The Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) is practically a coalition of the governments of the 19 northern States; some kind of a regional government, that is. It therefore naturally follows that the head of the coalition which presently is the Governor of Plateau State, Mr Simon Lalong , is the leader of the north to whom the communities in the region as diverse as they are look up for guidance and protection against all internal and external destructive forces.
In the first place, the NSGF is a very familiar structure that has a relatively long history and which, even without a clear constitutional backing for its existence, continuously operates as an instrument for the preservation and improvement of the legacies of the region’s past leaders and the sustenance of a strong synergy among the governments of the northern states with a view to properly identifying, promoting and protecting the basic interests of those states. Management of the plurality of the northern entities either as geo-political zones or states in the same way that its singularity when it existed as one bloc was managed has always been the forum’s envisaged major function.
Secondly, although states governors are one another’s equals, the Chairman of the 19-member NSGF is definitely the first among the other members of the forum whose influence over the other 18 is more than symbolic. The conventions by which he emerged as the Chairman have guaranteed him the right to collate views of the other members and all stakeholders on all crucial issues about the north on the basis of which course of actions can be determined, thereby becoming the region’s biggest agenda-setter.
Governor Lalong who is supposedly conversant with not only the mandate and past activities of the NSGF but also the severity of the prevailing threats to the survival of the region must have accepted the argument that the current situation is the harshest in the history of the north. It is, in fact, now that the strength of the governance institutions, leaders’ capacity and sincerity as well as the courage of the northern peoples are most tested.
But the test is more for Governor Lalong than for any other leader or group of leaders because as the NSGF Chairman he shoulders the responsibility for the coordination of the several measures towards the resolution of the various crises in the region. His experience as the governor of one of the northern states where ethno-religious heterogeneity which speedily aggravates political rivalries is most pronounced should have been an asset to him in the discharge of his duties.
The NSGF, though a group of willing members some of whom may not be found or seen to be sufficiently committed, is a vital organ that should consistently be energized and refocused by the leadership to enable it work for the region. This means that at this time when all the north’s valuables—human lives and other resources as well as materials—-are being cheapened and wasted, the forum under Lalong should show much greater concern for the lives of the northerners and total readiness to tackle the situation.
There is, of course, the usual observation or complaint that a Chairman of NSGF lacks the powers to issue directives or ensure compliance with agreed guidelines and decisions by members which makes attainment of optimum results extremely difficult or even impossible. The vastness of the region and the huge diversity among its communities which is a bulwark against the adoption of a common approach to the problems of the north is also always put forward as a serious constraint for the leadership of the forum.
These points are, however, not strong enough to invalidate the fact that Governor Lalong has failed to apply himself fully to the job even with all the factors that can be made to work in his favour. As apparent as those constraints are, they are still not wholly responsible for the real and perceived failure of the forum to provide the necessary leading role in the resolution of the crippling crises in the north.
Contrary to popular expectations, the NSGF under the current leadership has allowed dull moment, which should have otherwise been fully utilized for the effective engagement of the critical segments of the northern society, to exist. It is certainly its low performance, especially in the area of coordination and harmonization of the activities of the numerous northern or pro-north groups that has resulted in the open conflicts between and amongst some of them which are inimical to the interests of the region.
Some of such groups are even persistently complaining that the forum is, most often, not forthcoming whenever its cooperation is sought towards the design of strategies for conflict resolution, peace promotion and implementation of initiatives for development. This particular attitude of the governors’ body for which its leadership is justifiably blamed is the reason for the absence of governmental support for even the most desirable activities of those groups.
Governor Lalong and all his colleagues need to realize that the rapid escalation of violent crimes as evident in the rampant kidnappings, mass abductions of people including school children as well as attacks and counter-attacks on communities and the disorientation that has obviously set into the processes of the management of public affairs have necessitated the conclusion by most northerners that the NSGF is far more a source of disappointment than a pillar of support for them. The preference of a lot of the governors for politicking just for the purpose of maximizing political gains as a result of which the real issues of development have been relegated to the background is both clear and disturbing.
While the ugly situation prevails, Governor Lalong who is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to which most of the northern states governors equally belong should immediately begin to, in the most appropriate manner, involve stakeholders in the search for a way out. His style of leadership should be inspiring enough to make all the other components of the northern leadership structure a lot more active so that the current insecurity and underdevelopment can be tackled at the right level.