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NIGER: SLIDING TACKLES FOR THE CHIEF SERVANT

By NBF News

Niger State governor, Dr Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu, is not a man to be envied. He is engaged in a triangular dogfight to retain his job in 2011.The former federal Permanent Secretary is on the one hand battling internal dissent within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while till recently, he had also been enmeshed in legal bouts with All Nigeria Peoples Party's (ANPP) David Umaru, as well as Jibrin Alhassan Bala Gunna, who desire to unseat the Talban Minna.

Babangida Aliyu, popularly called 'Talban' by his supporters, is pitched in a battle of wits against his immediate predecessor, Abdulkadri Kure, the Gwari ethnic group who are feeling shortchanged in the political arrangement in the state, and other resilient political foes.

Niger State's delicate political balance stands on a pedestal of three principal ethnic groups, divided into three zones. Zone A is mainly Nupes, Zone B comprises the Gwaris with sprinklings of Hausa, Kamuko and the Kadaras ,while Zone C is populated by the Hausas with sprinklings of kemberis and Nupes.'

In Niger, the Nupes are the largest ethnic group, followed by the Gwaris and then the Hausas. In an attempt to ensure equity and avoid cries of marginalization, it was agreed at the restart of the present civil rule in 1998 that the Nupes should take the first shot at the governorship seat, to be followed by the Gwaris and then the Hausas. It was this arrangement that produced Kure, a Nupe man, who ruled for the mandatory two terms of four years. But Kure, for very curious reasons, reneged on the gentleman agreement.

Deputy chairman of PDP in the state, Tanko Beji, placed the blame of the escalating tension in the party and the state at the doorsteps of the former governor for dumping the agreement existing between the three ethnic groups in the state. Beji, although claimed he detests ethnic politics, slammed Kure for being behind ethnic discontent in the party.

According to him, 'if the Nupes are saying it is the turn of the Gwaris, why did the Nupes not give it to the Gwaris but prefer an Hausa man (in 2007)? The former governor, Abdulkadri Kure, is a Nupe man, why did he oppose the Gwaris succeeding him? He is the one behind all this talk, but he needs to address that first. I don't like people playing the ostrich. Why did he not support a Gwari man if he actually wanted the Gwari man to be governor? He had all the opportunity in the world to make it happen, but he did not do it.'

Bala Gunna plots another Rotimi Amaechi scenario.
Kure, rather than support a Gwari man, decided to back a Hausa man from Zone B. His initial pick was his Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government, Bala Gunna. Gunna is today putting the Talban Minna, who loves to be called 'Chief Servant' on edge. Reason? Gunna is determined to make the Niger governor another Celestine Omehia. Celestine Omehia was handed the flag of PDP in Rivers State although it was Rotimi Amaechi that won the primaries. After a protracted legal challenge, Amaechi was proclaimed the governor of the state. He is still on the seat.

Gunna in Niger State wants the court to replicate that Rivers scenario by declaring that it was himself, and not Babangida Aliyu, who was elected governor of Niger State.

Gunna is claiming that the PDP unlawfully dropped him from the 2007 governorship race. Presiding Justice Mohammed Mahmoud fixed the July date after hearing arguments by counsels to Gunna, Babangida Aliyu, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Gunna is demanding for the removal of the governor on the ground that he (Babangida Aliyu) was not the lawful PDP governorship candidate in the April 14, 2007 election. He claimed that after winning PDP's primaries, his name was forwarded to INEC as its governorship candidate but was shocked that his name was unlawfully removed from INEC list on the allegation that he had voluntarily withdrawn from the governorship race.

Gunna, who initially lost at both the Federal High Court and also at the Court of Appeal in Kaduna, denied ever withdrawing from the race, saying he never signed any documents to that effect.

However, the governor, PDP and INEC urged the apex court to dismiss the suit on the ground that it lacks the jurisdiction to hear it. They also claimed that the case was filed eight months after the contentious substitution and as such the case has become statute barred.

Interestingly, the apex court fixed last Friday, July 16, 2010 for judgment in the case.

Bala Gunna resigned his position in the state civil service to position him as the PDP governorship candidate in 2007. The plan could, however, not sail through as the PDP hierarchy, along with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, axed Gunna as the PDP flag bearer. They cited the controversial indictment by the EFCC against him as reason.

The emergence of Gunna, an Hausa man, as the winner of the PDP primaries threw up a lot of furore as several aspirants, especially those from Gwari ethnic group, frowned at his emergence based on the existing agreement. To stop him, they allegedly sent several petitions to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alleging financial misdeed against him while at the ministry of local government.

Those conversant with the politics of the 'Power State' claimed that the reason for the avalanche of petitions to the EFCC was because of the agreement within the PDP that power must rotate within the three main ethnic blocks in the state. The Gwaris were, however, disappointed as Kure showed preference for Gunna, an Hausa man and worked for his victory at the primaries.

