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Before Nigerian governors wreck the country

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Before Nigerian governors wreck the country

By Zainab Suleiman Okino

Those who are familiar with the antics of our governors will not be surprised at the latest findings allegedly linked to ex-governor Gabriel Suswam, if allegations of complicity are eventually proven. Having been confronted with a Suswam perspective at the weekend when I travelled with some colleagues to Benue state and came face to face with the deplorable state of the roads and especially from Markurdi, the state capital to Otukpo, the ancestral home of the Idomas, it was unnerving, and not the least surprised about the latest findings. Suswam is already facing N3.1 fraud charges instituted against him by the EFCC. Although, we ranted and heaped the blames (of the state of infrastructure in the state) on David Mark, who was Senate President for eight years, and serving his fourth term in office, the state was equally administered for eight years by Suswam.

Sadly, the current set of governors don’t fare any better; they are towing the inappropriate line of their predecessors, behaving like lords of the manor, running their states like their personal fiefdoms and ruining them in the process. Warts and all, the Buhari government has shown good faith in their relationship with the state governors. When the government came in almost two years ago, it inherited a huge debt overhang and ballooning overhead cost; civil servants across the states were owed salary arrears running into months. Having enjoyed a massive support from across the nation during the election, the government’s subsequent bailout plan was a way to compensate the electorate through their states. With the exception of Kogi state, whose bailout request was politicized, (the government of Capt. Idris Wada applied and was denied, but the same federal government ushered in Gov. Yahaya Bello’s administration with the bailout package, after he took over power), all the states got and the disbursement was administered (based on their whims) by their governors.

Unfortunately, instead of paying salaries of workers, many governors diverted the money, including paying contractors, other than what it was meant for. In states like Kogi, Osun, Imo, Bauchi and Benue, workers are still being owed. Kogi in particular engaged in an endless staff audit, largely considered a ploy to deny legitimate workers, whose names were used to justify the application for the bailout in the first instance.

The outcry that greeted the misapplication of the bailout funds across the states, prompted many Nigerians to ask for a probe. Many also questioned the propriety of giving more money to governors only for them to misappropriate it. However the federal government turned a deaf ear, when again, it doled out more money from the Paris Club refunds to governors, ostensibly to reduce workers’ hardship during the last Christmas/New Year festivities. Notwithstanding, civil servants across the states still groan under the weight of unpaid salaries and allowances engendered by the governors’ insensitivity to their plight. But despite their best efforts to cover their dirty deals regarding the Paris Club fund issue; it has since come to light that some of the governors are culpable after all. They are now enmeshed in a controversy over a sharing formula that included the principal officers of the National Assembly probably to shut them up. So far the sum of N19B was said to have been traced to the account of their umbrella body, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which opened two accounts for the purpose of diverting from the over N500B they got. It was revealed that governors paid 2% of the refunds to consultants (of their choosing) and 3% to themselves, while an unspecified amount paid in cash to the said principal officers of the National Assembly.

It may not be a surprise therefore that the EFCC chairman’s confirmation is facing stiff opposition from the Senate, having been in the mix and on the radar of the anti-corruption organ for illegally partaking in the sharing of money that did not belong to them. So what has changed, you may ask. Nothing really, because there is still no transparency and accountability despite the change mantra propounded by this government.

In Nigeria, governors are demigods, very powerful and can be dictatorial. They have the capacity to blackmail all including the Presidency in order to have their way. The state houses of assembly are complicit; they do the biddings of the governors. During the constitutional amendment, they were given the opportunity to vote for their autonomy and henceforth be on first line charge from the federation account, but the governors manipulated them to vote against their own interest, so they (governors) can have an easy ride on any issue. Therefore the constitutional provision of checks and balances are never applied to the letters especially at the state level. Having appropriated so much wealth from the commonwealth, plus constitutional immunity, our governors wield enormous power. The combination of power, influence and money simply enhances their recklessness and dictatorial streak.

