30 December 2012

Nigeria: How Governor Yakowa's Death Reignites Kaduna's Divisive Politics

Kaduna — The death of Governor Patrick Yakowa in a helicopter crash has changed the political landscape of Kaduna State but it is also reigniting a dangerous animosity that has been the bane of the state.

Even without a fatal accident Kaduna is a centre of complicated politics. The death two weeks ago of Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa in a helicopter crash adds to the complexity. Yakowa is the first Christian minority from the southern part of Kaduna to emerge as the civilian governor of the state. He ruled for two-and-a-half years before his demise in the middle of this month in a helicopter crash in Bayelsa State--which also claimed former National Security Adviser General Patrick Azazi and four others--paved way for his deputy, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, to occupy the seat. Few days after his assumption of office, Yero, a 44-year-old Muslim from the northern part of the state, appointed the state chairman of the ruling Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) Nuhu Audu Bajoga, 63, a Christian minority from southern Kaduna, as his deputy.

On the surface, it is a smooth political transition and an equitable arrangement done to serve both the southern and northern parts of the state well. But things are often seen from different perspectives in Kaduna State. With its historical significance as the political capital of the defunct Northern Region and its ethno-religious configuration, analysts say, Kaduna has always been a centre of local--and in some cases national--political intrigues. Its Muslim-Christian division, north-south dichotomy and majority-minorities chasm give it both its mini-Nigeria status and the impetus of such intrigues.

Although party politics has brought about re-alignments within and between different groups, say observers, the state has not been able to totally overcome the ethno-religious cleavage that often defines its politics and its problems. The northern and central senatorial districts are dominated by Hausa-Fulani Muslim majority (which make many people to simples merge them together as northern zone) while the southern senatorial district is dominated by Christians from an estimated 50 ethnic groups. Both sides harbour some suspicions--often unfounded--against the other and many believe that political elites on both sides do sometimes exploit the division to advance their causes.

The level of mistrust between the contending forces in the state is such that both the emergence of Yakowa himself as governor and his departure were viewed with suspicions by both sides of the divide.

When the then Governor Namadi Sambo was appointed vice president following the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan as president after the death of Umaru Musa Yar'adua in May 2010, there were suspicions among some Muslims that Sambo's elevation was mainly done to create an opportunity for Yakowa to become Kaduna State governor. His subsequent election in 2011 against all odds was equally seen by many as the will of incumbency rather than the will of the electorate.

Conversely, when he died in the helicopter crash some groups in southern Kaduna alleged that it wasn't an accident. Former Head of State General Yakubu Gowon had to openly warn that making unsubstantiated allegation over Yakowa's death was dangerous.

In addition to the major ethno-religious divisions, observers note, there are also the political differences between the ruling PDP and the opposition parties mainly represented by the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). This, though, is not manifesting in the ongoing reconfiguration prompted by Yakowa's death. If any thing, sources said, it is the CPC that is making some moves to align with the new governor, as some of its leaders have since paid him a visit. The other key division, analysts say, is the one within the ruling PDP. This one is manifested in the form of struggle between the group of former governor Ahmed Makarfi, Vice President Sambo's camp and Late Yakowa's group.

It is against the background of all these contending forces that the new political changes are taking place in the state.

First, the need for redistribution of political positions to suit the new situation created by the death of Yakowa is already creating disquiet in some quarters.

Observers believe that it is something the new governor has to do with a lot of caution. Whatever decision he takes could be subjected to all sorts of interpretations. Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a well known voice in the state, said the new governor would have to "take difficult decisions over political office holders which Yakowa installed".

In his weekly column in Daily Trust last Wednesday, he said: "The northern and southern parts of the state will watch to see who leaves and who stays, and they will be counted as losses and gains".

The first appointment made--that of the deputy governor--appeared to be as difficult as it is controversial.

How Bajoga got it

Sunday Trust gathered that Bajoga, a former Nigerian ambassador to Poland, started the journey to the deputy governor's seat a day after Yakowa's death. It began with a text message sent to him from Abuja. A source told Sunday Trust that Bajoga was assured in the text message that he would fill the seat that became vacant following the swearing in of Yero as governor. It was gathered that Bajoga travelled to Abuja after receiving the message. It was there that the arrangement for him to occupy the position was perfected. It is believed that Vice President Sambo had a hand in the arrangement.

