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Gov Sule and challenges of righting Nasarawa’s mounting wrongs

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Gov. Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa. Photo/Twitter/NasarawaGovt

•Shadows of post-Al-Makura burdens
By 1996 when Nasarawa State, which was formerly known as lower Plateau, was created by the then military administration of General Sani Abacha, most citizens saw it as a dream come true. One outstanding feature of the new state then was that the founding fathers and the people did not believe that religious or ethnic affiliation would stand in their way, thereby disposing them as one big family.

Again, with the election of the first civilian governor of the state, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, in 1999, on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the spirit of brotherhood with which they moved out from Plateau State was strengthened and entrenched.

Divisive politics
However, as time went on and after cycles of elections, the politics of religion and ethnicity began to rear its ugly heads. This is contrary to the noble dreams of the founding fathers, who saw everyone as brothers and sisters despite religious and ethnic diversities. It was in the second term of Adamu that religious rivalry peaked when the likes of Solomon Ewuga was allegedly robbed of his governorship ticket and given to Aliyu Akwe Doma of blessed memory.

Ewuga, a Christian from the Eggon speaking area of Nasarawa North Senatorial District, also referred to as Akwanga zone, was substituted with Doma at the PDP governorship primary in 2006. Ewuga and his supporters were pained that a few weeks before the party’s primaries, Doma was in the rival All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), only to be lured by the outgoing governor Adamu with the PDP governorship ticket.

In the midst of that development also, Mr. Labaran Maku, who was Governor Adamu’s deputy and earlier tipped to succeed him (Adamu), declared for the governorship at Lafia square in 2006 with Umaru Tanko Al-Makura (immediate past governor) as chairman of the occasion.

It should be noted that Maku, whose political career began as commissioner of information in 1999, later rose to become the deputy governor in 2003. By 2007 he had garnered huge supporters across the 13 local government areas, reinforced by the perceived support of outgoing governor Adamu.

But a few weeks to the 2006 PDP governorship primary, Maku was told by his principal to refrain from further campaigning on the grounds that he was too young to be governor.

While explaining his decision, Maku had said: “I stepped down my ambition in obedience to my principal’s instruction, even though my age mates, like Uzor Kalu and a host of others are governors in their states.”

Yet, piqued by the development, Ewuga dumped PDP for ANPP, where he chose to pursue his governorship ambition only to be defeated by Aliyu Doma of PDP. Despite the betrayals that preceded his emergence, on assumption of office, Doma, who was one of the founding fathers, ran an all-inclusive government and was able to curtail the budding ethnic and religious rivalry in the state.

Doma was also able to build bridges by extending a hand of fellowship to aggrieved stakeholders, most of whom he co-opted into his administration. Doma’s administration focused mainly on projects that opened up the state through rural roads and rural electrification, thereby providing easy access to the mainly agrarian rural dwellers. He also created new chiefdoms in a bid to give recognition and a sense of belonging to communities and ethnic nationalities, which helped to foster peaceful coexistence among the various tribes.

It was through these and other gestures that the former governor was able to end the Tiv versus Fulani crisis, which sent a large population of Tiv communities into exile. The upheaval, which actually started in 2001 under governor Abdullahi Adamu, was nipped in the bud.

Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura of Nassarawa State

Amakura and Ombatse uprising
Perhaps, the coming of Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura in 2011, which marked another epoch in the socio-political and economic history of the state would be remembered in Nasarawa whenever ‘Ombatse’ and the killing of over 120 armed policemen and officers of the Department of State Services (DSS) is mentioned. Sources said ‘Ombatse’ emerged as a militia group basically to protest Al-Makura’s refusal to implement his campaign promises, especially the offer to serve for a single term in office, which mutual agreement he later undermined.

It was alleged that Al-Makura wooed Ewuga into the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in order to defeat the then incumbent Doma, with a promise to hand over to him after four years in office. The promise, though not documented by the parties, was based on trust and it spurred Ewuga to traverse every nook and cranny of the state to mobilise his supporters, particularly the Eggon tribe, which is the largest ethnic group in the state. They not only supported Al-Makura’s election, but also defended his votes during the 2011 election.

However, the Eggon ethnic group, feeling that their chance to clinch the governorship seat had been betrayed in the past by persons whom they believed did not mean well for them, massively supported and voted for Al-Makura. With Adamu, on one hand, the massive support of the Eggon ethnic group on the other, the hope of the incumbent governor Doma, who wanted to contest for a second term on the PDP platform, was dashed.

Intriguingly, Al-Makura in an obscure political party, CPC won the election against his opponent, Doma with a narrow margin of 300 votes. Senator Adamu, when he defected to the CPC shortly after the 2011 election, said: “We brought in Akwe Doma and we deposed him.”