There is however hope that the long of arms of the law can catch up with them, if the government is serious about fighting corruption to a standstill, and if anti-corruption agencies like EFCC, ICPC and even the police and judiciary are purged of bad eggs and are allowed to do their work unhindered and without interference from the executive. Sadly, no governor has been sent to jail in Nigeria since civil rule took shape in 1999, because the guilty have the means to subvert the course of justice. I hope the EFCC’s investigation of the Paris Club, bailout funds and the Suswam phenomenon will not end in the dustbin of history like others before it.

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“Justice At last for Abuja Indigenes!”

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“Justice At last for Abuja Indigenes!”

After 42 years of complicated relationship with federal authorities that grabbed their land for the purpose of building a capital for the nation, Abuja original inhabitants last Monday got some significant justice that will change their national profile for ever.

It is puzzling most news media organs were unaware of the ruling on the status of the Abuja original inhabitants: The ruling certainly has some jurisprudential significance.

This is the story even most judicial reporters either curiously missed or did not consider newsworthy: The Court of Appeal in Abuja on that Monday declared in a landmark judgment that indigenous inhabitants of Abuja are indeed entitled to a ministerial representation in the Federal Executive Council as provided by the combined provisions of Sections 147 (3), 299, 14 (3) and 42 of 1999 Constitution.

The Court also declared that persistent denial and refusal of past and current presidents to appoint an indigene of FCT Abuja as a minister in the federal executive council (FEC) since May 1999 tantamount to a gross violation of the said constitutional right against discrimination.

Accordingly, the Court directed the President to immediately make the said appointment. N100, 000 was awarded against the president and the Attorney General of the Federation as first and second respondents.

Expectedly, some FCT indigenes have expressed delight over Court of Appeal’s Jan. 15 judgment that entitled them to ministerial representation in the Executive Council of the Federation.

The natives of Abuja said the decision would give them the opportunity to fully participate in governance in the nation’s capital their forefathers donated to the nation more than four decades ago.

While congratulating the original inhabitants, it is also important to implore President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the judicial decision without delay. This is in the interest of peace and stability of the permanent capital of the federation.

The (federal) capital was legally moved from Lagos to Abuja on Thursday 12 December, 1991 by the then General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) military regime. The proclamation of Abuja as the nation’s capital was done by the military regime of General Murtala Mohammed on 3rd December 1976.

The battle for this judicial recognition and victory has been a long drawn one. The natives have been agitating for political recognition and other rights since creation of the capital. Even the 1999 constitution has long been identified as unfair to the citizens of Abuja who actually have no other state of the federation to claim. Section 299 of the Constitution provides the ambiguity successive governments have been exploiting to cheat the people. They have political representation at the level of civil service up to the office of permanent secretary, National Population, among others, but specifically, representation at the cabinet level has been a huge challenge despite peaceful agitations.

For instance, in October 2015, when the Buhari administration was concluding cabinet making, the Abuja indigenes protested for their right to nominate their own representatives too. But as usual, no one listened to them.

Specifically, yours sincerely had in the last three decades written more than 45 articles on the plight of the original inhabitants of Abuja, especially within the context of the ambiguous provisions in various extant laws on the Federal Territory that have always discriminated against them.

What is worse, the Federation Capital has no democratic institution beyond its only six (local) Area Councils. No State Legislature as the Constitution makes the National Assembly the Assembly for the Natives. The Senate is made up of three Senators from each of the 36 States of the Federation. But Abuja has only one Senate Slot. The House of Representatives of 360 members have only two representatives from Abuja’s (two federal constituencies). Besides, the Constitution, which makes the President and the Vice President their Governor and Deputy Governors respectively, enables the same president, (their governor) to mominate a minister to represent the FCT in the federal cabinet. But the President, their governor is not mandated to name a representative from among the natives. This has been the tragedy of the ambiguity of the controversial Section 299, which has been the main issue for the natives of Abuja.

The section states specifically that Abuja should be treated as if it were one of the states of the federation… That was the main provision in the nation’s organic law the natives approached various courts to interpret.

