18 August 2012

Nigeria: The Story of Nasarawa State's 22 First Class Chiefs


Lafia — Nasarawa State may be among the least populated states in Nigeria but it sits comfortably on top when it comes to number of first class traditional rulers. At the time of creation in 1996, it inherited three first class chiefs from the old Plateau State, but 16 years after, the state boasts of 22 traditional rulers who are graded first class. But at what cost to the state?

In Nasarawa State, a meeting of first class traditional rulers looks like that of the Northern Governors' Forum (NGF), complete with sirens blaring and long motorcades bearing the insignia of the various traditions of the people. The only difference perhaps is that the paramount rulers are more in number than northern governors.

On the average, in Nasarawa State, there is a first class traditional ruler for every 82,000 indigenes of the state, using the state's population of about 1.8 million, according to the 2006 census. And with only 13 local government areas, it means some traditional rulers have to share the same area of influence.

Ethnic groups in the state are: Alago, Arum, Agatu, Afo, Bassa, Buh, Eggon, Egbura, Fulani, Gade, Gbagyi, Gwandara, Hausa, Jukun, Kantana, Kanuri, Koro, Kulere, Mada, Migli, Nyamkpa, Ninzam, Rindre and Tiv. The 13 LGs are Akwanga, Awe, Doma, Karu, Keana, Keffi, Kokona, Lafia, Nasarawa, Nasarawa-Eggon, Obi, Toto and Wamba.

Each LGA has a first class stool, with seven of them having more than one: Lafia has two with the recent additional creation by Governot Umaru Tanko Al-Makura; Nasarawa has three; Wamba has two; Toto has two, Karu has three, Obi, two; and Awe two.

These stools are: Emir of Lafia, Emir of Keffi, and Emir of Nasarawa, which creation dated back to early colonial era. There are also: Andoma of Doma, Aren Eggon, Osana of Keana, Emir of Awe, Oriye Rindri, Ohimege Opanda, Esu Karu, Osu Ajiri, Emir of Karshi, She Migili, Odyong Nyankpa, Emir of Azara, and Chun Mada. Others are: Abaga Toni, Gomo Babye, Osuko of Obi, Gom Mama, Sarkin Loko, and Sangarin Kwandere.

In the beginning

At creation on October 1, 1996 along with Gombe, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Zamfara and Bayelsa states by the late General Sani Abacha, Nasarawa had only three first class rulers from the old Plateau State, namely: Emir of Lafia, Emir of Keffi, and Emir of Nasarawa, which stools were one of the first the old Benue/Plateau State had, dating back to the early colonial era.

But the successive administrations in Nasarawa, especially of the three civilian governments of Abdullahi Adamu (1999-2007), Aliyu Akwe Doma (2007-2011), and Al-Makura, the current governor, had made Nasarawa the leader when it comes to first class stools.

The military administration which pioneered governance in the state created the stools of Andoma of Doma, Emir of Awe and Nasarawa-Eggon to first class status, raising the number to six before handing over to the civilian administration of Adamu. Adamu's successor, Doma, governed for just a term, and created one: Abaga Toni for the Gwandara people of Kokona LGA in June, 2010 - a year before he left office. His successor, Al-Makura, has so far spent only a year in office, but he created three first class stools, raising the number to a record 22. No reason was given for this action.

When on July 28, he announced the three more first class stools; it was not without outcries, especially when Al-Makura's predecessor was attacked for maintaining "too many" traditional rulers.

Adamu Sule, then a lawmaker in the state House of Assembly, on the platform of the opposition ANPP, had, in 2010, led criticism of Doma as a governor who maintained a large army of traditional rulers as a political constituency. Sule is today, one of the 15 Special Advisers to Al-Makura.

Traditional rulers and politics

Weekly Trust recalls that traditional rulers in the state had adopted Doma as their candidate for the 2011 governorship election, and at one point, had to signed a controversial communiqué declaring that there was "No Vacancy in Government House."