Nasarawa election in 2011 was not won on party lines, but individuals, because while CPC won the governorship, PDP won the presidential poll with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. A few months after the declaration of Al-Makura as the winner of the governorship election, the first crisis, between the Alago and Eggon which became protracted started in Asakyo, Lafia council.

Investigations would reveal later that the Asakyo crisis, which led to the killing of thousands and destruction of property, was as a result of Doma’s defeat by Al-Makura through the overwhelming support of the Eggon. Asakyo is the ancestral home of the Alago ethnic groups, the second largest group un the state and next to the Eggon. These two ethnic groups had both lived peacefully together and inter-married for decades, without raising arms against each other.

It was alleged that the traditional ruler of Asakyo and other Alago communities were not happy with the massive support given to Al-Makura by the Eggon (whom they claimed are their brothers) in Asakyo and across the state against their brother (governor Doma, who is an Alago).

Piqued by that sentiment, the Alago began to treat the Eggon as enemies. But the decision did not go down well with the Eggon farmers, who were compelled by the Alago to pay rent for farmlands or stop farming. All efforts to resolve the disagreement, which culminated in a full-scale ethnic crisis failed leading to loss of lives and destruction of properties.

As the crisis deepened, it became obvious that governor Al-Makura did not want to relinquish power as earlier agreed, but began to take advantage of the crisis to pave way for his second term. All entreaties to Al-Makura to honour the gentleman’s agreement failed, as he denied ever promising to serve for just one term and even challenged anybody with proof to produce the contractual agreement where such contract was entered.

The resulting frustration from the first crisis between the Alago and the Eggon broke out because the Eggon voted for Al-Makura against Doma. Then also, because Al-Makura failed to fulfill the promise of handing over to an Eggon son, that led to the formation of the deadly Ombatse militia group as the last option.

Literally, Ombatse means, ‘our time has come,’ and was formed like a prayer group, where the worshipers go to the shrine to worship and pray to their ancestral god, aghili, which the adherents claimed was angry because “people are being killed and oppressed by bad leaders.”

The worshipers of aghili also claim that the land (state) needed some cleansing, because many innocent people had been slaughtered. Incidentally, its formation coincided with the period when Fulani herders/farmers’ crisis was at its peak in the state. Virtually all the ethnic groups and communities across the state had their share of Fulani attack with thousands of lives, properties and farm produce wasted.

With the 2015 election approaching, the security situation got worse with threat of impeachment oozing out from the state Assembly, dominated by PDP. But as some of the lawmakers were alleged to have collected money from Al-Makura, the impeachment plot flopped, even as the ‘Judases’ leaked every aspect of the plan to Al-Makura.

Apart from financial gratification, it was also alleged that some of the lawmakers were promised the governorship seat. With this turn of event, the state became more polarised on ethnic and religious basis, just as the Ombatse group continued terrorising any group opposed to its activities. Believing that some Eggon politicians were behind the deadly group, Almakura refused to bow to their pressure, but embarked on the massive sack of some of his appointees from Eggon, thus further widening the gap between prominent elders of Eggon and politicians.

Ombatse militia group reached its peak when over 120 joint armed policemen and DSS deployed to arrest the chief priest, popularly called ‘Baba Alakyo, were murdered in Alakyo village some six kilometres from Lafia, the state capital.

Before the attack, the group was outlawed by the state government and published in an official gazette. The heated rivalry peaked when soldiers reportedly stormed the shrine in the group’s ancestral home in Nassarawa-Eggon Local Government Council and dispersed them, forcing the cult’s leader and some members to migrate to Asakyo.

In their travails, the group consistently indicted governor Al-Makura as a major sponsor of the cult through donations in support of their worship, an allegation the governor pointedly denied. The incident, which warranted a combined operation of DSS and the police that culminated in the invasion on Alakyo at about 5.00pm on May 19, 2013, remains a puzzle.

However, knowledgeable sources disclosed how the security officers were lured into an ambush, dispossessed of their weapons, brutally murdered, and then burnt to ashes.

A senior police source said it was about the “most blood-curdling act ever witnessed against the law enforcement community in my three decades in the force.”

Other unsolved riddles include: who authorised the ill-fated operation in the first place, both at the police end and at the Directorate of State Security end, which cost both institutions of team leaders of the operation?

But a top operative, who craved anonymity, disclosed that just 10 kilometres out of Lafia, “what set out as a clandestine operation came upon an ambush, well laid out by the Eggon attackers, who took on the security convoy ultimately turning their mission into a monstrous killing field.

“This was planned as a clandestine operation for which resources in men and materials were mobilised from different units of the Lafia Command, and for which almost none of the men in the convoy knew their destination.

