BY MAHMUD JEGA
In his eight years as Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje was not known for making controversial, not to mention incendiary, remarks. That was understandable because he was a mainstream civil servant who rose to become a director in Federal service, before he ventured into politics. Imagine the surprise and uproar he caused last Friday when he said he would have slapped Engineer Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso if he had run into him at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
Slap somebody, within shouting distance of President Bola Tinubu’s office? That would have caused the biggest security scare since former First Lady Aisha Buhari’s security men chased her husband’s personal assistant within the Villa and even fired a shot at him, which fortunately missed its target. Kano’s native custom, carefully cultivated over 1,000 years, would have been turned on its head if Ganduje slaps Kwankwaso. This was a man who picked him as his running mate in 1999 and they governed the state together for four years. When they lost the 2003 election and President Obasanjo made Kwankwaso his Defence Minister, Ganduje went along with him as one of his Special Assistants. In 2011, after Malam Ibrahim Shekarau’s two terms, Kwankwaso again picked Ganduje as his running mate, they returned to power and ruled again for four years. In 2015, he picked him over many other aspirants as his anointed successor. You can’t do better than that to any man in Nigerian politics.
Okay, that is only one side of the story. Ganduje must have the patience of Job because even from afar, anyone can see that Kwankwaso is not a very easy person to serve as deputy governor, special assistant or as an ordinary follower, not to mention as a political adversary. At the start of their quarrel in late 2015, there was a picture of Governor Ganduje seeing his former boss off in a Government House car park. All their aides stood at some distance while the two men held what was thought to be a heart-to-heart talk. Ganduje’s aides later quoted him to have said that it wasn’t a pleasant tete-a-tete they were having; that the General Overseer [Daddy G.O] of the Kwankwasiyya movement actually rained abuses at him in that car park, out of other people’s ear shots.
Nor is Kwankwaso entirely innocent of incendiary talk. In April or May this year, before the inauguration of new governments, he made an unguarded remark in a television interview, that if he had granted permission to his boys, they would have apprehended Ganduje, then still a sitting governor, and “ate him like carrot.” When I quoted that remark in a previous article, a Kwankwaso follower sent me a message, that the leader of this country’s best organized political cult was only joking. I don’t think that was a good joke.
Still, slapping Kwankwaso, in or outside Aso Rock, would have been a risky undertaking. He is younger than Ganduje by many years, looks very agile with a brisk and sprightly walk in his immaculate white gowns, bright eyes, confident looks and not a little bit aggressive mien. A physical altercation between these two men could easily spiral into a civil war in Kano, the city’s first since the Yakin Basasa of 1894. For similar reasons, because the 19th century war was over traditional leadership while the impending one is about political leadership. Both Ganduje and Kwankwaso are rumoured to be on Tinubu’s cabinet list, Ganduje because he was a very early and intensely loyal Tinubu supporter, Kwankwaso because he took a million potential Kano votes away from Atiku Abubakar.
And what brought about this threat? Ganduje is angry, very angry, that his successor Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf, alias Gida Gida, has been demolishing choice property which he said was built on illegally privatized public land. It is a complicated matter. While Gida Gida believes that Ganduje awarded those lands to himself and his cronies, there was semblance of procedure because the executive council approved the sales. Even worse, the people who have shops in the erected plazas merely rented them from the property owners, stocked them with goods, which were destroyed during the demolition while miscreants looted the goods and the building materials.
Kwankwaso told reporters that he spent two hours explaining to President Tinubu what Ganduje did and why Gida Gida is demolishing the properties. Several questions here. Why is it Kwankwaso, and not the governor himself, who must come and explain to the president? Is it true, as some people are alleging, that Gida Gida’s rule is actually a Kwankwaso Third Term in office? Is it true that President Tinubu sat for two hours and listened to a harangue justifying the demolitions in Kano? Two hours, when he had many matters of greater national and security importance on his plate? It is possible that Kwankwaso added the waiting period to see the president to his calculation of the length of their meeting. Why should the president spend two hours on this matter when, with a brief phone call to the Police IG and DG of DSS, he could halt the demolitions until matters are properly sorted out?
Ok, if Ganduje is ready to slap Kwankwaso for remotely master minding the demolition of plazas, imagine what former Zamfara State governor Bello Mohammed Matawalle could do to his successor, Dauda Lawal, for the huge security sweep of his houses in Gusau and Maradun. I saw viral pictures of Matawalle in Abuja last week, only a few paces away from the president at the Friday prayers. The way he sounded in a BBC Hausa interview, ten sharp slaps are not out of the question were he to run into his successor in Aso Rock. According to Matawalle, the cops that ransacked his houses made away with 40 vehicles, his wives’ clothes and hijabs, even utensils, and also the boxes slated for his daughter’s impending marriage. Governor Lawal had earlier given Matawalle five days to return 17 exotic vehicles that he went away with when his tenure ended. If the cops took 40 vehicles from his houses, then that was 23 vehicles more than they were told to bring.
Many Zamfara folks were asking, what were 40 vehicles doing in Matawalle’s house? Is it a motor park? The former governor offered two explanations, neither of them very convincing. He said he was into vehicle sale business before he became a governor. The question is, in four years as governor of a state, was he still bringing Tokunbo vehicles from Cotonou? Matawalle also said many of the vehicles were donated by supporters for the last, unsuccessful governorship campaign. This is the second time I heard a Nigerian politician listing donated campaign vehicles as his personal property. If you do that in the US, for example, you will probably go to jail.
Yet another slap may be afoot in Benue State, where Governor Hyacinth Alia delivered the most robust repudiation of the man he succeeded in office, former Governor Samuel Ortom. Alia began by nullifying all recent appointments into the State Civil Service made by Ortom’s administration; cancelled all extensions and contract appointments made in Ortom’s closing days; ordered all civil servants due for retirement who are yet to tender their letters of retirement to proceed on retirement immediately, and ordered all persons appointed as Permanent Secretaries from January 2023 to revert to their previous positions. Alia also nullified all postings and transfers made in the state civil service from October 2022.
When Ortom’s PDP protested, Alia said there was massive looting of the Government House in Makurdi by Ortom’s administration and that he was left with not a single official car. Alia further said he inherited an empty treasury and N187.56 billion debt and months of unpaid salaries and pensions. He said, “PDP, which is now crying wolf, left the Government House owing salaries of Benue civil servants from December 2022 to May 2023. The same PDP administration left salary arrears of five months for state government workers in 2017; 10 months for local government workers in 2017. Under this same PDP government, pensions were last paid in 2021.” He then added, “The level of decay caused by the immediate past administration stinks in the severely vandalized offices of state civil servants, such that the new government must have to start from scratch to acquire the necessary equipment for the system to start working again.” Start from scratch, in a 47-year-old state?
The impression we all had, carefully cultivated by former governor Ortom over eight years, was that Benue State was a land of milk and honey and it was Fulani herdsmen that poured sand into its gari. The anti-open grazing law which he got enacted in the state was supposed to have solved all those problems, so how come that his successor is alleging huge debts and looted vehicles? Was it herdsmen that drove jeeps away alongside cows and bulls? There was a viral picture last week of ex-governor Samuel Ortom paying a visit to Aso Rock alongside four other members of the PDP G-5. Governor Alia was lucky that he was nowhere in the vicinity. Otherwise, there could have been another dirty slap inside the Presidential Villa.