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Gov Matawalle’s shaky steps in Zamfara politics

By Leo Sobechi, Deputy Politics Editor, Abuja
14 February 2022   |   4:16 am
It is only God that can trace the direction of politics in Zamfara State. That could explain why Governor Bello Matawalle became the state governor in a miraculous circumstance.

Bello Matawalle

It is only God that can trace the direction of politics in Zamfara State. That could explain why Governor Bello Matawalle became the state governor in a miraculous circumstance. But, nearly three years on the saddle, the governor has decided to take his destiny in his hands.
 
However, on June 30, 2021 the governor decided to move against his avowals to join the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), which was dethroned to make him the state chief executive on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
    
Although some people said the governor made a political miscalculation when the podium collapsed during his defection, the recent Gusau Federal High Court ruling in the case brought by PDP seeking his sacking showed that Maradun-born politician was destined to complete his four-year mandate.
  
It would be recalled that some PDP stalwarts from the state filed a suit challenging Matawalle’s defection from PDP to APC. APC was also disqualified from the 2019 governorship poll on account of its defective primaries.

   
But ruling on the matter, Justice Aliyu Bappa declined his court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case, stressing that the 1999 Constitution did not prohibit an incumbent governor from changing platform midway into his mandate.
    
While holding also that the matter was not a pre-election litigation, Justice Aliyu noted that neither the PDP nor APC’s Constitution frowned at the defection of a governor from one constitutional recognised party to another. 
   
The High Court judge, however, observed that the suit would have enjoyed a positive hearing if it was filed before an election petitions tribunal as a pre-election matter. “Only a tribunal or the State House of Assembly has the power to remove the governor on the grounds of defection,” Justice Aliyu declared.
  
Two years after the Supreme Court ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to withdraw the certificate of return from Alhaji Mukhtar Idris of APC and hand it over to Matawalle of PDP, the governor joined APC to fill the vacuum created.
    
Idris had, in the March 9, 2019 governorship election, polled 534, 541 votes to beat Matawalle then of PDP, who scored 189,452. But ruling that since the APC failed to conduct primary election for all the candidates in Zamfara State, the Court of Appeal sitting in Sokoto held that the certificate of return should be given to Matawalle and PDP.
   
On further appeal by the Governor Abdul’aziz Yari’s faction of APC, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s findings, stating that  since the vote cast for APC in the election wasted,  the candidate with the second highest votes should be sworn in as governor.
   
Coming barely less than 24 hours to the May 29, 2019 inauguration date, the rulings shattered APC’s hope of retaining its hold on the gold-rich northwest state.
 
Filling the void
ON June 29, 2021, precisely two years after his surprise enthronement, Matawalle crept into APC, leaving the PDP platform on which he was crowned.
 
Stunned by Matawalle’s surprise move, PDP made frantic efforts towards retaining its miraculous laurel by challenging Matawalle’s decision to fill the void created in APC by the serial court pronouncements faulting its election primaries.
  
However, last Monday, PDP stepped into the shoes of APC by recording a legal defeat at the Federal High Court in Gusau, to the relief of APC, which has regained presence in the state albeit through the backdoor of political manoeuvre.
 
The party did not hide its relief at the favourable stance of the Federal High Court towards Matawalle’s defection, as it praised the “judiciary for defending the Constitution and the popular mandate of Governor Matawalle.”
   
In a statement, Secretary of APC Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, congratulated Matawalle, stressing that the case against him was “devoid of merit.”
  
The APC interim management noted that the court’s pronouncement stressed that no constitutional provision stipulated that a governor would lose his seat whenever he defects to another party other than the political party upon which he was elected.
  
“Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle has the right to (free) assembly and association with respect to joining or belonging to a political party. In exercise of his right of freedom of association guaranteed under section 40 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), he can defect to any party of his choice and still maintain his seat as the Governor of Zamfara State,” Akpanudoedehe stated.
   
