Tuesday, December 5, 2023

[Op_Ed] NGF chair: Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq fits the bill

By Muhammad Akanbi

The President Muhammadu Buhari administration is due to end in a couple of weeks. Already, a President-elect has emerged in Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). His win at the February 25th polls was not only landslide but also credible to a very large extent. The nation anticipates with baited breath his inauguration on May 29.

Asiwaju’s election has however not put an end to high-level politicking in the country as intrigues are currently ongoing over the leadership positions of the 10th National Assembly. More emphasis is being laid on the senate president and speaker offices. We have seen various aspirants and interests emerge. Things will continue to take shape.

Away from the national assembly, there’s another very important platform that is central to the affairs of the nation. And that’s the NGF, the Nigerian Governors Forum. The NGF has grown over the years to become a veritable platform shaping the future and fortunes of our country through collaborative efforts. As a forum for governors of the 36 states of the federation regardless of political affiliations, it offers an avenue for them to meet, deliberate and speak with one voice on matters of public concern. This platform wields enormous influence and has championed great causes overtime.

In preparation for a new dispensation, the NGF has also held its valedictory meeting. The floor is therefore open for a new leadership of the forum. A cursory review of history shows that the NGF has laid down procedures and tradition for electing its leader (chairman). The chairman has to be a returning governor who had served out his first term of 4 years. There’s also the tradition of rotation between the North and South which has always been respected to maintain geopolitical equity and balance. This essentially is a major nucleus that has seen the forum thriving since its creation in 1999. Again, the chairman is usually from the ruling party.

As it stands today, the ruling APC has 20 states under its control including new, existing and returning governors. The main opposition party PDP holds 13 states; while LP, APGA and NNPP have one each. When PDP held sway as the ruling party from 1999 to 2015, it had always produced the NGF chair. With APC taking over the reins of power at the federal level and emerging the ruling party in majority of the states in 2015, it became its lot to produce the NGF chairman.

Again, from Adamu Abdullahi to Victor Bassey Attah through to Bukola Saraki, Rotimi Amaechi, and then Abdulaziz Yari to Kayode Fayemi, the leadership of the forum has always been rotated between the North and South. Fayemi, former Governor of Ekiti State, last held the substantive chairmanship position of the NGF. When the expiration of his second term created a void recently, Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State who was his vice-chairman was only appointed acting chairman. With Fayemi from Southwest Nigeria as the last substantive chairman, it goes without saying that the chairmanship of the forum moves to the North.

Within the ranks of the APC, there are 5 returning governors from the North. They include: Inuwa Yahaya (Gombe), Mai Mala Buni (Yobe), Babagana Zulum (Borno), AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq (Kwara) and Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa). All of these APC governors are eminently qualified and competent to hold the position of the NGF chairman. However, there are other important factors I believe colleague-governors and stakeholders should take into consideration in rallying support for any of them.

From my assessment, these governors come dominantly from two regions (Northeast and Northcentral). Given the current political mood of the nation where stakeholders across parties are agitating for fairness and sense of belonging for every region, the result of which we got in the 2023 election, it would be gratifying if their search is narrowed to the Northcentral. The Northeast has already produced the Vice-President-elect which is a top office. While Prof. Zulum is eminently qualified, he might have to contend with the reality that the VP-elect Senator Kashim Shettima is from his state. Buni had held the position of APC chairman concurrently with governor in the outgoing dispensation, stakeholders may wish to try new hands.

More so, there is the feeling of marginalisation in the Northcentral given that they have not been able to produce either the president or the vice-president since the beginning of the fourth republic. It is only politically correct that this region is placated with other top positions in the country. With the current power play and permutations for the National Assembly leadership, it is almost not likely that the Northcentral region would get either the senate president or the speaker position. What’s therefore ideal for the APC to do is to compensate the region with another prized position. Methinks the NGF chairmanship would do a whole lot to show the region it is valued in the current political calculations.

It is highly commendable that the President-elect and other stakeholders including the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF) are making collaborative efforts to amicably resolve the issues of elective positions in the National Assembly which hitherto used to be very divisive. If the pronouncement of major stakeholders including the leading contestants and even the PGF is anything to go by, the Southsouth is reckoned to have clinched the senate presidency through Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, while the Northwest has equally been resolved to clinch the speakership position through Tajudeen Abbass of Kaduna State. The deputy senate presidency from feelers has also been zoned to Kano State through Barau Jibrin. While Banjamin Kalu of Abia State has been tipped to be deputy speaker.

What this indicates is that the Northcentral is still left out in all of these permutations, and it is the region comprising states like Kogi, Kwara, Benue, among others where bloc votes and major support came through for the APC. This is more reason why the NGF chairmanship position should go the way of the Northcentral. So, if the game is narrowed down to the Northcentral, we would have Governors AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq (Kwara) and Abdullahi Sule (Nasarawa) as options. The two men absolutely have the requisite capacity to be NGF chair, but then other factors should come to play between them since only one person can take the position at a time.

