The News (Lagos)

3 April 2000

Nigeria: Suleja Goes Up In Smoke Again

Lagos — Suleja a commercial town in Niger State, goes up in smoke once again as the people reject Awwal Ibrahim as their emir. Since the 17 January crowning of Alhaji Awwal Ibrahim as emir of Suleja, peace has vacated his domain. Suleja all through last week was wracked by riots.

Residents stayed indoors as militant protesters vowed to remove the emir, even as government called in anti-riot troopers and slammed a 20-hour curfew. Emir Awwal Ibrahim himself was said to have fled the town.

The renewed protest came in the wake of some unpopular appointments made by the controversial and unpopular emir. To compound matters, the government in Minna sacked Alhaji Shuaibu Barde, one of Awwal's vocal opponents. Barde was relieved of his appointment as a member of the state's local government service commission.

The two appointments made by Emir Awwal were those of Alhaji Bisala Kwiyamana, the first secretary in the ministry of defence in 1960 and former Wambayi of Suleja as the Madaki (second in command) and Alhaji Madala Kwari as Seriki of Suleja.

On the eve of the announcement of these appointments at the Jumat service on 24 March, the emir sought police reinforcement from Minna, Niger State capital.

He was apprehensive of a violent backlash from militant youths opposed to him and the new appointments. But rather than provide more securitymen, Governor Kure invited to a parley leaders of the militant youths. The boys, according to our sources, were at first hesitant to heed the invitation, thinking it was a ploy to carry out a mass arrest of their members. But after a second thought, they summoned courage to attend the meeting 23 March.

Upon arrival in Minna, the governor was said to have passionately urged the youths to allow peace to reign in Suleja. He was also said to have promised to address joblessness in the area with despatch. The boys left giving the impression that all was well.

Governor Kure also thought a truce was in place in Suleja. But he was wrong. The peace accord broke down barely 24 hours after it was brokered. TheNEWS was reliably informed that after the Jumat service, the following day, a man loyal to the emir, raised Alhaji Awwal's hands as a sign of victory saying: "This is our emir." The militant youths led by one Ibrahim, said to be brother to the Niger State commissioner for works and housing, physically attacked the emir. The security men around immediately opened fire on the youths who were said to be armed with charms.

"The bullets were just pouring down and the police became scared. But Ibrahim, the ring leader, against the taboo of the charm, looked back and the bullets penetrated him," said a witness. Ibrahim's death enraged the youths as they targeted unguarded government properties and those of the emir, setting them ablaze.

Among properties burnt were the Suleja Secondary School zonal office, the post office, four government vehicles and houses belonging to the emir and his aides.

As the police became helpless, the emir himself chose to flee Suleja for Minna immediately. Some sources said the emir actually contemplated a second exile. But his friends counselled him against it.

Sources said the arrest of the head of the Suleja kingmakers' council, the Galadima of Suleja, Alhaji Shuaibu Barde and six others was instigated by the powerful supporters of Emir Awwal. Barde and the others were labelled as implacable opponents of the emir, who also provided cover for the militant youths.

The youths went berserk again two days later, killing two policemen, one of whom was identified as Sergeant Garba Musa. To overpower the youths, five truckloads of anti-riot mobile policemen were drafted to Suleja while a 20-hour curfew was imposed on the town.

Reports monitored in Suleja last week revealed how the policemen embarked on house-to-house arrest and looting.

The Niger State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Mohammed Baba Bukar last week moved his base from Minna to Suleja on the orders of Governor Abdullahi Kure.

At least, 10 persons died in the riots, although the police confirmed only three. Sources told TheNEWS that the arrested kingmakers will be charged to court over the death of the two policemen.

In Minna, director of the general directorate of information, Alhaji Shuaibu Badeggi admitted imposing the 20-hour curfew on Suleja to "bring about peace" in the crisis-ridden town. Also speaking on a BBC programme on Wednesday, the DG said "the police over-reacted because one of their own was killed." On alleged looting by policemen, he said that the police in Niger State were disciplined and not criminals. "If anybody has evidence of what has been looted from him, let him come forward. People try to take the law into their hands. They believe government can do nothing.

Let me tell you, Suleja town is not the only city or emirate settlement within the Suleja emirate council.

Only two wards, Bawagi and Gwabade, are causing trouble. We are saying enough is enough," the DG said.

The long-drawn tussle for the emirship of Suleja started in 1993 after the death of Alhaji Ibrahim Aado Musa. Two contenders emerged from the Abu-Kwaka ruling house-Alhaji Muhammadu Bashir Suleiman Barau, retired assistant director, ministry of education, Federal Capital Development Authority and Alhaji Awwal Ibrahim, first civilian governor of Niger State (1979-83). Against the people's wish, Alhaji Awwal was made the emir, a development which led to litigation by kingmakers.

The court ordered Awwal's removal. Suleiman Barau returned as king. The Appeal Court also upheld the judgment of the High Court but at the Supreme Court, the tide changed and Barau was asked to vacate the throne because, according to the judges, he got there illegally. The seat remained vacant for a while since Awwal, in his prayers, did not ask for reinstatement until January when Governor Kure installed him.

The trouble in Suleja has had its toll on Abuja, the Federal capital, as youths shut down the fuel depot, serving the two towns. Petrol queues at filling stations in Abuja lengthened as observers ponder the magic government may deploy to douse tension in Suleja.

Publication date: April 10, 2000

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