While that move was going on, others jostling for the deputy governor's seat were also playing their cards underground.

Several groups in southern Kaduna promoted the cases of three younger candidates: a former legislator, Jonathan Asake, former commissioner of justice Barrister Mark Jacob and Reverend Joseph Hayab, an aide of late Yakowa on religious affairs.

Two days after the burial of the late governor, the Kaduna State caucus of PDP met in Kaduna under the leadership of Vice President Sambo. At the meeting, Governor Yero solicited the support of the caucus in choosing the best person to be his deputy. The vice president enjoined the new governor to carry all stakeholders in the state along in his administration. It was a way of creating a perception of public participation in searching for a new deputy governor, observers said.

Soon after the meeting, southern Kaduna politicians reportedly summoned Bajoga to a meeting held at the guest house of a serving politician from their zone. At the meeting, Bajoga was reportedly asked to reject the offer of deputy governor's seat and allow a young politician to take it.

"Bajoga told us that he would not reject it because if he does, the powers that be in the state will interpret it as disloyalty and that he would be victimised," a source told Sunday Trust. Our correspondent gathered that the meeting was unsuccessful and the politicians left in anger.

Despite the move to stop Bajoga from getting the post, Governor Yero last Monday forwarded his name to the state House of Assembly for confirmation. The governor had earlier met with the principal officers of House before sending the name. It was an easy ride for Bajoga at the Assembly. In less than an hour, he was cleared by the legislature. He did not even appear before the House; only copies of his resume were shared to the lawmakers.

He was cleared on Thursday at an emergency session presided over by Deputy Speaker Dogara Mato. "The appointment of Audu Nuhu Bajoga as the deputy governor of Kaduna is now confirmed and adopted by this Honourable House at this emergency meeting," the deputy speaker declared. Bajoga was sworn-in the following day.

Threats of showdown

Governor Yero's refusal to appoint any of the three preferred candidates of the southern Kaduna groups as his deputy sparks off hostility against the new arrangement. One of the groups, Concerned Southern Kaduna Professionals, openly described Ambassador Bajoga as a betrayer.

In a statement entitled "God Has Reveal Betrayer of Southern Kaduna" and signed by Dr John Danfulani and Pendo Yates, the group said: "Bajoga has extricated himself by accepting his nomination as the next Deputy Governor of Kaduna State even with clear signs that it was done to perpetually enslave the people of Southern Kaduna politically, socially and otherwise...

"What is more painful and amazing is, at his age and exposure, he had allowed his quest for political power to mortgage (the) future of present and upcoming generations of Southern Kaduna.

"The Vice President and Kaduna State Governor may have captured Kaduna politics but they should also search their consciences, and will realize that there is more harm to power grab on the alter of injustice, oppression, domination and politics of exclusion," they said.

Similarly, a coalition of southern Kaduna youth groups also kicked against Bajoga's appointment. Addressing a news conference in Kaduna, the youths described it as an insult to the people of southern Kaduna, whom they said were not consulted in advance.

The national spokesman of Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), youth wing, Nasiru Jagaba, said: "Many youth groups met with Ambassador Bajoga and asked him to take his hands off the seat of deputy governor because we don't want to lose his position of party chairman. We understand that his interest is not on the people of southern Kaduna and that is why he went astray by accepting to become deputy governor".

However, the elders of SOKAPU faulted the agitation of the youth groups saying they are misguided persons who lack foresight.

Leading the elders on a solidarity visit to Governor Yero, General Zamani Lekwot said they should be ignored because they have little experience on how things work.

"We shall not relent in telling them the truth. As people of faith, when death occurs, we all accept it as an act of God, despite the pain and vacuum the demise of Sir Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa has created. We accept and support your ascension to power and we are praying for you," he said.

Justifying the selection of Bajoga as his deputy, Yero said "in picking a deputy governor, one has to be careful. The position requires someone who is articulate, patient and respectful".

He said he regarded Late Governor Yakowa as a father and mentor. "So it will be with Bajoga. I solicited the prayers of all for the success of the administration," he added.

Opposition to Bajoga's appointment also angers his family. His wife, Deaconess Naomi Bajoga, said there was no basis for showing such opposition.

But she said both the governor and her husband would get public support. "I believe that at the end of the day, they will come back and support them to move the state forward," she said.

