Cognisant of the challenges of governance that confronted the States in the first decade of the new democratic process, the Forum felt the need for a retreat of all the governors – a concerted arrangement that would herald a new era in the quest for good governance in the States and by extension Nigeria.
The idea of Retreats in the NGF was conceived during the tenure of Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, Chairman of NGF, 2007-2011. In his opening address at the first retreat in 2007, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki gave the raison d’eter for the retreat thus:
“…we are gathered here today as Governors of 36 varying States with varying cultures and configurations. But we are united by our common nationhood; and even more united by the common concerns and aspirations of our people. The challenges that we face are the same; the aspirations for our people for a better quality of life, for separation from poverty, for freedom from diseases, for a greater future are the same. Therefore as we confront these challenges in our respective domains, there is so much to share with one another, and there is so much to learn from our various experiences. I believe that a reduction in poverty in one corner of our country is a reduction of poverty in all of our country and the prevalence of poverty in one corner of our country is a prevalence of poverty in all our country. The concept of ‘peer sharing’ based on collaboration and cooperation is therefore a critical strategy that we should all eagerly embrace in bringing development to our people”
Dr Saraki indeed saw the need for a retreat; a withdrawal of sorts from the clamouring and chatter of politicking, to a place where heads could be put together and hands linked in fellowship, to work out viable solutions to the myriads of problems besetting the young democracy, so soon after many years of military rule. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) provided a perfect platform for such an important retreat. This is because NGF is a non-partisan coalition of Nigeria’s elected governors in the 36 states of the federation.
It would be recalled that the year, 2007, marked an important milestone in the political life of Nigeria. That year was the eighth year of democracy in Nigeria after the military regime of General Abdulsalami Abubakar voluntarily relinquished power to civilians in 1999. The year 2007 was particularly notable because Nigeria’s fledgling democracy which seemed to have had a shaky start was beginning to get a firmer foothold in the country. President Olusegun Obasanjo had just served out his second tenure and had successfully handed over to Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua in what is known as the first ever successful ‘civilian to civilian’ hand over of power in Nigeria.
The first retreat, conceived by Governor Saraki, designed to bring together elected governors to reflect and rethink the process of democratic governance, has since been followed up by three other retreats which have took place under the current Chairman of the NGF, Rt. Honorable Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi.
The first retreat focused on four parts; The Constitution and Governance; Finance and Development; Education and Health; Image and Protocol. The resource persons, drawn from the Public Service, Academia and the Professions brought to bear their insightful knowledge of their areas of specialization to dissect the prevailing challenges in the states and proffer implementable solutions to tackle them. The interactions of the resource persons with the governors at the retreat have since given rise to the formulation of many policies and or the modification of existing ones.
Following the success of the first retreat and the far-reaching impact of the deliberations and resolutions in the shaping of policies at the sub-national level, the NGF under the Chairmanship of Rt. Honourable Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, Governor of Rivers State began the process of instituting ‘Retreats’ as a regular feature of the NGF Calendar. Consequently, three retreats held in quick succession over a period of one year. A major difference between the first retreat and the succeeding ones was that rather than have the governors come to Abuja, these retreats were taken to the States, the direct beneficiaries of the retreats.
The second retreat was held in Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate on November 15 and 16, 2013. The Sokoto Retreat addressed the following topics: “Good governance and the imperative for Managing and leaving a sustainable legacy”; “Deepening Democracy and Federalism in Nigeria – the role of States” and “Constitutionalism, Rule of Law and Human Rights”. The Economy and National Security were also x-rayed.
Some of the persons that delivered papers at the Sokoto Retreat include Bishop Matthew Kukah, Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, former EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Honourable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, a former Israeli Defense Intelligence Spokesman, Brigadier General Ephraim Lapid, Chairman, Board of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission, Professor Anselm Chidi Odinkalu and Human Rights crusader, Mrs. Ayo Obe.
From Sokoto, the Retreat set sail to the coastal city of Lagos and berthed on March 13 and 14, 2014. Some of the distinguished Nigerians, made up of scholars, policy makers, private sector and civil society functionaries include former EFCC Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Professor Akin Oyebode, Dr. Babagana Abba Gambo, Professor Victor Okoruwa, Dr. Alfred Dixon and Mr. Bismarck Rewane. Others were Professor Grace Alele Williams, Pprofessor Oyesoji Aremu, Dr. Haruna Abdullahi, Air vice Marshall John Ode, Dr. Innocent Chukwuma and former Minister of Police Affairs, Dr. Ibrahim Lame.
The Lagos Retreat examined such topics as the “Overview of the current state of Agriculture in the States”, “Nigeria without oil: Unlocking Agricultural Value Chain”, “Building Systems and Institutions that prevent corruption”, “Improving access and quality education at the sub-national level” and “Institutional and Social Drivers of insecurity at the sub-national level: Finding workable solutions”.
The fourth retreat took place in Port Harcourt, Rivers State on June 4th and 5th, 2014, hosted by the Governor of the State and Chairman of NGF, Rt. Honourable Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, CON. The fourth retreat which came at a time when most of the governors were transitioning out of office, focused on three governance issues (a) “Transitioning Out – Life After Office, Perspectives and Challenges” (b) Health – “Overview of the Current State of the Health Sector at the sub-National Level; “Achieving and Sustaining Universal Primary at the Sub-National Level” and (c) “Youth Unemployment in Nigeria”.
This retreat was designed to address the issue of uncertainty that follows the exit of governors from office by taking a global look from the experiences of local and international actors. To this end, Professor Amos Sawyer, a former President of Liberia addressed the governors on the subject of transitioning out of office. Professor Sawyer’s incisive paper on “Transitioning –out” was comprehensively reviewed by other discussants that included Governors Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo) and Rochas Okorocha (Imo); former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia) and Professor Adele L. Jinadu.
Other experts delivered papers on the challenges in Nigeria’s health sector which have remained intractable despite the enormous resources that both state and federal governments have committed into them. The presentations at the retreat geared towards designing a road map to tackling Health challenges at the sub-national levels are all contained in this book.
Similarly, the Port Harcourt retreat also examined the problems of Youth unemployment which confronts all levels of government in Nigeria. The presentation made by no other person than the former Secretary General, Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), Comrade Hassan Sunmonu was discussed by such eminent persons as Professor Olu Ajakaiye (President, Nigeria Economic Society), Mr. Fola Adeola (former Managing Director, GT Bank), Governors Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo) and Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto).
The success of these retreats and the attendant policies that have emanated from them have made it imperative that the retreats have come to stay. Future retreats will undoubtedly be held in the rest of the 36 States of the federation. The greatest merit of the decision to rotate the hosting of the retreats around States has been the enhancement of the knowledge and understanding of governors of States other than their own States, as the retreats moved State to State. The impact of this on peer learning, which is a cardinal focus of the NGF, has been tremendous.