by Isi Esene
The election of Governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi as the chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum has attracted controversy with opposing governors alleging that the election was rigged in his favour.
In the keenly contested election which took place of Friday at the Rivers State Government lodge, Abuja, Amaechi defeated Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau state by 19 to 16 votes to retain his position as NGF chairman.
The governors of Katsina, Ibrahim Shema and that of Borno, Isa Yuguda had earlier stepped down for Jang, a late entrant, to go toe-to-toe with Amaechi who had also been earlier advised to step aside.
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Mr. Jang was allegedly propped up a few hours to the election by Mr. Jonathan, backed by some top brass of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who wanted Mr. Amaechi out at all cost.
Both Messrs Amaechi and Jang belong to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which has 23 out of the 36 members of the Forum.
The position of the vice chairman of the Forum was picked up by the Zamfara State Governor, Abdulaziz Yari, of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, who emerged unopposed following last minute withdrawal of the Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, a member of Labour Party, LP, from the contest.
Akpabio, others reject results
However, in a curious twist of events, some governors led by the Chairman of PDP Governors Forum, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, rejected the result of the poll which was conducted by secret ballot, saying it was rigged in favour of Mr. Amaechi.
Mr. Akpabio told journalists after a meeting of the opposed governors at the Akwa Ibom State Governors Lodge, Asokoro District, to which they retreated, that the ballot papers used for the election did not have serial numbers; adding that they would recognize Messrs Jang and Mimiko as the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Forum, respectively.
The Akpabio-led governors claimed Mr. Amaechi and his supporters rigged the election. Mr. Akpabio told journalists that the Rivers State Governor failed to step down prior to the election. He, however, did not state why he and his supporters, who said they voted for Mr. Jang, agreed to proceed with the election despite their claims.
Some of those that aligned with Mr. Akpabio include Mr. Mimiko, Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta, Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa, and Mr. Jang.
The Rivers State Governors Lodge in Asokoro, Abuja, the venue of the election, was thrown into was wild jubilation after Mr. Amaechi’s victory. Leading the victory celebration was Ibim Semenitari, the Rivers Commissioner for Information who danced to no music few minutes before the results were officially announced.
The meeting where the election held was attended by 35 governors, which cut across six parties, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP; Action Congress of Nigeria, CAN; All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP; Congress for Progressive Party, CPC; Labour Party; and the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA.
Only the Kebbi State Governor, Saidu Dakingari, did not attend the meeting. 35 governors voted in the election and 35 votes were counted.
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Intrigues and intense horse-trading preceded the election, which had heated up the polity; with Mr. Jonathan and other leaders of the PDP, including its National Chairman, Bamanga Tukur; and Board of Trustees Chairman, Tony Anenih, showing interest in who emerges the chairman and vice chairman of the Forum. Mr. Anenih had earlier in the week alleged that the NGF had been hijacked by opposition governors.
The president’s discreet intervention is also said to have been responsible for the withdrawal of the Katsina State Governor, Ibrahim Shema; and his Bauchi State counterpart, Isa Yuguda; both of whom were allegedly thrown up by Mr. Jonathan to challenge Mr. Amaechi.
Messrs Shema and Yuguda had on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, picked the nomination forms indicating their readiness to contest the chairmanship seat.
Sources, however, said that the two men were prevailed upon by the Northern State Governors Forum, NSGF, at its meeting held at the Niger State Governors Lodge, Abuja, earlier in the day, to step down for Mr. Jang in what appeared to be a move to soften the hearts of the governors opposed to the president.
The governors of the PDP also held a separate meeting chaired by Mr. Akpabio at the Akwa Ibom State Governors Lodge where it was agreed that like the NSGF, Mr. Jang would be presented as the consensus candidate of the party and Mr. Mimiko of the Labour Party, his deputy.
On their part, 11 opposition governors, who belong to the All Progressives Congress, APC, the product of the merger of ACN, CPC, ANPP and a faction of APGA, met at the Lagos House in the Central Business District of the territory to plot their strategies. The opposition votes are believed to have all gone for Mr. Amaechi.
Following his endorsement by the NSGF and the Presidency, Mr. Jang entered the race and immediately picked the nomination form at about 3 p.m. on Friday, about one hour before the commencement of the election; contrary to the constitution of NGF, which states that the letter of intent should be submitted a day before an election.
Interestingly, Mr. Amaechi attended the PDP governor’s meeting where Mr. Jang was picked as the consensus candidate of the party, but did not oppose the choice.
Just before the election commenced, Mr. Akpabio submitted consensus signatures which they had earlier harvested at the PDP governors’ meeting, saying Mr. Jang was their consensus candidate and therefore there should be no election.
However, the Rivers State Governor resisted Mr. Akpabio, who tried to cause a stir. In the midst of the confusion, the Akwa Ibom governor was seen moving in and out of the hall making frantic telephone believed to be in the presidency.
The resistance of the group led by the Akwa Ibom State Governor did not hold for too long as they were overwhelmed by the pro-Amaechi group, who insisted that the election should hold.
The election held and Mr. Amaechi defeated Mr. Jang by 19 to 16 votes; a result now being contested by Mr. Akpabio and his supporters.
The new claim by Mr. Akpabio and his group that they would not recognize Mr. Amaechi’s victory is expected to throw the governors’ forum into a fresh round of crisis.