The main victory over this darkness came so clearly last Monday when the Abuja Court of Appeal ruled so powerfully, so unanimously that Abuja should indeed be treated as one of the states of the federation. This massive victory came as a thief in the night and the news media “comprehended it not” for recognition as a prominent news item for the front pages and prime time.

It will be recalled that before the last cabinet was sworn in, in 2015 hundreds of protesters under the aegis of Coalition of Indigenous Inhabitants staged a protest over alleged marginalization of the natives of capital city by the federal government.

The protesters, comprising youths, old women and men, drawn from the six Area Councils of Abuja, took the protest to the gate of the National Assembly, almost barricading the access road before the police repelled them.

That marked the end of the protest. The National Assembly, their Assembly did not table the request.
The natives said then that they staged the protest to clamour for a ministerial post and creation of what they term as “second tier government” in Abuja to bring government closer to the people.

The indigenes also expressed dissatisfaction with the way Abuja indigenes were allegedly treated in the composition of departments and agencies under the Federal Capital Development Administration, FCDA. Their words then: “We are here to say we have been marginalized beyond what we can bear.

We cannot sit down and people come from all over the country to rule us as ministers….”
The leader of the coalition then, Ezekiel Balatu was also quoted as saying that the FCT should be accorded a state status even as he argued that in the Nigerian Constitution, Federal Character principle and an Appeal Court judgment in the case of Okeyede vs FCTA supported their claim. “So we should have a minister like every other state,” he said.

Even the police then could not stop Balatu from adding that, “Also, we need a second tier government that will cater for the needs of the indigenes. Why we are here is because we don’t have our own House of Assembly. The National Assembly is our House of Assembly. It should not be. How can an Abaji resident reach Aso Rock Villa to complain? We should have a government that is closer to us, which is for the people and by the people. If our parents have endured this suffering for 39 years, we younger generation are saying no….”

Mr. Balatu however said they were motivated to embark on the protest as a result of their belief in President Muhammadu Buhari.
Another leader of the group, Yusuf Danlami of Abaji Area Council, said the protest was genuine and, “it is not that we are sponsored by anybody.”

A week before the protest, the only Senator representing Abuja, Phillip Aduda, had raised an objection to the non-inclusion of any indigene of FCT in the ministerial list read by the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki but no action was taken by the Upper House.

When the natives got frustrated even by their representatives at their Assembly, our Assembly, they headed for the ECOWAS Court based in Abuja too. They dragged the Federal Government of Nigeria to the ECOWAS Court over “political, social, and economic developmental deprivation and marginalization”.
The inhabitants had in their affidavit lamented, “continuous evacuation, demolitions of indigenous peoples of FCT Natives Houses, displacement of some indigenous communities of FCT original natives, grabs of their ancestral lands without legally due payments of adequate compensation or adequate resettlement.”

They also raised, “issues of land-grab, demolition of natives houses illegally, illegal arrest on the processes of demolition, ecological degradation/ environmental remediation, non-development of satellite towns, marginalization in appointments, non- compensation of compulsorily acquired lands, massive sacking of whole villages for the appropriation of their landed/ natural resources by selfish politicians and their cronies in government”.

The inhabitants, therefore, sought certain order/reliefs including:
– A declaration that the applicants, as law abiding citizens, are entitled to right to life, freedom of movement, freedom of Association, right to human dignity, right to integrity of their person, right to the security of their person, right not to be discriminated in their society, and Right to guarantee their state status as citizens of Nigeria, FCT Abuja.
– A declaration that the applicants members who lost their lives, suffer illegal arrest, demolitions of their respective Houses in the FCT Abuja on the continuous violation of their Fundamental Rights are entitled to a compensation to the sum of (2 trillion Naira only), which is general damage caused by the government, during recent and past administrations and payment of outstanding compensation balance due to indigenes of FCT made by the federal government.

Meanwhile, the only consolation the Abuja natives got in recent years was in 2014 when the then political conference recommended an elected Mayoralty for the Federal Capital Territory. They had then commended the conference delegates for approving mayoral status, ministerial slot and compensation for FCT lands the federal government grabbed since 1976 without compensation.