It is obvious that APC sees Matawalle’s defection from PDP not only as a prized asset, but also a necessary weapon to tackle the intra-party squabble that put the party on the path to defeat.
   
Outgoing governor Yari and Senator Kabiru Marafa entangled their factions in supremacy battle over the APC structure in the state, especially regarding who should fly the party’s flag during the 2019 governorship poll. While Marafa wanted to be governor, Yari preferred Idris and readied himself for the Senate.
  
The action of the judiciary in invalidating the Zamfara APC primaries left the two combatants without a victor or vanquished, rather it rendered the party destitute without any representative in the executive or legislative branches of government.
   
The pressure on Matawalle from the Presidency and APC CECPC was therefore necessitated by the need to permanently address the Yari versus Marafa imbroglio.
  
And, as expected, upon Matawalle’s defection, both political leaders forged a common front to tackle the new entrant, who was handed automatic headship of APC in Zamfara State. CECPC chairman, Mai Mala Buni, who was conversant with the zigzag political schemes in the state, knew that Matawalle would smother both Yari and Marafa, having been in the same All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) at the beginning of the fourth republic.
  
Not than alone, Buni knew that as a former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Environment, Rural Development as well as Commissioner for Youth and Sports in the administration of former Governor Ahmad Sani Yerima, Matawalle’s coming would help to reunite both men to present a formidable counterforce to both Yari/Marafa and PDP.
  
It should be recalled that after serving as commissioner, Matawalle went ahead to represent Bakura/Maradun Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, first on ANPP platform and later as PDP candidate.
  
However, after losing his come back bid to the House of Representatives in 2015, Matawalle switched over to PDP and became its governorship candidate in 2019, when luck smiled on him through the court.
   
Although Matawalle’s migration to APC reduced PDP’s electoral stature, his deputy refused to join the bandwagon sweep of PDP elected representatives in defecting to the federal governing party. Those who associated themselves with the governor’s defection include all three Senators, six out the seven members of House of Representatives and all 24 members of the state House of Assembly.
   
Development threw open new frontiers of political disagreements both within APC and between the defectors and members of their former party, particularly Deputy Governor Mahdi Aliyu Mohammed Gusau and the lone federal lawmaker loyal to him, Kabiru Yahaya.
   
At age 33, the deputy governor, who is the son of Nigeria’s former Minister of Defence, General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, is about the youngest deputy governor to emerge in the current democratic dispensation.
    
After taking over Zamfara State APC structure, Matawalle seems to have put the crisis in APC behind him and stoked a new battle with his ‘rebellious’ deputy, whose only sin was divorcing himself from the defection to APC on grounds of principle. Perhaps, piqued at the young man’s effrontery, and above all, fears that he may upstage him at the 2023 governorship and botch his second term ambition, Matawalle is leaving no stone unturned to sully his deputy’s political credentials through impeachment.

2023 concerns
MANY people in Zamfara State see the ongoing impeachment processes against Mohammed Aliu as a prelude to the expected contentious 2023 governorship poll, which could set up a clash between governor and his estranged deputy.
   
The sentiments within Zamfara APC is that removing Gusau would not only pave the way to strengthen the governorship seat, by reinforcing it with a loyal deputy, but also weakening the current deputy governor to the extent that he could not pose a stout challenge in next year’s gubernatorial poll.
  
Sources within the Zamfara State government house allege that the governor is afraid of a possible repeat of 2015, when he lost his third bid for the House of Representatives.
  
That determination could explain why 18 out of the 22-member state Assembly voted last Thursday to support the deputy governor’s impeachment, after the Deputy Speaker, Musa Bawa, submitted a statement in which the lawmakers were requested to commence impeachment proceedings against Gusau.
  
While Bawa moved a motion for the request to be considered, four members comprising three APC lawmakers and one PDP member were absent, even as the Speaker, Mu’azu Magarya, who urged his colleagues to accept his deputy’s request, was excluded from the voting.
  
