The recent formation of North East Governors’ Forum (NEGF) and subsequent selection of Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum as its protem chairman have continued to stir debates and discussions among stakeholders, especially in Northern Nigeria.
Soon after the forum held its second quarterly meeting in Maiduguri, which was designated for the NEGF administrative headquarters, opinions as to the possible effect of the move on the unity of the north, its political future and aspirations and other spheres, became rife.
While some opinion leaders contend that the split points to the failure of governance at both the federal and state government levels in the country, other stakeholders in the region believed that the new forum would ensure proactive policies, help in tackling insecurity and enhance peer reviews and shared experiences among the governors.
On another hand, some political actors expressed the fear that the split of the once united Northern States Governors Forum (NSGF) would negatively impact on the unity and socio-economic situation of the region.
A source told The Guardian that the subdivision might be a political strategy for the zone’s 2023 presidential aspiration and revolt against Simon Bako Lalong’s leadership of NSGF.
The Guardian was unable to get Governor Lalong’s reaction to the establishment of NEGF as at the time of going to press, but State House source in the Plateau State said there was nothing special with the development.
He noted that just as it obtains in the Southern part of the country, there is also a North Central Governors’ Forum, stressing that Governor Lalong continues to provide seamless leadership to the NSGF.
SECOND Republic federal lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, has however, described the creation of NEGF as “nothing but an unwise political move that will serve no useful purpose.”
Dr. Mohammed remarked that the problem of the northeast is first and foremost insecurity, followed by bad governance associated with collapsed economy, contending that what is required are honest and credible analyses of the situation and action.
Dismissing the subdivision of the NSGF as inconsequential, the former lawmaker stated: “In fact, if you look at economic history, the Northeast is the poorest of the so-called zones. It is also the worst governed. And this did not start today or with the Buhari administration. It has been like that for a very long time. So, I cannot see how creating the Northeast Governors’ Forum will improve the situation for them or for the people concerned.
“Recall that about one month ago, the governor of Borno State, which is the preeminent state economically, culturally and otherwise in the northeast, was attacked and the attack was done with soldiers under General (Tukur) Buratai. Perhaps, you don’t know that Buratai is from Southern Borno State and he is politically ambitious. And we are aware that some of the generals went and purchased forms to contest elections in two of the states during the last general elections in 2015.”
Mohammed recalled how Governor Zulum, in a statement, attacked the army and the Federal Government for the cavalier handling of the security in the northeast, and for the way they have allowed people, civilians to be attacked recklessly.
“So, it is not surprising. But if President Buhari, in his wisdom or lack of it, decides to either ignore or encourage them to create what they call northeast governors forum, I don’t think that would solve any problem. The responsibility of any government is to maintain law and order and the protection of lives and dignity of the people. If that were not done, no amount of creation of Governors’ Forum, or Muslim Forum or Christian Forum would solve the problem.
“The problem is directly related to bad governance and incompetence at the highest level. Of course, the federal and state governments have been unable to honestly and correctly analyse the problem and make sure they have a solution. I am not bothered about that at all,” he noted.
HOWEVER, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Army, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, faulted insinuations in certain quarters that the newly formed North East Governors Forum would not be in the best interest of the entire northern region.
Namdas, who is also a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Adamawa State, contended that the sub-regional forum was required to address the multifaceted problems bedeviling the North East geopolitical zone.
He said: “I think it is not intended to disrupt northern unity. We have come to agree that we have six regions and so regions can come together to tackle their challenges together. When the South West decided to organise and come up with Amotekun, they did so because it was in the best interest of their region.
“So, there is nothing wrong in having the North East Governors Forum to also come up with similar solution. But, again, they are conscious of the fact that there is a general Northern States Governors Forum headed by Simon Lalong.”
Namdas explained that even in the National Assembly, “there is the North East legislators’ caucus as well as Northern Legislators’ Forum,” stressing that instead of seeing it as a division, stakeholders should note that it is easier to solve regional problems when you have such a group.
MEANWHILE, a prominent resident of Maiduguri, Dr. Timothy Ihemadu, said political colouration should not be allowed to becloud the lofty aims behind the creation of the NEGF, stressing that apart from complementing the efforts of North East Development Commission (NEDC), the forum would go a long way in helping to heal the region and expedite socio-economic restoration after the devastation caused by insurgency.
Ihemadu recalled that prior to the Boko Haram insurrection, Maiduguri was a crucial commercial hub for a lot of economic activities, adding that it was a critical gateway to and from neighbouring countries.
