Amid Gov. Mohammed’s coronavirus attack, Bauchi lawmakers plot speaker’s removal
There are indications that majority members of Bauchi State House of Assembly are keen on reversing the election of the Speaker, Alhaji Abubakar Suleiman, through the window provided by the absence of Governor Bala Mohammed, who has been quarantined after testing positive to the highly contagious coronavirus.
At the inception of the present dispensation on May 29, 2019, Bauchi and Edo States’ Houses of Assembly were embroiled in intense crises following schemes by their governors to have a say on who emerge as Speakers and presiding officers of the legislatures.
In Edo State, both the governor and the 24 members-elect belong to the All Progressives Congress (APC), in contrast to the situation in Bauchi, where APC was in the majority, while the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which won the governorship, had only eight lawmakers out of the 31-member legislative arm.
The Bauchi State House of Assembly (BSHA) comprises 22 APC, eight PDP and one New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) lawmakers. It was based on this lopsided distribution of membership along party lines that the 9th Bauchi House of Assembly took off on a controversial note.
To emerge as Speaker, Suleiman, though a member of APC, secured the support of his eight PDP colleagues alongside the endorsement of the executive arm, led by Governor Mohammed, who was an erstwhile Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. After the initial misgivings, the APC, after its defeat on the inauguration day, June 20, 2019, forlornly and bitterly accepted Suleiman’s election by 13 members out of the 31 lawmakers, which did not receive the blessing of the party’s majority caucus.
After the crisis that ensued lasted FOR 42 days, the aggrieved APC majority lawmakers reluctantly agreed to sheathe their swords. But, eight months after leading the Assembly, Suleiman is now facing a fresh threat of impeachment by his APC colleagues, who accuse him of being more PDP than APC as well as being unduly subservient to Governor Mohammed.
A reliable source in the House confided in The Guardian how plans are at advanced stage to dislodge the Speaker and put Governor Mohammad under intense pressure. He disclosed that there was instruction from the camp of the former Governor Abubakar to change the Assembly’s leadership that could play strong opposition to Mohammed’s policies. It was also learnt that the move to effect a change in the Assembly’s leadership is ostensibly to halt the probe of former Governor Abubakar after he was indicted by an Asset Recovery Panel for alleged corruption.
“What exacerbated this move is the report of the Assets Recovery Committee,” the source said. “The former governor, Abubakar, is looking for support of the lawmakers since they control the Assembly. If there is change of leadership, they can force the governor to do some things,” added that some PDP members in the House are also lamenting being sidelined and that could be an advantage to their calculation.
The Guardian gathered that APC lawmakers plan to reconvene tomorrow, Tuesday, 24 March, to remove Speaker Suleiman pending the attainment of adequate number of signatories to ensure the two-third constitutional mark. As at the time of filing this report, the protagonists are still on door-to-door appeal for support at different locations of lawmakers across different local councils. He said baring last minute disruptions, the removal might even take place today, Monday, March 30.
Another source among the aggrieved members who craved anonymity said, “Yes, we met in Gombe with our colleagues, where we attended a wedding ceremony of a friend to former Governor Abubakar. We spoke about so many issues bothering the leadership of the House.
“At the meeting, some of us agreed to change the Speaker, though he was not there (in Gombe). Honestly, I don’t have any grouse against the Speaker; he’s been doing well, and he carries everyone along. But some of our colleagues don’t really want him in that seat, being a first timer lawmaker.
“The plan is on to get the support of NNPP colleague to sign, though he’s been approached but he was skeptical at first and after so much pressure he has agreed to join forces.”
On Saturday 21, when Governor Mohammad flagged off construction of a 2,500 housing units, it was reported that the lawmakers invited to the event, APC members, except the Speaker, shunned the ceremony to attend the Gombe wedding which the governor was unhappy about, and reportedly described them as not having the state at heart. Mohammed also felt being insulted and not being regarded as the governor of the state.
This time, the Speaker might not find the game easy. He was elected by eight PDP members, with only two APC lawmakers from his party and the lone NNPP colleague —that made it 11, although the Speaker said two other APC lawmakers later joined his camp. This time, it was gathered that the two APC lawmakers no longer with him but also wanted him pulled down.
The Speaker has also intensified efforts to retain his seat, as he has been reaching out to colleagues but the highest bidder might win the tussle. His ‘sin’ bothers on his loyalty to Governor Mohammed, which the lawmakers said is not yielding ‘fruitful benefits’ for the legislature.
According to the source, the plan is to utilise the period when the governor is undergoing treatment following his testing positive to the deadly Coronvirus. He said the deputy speaker, according to the plan, would also be removed.
“The calculation is that the majority leader, Hon. Tijjani Aliyu, representing Azare, should be made speaker, Tukur Ibrahim from Toro as deputy speaker while Musa Ahmad from Bauchi will be majority leader,” he added.
Bauchi Assembly’s reaction to the alleged plot
Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Musa Nakwada, confirmed the ongoing impeachment process to The Guardian, saying APC members were grouping to dislodge the Speaker for the reason he said he could not identify.
He said: “You know, I’m from the PDP but they said it is APC members that are planning to remove the Speaker, who is also from APC. Though the crisis has been there from the beginning of his emergence as a speaker, it is not a surprise! But for me, all I know is that we are still one. We are all working for the development of the state. Abubakar Suleiman still remains our Speaker.”