In July 2014 the natives of the Federal Capital Territory on the platform of Original Inhabitants Development Association of Abuja (OIDA) commended the National Conference for giving voice to the aspirations of Abuja natives through the approval of a Mayoral status for Abuja; One (1) Ministerial slot for FCT; Two (2) additional Federal Constituencies; Two (2) additional Area Councils; an FCT Commission for Indigenous People and asking the Federal Government to accelerate compensation for owners of seized lands in the nation’s capital.

A statement signed then by OIDA Media Adviser, Sumner Shagari Sambo stated that, “a democratically elected Mayor and Deputy Mayor will aid good governance and accountability to the FCT electorate unlike the present ministerial system that lacks transparency and accountability to the people. It will also put Nigeria on the global map as one of the countries with an elected Mayor that runs its capital city in accordance with democratic best practices.”

The FCT original inhabitants added then that the recommendations of the General Ike Nwachukwu and Mohammed Kumalia led-Committee on “Political Restructuring and Forms of Government” was in tandem with the natives’ desire for a democratic system that allows Abuja indigenous people and other Nigerians resident in the city to freely elect leaders that can be directly held accountable by them.

When will President Buhari implement the Court of Appeal’s significant judgment? There are useful lessons here from the strategy of the Abuja natives who have never spilled any resident’s blood in the name of massive land grab since 1976. We will continue the lessons some day by His grace!
Culled from the Guardian

Inside Stuff with MARTINS OLOJA,

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Between half-full and half-empty cups

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Between half-full and half-empty cups
By Zainab Okino

I consider it a national tragedy to compare the disastrous government of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan with President Muhammadu Buhari’s highly over-rated and disappointingly under-achieved government, but in the last few weeks, many have journeyed to the past in retrospect and came up with damning similar indices.

The other day, three young ladies, having a heated argument over Jonathan/Buhari’s tenures confronted me with the papers on the lips of everyone today. How did Jonathan’s government impact on the welfare of the citizens? Is poverty more prevalent today than it was some years back?

And to underscore their knowledge of issues as aspiring leaders, they said their enquiry was about the generality of Nigerians especially the lower class and not necessarily about elite whose consumption pattern can be exotic and luxurious, and who are also finding it difficult to adjust to the hard times.

Although, the answer is obvious, it is, however, not as simplistic as that, as other issues may have to be factored in to underscore the choice of Buhari in 2015 as it were, despite the so-called ‘prosperity’ of Jonathan’s era compared to the rising poverty level of today. If Nigerians are now benchmarking the current government with Jonathan’s, considered to be the worst chapter in the nation’s history, then, we are in trouble.

The answer to the poverty level as enquired by the young ladies couldn’t have been palatable, not after NBS’s statistics of 4.3M and 3.7M job losses in 2017 and 2016, respectively, with concomitant consequences, under the watchful eyes of a government that promised to create 3M jobs every year.

The reality is, sadly stark. The main duties of government are welfare and security, but these have taken a flight in Nigeria. Although we must reckon with the effort of the Buhari government to initially nip the Boko Haram challenge in the bud, their resurgence, and the general insecurity all over the country, especially headsmen-farmers’ clash is worrisome. Just like Buhari now, Jonathan dithered and allowed Boko Haram to fester; he attributed an insurgency with international dimension to politics, assuming erroneously that the North unleashed Boko Haram on his government, after he, a Southern minority took over from the late Umaru Yar’adua. By the time the terrorist group took the war to his home-front in Abuja, killed hundreds of military, para-military personnel, ordinary citizens, abducted over 200 girls from a Chibok school and put Nigeria on red alert and terrorism map of the world, it became too late for Jonathan, and losing the election even as an incumbent was only a matter of time.

The Jonathan scenario played out with Buhari on his (mis)handling of the herdsmen-farmers’ incessant altercations until it deteriorated to the level it is today and can even get worse if the president does not act fast. Allegations against Fulani herdsmen in the Benue killings and their effrontery in the kidnapping ring in many parts of the country are not proactively addressed. A government that held so much promise because of Buhari’s cult following as a man of integrity, and promised so much, by now should have investigated and get the murderers jailed, whether Fulanis or anybody at all, while attacks/killings of herdsmen should be meted/treated with the same measures.