“It was easy to pass through Maiduguri to Chad and Cameroon. In fact, business boomed; there was free movement for traders and goods. I remember the train station there; people were coming in from Chad, Sudan and Libya. Even to the Southeast and Southwest. But all that is now history,” he stated.
He noted that as a real native of Maiduguri, Governor Zulum must have been challenged to quicken the pace of restoration of normalcy in Maiduguri and the return of Borno State to its earlier status of epicentre of intra continental socio-economic activities.
While congratulating [b]the Borno State governor for his election as the chairman of NEGF, [/b]Ihemadu said there was no doubt that he is passionate about the return of social life to Maiduguri, recalling how he guaranteed the welcome of people of other ethnic groups in the state.
Ihemadu said NEGF comes as a unique participant in the search for permanent solution to the devastation that has taken place in the Northeast, stressing that the forum would complement the North-East Development Commission to rehabiliate and reconstruct the sub-region.
“With Zulum’s leadership, the NEGF would also oversee and supervise implementation of policy options, because he is a very pragmatic governor with a lot of vision. I don’t think the creation of the North-East Governors Forum will be a threat to the peace and unity of the entire north, let alone the country,” he declared.
On apprehensions that the governors want to leverage the NEGF for the zone’s 2023 presidential aspiration, Ihemadu said the suspicion could be figments of imagination of some people, remarking however that even if it becomes real, there is nothing wrong with the Northeast agitating for presidency coming to them.
“I think northeast and southeast are the worst hit in terms of not having a shot at presidency. The Southeast stands a better chance, but there is nothing wrong in a Northeast agitation.
“However, I don’t think that is the principal reason for creating NEGF. I think it’s just to make sure they tackle the insurgency and as a microcosm, look at peculiar situations that affect the Northeastern States,” he surmised.
Speaking to State House correspondents shortly after their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, the NEGF chairman, Zulum had stated that challenges of the zone include addressing the root causes of insurgency, and decaying infrastructure, especially rock projects and cases of oil exploration in the region, among others.
In addition to Zulum, governors of the Northeast states within the NEGF are Ahmadu Fintri (Adamawa), Bala Mohammed (Bauchi), Inuwa Yahaya (Gombe), Arch Darius Ishaku (Taraba) and Mai Mala Buni (Yobe).
Three out of the states, including Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, were placed under emergency because of insurgency during the immediate past administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Apart from the Northeast governors, Nigeria security chiefs, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno and the Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, were present in the meeting with President Buhari.On the issue of growing insecurity in the region, Zulum, on behalf of the governors commended the efforts of the Federal Government.
“However, we told Mr. President that there is a need for the federal government to address the causes of the insurgency, which are not limited to endemic poverty and hunger, among others,” he said.
The Borno State governor underscored the need to create access to farmlands, stressing that the people needed to go back to their farmlands and be resettled in their original homes so that they can restart their means of livelihood.
“This is one of the reasons the insurgents are recruiting more into the sect. Therefore, creating an enabling environment will enable the people to go about their normal duties and this will no doubt reduce the cases of insurgency.
“We also recommended that police should be empowered, to be provided with certain state of the art equipment, armoured personnel carrier and the like, with a view to bridging the manpower gap that we are having in the Nigerian military,” he stated.
It could be recalled that the journey to the founding of the North East Governors’ Forum (NEGF), began in Gombe last March, when the six governors brainstormed on the common challenges facing their states.
At the Gombe meeting, the governors resolved to found a sub regional body, hold quarterly meetings and explore ideas and strategies aimed at stemming the spiraling socio-economic challenges, especially insecurity in their area.
The attack on Governor Zulum prompted a meeting of the governors in Maiduguri, during which they issued a 10-point communiqué part, calling for proper equipping of the police with strategic gadgets and for the “manpower deficit in the Nigerian Armed Forces to be bridged.”
The communiqué urged the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to expedite action on recharging the Lake Chad from national water bodies, saying it is a potent way of addressing the remote cause of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Highlighting the potential synergy with the North East Development Commission (NEDC), the governors said they support the commission’s management, adding that they agreed to collaborate in fashioning a strategic Master Plan for sustainable development of the region.
The NEGF called on the Federal Government to revoke and re-award selected roads contracts awarded by the Federal Ministry of Works for years without progress, to more competent contractors to ensure timely execution.
They also urged the Federal Government to ensure local content in the execution of the Mambila Hydroelectric power project and other programmes of the North East Development Commission to ensure synergy with state governments.