The Gwari aspirants had their wish of getting Gunna disqualified after they provided Nuhu Ribadu's goons the weapon to nail their common foe, but they failed to achieve their main objective of getting a Gwari man into the Niger Government House.

Informed sources in the state said that when the situation became clear to Kure that his protégé won't be acceptable to the PDP leadership, he made spirited efforts to bail out Gunna but Obasanjo remained obstinate, forcing Kure to request that he be allowed to pick a replacement.

Kure reportedly presented two names to the leadership of the party. He presented the names of Dr. Babangida Aliyu and Engr. Mustapha Bello.

Obasanjo was said to have jumped at the choice of Babangida Aliyu because he had worked with him (Babangida) and the man had distinguished himself as a permanent secretary in the federal civil service.

Informed sources said that the speed at which Obasanjo accepted the choice of Aliyu made Kure to start thinking that Obasanjo might actually have programmed the whole brouhaha that resulted in Gunna's disqualification from the governorship race. He was said to be very bitter with that discovery.

Said the source: ' It was Obasanjo's adoption of Babangida Aliyu which did not go down well with Kure and another power broker in the state like General Ibrahim Babangida, that created the basis for the current acrimony between Kure and Aliyu. Both IBB and Kure saw Aliyu as someone with independent mind who won't be pliable'.

Predictably, shortly after the May 29, 2007 swearing-in of Babangida Aliyu as governor, Kure fell out with the new governor. Sources in Kure's camp claim that the manner Babangida Aliyu ran his campaign also contributed to the parting of ways. The governor was said to be in the habit of running down Kure's style of leadership in the eight years he held sway in the state. Aliyu, it was said did that to score political points and shore up PDP's sagging image in the state.

It was clear that the new government would engage Kure in a fierce battle. The Talban actually did, as he raised a committee to probe the financial dealings of his predecessor and even jailed one of the key operators of the Kure administration and a chief campaigner in his own election, Dattijo Aliyu. Kure too was banned from holding public office for 10 years. Kure did not find that funny and sees the 2011 polls as a good time to demand for his own pound of flesh.

Alfa Mohammed, Democratic Peoples Alliance National Publicity Secretary, made references to Aliyu's initial populist policies. He said, 'When Governor Aliyu came on board, I was the chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties. I rallied the opposition behind him and we were ready to assist him. The mission he enumerated was ambitious and we felt he needed all the support to succeed. He promised to propel the state into one of the leading economies by year 2020.'

He, however, regretted that the governor later derailed stressing, ' immediately he stabilized, he fell off. We were sending reports of his performance to him and suggestions on how he can improve, but we never got acknowledgment for the letter and then it dawned on us that he never wanted to get input from us. So we left him to do his thing, we later saw that he derailed.'

Alfa Mohammed, who remains the arrowhead of the opposition in the state, also revealed that some unnamed members of the PDP are already making overtures to them and giving them tips on how to nail the PDP government.

Political brickbats
Opinions are sharply divided over the performance of the 'Chief Servant'. While his traducers hold that his three years in office has been all talks and little action, those familiar with the activities of the government insists that the governor is on the verge of making history in Niger State.

Alfa Mohammed, David Umaru and the state chairman of Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), Abdulkadri Nufuntua, scored the governor poorly on performance, but Tanko Beji insists that Aliyu has performed highly. Commissioner for Information, Aliyu Baba Barau, and that in charge of local government, Abdullahi Bawa, both agreed with Beji, pointing to Talban's numerous achievements as well as the novel Ward Development Project as the single biggest move that has marked the administration out for a good place in the history of the state.

Nufuntua said: 'If I tell you that nothing was done in the last three years, you won't believe it, but that is the truth. It is all about promises and no performance.'

Umaru also agreed with him. He said, 'This government has been a disaster to the people of Niger State; it is lacking in focus and plan-less. At the inception, they promised so many things but are yet to fulfill many of them. Look at that housing estate along Bida road, it is another disaster, the quality of work is very poor and it is like that in two other areas too. They are claiming the government did not pay for it but it is a lie, they paid for it. The government plans for itself and not the people. They have spent over N2bn on water provision but no water for the people to drink'.

To Mohammed, the Chief Servant started very well but has since derailed.

But Beji countered, explaining, 'If you ask what the governor has done (to warrant a second term), I will ask, what is it that the governor has not done. He has touched all the facets of lives in the state. In the area of road construction, the evidence is there for all to see. We used to have just one dualised road from Chanchaga to Miakwagele in Minna. It was the one road dualised before, but today we have five other dualised roads.