“Now, how it all ended so terribly that the cultists would anticipate and inflict this kind of attack on security people speaks volumes of either infiltration or mission’s betrayal.”

At the end of it all, a commission of inquiry was set up as usual by the Al-Makura government to fish out the killers of the over 120 security agents and their sponsors in Alakyo and prescribe punishments. During hearing at the commission in Lafia in a life broadcast, the legal adviser of Ombatse, Mr. Z.Z. Alumaga, stated that governor Al-Makura was a major sponsor of the group, citing various evidences to support his claim.

After the rigorous legal exercise by the commission with all the money and resources involved, the report of that commission has never been implemented. Instead, governor Al-Makura later appointed the same legal adviser of Ombatse as the Executive secretary of Nasarawa State Emergency Management Agency (NASEMA).

Political rivalries
At the approach of 2019 general elections, Almakura, out of frustration that former governor Adamu opposed his succession plan, vowed to retire the Senator from politics, despite the fact that Adamu had worked hard to make him (Al-Makura) governor in 2011.

Al-Makura’s move to retire Adamu from his senatorial ambition became obvious when the immediate past governor’s media aide, Yakubu Lamai, began to hold press conferences and issuing statements exposing Adamu’s perceived dirty deals in the Farin Ruwa projects.

In less than two weeks, the media was awash with Senator Adamu’s alleged financial rackets when he was governor. The Senator vowed to fight back. But when it became obvious that Adamu might meet his political waterloo, following the issuance of automatic ticket to serving APC Senators, the party’s national chairman, Adams Oshiomole, became his only escape route to frustrate the secret plot.

Whether the rivalry between Al-Makura and Senator Adamu has been resolved or not, it has further validated the dirty, secret dealings of the former governor that the anti-graft agencies must investigate. Al-Makura, who started as a leader with a humble beginning as an elubo (cassava powder) seller as a young child, allegedly degenerated into land grabber from the poor and the rich, particularly in the state capital, Lafia.

Even churches were not spared, particularly the Deeper Life Church, whose land was legally purchased from the defunct Nasarawa Express. At the time the newspaper was winding down, the governing board of Nasarawa Express contacted the church leadership to buy the piece of land adjacent to the church’s state headquarters in Lafia.

Even the intervention of the late Emir of Lafia could not sway Al-Makura, who was bent on converting the land to his personal use. Several other stakeholders, both in Kwandere and other parts of Lafia, raised the alarm about the forceful conversion of their land by the former governor. Stakeholders point to the recent court ruling in favour of owners of Breeze 99.9 FM, which was demolished by the former governor, to insist that Al-Makura used his office as governor to intimidate, harass and brutalise citizens in the state.

While awarding the management of Breeze FM the sum of N68 million as compensation, the state High Court, presided over by Justice Rose Soji, described the demolition as malicious, illegal and an infringement on the right of the owner, Dr. Nawani Aboki.

Post-Al-Makura challenges
Nasarawa people recall that a few days to his exit, Almakura created 12 new chiefdoms and left the Tiv with none. Among the ethnic groups in Nasarawa State, it is only the Tiv that do not have chiefdom despite their huge population and strident cry of marginalization.

It could be recalled that opposition parties and elder statesmen had at various times concluded that former governor Almakura left the state more divided on religious and ethnic lines than he met it. The predominant narrative in the state at the moment is that if Governor Abdullahi Sule, who is defending his mandate at the election tribunal, must succeed and make a positive mark, he would have to right the wrongs of his predecessor in government.

Already, Governor Sule is enjoying positive perception as a well-educated, detribalised and as one who would not sacrifice competence on the altar of religious or ethnic sentiments. Al-Makura, while addressing journalists in Abuja, predicted that Mr. Sule would soon run into huge problems, saying that his successor, being a cosmopolitan person, does not understand Nasarawa politics.

Senator Al-Makura contradicted his stance when he announced that he contributed enormously to make Sule governor, remarking that he (Sule) was not the best among the aspirants. The former governor, however, urged journalists and all lovers of the state to support the incumbent, adding, “He is a good person that would learn on the job.”

Although it is not clear whether the governor and his godfather have parted ways, if he must justify the goodwill he currently enjoys, unifying the state should be his central focus. One of the sure steps he should take is adopting Doma’s strategy of accommodation, especially by opening his doors genuinely to Nasarawa people irrespective of party or religious affiliations.

Governor Sule should allow the people to make inputs and discuss their state without seeing contrary opinions as those of enemies or detractors as happened in past regimes. He should dismiss the apprehension among the people before his election, which was that “Engineer Abdullahi Sule is coming to serve the interests and shield the atrocities of his godfather, Tanko Al-Makura.”

Would that fear become real or fade away as unfounded attribution? Time will tell.


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