Niger State’s night(s) of the long knives By Mohammed Haruna

Penultimate Tuesday, Niger State, my home state, repeated the bizarre political record in the annals of our national politics, possibly even of politics elsewhere, which it achieved back in June 2009; on both occasions its House of Assembly produced three speakers in all of only seven days. Talk of one day being a long time in politics!

At the centre of it all on both occasions was Isa Kawu, the member representing Bida North, my home constituency. The first time around, the state’s executive arm had pulled all stops to prevent the honourable gentleman from becoming speaker following the rapid-fire impeachments of the first two which, themselves, were part of the hot proxy war that had erupted between Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu, the self-styled Chief Servant of the state, and his immediate predecessor, Engineer Abdulkadir Kure. Following the sacking of the first two speakers in less than a week, Kawu virtually became the unanimous choice of his colleagues.

But then he was a trusted aide of Kure as governor. However, presumably much more ominous than this from the point of view of the Chief Servant was Kawu’s reputation as a self-willed, incorruptible and eloquent member of the House.

The regular reader of this column may recall the tribute I paid the gentleman on these pages a few years ago entitled “A ‘Newbreed’ apart.” In that tribute I showed how he was indeed a newbreed apart from your typical Nigerian newbreed who, contrary to the faith and hope, first, former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida, and subsequently, former civilian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, had in the concept of so-called Newbreedism, had proved disastrous in virtually all walks of life – in politics, in banking, in bureaucracy, in sports, you name it. (The reader will, I am sure, agree with me that these so-called Newbreeds were dismal failures as governors, bank chief executives and as top administrators in ministries, departments and agencies that, if nothing else, stole their trusts blind.)

As I said in that piece, Kawu stood out alone among all the 27 members of the House in initially rejecting the money the executive released from his constituency budget because it fell short of what should’ve been released and when there was no explanation for the shortfall. And when he eventually came round to accepting subsequent releases because he was left with no choice but to do so, and because, in any case, half bread for his constituency was better than none, he stood virtually alone among his colleagues as the member who opened a constituency office from where he regularly met his constituents to discuss what to do with the monies, all of which he always put on the table.

Again, alone among his colleagues he rejected the brand new Prado Toyota jeep each member was given, gratis, because, he said, it was immoral and illegal to accept the vehicle after they had all been paid their transport allowances for the duration of their four-year tenure.

Not least of all, two years into his tenure, the man’s life-style never changed; he lived in his modest family house, did not go about globetrotting, never mind doing so in class, and his working wife regularly took the bus, sometimes even the motorbike taxi, to work. (A year into his second tenure which the authorities in Niger State tried unsuccessfully to stop, the man has remained essentially his humble self.)

This was the man the executive stopped from being the Speaker of his state’s House of Assembly back in June nearly three years ago.

This time around, two Tuesdays ago, the man could not be stopped. For weeks since April it had become obvious to Mohammed Tsowa Gamunu, the speaker at the time, that his colleagues were fed up with his leadership and were determined to sack him for what they eventually described as his incompetence and lack of transparency. He anticipated his sack by simply refusing to summon the House to sit. His hands were eventually forced by the mandatory number of days the House had to sit in a year

Meantime the members had been mounting pressure on Kawu to take over as speaker. For a while he resisted and suggested two of his colleagues in turn. His colleagues still persisted. He eventually accepted under the condition that they would stand up to the executive in the big fight he told them was bound to come from not only the executive, but from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party hierarchy, as well. They majority of them agreed.

And so Kawu finally ascended the chair that would have been his back in June 2009. However, as we all now know, his victory could hardly have been briefer; practically speaking he was speaker for all of only 24 hour.  The day after his election, both the executive and the party hierarchy went for him with their bare buckles.

The next time the House sat exactly one week after his election, his speakership was history. First, the House was taken over by armed security men ostensibly to stop the breakdown of law and order. Then the armed men mounted check points at all the approaches to the House to stop his supporters from getting anywhere close to the house to express their solidarity with their man.

However, even before then there were rumours of huge sums, first, ten million Naira, then fifteen, and finally twenty,  being offered to each member by the executive to  persuade the members to ditch Kawu barely twenty four hours after they more or less swore to stand by him, come rain, come shine.  Naturally these rumours have been denied by both the executive and the new House leadership.

Danladi Ndayebo, the Chief Servant’s spokesperson, told reporters the other day that the rumours were all lies. “There is nothing like that, all that was said,” he told the reporters, “amount to lies.” On its part the new House leadership has said the executive has had absolutely nothing to do with the lightening change in the House. “What happened here,” said Adamu Usman, the new speaker who happened to have been the Chief Servant’s former attorney general and commissioner of justice, “is entirely the affairs of the legislature.  I can assure you there is no external influence whatsoever.”

The rumours of huge sums of money – at least by Niger State’s miserable standards – changing hands for Kawu’s sack may indeed be exactly that. But as the Hausas would say, biri yayi kama da mutum, literally meaning, a monkey resembles a human being, but metaphorically, there is no smoke without fire.

The speed with which the House removed Kawu is certainly a pointer to the involvement of the executive, whether or not bribes were given and taken. However, a more telling pointer was the decision of Kawu’s predecessor to challenge his removal, apparently at the prompting of forces outside the House. For this, Gamunu hired two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Messrs S. I. Amen and S. T. Ologunorisa. It is doubtful that the former speaker was quite familiar with the two before his sack. It is even more doubtful that he could’ve afforded them.

Even more telling than these improbabilities, however, is the fact that no sooner was Kawu removed than the former speaker withdrew his case from the courts.

The big question now on everybody’s lips in Niger State is why is the Chief Servant so afraid of Kawu? Most Nigerlites, I suspect, believe it is because Kawu is your rare type of newbreed politician who will always ask why he should jump at all when ordered to do so by the powers that be, rather than the type who would simply ask how high, as is the case with your typical newbreed.

As I said in my tribute to the man a few years back “If only half our Newbreed politicians were like Kawu, General Babangida – and Obasanjo – would have been right to have put their faith (and hope) in members of the group as Nigeria’s knights in shining armour.”

For now we can only hope and pray that the rare Kawus of these times would remain steadfast in their beliefs and in their commitment to be the true servants of those who have trusted them with positions of leadership.


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