The election last week of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state as the new chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) is a welcome development. The emergence of Fayemi, who succeeds Abdulaziz Yari (having completed his terms of eight years as the Governor of Zamfara state), portends a good omen for the local government restructuring policy of the Buhari government.
Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto state was also elected as the deputy chairman of the NGF. Fayemi’s election was a unanimous one as he emerged as a consensus choice. He was nominated by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna state and seconded by Delta state governor, Ifeanyi Okowa.
The governors also said they will be meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari to discuss the country’s security situation. Besides, NGF maintained that the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) guidelines, which will become effective on June1, 2019, were illegal.
The outgoing chairman of the forum, Abdulaziz Yari Abubakar, who read the communiqué at the end of the meeting, said NFIU guidelines were detrimental to the interest of states and local governments.
He said: the forum unanimously elected Governor Kayode Fayemi as the new chairman of the NGF from 2019-2021. Members also elected Governor Aminu Tambuwal as vice chairman of the forum from 2019 -2021.”
Tambuwal was nominated by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos and seconded by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo state. Yari said that the forum discussed the country’s security situation, adding that “governors resolved to hold a meeting with Mr. President to find real and effective solutions to the security challenges facing the country.”
On the NFIU, he said: “The forum is concerned with recent guidelines of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) which seek to impose restriction on the powers of states and local governments to operate within constitutionally approved parameters. The new guidelines have no legal basis under the NFIU Act and are contrary to constitutional provisions”.
In his response, Fayemi expressed delight and accepted responsibility. He said himself and his deputy will build on the achievement of their successors. Besides, he said they will work in partnership with other arms of government and partners for the benefit of the country.
Remarkably, notable Nigerians including President Buhari and the National Working Committee (NWC) of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) have congratulated Fayemi on his election as the new chairman of the NGF.
The president, in a statement by Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, in Abuja on Thursday, said Fayemi’s choice by consensus indicated the degree of confidence in him by his colleagues.
He urged the new chairman to see the election as a unique opportunity to forge a harmonious and fruitful working relationship with the federal government and other tiers of government.
“The focal objective of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum at all times ought to be the higher interest of the people of this country above partisan, political, religious or regional differences,” he said.
Buhari said the federal government would continue to support the forum in its laudable objectives. The president also commended the immediate past NGF chairman, Abdul’aziz Yari, for his leadership styles.
APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said since its establishment, the non-partisan Nigeria Governors’ Forum has been a strategic partner in deepening democracy and entrenching good governance in the country.
It said the unanimous election of Fayemi to lead the forum till 2021 was due to his proven record of progressive leadership and experience as a development expert, minister, governor, among other endeavours.
“We are confident that the NGF under Fayemi’s leadership will continue in this best practice by cooperating and supporting the President Buhari-led APC administration in delivering on the Change Agenda for Nigerians, particularly as the country gears up for the next four years of the administration’s renewed mandate.
“The APC wishes Fayemi a very successful and impactful tenure and look forward to cordial relationship between the NGF and the President Buhari-led APC administration.
“This undoubtedly will ensure the successful implementation of the Next Level plans for our collective progress as a country,” the ruling party said.
However, Fayemi’s immediate challenge will be how to tackle the vexed issue of the financial autonomy recently granted to the 774 local governments in the country by the federal government through the NFIU’s recent guidelines. The 36 state governors had rejected the policy, urging the president to reverse the guidelines and return to the status quo ante.
It is in the light of the looming constitutional tussle that we advise Fayemi to use his good offices to impress on his colleagues the need to embrace the NFIU’s guidelines on the financial autonomy for local governments, considering its propriety to the development of the third tier of government.
The policy is also aimed at averting the threats by international financial watchdogs to sanction Nigeria because of financial abuse as well as the need to reinforce the existence of local government as an independent government established by the constitution at the grassroots level with sovereign and elected officials.