Run­ning a state from a plane

Daily Trust - - SPORT -

Four dif­fer­ent state­ments made last week by Zam­fara State Gover­nor Ab­dul’aziz Yari Abubakar and his spokesman con­tra­dicted one an­other in many ma­te­rial par­tic­u­lars and made a con­tro­ver­sial claim about gov­er­nance style. On Tues­day last week, when he spoke to re­porters in Abuja at the end of a Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil meet­ing, Yari was asked about re­ports that mem­bers of the Zam­fara State House of As­sem­bly had tried to serve him with an im­peach­ment no­tice. He flatly de­nied that there was an im­peach­ment plot against him.

Three days later, Gover­nor Yari told re­porters at Sokoto’s Sir Abubakar III Air­port that the plot to im­peach him “was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and was meant to black­mail him into do­ing the bid­ding of some self­ish politicians in the state.” Which is which? Was there no im­peach­ment plot or was there a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and self­ish im­peach­ment plot? Al­most ev­ery­body in Zam­fara State had known for more than a week that the leg­is­la­tors were plan­ning to im­peach Yari. Though I live far away from Zam­fara State, I heard about the plot when all the as­sem­bly’s mem­bers went into hid­ing to per­fect it.

The gover­nor could be right that there was a self­ish el­e­ment to the im­peach­ment plot be­cause the MPs were en­raged that he with­held cer­tain al­lowances due to them. Still, his at­ti­tude did not help mat­ters. Asked about the MPs’ charge that he re­fused to grant them au­di­ence to dis­cuss their griev­ances, Yari said the leg­is­la­tors were not able to see him be­cause “they did not fol­low the right chan­nel.” He added, “This fail­ure of the leg­is­la­tors to fol­low the right chan­nel led to the peo­ple of the state to sus­pect that the law­mak­ers were plan­ning evil.” While I sup­port the need for peo­ple to fol­low the right chan­nel in ev­ery­thing they do, any gover­nor who con­structs a dif­fi­cult-to-fol­low chan­nel be­fore his state’s leg­is­la­tors can see him is play­ing with fire.

The charges that the leg­is­la­tors made against Yari de­serve a com­pre­hen­sive an­swer. Chair­man of the As­sem­bly’s In­for­ma­tion Com­mit­tee Man­nir Aliyu Gi­dan Jaja ac­cused the gover­nor of “cor­rupt us­age of lo­cal govern­ment funds for state pur­poses; in­ad­e­quate ex­pla­na­tion of N1 bil­lion com­mer­cial agri­cul­ture loan from CBN; non­remit­tance of pension funds to pension ad­min­is­tra­tors; non-re­mit­tance of 5 per­cent emi­rate coun­cil funds; gross mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of Fed­eral Govern­ment bailout funds to the state to set­tle work­ers’ salaries, in­clud­ing N10bn for 2014 and N1.46bn in 2016.”

Rather than an an­swer to these charges, what the peo­ple of Zam­fara heard next was the ar­rest by the De­part­ment of State Ser­vice [DSS] of the Zam­fara As­sem­bly’s Speaker Al­haji Sanusi Garba Rik­iji, Deputy Speaker Muham­mad Abubakar Gumi, Ma­jor­ity Leader Isah Ab­dul­mu­mini and Chief Whip Ab­dul­lahi Dansadau. They were de­tained overnight, then re­leased. All the other MPs turned up at the DSS’s Gusau of­fice in sol­i­dar­ity with their de­tained lead­ers. The puz­zle here is, what is DSS’s busi­ness in ar­rest­ing As­sem­bly lead­ers in or­der to foil an im­peach­ment plot? The Con­sti­tu­tion grants leg­is­la­tors the power to im­peach a gover­nor or, for that mat­ter, the pres­i­dent. An im­peach­ment plot is there­fore not a crime or a threat to state se­cu­rity. DSS should have no busi­ness in this mat­ter.

