reported that the list, already dubbed the ‘cabinet of (political) unity,’ would likely have nominees from the APC and PDP, among others.

Already, the President has held closed-door meetings with several political figures, including a former governor of Kano State, Kwankwaso; Wike; former governors Okezie Ikpeazu, Ortom, Seyi Makinde and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Abia, Benue, Oyo and Enusu states; former Senate President, Pius Ayim, and ex-PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisah Metuh, amongst others. On July 12, he met former governors elected in 1999, also known as the ‘Class of ’99’.

While it is unclear whether these persons will hold critical offices in his government, many of them might influence those who would emerge as ministers, other appointees and the policy direction of the Tinubu administration.

Based on what some analysts called Nigeria’s political culture, people may continue to see more past and present governors play essential roles in the coming years.

Culture enabling recycled leaders – Ubani

A lawyer and former Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, argued that the political culture was a prime enabler of the recycling of governors in critical offices.

He stated, “The current political culture and orientation are responsible for past governors remaining politically relevant even in this new dispensation. For instance, former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel, is back in the Senate.

“Many of them that we thought were retired politically are manifesting in the new dispensation. What is clear is that every politician in Nigeria wants to remain politically relevant. So, it is the political culture and the fact that the people are too money-conscious and no longer looking for antecedents, capacity and people that can change the fortunes of the country.” he said.

Their experience, a factor – Ojo

A public affairs analyst and Executive Director at OJA Development Consult, Mr Jide Ojo, said although governors wield god-like influence, most political actors would continue to circle across offices because of their wealth of experience.

He added, “Globally, there are always different power brokers and governors happen to be one of them, even in advanced democracies. It is because of the wealth of experience they bring to the table that they are courted.

“We have a former governor as President, Vice President, President of the Senate and Secretary to the Government of the Federation. So, it shows the influence they wield, peculiar to Nigeria.

“Even serving governors are power brokers. They determine who gets what, when and how within their states; who becomes a senator, House of Representatives member, who would be in the state House of Assembly, etc. So, the governors are regarded as mini-gods and emperors in their own rights and they wield a lot of influence.”

Nigerians have to accommodate them – Okechukwu

Speaking to the issue, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria and foundation member of the APC, Osita Okechukwu, described governors as “emperors of liberal democracy.”

According to him, their influence is here to stay and the electorate can only accommodate them.

He said, “Governors in all liberal democracies throughout history are powerful. One is because they control land in a given territory, finance and people. Because they operate in a defined territory with resources and people, it automatically reinforces the power nexus.

“Nigeria cannot be an exception where governors and ex-governors are powerful. Governors and ex-governors are more in numbers than senators and businessmen when you X-ray the 46 men who became United States President. They are emperors of liberal democracy; we just have to accommodate them.”

Political structure hijacked – Adeyanju

For sociopolitical activist and advocacy group leader, Concerned Nigerians, Deji Adeyanju, governors’ influence is a hijack of the national structure. He therefore urged the youth to deepen their participation in party politics, especially off-season elections.

He stated, “Our democracy is skewed in a way that these former governors have hijacked the state apparatus and that is why since 1999, we have had former governors as presidents.

“It is so because our constitutional democracy is structured such that it is centered on money, and this is why younger people must get involved in party politics and saturate it. Politics is not a once-in-four-years affair.

“The new revolution must happen at the party levels. Make life unbearable for these godfathers within the political system so we can have a free nation. That is the only way I see Nigerians coming out of the woods.”

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