In the just concluded election, we all saw how Kwara asserted the popularity of the APC by not only winning the presidential election with a landslide, but also delivering all the NASS seats for the ruling party. Prior to the general election, Governor AbdulRazaq mobilised 100 percent delegate support for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in the primary which was a period of uncertainty. Kwara State has therefore never been in doubt as to their direction from the beginning. In the first leg of the general election, 10 seats were contested and Kwara delivered all for APC with wide margins. Asiwaju for instance scored 263,572 votes to lead Atiku Abubakar of the PDP who came a distant second with 136,909 votes, winning in all local government areas of the state. Don’t forget that this is the state where PDP top leader Bukola Saraki comes from. Imagine the work and efforts that must have gone down! Again in the second leg of the election, APC won the gubernatorial seat and 23 of the 24 house of assembly seats.

On the other hand, the same level of enthusiasm and support could not be found in Nasarawa State where the Labour Party put up an upset, defeating the APC in the presidential election. Peter Obi of the Labour Party led with 191,361 votes; while Asiwaju followed with 172,922 votes. In fact, two of their three senatorial seats were won by opposition SDP. There’s therefore no doubt about which state contributed most to the victory of the APC. I am convinced that the new APC emerging is the one where efforts are compensated. Efforts must be rewarded. Kwara State should be motivated to sustain the tempo.

Moreover, when the APC chairmanship was zoned to the region under the outgoing dispensation, Nasarawa benefited with the emergence of Senator Abdullahi Adamu. All eyes should therefore go to Kwara, the state that is referred to as the southernmost northern state in Nigeria. Kwara is like a melting pot for all manner of cultures both in the south and north of the country. A Governor who is able to lead this state effectively will have no problem managing the collective interest of the NGF by promoting unity in diversity. We sure can have that in AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, an unassuming personality, unsung hero, silent achiever, intelligent, cosmopolitan and urbane leader with an excellent track record in his state.

AbdulRazaq is no doubt one of the high performing governors in the outgoing dispensation. Several times, he made Kwara State rank first in the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF) monthly table of developmental strides. He has led many initiatives that have increased the quality of living in his Kwara State and enhanced social development as well as human capital development. This is despite the pitiable condition he inherited the state from his predecessors who had turned it into an estate of some sort.

AbdulRazaq posseses exceptional listening skills, deep thinking and reflection acumen, unprecedented level of loyalty and persuasive abilities which are critical traits required of anyone courting the NGF chairman role. His human relations and peoples skills are topnotch. At no time have we heard of him fighting dirty with or nursing acrimony against any of his brother-governors. An easygoing personality, his disposition points to the fact that he’s a great bridge builder. Though from the northern region, his network also transcends to the south where he has kept good relationship with governors and other major stakeholders. He has a cordial relationship with the two returning APC governors in the South: Dapo Abiodun (Ogun) and Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos). He’s therefore positioned as the most rational choice to make at a moment harmony and unity are most sought after in our nation.

AbdulRazaq is a champion of women and youth inclusion in politics and governance. Under his administration, young people who never thought of nearing political offices have been given a seat at the table. His cabinet is made up of about 56% women. The Governor consolidated that by securing the enactment of a law that guarantees 35% affirmative action in political appointments. His support went a long way to make five great women appear on the ballot in the just concluded election. They eventually won their contests into the state house of assembly.

Governor AbdulRazaq is one of the few governors at the subnational level who domesticated the social investment programme of the federal government. Federal government officials have hailed his model (Kwara State Social Investment Programmes) as effective and commendable. KWASSIP has supported young business owners with multi million naira grants and non-interest loans, stimulating MSMEs, encouraging petty trading and the artisans, and catering for the aged.

The unsung hero has made landmark interventions in education, healthcare, roads, workers welfare, and others. Within his four years stint, he has reconstructed, rehabilitated and rebuilt over 600 schools across the state. Importantly, a major policy he drove was KwaraLEARN which has increased public schools attendance in the state and incorporated technology into teaching and learning. His efforts in primary healthcare has seen the state declared polio-free after it embarrassed the whole country under the former administration with lack of attention and funding of immunisation programmes. Hospitals across the state are not only witnessing a major facelift but also being properly equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.

The long and short of it is that Governor AbdulRazaq is a performer with demonstrable capacity over the years. He ticks all the boxes and the cap fits him elegantly as the next NGF chairman. He is an accomplished leader of both the private and public sectors. Only in his 20’s, he floated NOPA Oil Services, the first indigenous company to trade in crude oil and petroleum products to the global markets (United States, Europe and Asia) and also to import crude oil and petroleum products into Nigeria. That speaks to his creativity and ingenuity. His success story influenced many of the oil and gas magnates in our country today. Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq is also a multilinguist. He speaks English, Hausa and Yoruba effortlessly. He’s widely travelled and experienced. He’s a detribalised and receptive leader who can make contacts across party lines. He had manifested this on several occasions and in recent times with his visit to top opposition leaders in Kwara State after the election.

AbdulRazaq is also a loyal party man whose commitment to his party the APC cannot just be overemphasized. He has always stood solidly by Asiwaju and has a good relationship with the president-elect. Therefore, working with the presidency in his capacity as NGF chairman if elected would be so smooth, in the overall interest of shared prosperity for the nation.

This is a passionate appeal to governors, governors-elect and other stakeholders across the country to look the way of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq for the NGF top job. He is definitely going to make a wonderful leader of the forum.

  • Akanbi is a political affairs analyst

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