By Olatunji Ololade
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) regards anti-herdsmen dissent as a repulsive social fiction. The dissenters, in turn, scoff at the governors’ pompous hierarchy, labelling it insensate and a scourge to consciousness.
Thus in the wake of political actor, Sunday Adeyemo aka Sunday Igboho’s ultimatum to killer-herdsmen, it was a given that governors and politicians would startle from inertia.
Suddenly, Oyo governor, Rotimi Makinde, stopped seeing himself as a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) governor, but as an entitled comrade of the NGF, a co-runner of Nigeria’s political space.
By threatening to arrest Igboho, Makinde was speaking for all the other governors, who feel very threatened by Igboho’s militant recourse against the killer-herdsmen’s murderous sprees across the southwest.
The governors, who were hitherto unperturbed, have resorted to face-saving, power preservation stunts. They will not let Igboho steal their thunder. They are threatened by his raucous storms.
Their fears are understandable; if a northern muscle like the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG) should retaliate by re-enacting its 30-day ultimatum (issued in July 2019) to southerners to vacate the north except they accept the RUGA ranching scheme, the situation could aggravate and cause Nigeria to implode. If that should happen, new demagogues would emerge – dangerous and untameable. Some governors will be consumed by the resultant carnage. Their money, positions, and powers would be taken from them, and the NGF will lose relevance.
If Igboho was hitherto a minion or negligible gadfly among the populace, Makinde and the NGF have lionised him. Scared silly, the governors scurried to meet with representatives of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN) in Akure, Ondo State to defuse the crisis.
Yet they conveniently ignored their duplicity in leaving out of the deliberation, crucial actors in the conflict, that is, the victims of killer-herdsmen’s murderous quests.
The southwest governors have been faulted as spineless and too eager to curry the favour of the presidency and their ‘superior comrades’ from the north who ordered the meeting.
“Sit! Stand! Run! Speak! Keep shut! Good boys!” ordered their northern counterparts and handlers at the presidency, with a chuckle perhaps.
In a conflict, it is the duty of the umpire to facilitate an equal representation of all concerned parties; the governors could never claim to adequately represent or speak for the victims, given the huge gap that they have painstakingly created between their offices and the people whose mandate they earned or stole to emerge as governors.
However, the southwest governors were only being expedient. In a communique read by the NGF chairman and Ekiti governor, Kayode Fayemi, at the forum’s meeting in Akure, the stakeholders agreed to ban night and free-range grazing, underage herding, and herders’ occupation of state forest reserves describing these as illegal.
Fayemi clarified that herdsmen were not asked to vacate Ondo State as Governor Rotimi Akeredolu did not order the Fulani to leave the state, stressing that, ”The area concerned is the forest reserves and it is about registration and also to work in line with the law. What we are after are the criminals, not Fulani herdsmen. Criminals are criminals irrespective of their ethnic group.”
He said the meeting was conveyed to find lasting solutions to the incessant killings, kidnapping, and crises between herdsmen and farmers in the southwest, and urged states to reduce criminalities by creating economic opportunities for the people.
I agree with Fayemi but I must question as I did in a previous piece, the prevailing political system, and its constitutional pitfalls. While most governors and politicians pay lip-service to fiscal integrity, accountability, patriotism and true federalism, very few among them actually walk their talk.
Governors and deputy governors are entitled to N2,223,705 and N2,112,214 as annual salaries, states the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) but there are numerous allowances, including the controversial security vote not reflected in the figures.
Thus very few individuals, less than 50 in number to be precise, cost over 196 million Nigerians hundreds of billions of naira, every year, as salaries and other allowances for serving as governors.
Lest we forget the NGF’s troubling clamour for increased security votes; security votes are opaque corruption-prone security funding mechanisms, drawn monthly from the federal purse to fund fictive security expenses that have been widely criticised as fuelling corruption, since its deployments are never made public and unaccounted for.
These secretive, unaccounted-for outlays add up to an estimated $670 million (N241.2 billion) annually, according to Transparency International (TI). The international watchdog’s recent estimate, published in September 2018, revealed that the 36 governors spend $670m (N241bn) yearly on security votes which are not subject to audit or legislative oversight.
In just one year, these off-budget expenditures add up to over nine times the amount of US security assistance to Nigeria and the total amount of counterterrorism support the UK promised to give Nigeria by 2020.
Amid the begrimed imagery, some governors covet frivolities, like a frantic and unjustifiable lust to construct airports between states that are less than an hour’s drive from each other, like Lagos and Ogun.
Funding and efforts wasted on such initiatives could be committed to building good roads, water and rail systems, and actual crime-fighting.
The legend subsists of an ex-governor of Ogun State, who at the expiration of his tenure, contacted the state’s Police Commissioner, confessing that he had thousands of arms and millions of ammunition in-store at a secret armoury in the Government House, and that he had decided to hand them over to the police.
The police boss raced to the Government House with subordinates, and on arrival, the governor reportedly surrendered about four million rounds of ammunition, 1,000 units of AK47 assault rifles, 1,000 units of bulletproof vests, and an armoured personnel carrier (APC).
The truckloads of arms and ammunition would have served the police in fighting off killer-herdsmen perpetually prowling the state’s fringes but the governor kept them in his nondescript armoury, claiming he procured them to check the widespread insecurity in his state of less than five million residents.
This is no doubt instructive about what an average member of the NGF would do for ‘security’ reasons.
It’s about time the NGF discarded the serpent desires of power and belly, and seek realistic solutions to the states’ security and development challenges.
Beyond some governors’ hysteric pursuit of unearned clout and their presidential ambitions; beyond their lust to construct airports and embark on borrowing sprees, they could commit passion and resources to re-energise their states from the grassroots.
Many NGF members currently preside over impoverished states with unexploited consumer markets, untapped potential for commercial agriculture, and under-employed labour pools.
It’s about time they imaginatively engaged the grassroots, federal, and state-level actors in driving the economy, combating insecurity, and addressing post-conflict needs.
It’s instructive to note that no governor in the NGF enjoys a cult following save the Governor of Borno, Babagana Umara Zulum. None of them has successfully started a political movement driven by a ‘game-changing’ ideology.
None has initiated a development programme or policy that truly addresses and resolves social, human crises at the grassroots.
None of them enjoys widespread love and goodwill among the citizenry. And none of them has built a name that would outlive him.