The MPs’ move to un­seat Yari is prob­a­bly ex­treme at this point but one rea­son why it did not come as a sur­prise was be­cause last month, Sen­a­tor Sa’idu Mo­hammed Dansadau called on Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari to de­clare a state of emer­gency in Zam­fara State and re­move the gover­nor from of­fice. Dansadau is a well re­garded politi­cian. Dur­ing his eight years in the Se­nate in 19992007, he was a con­science of the Se­nate who be­came well known for his courage, pro­bity and ar­tic­u­la­tion. Now, it is clear to all Nige­ri­ans by now that the Pres­i­dent has no power to re­move a gover­nor from of­fice. Even though Pres­i­dent Obasanjo did it in 2004 when he sus­pended Plateau State Gover­nor Joshua Dariye for six months, then Speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Aminu Waziri Tam­buwal stood firmly and pre­vented Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan from sack­ing the Borno State gover­nor and state as­sem­bly when he de­clared a state of emer­gency in the North East in 2013. Jonathan’s procla­ma­tion no­tice that sought to seize state funds and use them to fi­nance mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions was also quashed by the Na­tional As­sem­bly on the grounds that it was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

I sus­pect Dansadau knows this very well but de­cided to ig­nore it in or­der to drama­tise his point. How­ever, the charges that he made against Yari were very se­ri­ous and they wet­ted the ground for the Zam­fara MPs’ later charges. Dansadau said Yari’s in­ces­sant trav­el­ling was re­spon­si­ble for the grave in­se­cu­rity in the state. He said, “Since the in­cum­bency of the Gover­nor of Zam­fara State, Al­haji Ab­dul’aziz Yari Abubakar which be­gan five years ago, pub­lic per­cep­tion is that the Gover­nor has spent only about 20 per cent of that whole pe­riod in Zam­fara State. He had utilised the other 80 per­cent jun­ket­ing from one part of the coun­try to the other and shut­tling around the globe. All mat­ters of State that re­quire ac­tion are kept wait­ing un­til he re­turns to the State. Con­se­quently, in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity re­ports are kept in abeyance. For in­stance, at a pe­riod, out of 60 straight days, the gover­nor spent only two days in Zam­fara State.”

I ex­pected the Zam­fara State Govern­ment to vig­or­ously deny this se­ri­ous charge. In­stead, a state­ment cred­ited to Yari in Daily Trust on Satur­day tended to con­firm the al­le­ga­tion and then try to ex­plain it away. The gover­nor was quoted as say­ing at Sokoto Air­port that “his al­leged fre­quent trips were not crip­pling govern­ment ac­tiv­i­ties as he can run the state from any­where, even in the air.” Yari’s spokesman Ibrahim Dosara added that “the gover­nor had chal­lenged the Hon­ourable Mem­bers to pro­vide any ev­i­dence or proof of his use of state funds on his nu­mer­ous trips out­side the state or the coun­try.” It was not the first time that Yari made a ridicu­lous de­fence of in­ces­sant trav­el­ling. Three years ago he told re­porters in Gusau that he trav­els fre­quently be­cause he was an in­ter­na­tional busi­ness­man be­fore he be­came a gover­nor and must there­fore at­tend to his busi­nesses so that they don’t suf­fer.

It is not for noth­ing that Nige­ri­ans com­plain when their rulers en­gage in in­ces­sant travel. Since the adop­tion of the pres­i­den­tial sys­tem of govern­ment in Nige­ria 37 years ago and also due to long years of mil­i­tary rule, power has be­come over-cen­tralised in the hands of chief ex­ec­u­tives. This is so much so that in many states, civil ser­vants do not bother to go to the of­fice when the gover­nor is not in town. Other peo­ple soon got the same idea; years ago when as a news­pa­per ed­i­tor I asked my re­porter in a cer­tain state why he did not file any sto­ries for a week, he said noth­ing was hap­pen­ing in the state be­cause the gover­nor and his en­tire cab­i­net had trav­elled for the lesser hajj.

It is not only gov­er­nors. Nige­ri­ans also com­plain when their pres­i­dents travel too fre­quently, as Pres­i­dent Buhari learnt in the past year. A ruler’s fre­quent travel was dis­cred­ited in Nige­ria be­cause it nei­ther se­cured debt for­give­ness nor at­tracted for­eign in­vestors, the al­leged rea­sons for fre­quent pres­i­den­tial travel. Sure some trav­el­ling by gov­er­nors is nec­es­sary but one must find the right bal­ance. It could be true that some gov­er­nance is pos­si­ble from an air­craft cabin or from a Parisian ho­tel but a ruler does not get the right feel of his sub­jects from that al­ti­tude. Dur­ing the colo­nial era, the Bri­tish taught ev­ery ADO and DO here to re­main at his sta­tion as much as pos­si­ble and only un­der­take in­fre­quent tours. Today’s rulers need to en­rol for a DO’s course.

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