This is not the first time groups in southern Kaduna reject one of their own for deputy governor's post. Sources said Yakowa himself faced similar opposition. The big support from them only came after he became governor, said the sources. And even that began to wane when he tried to take a middle ground to give northern Kaduna people a sense of belonging, they said.

Some see the rejection of Bajoga as being motivated by selfish reason. One PDP stalwart, Comrade Sanusi Maikudi, said those agitating against Bajoga's appointment are doing so for "selfish interest".

He said: "The pillar of their argument is age. Why won't they check the age variance between (ex-American president George) Bush Jnr and (ex-vice president) Dick Cheney. Previously Zangon Kataf and Jema'a Local Government Areas produced deputy governors; why can't other parts of southern Kaduna be considered?"

Other changes

Having filled the post of deputy governor with the chairman of the party, the chairmanship post of the ruling party has now become vacant. The central zone in the state is likely to produce the next chairman, Sunday Trust gathered.

Similarly, underground moves are on to push out the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) to pave way for a southern Kaduna politician to occupy the seat.

Traditionally, when the governor comes from northern zone, the southern zone produces both the deputy governor and the secretary to state government.

Apparently due to such perception, the incumbent SSG Alhaji Lawal Samaila Abdullahi Yakawada was said to have notified the governor of his intention to resign, but a source said the governor asked him to hold on.

Aside from these positions, there are indications that many members of the state executive council may soon be shown the way out--not only because of the political realignment, but also because of the way some of them allegedly disrespected the new governor when he was deputy governor.

Frightened commissioners

The chances of many of them losing their posts are high. Governor Yero's comments during the valedictory executive council meeting in honour of late Yakowa have made the commissioners themselves to be jittery. During the session, Yero (perhaps unwisely) openly revealed that some of the commissioners had pitched him against his late boss.

"They went and told our late boss that I'm complaining that I was not being carried along in the state government affairs. They told him to sack me. The late governor called me and we ironed it out," he said.

Many observers, however, said what he said had happened to him was not unusual in contemporary Nigerian context. They noted that he too had received greater favour as finance commissioner from the then Governor Sambo than that offered to the then Deputy Governor Yakowa.

"In fact, there was a childhood friend of Namadi who was in the cabinet, who used to send his messenger to go and call the deputy to his office. He never regarded the late Yakowa as the number two man of the state. He commands more respect than the late Yakowa at that time in the Government House," said a source familiar with the situation.

"So it was a similar thing that repeated itself during Yakowa-Yero (era) and believe me same thing will happen to Bajoga in Government House. That of Yero was better compared to the way Yakowa was treated when he was deputy. Yero earned little respect because of his closeness to the vice president," he added.

Calls for dissolution

Still, even if Yero had not had a tough time with some of Yakowa's commissioners, it would be difficult for him to retain the same executive council. The call for change is growing and ignoring it may rob the new governor of a chance to display some dynamism.

Among those asking the governor to sack the commissioners is human right activist Comrade Shehu Sani, who wants to see "fresh hands that are committed, dedicated (and) passionate about service in the state".

He said: "Yakowa was a good man, a patriot with a unifying personality, a man committed to service, but the composition of his cabinet was not satisfying".

How Governor Yero manages to carry out the changes would determine the nature of his administration.

But many observers have argued that the complexity of handling the contending forces in the state requires great dexterity. They said Yero's closeness to the vice president could be both beneficial and detrimental to his administration.

If he continues to act, or be seen to act, as a puppet of the vice president, they say, he may lose his authority and be drawn into wider conflict with many forces, including possibly the president (if Sambo has a 2015 presidential ambition). If, on the other hand, he asserts himself in a subtle way without necessarily antagonising the vice president and at the same time exhibits sense of fairness to various contending groups, he is likely to succeed, they say.

Hakeem Baba-Ahmed noted that apart from managing his political bosses, Yero has to use all his skills in handling the fundamental problem bedevilling the state. He said: "In the midst of all these booby-traps, the new governor has to find a way around even more potent minefields. The most dangerous of these is the persistence of the ethno-religious hostility in the state". And it is in this respect that he needs the support of both Muslims and Christians in the state. Many feel that he could only gain such support by being fair to all. It is a plea made even by his own father. Alhaji Ramalan Yero told Sunday Trust that fairness is best the guarantor of leadership success.