The similarities in style of governance in Buhari and Jonathan are becoming unsettling indeed. Buhari’s defenders are won’t to say the president is being misled by his advisers and cronies, the cabal and scoundrels who surround him; hold him hostage and take decisions on his behalf without consultation, the very excuse Jonathan’s buddies used to justify his monumental failure. In the current dispensation, all bad decisions and outcomes come from these bad guys, while the good ones are attributed to Buhari. In order words, he is a captive president just like Jonathan who was said not to be in charge of the affairs of the state; who while he drank his life away, appointees and aides like the Diezanis, the Oduas, the Orubebes held sway and determined the direction of government, while Nigeria burned.

Just like Buhari is doing, Jonathan made importation of fuel a state policy because importation gives immediate gratification to friends and cronies instead of massive investment in fixing the existing refineries and building new ones to meet local consumption, but Buhari even compounded our woes further. In over 20 years, no president, dead or alive has hiked the price of fuel with the margin Buhari did without having to face the wrath of Organised Labour and contend with the people’s wrath. Buhari did it without a whimper of protests, again underscoring the measure of the goodwill he enjoined and the confidence people had in his government. The cookies have since crumbled and I wonder if this government can recover from the blow and loss of ground considering the barrage of criticisms and the groundswell of anger in the land.

Lack of capacity and ability to show statesmanship has been the lot of our successive leaders. Leaders who held so much promise and squandered the goodwill they had. Leaders who came in a blaze of glory and left in ignominy. Not even military leaders like Babangida who took Nigerians’ tolerance of his dribbling tactics for granted until he dribbled himself to a point of no return, is immune from this sad phenomenon.

Buhari’s inaction, aloofness and delayed response to issues are affecting his government so much that Father Mbaka had to come to judgment once again. I don’t want to go into the spiritual realm, but millions believe in prophesies and are holding their breath, to see whether Father Mbaka actually communed with God over Buhari losing election in 2019 if he runs and if he does not change his tactics. When the going was good, and with the bandwagon effects that followed Jonathan’s rejection in 2015, APC sympathisers and even non-political actors ensured Father Mbaka’s prophecy of Jonathan’s impending election doom went viral on the social media. Now that Father Mbaka has returned with vengeance, with bad news for Buhari, his message is being rejected by the remnants of Buhari’s die-hard supporters. Not forgetting Rueben Abati’s demons and evil powers in the villa assertion. Buhari’s men are also blaming diabolical marabouts for being responsible for our woes. It is only in Nigeria that failure of governance is attributed to cabals, witches and wizards, evil spirits and demons.

Now everyone is apprehensive about 2019. Opening this year with bloodbath has not helped matters. In the final analysis, Nigerians are asking: have they been duped? Were they hoodwinked and deceived to believe that the grass is greener on the other side? In fact have we been collectively short-changed? As painful as it is, our lot under Jonathan and now Buhari, can be likened to a half-full cup and a half-empty cup analogy that has left the country economically depraved, socially disoriented and derided by the world. Therefore, from a half-empty clueless government of Jonathan to a grace-to-grass half-full government of Buhari, Nigeria is once again on tenterhooks, and the people, more than ever before are the biggest losers.

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Kogi’s Yahaya Bello: Governor Or Fighter?

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Kogi’s Yahaya Bello: Governor Or Fighter?

By Tonnie Iredia.

It is not quite easy trying to examine why Yahaya Bello, Governor of Kogi State is now and again in the news for the wrong reasons. Each time a controversy about him breaks, what shocks people is the fact that the man appears to enjoy distracting himself thereby forcing analysts to recall the peculiar political development that ushered him into office. Did the man actually prepare for the position? There is doubt if he did because his ambition to become governor must have waned with the emergence of Prince Abubakar Audu (now late) as the flag bearer of their party, the All Progressives Congress APC. Before charismatic Audu could take office, he passed on, creating a vacuum which was inexplicably filled by the APC by bringing in Bello and dropping James Faleke, Audu’s running mate who no doubt contributed to the votes garnered by Audu that were now transferred to Bello.