Nakwada denied allegations that PDP members were also lamenting of been sidelined. He noted that things have been moving without any hitch, saying such could only be rumour.
On the alleged attempt to get ride of Speaker Suleiman to pave the way for the Assembly to halt the probe of Abubakar, the Spokesman said: “If someone has done something wrong, as a member, are you there to cover up for somebody? Let the governor do the right thing. If the panel has case against the former governor, let them go to court of law and the former governors should be allowed to defend themselves. As lawmakers, we are not working for the governor and former governors; we are working for the state. Our election is not an appointment. We are there to do the right thing.”
However, Bauchi Assembly has always been characterised by influence of external forces. In 2018, it took a swerve to repeal a law it made in 2017, which criminalised any corrupt public officials who must have diverted public funds and property to their personal use. Sadly, on the twilight of his administration, about eight weeks to the end of his tenure after his defeat, former Governor Abubakar transmitted a bill to the legislature to repeal the law it made two years prior. Sadly, it was hurriedly done among 11 lawmakers ahead of the sitting time; the proceeding was presided over by the then Speaker of the 8th Assembly, Hon Kawuwa Damina.
The action elicited swift protest from some other members who described the action of their colleagues as an abuse of office and betrayal of trust. Public analysts in the state described the former Speaker, Damina, as a rubber stamp to Abubakar’s government. After several public outcry and litigation, the House could not abrogate the law. Hon Damina was APC’s anointed candidate for the speakership position last year. This was agreed at a Kano meeting as summoned by former Governor Abubakar, who allegedly put forward Damina to put Governor Bala on his toes but Suleiman’s calculation took them unawares, as he got PDP’s full support and subsequently emerged the Speaker. As a result, for 42 days, the aggrieved members shunned sittings until the crisis was resolved with the intervention of stakeholders.
Panel of inquiry report
In July last year, Governor Mohammed had set up an asset and funds recovery committee to probe the administrations of former governors Isa Yuguda and Abubakar. While briefing the governor last three weeks, the panel informed that the two governors had mismanaged over N1 trillion without any physical project to show the amount. Mohammed lamented the state’s economic imbalance, noting it must repay the bailout it got during Abubakar’s government.
The 21-man panel, while briefing the newsmen recently through one of the members of the committee, Mr. Lawal Husseini Ibrahim, said, “As the committee was rounding off its activities, it received a whistleblower tip of onf items being carted away and transferred outside the state by the family of former governor Abubakar. The committee visited the home of the former governor at Fadaman Mada and was able to recover only a few items like 105 Pasta making machines, 10 sewing machines, carton of surgical hand gloves and several office furniture belonging to Bauchi State Government. The committee had earlier recovered four tractors, a luxury bus and a house belonging to the state government which the former governor Abubakar sold to himself.”
He said the house is located adjacent Government House. When asked about the suit filed by the two former governors challenging the activities of the committee, Mr. Lawal said, “Yes the former governors – Abubakar and Yuguda – sued the committee at the Federal High Court in Abuja and Bauchi State High Court, respectively, but the committee is responding adequately to the suits and will submit its report without hitches.”
He said the committee had traced over 16 different lands, buildings and property at different locations in Kaduna State with certificates of occupancy belonging to the Bauchi Government. He explained that the panel was investigating various contracts that were awarded by the two previous administrations, such as purchase of 500 tractors of which only 40 tractors were delivered, spending of ecological funds, Paris Club refunds and various loans that were taken, details of the finding would be made available when they submit their report to the government.
Governor Mohammed had said he was deploying forensic audit and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe former governors and had ordered their immediate prosecution. Mohammed insisted that he would not allow the state to be shortchanged by the former political office holders.
“I’m aware of loans that was collected during the administration of my predecessor amounting to N8 billion,” he said, “a lot has happened. N1.8 billion has been paid for consultancy which we are aware that EFCC has collected the money. Over N1 billion has been paid to individuals ranging from N70 million to N120 million, including the leaders of the administration.
“500 tractors were supposed to be supplied to us worth N2 billion, but only 40 (tractors) were supplied. N2.6 billion was approved for the purchase of fertilizer; we have not seen the fertilizer nor the funds. I will direct our legal department to immediately prosecute all those people found to have illegally acquired our assets. As for the rest, the statutory bodies responsible for mismanaging finance – EFCC and ICPC should immediately be contacted while the government will set up a forensic audit team and implementation so that this (panel report) document will constitute a working document for us to be able to do justice and equity.”
The Chairman of the Committee who is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security, Brigadier General Markus Koko Yake (rtd), said the committee had recovered 23 vehicles, four tractors with farm implement among others.
Abubakar, Yuguda deny allegations
He described allegations of the panel as “laughable”. Abubakar, through his media aide, Ali Ali, described the indictment by the state’s Assets Recovery Committee as “diversionary”.
“The latest joke by the Bauchi State Government Assets Recovery Committee set up by the incumbent governor, Bala Mohammed, to the effect that our principal and former governor and associates are to refund ‘over a trillion naira’ looted away under their watch. This latest charge is as laughable as it is diversionary. The first time Abubakar was charged with not accounting for N321,460,759,880.34 being statutory allocations to the state between May 2015 and May 2019! Now it has jumped to trillion.”
On his part, former Governor Isa Yuguda has also also denied the allegations levelled against him.