'In each of the 25 local government areas, there is 10-kilometer road construction going on. In the area of health, the governor would soon be commissioning three new 100-bed general hospitals in Nasko, Gudu and Wuse'.

The Commissioner for Local Government noted that the Talban administration has broken new grounds in the state. He explained, 'I was a former chairman in Tafa local government, and throughout my tenure, I never awarded any contract and this is because throughout my stay in office, the highest amount I got was N3 million, except for November and December 2003 when the census was to take place and we got N5million each. It is always N3 million and it is for overhead alone and sometimes it is not enough when you are to pay allowances. For capital projects, we got N17 million for the entire duration of the time we were in office.

As at today, we have disbursed close to N11.6 billion as capital funds to the local governments and this is aside the money for overheads. Even if you are not working as a local government chairman and you decide to be irresponsible, something must be on the ground to show for the money you have collected.'

Bawa boasted, 'There is no ward that is not being touched by the government. Each of the 247 wards has witnessed one project or the other since the inception of the administration of the Chief Servant. The state government is reaching them directly through an innovative concept called the Ward Development Scheme. This is distinct from the intervention of the local government.'

Barau was more dismissive. He insisted that those criticizing the administration of the governor 'were either mischievous or economical with the truth.' Director General of Ward Development Project, Emmanuel Musa, indicated that the WDP initiated by the governor would eventually be the Unique Selling Point of the administration when it eventually decides to campaign for second term. He said,' the state government gives N247 million every month to the people of the 247 wards in the state to use in doing what they think is most pressing for that ward. We started with N500, 000 and then raised it to N1 million every month. N1million goes to every ward every month.

'When we came to power, we realised that apart from the state and local government, there is a need for a fourth tier of government at the ward level. The 'Chief Servant' then innovated the Ward Development Scheme. This system is called the bottom up approach to development; it is a major shift in development paradigm from what the people are used to, which was from the top to the bottom where what the leadership thinks as the need of the people is done; but in this new system, it is what the followers perceive as best that is done. In this concept, the followers decide what they want and where they want it.

'The people are impressed with the initial implementation. Within 15 months of the disbursement of N500, 000, we have completed 3,650 projects and 277 are on going….Every month the governor puts N247 million in the hands of the masses for them to do what they feel is good for their own well being, it is a novel idea that is paying off in Niger State. Even the UNDP acknowledged that what we are doing in Niger is first of its kind in the whole of Africa.'

2011 intrigues and permutations
Political pundits fear that like what is applicable at the national level; the PDP in Niger may go into the 2011 polls with a fragmented house. They reason that the level of animosity existing between the incumbent and his predecessor is so deep that Kure is determined to shipwreck the ambition of Babangida Aliyu. Opinion is, however, divided if he might be able to attain his plot. Those in the know of the delicate political balancing in the state claim that should Kure be able to mobilize his kinsmen effectively, the end of Aliyu's era might be in sight. They also fear that Kure might work through some opposition politicians to torpedo Aliyu in 2011.

It is, however, doubtful if Kure would succeed in his enterprise because of the twin factor of lack of unity among the opposition in the state as well as the sterling performance of the Talban.

While some sections of the opposition believe fielding just one candidate might be the key to defeat the PDP in 2011,some leaders like Nafuntua insist that ganging up against the PDP is not the answer. CPC, according to Nufuntua, would field its governorship candidate in the election.

The aspirants
Mu'azu Babangida Aliyu
Babangida Aliyu remains, arguably, the candidate to beat in Niger State in 2011. Although he is facing a lot of rebellion in his party, he is likely to secure the return ticket of the PDP as he has the state executive of the party under his wings.

His novel introduction of the WDP was also a masterstroke that would also ensure that he commands votes from across the state.

David Umaru
A wealthy private legal practitioner, he ventured into politics in 2007 when he signified intention to run for the governorship seat on the platform of the ruling PDP. He left the party in protest when he lost its ticket. He switched over to ANPP as its flag bearer during the 2007 general elections.

Umaru gave the ruling party a run for its money in the 2007 election. He has also been providing a formidable opposition in the state.

Though he lost the last election, his popularity has been on the increase. Loved and respected by his kinsmen of Gwari stock, Umaru has hinted that he might re-contest the 2011 polls should he fail to get his desire in the courts.

Isha Ladan
A top notch banker and former Deputy Managing Director of a commercial bank, Ladan retired from his chosen career to embrace partisan politics in 2007.

He felt short-changed at the PDP primaries in the 2007 governorship election and decamped to the Action Congress (AC) to actualize his ambition. Though he failed in his dream, his efforts produced two members of his party in the State House of Assembly thereby helping to break the monolithic composition of the legislative arm of the state since 1999.

Although he had remained silent, he has intensified effort in empowering youths and the unemployed by providing job opportunities to thousands in the state.