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Williams: The Real Impunity In Niger State

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A WELL-rated back page piece caught my eyes recently, precisely on Wednesday, February 25. Instead of hitting the nail on the head and situating the problem where it belonged, every attempt was made in that article to drag Abuja into what was clearly a homegrown case of impunity. There was a clever attempt to obfuscate the subject matter of that narrative by forcefully linking it to distant and disparate occurrences in order to transfer culpability. In this country today, if a man has some mechanical issues with his automobile, the diagnosis of that particular ailment would not be comprehensive if Abuja and President Jonathan are not named as co-defendants.

   The case at hand is one where, the Governor of Niger State, Muazu Babangida-Aliyu, has shunned his deputy, Ahmed Musa Ibeto, who had displayed an uncommon courage to dump his previous party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and pitch his tent with the All Progressives Congress (APC).

    For doing that, short of being asked to go home, the deputy is now bypassed in official engagements. Tasks the deputy ought to have performed are now assigned to others. The man is harassed, allegedly, and is presented to be in very pathetic circumstances.

  This narrative is not going to dwell specifically on the fate of this particular deputy governor and the sour dish he is being served currently by his principal. Reason being that one may not have the full details of the situation at a glance. For instance, it is difficult to understand why the same Babangida-Aliyu, who first romanced with the opposition in their days in the New-PDP, but later chickened out, would no longer tolerate his deputy for now going the whole length to actualise that old dream. 

   Again, there is the temptation to show restraint in blaming the governor, who, in the first place, felt the need to appoint the man to be his deputy from a long list of aspirants. In that earlier exercise, acts of injustice and impunity were meted to some persons and groups. 

   Babangida-Aliyu himself was not a factor in the original succession plan for 2007 at the time Abdulkadir Kure, the former governor, was rounding off his eight years in office. The current governor was not in the original picture, until he was grafted from Abuja and imposed on Nigerlites. How would you expect the man who was used to supplant others to know what it means to be fair and just? 

    As long as the template lacks justice and fairness from the very beginning, it might seem unfair to begin to ask for individual justice midstream. 

  The concern should be that there are older acts of impunity that gave birth to the current ones, which the elite skillfully dance around. They don’t want to talk about it because they want to forcefully entrench it as part of history. 

   There are people in Niger State who are being systematically marginalised from mainstream politics and governance. I refer in this instance to the Gwaris. Also known as Gbagis, they are major stakeholders in the FCT, where they also suffer another round of political deprivation. In Niger State, they live with their brothers, the Nupes, Hausas and others.

  From 1999, gubernatorial politics in Niger, as in other states, was programmed to benefit from the principle of zoning. The idea was to give a voice to persons and groups whose population and visibility may not be strong enough to compete favorably with others. Apart from that, you need a good partnership among the zones in order for a party to do well across board. Thus, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) embarked on a policy that was to rotate the governorship among the three Senatorial districts of Niger South, East and North. The other major political party at that time, All Peoples Party (APP) also had on paper its own principles of accommodating all segments, but since it could not win the governorship, we may not reckon much with it in this piece, except that it is now a part of the larger All Progressives Congress (APC), which has again commenced its journey in Niger without serious commitment to principles of equity and justice. That will be explained later.

  The overall population of Niger is put at 3.9 million, going by the 2006 census figures. In the figures, the Nupe of (Niger South) is credited with 40 percent of the population, while the Gwaris (Niger East) have 30 percent, Hausa (Niger North) 20 per cent and others 10 per cent. 

   Politics is a game of numbers and the beauty is that everybody can be represented if fairness and justice is enthroned. It is unlike what obtained in military regimes when appointments were based on considerations that lacked transparency and objectivity. Kure is Nupe, and he became governor from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the PDP. His deputy for that period was Dr. Shem Nuhu Zagbayi, a Gwari. Zagbayi is a brilliant pharmacist who earned a Ph.D. in that field. Kure is equally a brilliant engineer. Niger State was peaceful during their tenure, except that the opposition, which had initial good outing in the state House of Assembly, was systematically asphyxiated and assimilated into the ruling party.  Apart from that scheming, no other acts of impunity were noticeable. 

  What went wrong was that when Kure was leaving office in 2007, he could not ensure that Zagbayi, his loyal deputy succeeded him. Instead, it was Babangida-Aliyu, who was not on ground initially that was foisted on the PDP from Abuja. The intrigue was made more complex when Babangida-Aliyu claimed to represent Niger East, a predominantly  Gwari District, without him being Gwari. His gain was the loss of Gwari people, who were denied the first opportunity to experience governance at that close quarters, like their fellow Nupes had just experienced for eight years. 

   There were no editorials or back page articles to denounce that incident of oppression and impunity. Impunity, because the manner Babangida-Aliyu was imported to replace Zagbayi amounted to a violation of PDP rules. Even if it were not Zagbayi, it could have been any other authentic indigene of Niger West.

   But not to yield and succumb perpetually to a history of subterfuge and oppression, the Gwari had summoned good representation in what later became the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), in the person of David Umaru. Umaru, a brilliant lawyer and grassroots politicians had been working underground, helping his people to reclaim lands stolen from them in the courts. He had endeared himself to his people and others who were oppressed in Niger State by the political class of retired soldiers and their oligarchic traditional institutions. He was governorship candidate in 2007, but he did not make it. He also did not make it in 2011, not because he was not capable and experienced enough, but because of an old conspiracy to make the Gwaris remain endlessly in the flanks.

    And towards 2015, the Gwaris do not seem to be in the mainstream. Technically, they are not there because the governorship may have been zoned to Niger North, where both the PDP and APC have gone to pick their candidates. The anger among the informed intelligentsia in the state is that neither of the two candidates has sufficient cognate experience to make the race interesting. 

   The APC candidate, 47 year-old Abubakar Sani Bello, also know as Abu Lolo is the son of former military governor of Kano State, Col. Sani Bello. He is a businessman and rich, apparently courtesy of his father. He served in the administration of Babangida-Aliyu and went away unhappy. In terms of political conviction, there isn’t much to the young man.   

   For the PDP, 40-year old Umar Nasko is the lucky man. He is the son of former FCT minister and retired General, Gado Nasko. He had been commissioner of four different ministries and had been apparently groomed to succeed Babangida-Aliyu. The two are young and that is a good thing for Niger State. Most likely, the next governor is going to be under 50. 

  Those whose bother is that the two men have little experience are probably correct, but that is not my headache. It is not my trouble because it is self-inflicted. It is also the outcome of years of impunity by the ruling class to plant puppets, instead of allowing due process to throw up leaders. My concern is that Niger State is yet to be given the benefit to tap from the experiences of either Zagbayi or Umaru. And the bottom line is that the Gwari’s are being edged out systematically. Eight years from now, the Nupes of Niger South will be angling for another shot at the governorship, in the belief that every zone had been served. That to me will be dubious. 

  And the painful aspect is that the Gwaris are most vulnerable in the divide and rule politics of the state. Both Zagbayi and Umaru are in court over the re-run ticket of their zone. Zagbayi is currently in the Senate, but only as a puppet for Babangida-Aliyu. We must talk about it.



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