The evolution of the NGF can be tied to two phases; the first being from 1999 to 2008 and the second being from 2009 till date. The first phase is characterized by very minimal activity by the Forum as well as a paltry meeting attendance by members and a weak secretariat. The Secretariat then was merely involved in organizing meetings and collecting annual dues, which was used for running the Secretariat.
The second phase started in earnest from 2009, two years after the Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki became the Chairman of the Forum. He spearheaded a major restructuring and redefining of the NGF. His tenure ended in 2011 when he handed over to his successor, the then Governor of Rivers State, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi. With the new structure, the office of Vice Chairman was created with Mr. Peter Obi, Governor of Anambra State, emerging as the pioneer Vice Chairman. His inspiring leadership style transformed the NGF into a formidable association by reinvigorating the commitment of Governors in pursuing the main thrusts of creating the association. The formation of the NGF was not only expedient but imperative for the States to assert themselves and to collectively influence the nature and course of policies at the national level. Given the state of the polity in the days following the end of many years of military rule, there was a clear need for States to re-assert themselves and exercise the level of independence that is the wont of a true federation. It had also become necessary for them to regain their past glory of constituting a credible unit within the wider context of the federation, thereby removing the manifest distortion which militates against the realization of true federalism.
Thus, the NGF began to take a new shape in the form of stronger cohesion and a dramatic increase in the level of commitment. The evolution of the Forum from 2009 till date could be attributed to the following milestones:
- Increase in attendance at meetings which has gone up significantly from the hitherto 9-12 out of 36 to the present 35-36 out of 36 members. Forum meetings have formed the basis for major policy contributions on important national issues such as the debates on Sovereign Wealth Fund, Minimum Wage, and the removal of fuel subsidy. In addition to regular meetings, various working committees (e.g. on Constitutional Review, Revenue Allocation, Security, etc.) are functional. More broadly, the National Executive Council (NEC) monthly meetings usually drive the scheduling of Forum meetings and common positions adopted at these meetings form the crux of the Governors priorities at NEC.
- The articulation of a Strategic Plan to guide the Forum’s activities. With the assistance of the DFID, a 3 – year Strategic Plan (2010-2012) was put together. This set the tone for the activities of the NGF and provided the direction for its future engagements. It was launched on February 8th, 2011 and came to an end in December 2012. Another Strategic Plan for the years 2014- 2016 succeeded the first and is the current plan. Plans are at advanced stage to put forward the next strategic plan.
- Restructuring and institutionalization of the Secretariat into an effective and functional policy hub. A new management was appointed in January 2009 under the leadership of Asishana B. Okauru to run the Forum’s Secretariat together with two other Executive Directors: Alhaji Lateef T. Shittu - Executive Director (Strategy & Research); and, Mohammed A. Jibia - Executive Director (Finance & Administration). With the support of DFID, the Secretariat now has a pool of experts who provide technical supports to states in the areas of the State Peer Review Mechanism, Economic Advisory, Policy Advisory, Knowledge Management and, Public Financial Management. The Secretariat’s capacity as the technical support engine and vehicle of NGF activities has evolved considerably.
- Forging strategic partnership with relevant stakeholders both internationally and locally.
All of the above speak to the emerging unity of purpose and a desire to find common ground on issues with a potential of directly impacting on the wider polity. For instance, in 2012, the Forum developed a collaborative arrangement on polio eradication involving the NGF and the Federal Ministry of Health and the Gates Foundation whereby states that met all the laid down threshold criteria were awarded a 500,000 USD grant the Gates’ Foundation to support their top health priorities. In practical terms, the NGF has become a major link between government, development partners and private organizations as they seek to reach the 36 States.
The level of cooperation between States has increased significantly, as has the relation between States and the Federal Government. This is manifested during deliberations at NEC meetings and interactions on many key national issues. Zonal groupings, which mirror the Forum, are increasingly effective as they discuss ways of overcoming their commonly shared developmental challenges. In dealing with common problems, the Forum has become a respected platform of collaboration irrespective of party differences and economic strength.