The people of Kogi had no opportunity to even imagine whether to vote for Bello or not just as the new governor himself neither in essence canvass for votes nor did he articulate any agenda for governance. He became governor by the contraptions in the Nigerian political system and the technical nature of the nation’s judicial system. What this implies is that Bello must have acquired a fair share of political enemies. But why he always falls into their traps is hard to fathom. For longer than makes sense, the governor incurred the wrath of public workers in the state with several months of unpaid salaries and allowances. Ordinarily, Kogi could have hidden behind the large number of other defaulting states especially as the arrears were inherited but the case of Kogi is different because the governor introduced a screening exercise which was designed to operate without end. The position now is that no one believes the declared objectives of the screening.

As if the governor is unaware that unlike himself, the ordinary public servant has no security vote to appropriate, he has continued to treat the meager salaries of workers like a game of politics. Quite often, the state government gives an impression that salaries have been paid and that the few yet to be paid could not be cleared. The fact that what is said is too far from reality was confirmed when the organised labour in Kogi cancelled this year’s May Day celebration in protest against the non-payment of workers’ salaries and monthly pensions of retirees for as much as 14 months. The state Chairman of the NLC, Onu Edoka, and his TUC counterpart, Ranti Ojo said so. The people’s pain is further aggravated by the strategy of fighting with different groups, using the governor’s political appointees who are only good at making inflammatory statements. The other day, one of his aides described people engaged in peaceful protests as political jobbers and criminals; yet the protest was only calling attention to the impropriety of appointing two ambassadors from one section of the state.

The fight between the governor and Senator Dino Melaye is another piece of evidence that ego fighting is more important than governance in Kogi State. There is nothing wrong in a constituency seeking to recall its senator. If that is what is happening between the people of Kogi west senatorial district and their senator, Dino Melaye, it is a fair constitutional process. But the argument that the people were materially mobilized to cut their senator to size is worrisome. The recent advertorials valued at N12m placed in several national dailies by the Attorney General of the state in favour of the contrived recall confirms the point. No wonder, payment of salaries has remained a mirage in the state. The truth however is that a worker’s salary is not a privilege but a right. It is not even an achievement to say salaries have been paid let alone to argue that a substantial portion has been cleared. This to us is important in understanding the latest and mother of all fights by governor Bello which is the one with the workers of the State University.

It is unfortunate that the latest fight is with ASUU which everyone knows is not a child’s play. Interestingly, the governor is standing at the wrong end of the battle-field by purporting to have powers to proscribe ASUU. The news of the week which came out last Wednesday stated that the Governor proscribed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Kogi State University (KSU) chapter for its refusal to recognise his administration’s accepting to meet almost 90% of their demands. Expectedly, political opponents immediately lined up behind ASUU. In a signed statement, James Faleke a member of the House of Representatives who believes his right to the position of governor was usurped by Bello said the proscription had no legal basis. According to Faleke, there is no provision in KSU Law 1991 that gives the governor such sweeping powers to undermine the rights of the lecturers to free association.

Even if such a law existed, ASUU would naturally see it as being in conflict with the constitution which validates free association. Already, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Ayuba Wabba, has said that Gov. Yahaya Bello had no power to proscribe union activities in Kogi adding that the right of Nigerian workers to belong to any union of their choice is contained in Section 40 of Nigeria’s Constitution. Wabba also contended that workers have fundamental human rights to join unions of their choices as enshrined in the Charters of the United Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO), to which Nigeria is signatory.

If what is playing out is not quickly checked, we shall have in our hands a long process that would keep students out of school for as long as no one knows. It is therefore time for the APC to introspect and engage their governor in peace education. We know however that whenever a piece such as this is written, the usual reaction is to hire writers to put up rejoinders attacking the messenger without assimilating the goodwill inherent in the message. Of course it is not in the interest of Governor Bello and the APC to adopt such a suicidal approach.

Culled from Vanguard News.

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