Consequent upon the voting, the Zamfara State Chief Judge, Kulu Aliyu, was directed by the lawmakers to constitute an investigation panel to consider the allegations against the deputy governor. According to the request for impeachment, the lawmakers alleged that the deputy governor breached Sections 190 and 193 (1), (2) (a)(b)(c) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

    
It is left to be seen how far the impeachment process against the deputy governor would fare, especially against the background of the perceived hollowness of the allegations against him in the light of Federal High Court ruling on freedom of association in the PDP matter against Governor Matawalle.
 
Moreover, while the House of Assembly is scheming to satisfy the governor’s desire for total divorce from his deputy, the problems in APC and security situation in the state are combining to trouble the state chief executive.
  
The governor is being accused of unduly withholding the report of the committee he set up in 2019 to investigate the remote and immediate causes of banditry in the state and recommend possible solutions to the menace.
   
Although the panel headed by a retired Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, submitted its report in October 2019, two years after controversies still surround the implementation of the recommendations. Going by the committee’s terms of reference, they were to base their investigation for the period spanning June 2011 to May 29, 2019.
   
On account of the fact that the eight years period coincided with the tenure of , Governor Abdulaziz Yari, it was perceived as a political witch hunt by Matawalle, who was then a member of PDP, which saw the banditry as a fall out of APC internal supremacy battles between the then governor and Senator Marafa.
   
For instance, while presenting his committee’s report, DIG Abubakar (retd), disclosed that 4,983 women were widowed, 25,050 children orphaned and 190,340 persons displaced by banditry in Zamfara State between June 2011 and May 29, 2019.
   
While noting that N3billion was paid as ransom to bandits for the release of 3,672 kidnap victims, the committee chairman disclosed that harmless Fulani herders lost 2,015 cattle, 141 sheep and goats, 2,600 donkeys and camels to rustlers, just as 147,800 vehicles, motorcycles and others were burnt at different times and locations.
  
According to Abubakar, 33 district and village heads, 10 soldiers and some police officers were indicted for their involvement in banditry.
   
As Matawalle crossed over to APC, he faces the added public burden of inheriting the baggage of insecurity he traced to the party at the onset of his administration. The fear that the committee report would become an election issue has roiled the state government.
  
Responding after receiving the report, Matawalle had stated: “I would like to make it clear that personal relationship, sectional, geographical, religious and ethnic interests will have no role to play in the decision l will take with regard to recommendations of the committee, especially those that relate to the recommended sanctions and disciplinary measures.”
  
But, irked by calls for the implementation of the report, the state government accused the protagonists of being selfish, noting however that Governor Matawalle has started implementing some aspect of the recommendations and leaving others for the federal government to handle.

In a statement, Director General on new media at the Zamfara Government House, Ibrahim Zauma, declared: “I am surprised because some of these people calling for the implementation of the report don’t know what the report entails entirely. It is not something that can be done in a twinkle of an eye.

   
“His Excellency has not abandoned the report. Immediately the report was submitted, some of the recommendations were taken and implemented. Government revoked all land allocation on grazing reserves. This is the committee’s first recommendation…”
  
It would be recalled that Kadaria Ahmed, who was among Zamfara citizens that protested against Yari’s handling of the insecurity in the state, urged Matawalle to act on the committee’s report.
   
Referring to the committee’s work, Ahmed stated: “That report, I read it. It’s pretty comprehensive because they were very clear, they were very courageous, they didn’t shy away from naming people and didn’t shy away from saying what was going on.
  
“They recommended prosecution, including for former politicians who were holding high offices in the land, but nothing has happened. So, there is a degree of courage that is required if we are to tackle this issue in a way that will make a huge difference.”
 
As Matawalle has put himself at the centre of the Zamfara political pendulum, it would be seen how far he help to solve APC’s unceasing crisis as well as how much trouble he would give his former party, PDP.