From Isa Sa'idu, Zaria

Governor Ramalan Yero's father is a traditional title holder in Zaria. He is the Turakin Dawaki of Zazzau emirate. When our correspondent visited Yero's family house in Kaura, Zaria city, Alhaji Ramalan Yero said his son has been a leader since childhood.

"I do not doubt his patience and ability to carry everyone, irrespective of tribe or religion. My appeal to him is for him to be fair to all. He shouldn't discriminate in the name of anything. He is now a leader of all. He should also know that this leadership was given to him by God. He should therefore try to discharge the trust bestowed on him by God with fairness.

"Muktar is my first son. His background would also help him in the discharge of his duties as governor of Kaduna State. He has 23 paternal and maternal siblings. Apart from that he has over 100 cousins from our extended family and he is my eldest son. By this, you can see that he has been a leader since childhood and he is used to handling complex issues," Alhaji Yero said.

On the issue of governing a complicated state like Kaduna, Alhaji Yero said with prayers and the goodwill that the governor is enjoying, there would be no cause for alarm.

"Handling a diverse state like Kaduna would not be a problem for a person like Mukhtar because he is used to handling diversity right from family level. We would only continue to pray, as his parents, for Allah to give him the wisdom and courage to run the state without any problem. But the most important route to success, as I said earlier, is fairness," Alhaji Yero said.

For Ahmad Bawa, a neighbour and elder in the Kaura area, what Governor Yero needs is prayer for Allah to guide him.

"Anyone that needs to succeed in anything; that person has to be fair to all. He should also try to select good advisers who would not be sycophants but those that would tell him the truth, no matter how bitter.

"Mukhtar may be young but he is somebody who has the heart of elders. He is calm, obedient and patient; and anyone that has these attributes would definitely succeed in all his endeavours," Mallam Bawa said.

Mallam Shehu Dalhatu (Alheri) is also a neighbour and an elder brother to Yero. He said at this crucial period of Yero's life, he only needs the prayers of his kinsmen and the people of the entire state.

"He is somebody who is intelligent and there is no doubt in my mind that he is going to succeed as a governor. I have seen some of his good qualities when he was commissioner for finance of the state because I was then an assistant treasurer in Zaria local government. I sometimes attended meetings with him on behalf of the treasurer. I am sure if he continues with those qualities that I know him with, Mukhtar would definitely succeed," Alheri said.

When our correspondent attempted to speak to Yero's mother, she declined to speak. According to Yero's father, the mother did not want to speak because Yero is her first son and that makes her to be shy.

The wife of the new deputy governor of Kaduna State, Deaconess Naomi Nuhu Bajoga said yesterday opposition to her husband's appointment would soon die down. Speaking to Sunday Trust, she said her husband's appointment was ordained by God, insisting that he didn't lobby for the post. She said it was the governor who decided to pick him as his deputy.

"The governor has also explained to the people why he chose my husband. The governor said he believes that my husband has the experience and the fear of God, and he is a man being liked across the state. He is a very patient man," she said.

Commenting on the criticisms from people of southern Kaduna, she said: "Even Jesus was never liked in his own hometown. It is only when you are making progress in life that people will talk about you; they will criticize you," she added.

She assured the state that at the end of their tenure, they will have every reason to thank God. "I know him and I know what he is capable of doing and together with his Excellency, Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, they will move the state forward from where the late Governor Yakowa left it and I believe that at the end of the day, they will come back and support them to move the state forward," she stressed.

Meanwhile, sources close to the family of late Yakowa told Sunday Trust that the family has never sought for the deputy governor's slot.

They said in the last two weeks they have been doing nothing other than mourning the death of their loved one.

They said the report that included Yakowa's widow, Amina, among those that were said to be mentioned as possible candidates for deputy governor's seat was a rumour.

"We are mourning our father and suddenly some mischief makers went ahead to speculate that our mother was one of those persons jostling for the position of deputy governor," one of the sources said.

"Thank God somebody has been sworn in. This showed that it was nothing but a lie concocted by mischief makers. We are still mourning our father.

"As for Jatau, the only son of our late father, he is happily working in an oil company and the report that he is going to be appointed as a commissioner is false," he added.

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