– The Sun News

Niger State: Return of stone throwing, as House moves to check political thuggery

John Adams,  Minna

In 2015, precisely on May 29th during the handing over of the mantle of leadership by the then governor of the state, Dr. Babangida Aliyu, to his successor and former commissioner for investment in the state, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, the people of the state came from all walks of life to bid the outgoing governor a farewell with stones, sachet water and other objects in demonstration of their anger against him.

The atmosphere at the Bako Kontagora stadium, the venue of the handing over ceremony that day was better imagined than experienced, it was a moment described by many as that of “everybody to himself, God for us all.”

Anarchy was let loose on Minna, the state capital and confusion became the order of the day. The atmosphere was so charged that the entire dignitaries at the stadium were held hostage as stones and different objects continue to fly in different directions.

The Police were overwhelmed and became helpless as they exhausted their tear gas and people ran for cover.
It took the intervention of soldiers from the 313 Field Artillery Brigade in Minna who were deployed in their hundreds to disperse the angry protesters who were mostly youths.

The people were expressing their anger over what they called eight years of “bad leadership” by the outgoing governor, Dr. Aliyu, even though there were divergent views about the performance of the administration.

That was the first open display of anger against any elected governor of the state since the advent of democracy in1999.

The former governor in his reaction to his humiliation at the time said he bears no grudges against “both the perpetrators and their sponsors”, saying that he has forgiven them “in adherence to the teaching of Prophet Mohammed (SWT)”.

He however said”I advised them not to throw their stones away because it will still be useful in future”.
The former governor was said to have told those close to him that “if the person I appointed as a commissioner to manage a small ministry, fell short of ideas and threw in the trowel, I wonder how he will manage a whole state as a governor”.

Three years after the former governor was pelted with stones, the people are not only beginning to assemble the stones, they are already using them.

While they waited patiently for eight years before they could unleash their anger on the former governor, this time they are not even ready to wait for the end of the first four years before passing their judgement.

In a recent interview with Daily Sun, the Senator representing Niger East senatorial district, David Umoru said “to tell you the truth, it is a disaster, very disappointing and I don’t think Governor Sani Bello deserves second term because he has failed the party and the people woefully.

“There is nothing on the ground in terms of performance to justify his coming back and the people know this. I struggled a lot to ensure the emergence of this government but today I feel ashamed of myself that this is all we could offer in the past three years.

“This administration cannot point to a single sector that it has achieved any meaningful development in the past three years despite the amount of money that has accrued to the state. As a party in the state, we have performed terribly badly that nobody should be talking about re-election in 2019, we should be talking about something else”.
The stones are beginning to fly from all directions; from Zone A to Zone B, the stage is gradually getting set for what to expect from the people in 2019 in the state.

With one year to go, they are coming out openly to express their anger and frustrations over the running of affairs of the state. For the second time in two months, the governor had come under serious attacks from the people whom he is relying on to re-elect him for the second term in office in 2019.

In March, the governor was not only booed, he was practically stoned in the ancient city of Bida, the head quarters of Bida Council.

He had gone there to commiserate with the people over the fire incident that razed the ancient market of Bida with goods worth over N500million destroyed.

The visit of the governor provided an opportunity for the people to openly express their anger and frustrations over the governor’s handling of affairs of the state, especially as it affects the area.

They were particularly angered that the governor came to sympathise with them one week after the fire incident which brought the entire city to its knees. Their anger stemmed from the fact that the governor only came after the member representing the constituency in the House of Representatives raised the alarm on the floor of the House, where he accused the governor of not been sensitive to the plight of the people.

They were chanting “so daya, so daya (one term), “meaning the governor will only spend one term in office.
The people were further angered by the fact that the governor while travelling to Bida avoided the bad Bida-Minna road which has claimed a number of lives this year alone, and flew into Bida with a private jet. That was the climax of the people’s anger with the governor.

According to some political watchers, the open rejection of the governor in Bida, right in the presence of their highly respected traditional ruler, the Etsu Nupe and chairman, Niger State council of traditional rulers, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, speaks volume.

Bida is unarguably the political heart beat of Nupe kingdom and the headquarters of Niger South senatorial district (zone A). Any governorship candidate hoping to win the senatorial zone must have the support of the Bida people.
However, while the experience and the memory of Bida attack is still very fresh in the minds of the people, the governor came under another attack again, this time in Erena, in Shiroro Council of the state.

The latest attack led to the damage of some vehicles in the convoy of the governor while a female reporter with a private FM station in Minna simply identified as Safiya was injured when a stone hit the governor’s press crew 18-seater bus from behind.

Like Bida, Shiroro is the heart beat of Niger East senatorial district (Zone B), and the political headquarters of the zone. To win the zone, Shiroro Council must be conquered.

The governor was said to have gone to the area on project inspection tour even when the people said there was no any government presence in the area in terms project.

The zone and Shiroro Council in particular is the most aggrieved zone in the state with people accusing the administration of open marginalisation in the distribution of political appointments.

The views of the people had been severally expressed at different fora by some political leaders from the area; prominent among them is the senator representing the area, David Umoru.

The Gbagyi people made their decision known last year at the 6th Diko Day cultural festival organised by the Diko community Development Association (DCDA) in Suleja Council.

Another grudge against the governor was the recent suspension of the turbanning 30 Districts and 188 Village Heads, replacement of four deceased District Heads and 40 deceased Village Heads for the emirate by the government, less than 24 hours to the historic event.

The statement suspending the turbanning of the new appointees which was signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs , Alhaji Akilu Musa Kuta with reference number MLGCD/SEC/26/S.15/Vol/1, and made available to Daily Sun in Minna, said the suspension of the ceremony was in the interest of peace.

The memo reads in part: “Kindly refer to our earlier letter No MLGVD/SEC/26,/S.15/Vol,/1 of 14th November 2017 on the above subject matter. We are under directive of Mr. Governor to advise the emirate to please suspend any action towards the coronation of the Districts and Village Heads for now pending further directives”.

In compliance with the government’s directive, the emir decided to cancel the coronation, despite stiff resistance from his people that the occasion must go on as planned.

The emir who was said to be devastated by the government’s action however summoned courage and came out of the palace to address the angry and disappointed crowd.

In an emotion-laden voice, he told the crowd that included his subjects, dignitaries and invited guests, who had gathered to witness the turbanning ceremony of the newly appointed District and Village Heads, that the ceremony would not be conducted because the state government had directed that the exercise be suspended.

This decision by the government, it gathered, was viewed by the entire emirate made up of nine Councils as a serious embarrassment not only to the emir but the people, and since then there has been uneasy calm in the areas.

APC reacts

When contacted on the series of attacks on the governor and his chances in 2019, the Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state, Mohammed Liman, disclosed that the attack in Bida was not targeted at the governor, saying that the people were protesting over rumour that the government intend to relocate the burnt market to a permanent site following the incident.

“The protest was not directed at the governor, they were only protesting to the governor following rumour that the governor might make official pronouncement to relocate the market from its present site to the permanent site”.
He however said he was yet to be briefed on the motive behind the attack in Shiroro, pointing out that “the party chairman from the council is yet to brief the party on what led to the attack”.

Lawmakers react

Perhaps going by the continued attacks on the governor and the possibility of extending it to other political office holders in the state, the House of Assembly is proposing a law that would check any form of political thuggery in the state.

The chairman of the House Committee on Security and Intelligence,  Hussaini Ibrahim during the public hearing on the bill said that thuggery, idling, usage of hate speech has become an issue of concern to everyone,  saying that when passed, it has six months to two years and a fine of N200, 000 for anyone found guilty of the act.

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