When General Muhammadu Buhari visited Nasarawa, Keffi and Lafia, in his final days of campaign for the presidency, traditional rulers vacated their palaces, and refused to receive him. When Al-Makura went round during his campaigns, not a single traditional ruler received him. One of the traditional rulers was attacked, and pelted by irate youths when he attended the inauguration of Al-Makura on May 29.

Al-Makura, has earlier in his speech on that day, expressed disappointment with the conduct of these chiefs during the electioneering days. "As custodians of our traditions, they have a duty to act in the best interest of all. However, in order not to fall into disrepute, they themselves must steer clear of partisan politics," he had said.

So when he announced more stools with upgraded status last month, media reports said in Shabu, at the outskirt of Lafia, youths poured into streets in protest, defacing the governor's billboards, and carrying out other forms of violence which led to the killing of eight persons. But the police and government had long denied that anybody was killed in the anti-stool creation protests.

Youths not impressed

The following day, youths operating under Nasarawa Accountability Group (NAG), said Al-Makura deviated from his 2011 campaign slogan of "Change is On the Way." NAG's spokesperson, Jumai James Alheri said "the governor's action defeats his claims that the state has no resources."

She said "it contradicts his claims about the meagerness of our revenue; if he will jump up at the same time, and add up the wage bill by creating more first class stools which will be funded by our scarce resources.

"The governor complained during campaigns that the PDP government maintained too many political appointees at the expense of our scarce resources. He appointed 18 commissioners, and now has 15 advisers drawing huge salaries and allowances from the state pulse for doing not much, other than attending weekly meetings. Now he has increased the number of first class chiefs to 19. We don't know what next the governor will announce at the expense of our resources. We are looking into this latest action, and we will make condemnation known soon", the spokesperson said.

NAG has in November, 2011, challenged Al-Makura to make the expenditure profile for traditional rulers in the state.

Also, a pioneer commissioner in the state, Malam Ibrahim Modibbo who served during the first two military administrations, slammed Al-Makura. He said "we have nothing on ground yet, more than what the civilian era inherited from the military, but while we remain the least developed state, we are topping on the chart of first class chiefs. What a shame", he said, adding "some of them, very unfortunately, have taken up partisanhip in politics as their favourite pastime. We witnessed this during the last election. It says why governors in our state are creating more stools; to use them during elections.

"The saddest thing is that most of these traditional rulers are well educated; and they cannot advise the government against the multiplication. What government is doing is self-serving, coloured in political colorization, personal interest and the distortion of history. It is sad," he added.

Commissioner for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mohammed Dan'azimi, told Weekly Trust that "the stools have been in existence; the governor only promoted them. Adamu created them."

Asked to say the salaries paid the paramount rulers, the commissioner said he was not in the position to make any disclosure, claiming that "they are paid in Government House." He, however, disclosed that traditional rulers in the state are entitled to five per cent of the revenue of their local government areas, accruing from the federation accounts.

Weekly Trust learnt that at the Government House, a chieftaincy office had existed there as salary point for the traditional rulers, Al-Makura, on assumption of office, scraped it, sending the office to the ministry.

What rulers cost govt

Hamza Elayo, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), confirmed that payment of traditional rulers is made at the ministry, not Government House, anymore, and insisted that the commissioner, and not any other government officer, should know the remuneration. He, however, provided the figure, stating that each ruler is paid N302, 849.17. What that means is that the state coughs out over N6, 662, 678 million monthly.

Weekly Trust called severally to speak to Alhaji Halilu Bala Usman, a former deputy governor in the old Plateau State, who later became the commissioner for Local Governments and Chieftaincy Affairs, during the administration of Abdullahi Adamu, who started the creation of first class stools in the state. But his aides picked his calls, all through, and only promised to get back to this reporter, although they did not after several trials. Bala Usman has himself been crowned as Osu Ajiri, one of the three first class traditional rulers in Nasarawa Local Government Area.

Alhaji Abdullahi Ogiri Oji, a retired permanent secretary in the ministry had criticized the huge number of paramount rulers, but blamed the development on past administrations. "Nasarawa has the highest number of first class chiefs. The new administration inherited this number. I don't know what criteria the previous administrations used in creating these first class traditional chiefdoms, but I agree that the number is huge."

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