The noose of impeachment is tightening around the neck of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State, who is equally fighting frantically to retain his seat. But can he succeed in frustrating his impeachment process by the State House of Assembly?
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul. 21, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
LIKE a drowning man, Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State is clinging to every straw available to save his political career. In the last few days, he has been using everything in the political books to stave off the impeachment noose tightening around his neck. He is facing a possible removal from office by the Adamawa State House of Assembly. But for how long the straw is going to save him is anybody’s guess. For instance, while a seven-man panel of investigation constituted to look into offences allegedly committed by him, was sitting in a private hotel in Yola, capital of Adamawa State, the governor was in Abuja on Tuesday, July 8, to attend a meeting of the National Council of State, NCS, where he was said to have enlisted the assistance of his former military colleagues to help intervene in the impeachment threat saga.
According to sources, Nyako, a retired naval admiral, was said to have appealed to generals Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, both former heads of state, to speak to President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene so as not to be disgraced out of office. Another source said it was former President Olusegun Obasanjo who prompted Nyako to attend the NCS meeting. The presence of Obasanjo, at the July 8, NCS meeting, which he had not attended for a very long time, lent credence to the speculation. It is believed that the meeting was used as an opportunity to appeal to President Jonathan to intervene in the impeachment saga.
It was not clear what assurance the president gave to the former leaders on the governor’s case, but the president was said to have insisted that the governor should withdraw his contentious memo to the Northern Governors’ Forum, NGF, and publicly apologise for his indiscretion. But Nyako was said to have refused to eat his humble pie and said, instead, he would rather leave office than withdraw the letter because he would not like to be placed in a position that would jeopardise the security of his people.
Nyako had, in a memo to the NGF last April, alleged that there was a full-fledged genocide against the northern states and that the federal government was using the attack on Boko Haram to massively kill northerners. He also alleged that most of the soldiers of northern origin recently recruited to fight Boko Haram had not been properly trained for the battle. ‘‘They are being poorly trained, totally ill-equipped, given only uniform and are killed by their trainers in Nigerian Army training centres as soon as they arrive in the Nigerian Army camps being used by the so-called Boko Haram insurgents. Virtually all the Nigerian soldiers killed/murdered in these operations so far are of Northern Nigeria origin. The administration has also hired militia men from across the continent, especially North Africa, who have been deceived into accepting to come because they were made to believe that they would be fighting infidels,” Nyako’s letter said in part.
Whatever the outcome of the intervention of the former heads of state, it would gladden the hearts of his supporters to know that Nyako still enjoys some measure of support among the traditional rulers in the state. A similar intervention effort to save the governor has come from the eight emirates across Adamawa State under the leadership of Mohammadu Musdafa, the Lamido of Adamawa. The emirs met at the palace of the Lamido for several hours in Yola, on Tuesday, as part of the efforts to resolve the political impasse. Although the details of the meeting was not made known, independent sources said the royal fathers resolved to use their influence in the state to persuade members of the House of Assembly to soft-pedal on their decision to remove the governor. It was also resolved that some federal lawmakers and political heavyweights from the state would meet with Nyako in Abuja on Tuesday night to brainstorm on the best way out of the crisis.
Prominent among persons expected at the meeting were Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president and Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Abubakar former foe of Nyako in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, recently joined forces with Ribadu with the aim of helping the governor to stave off the impeachment threat. Abubakar and Ribadu actually relocated to Yola on Monday, July 7, where the former VP was said to have met with the former EFCC boss and some key leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC. However, a source was quoted as saying that: “The forces from Abuja against Nyako are overwhelming. But Atiku, Ribadu and APC leaders are intensifying the lobbying of lawmakers to save Nyako. Since Atiku flew into Yola early on Monday, he has been holding consultations with Ribadu who has been in the state since Friday. But the lawmakers are adamant, insisting that Nyako must go.”
To save his job, Nyako had run to the temple of justice and got a high court order to restrain the speaker, his deputy and other lawmakers and the PDP from removing him from office. After that, there was a temporary relief. Justice Ambrose Mammadi, the then acting chief judge, granted the request for an order of interim injunction restraining members of the House of Assembly, from taking any further action on the impeachment process. But two days later, the same acting CJ reversed himself and constituted a seven-member panel to kick-start an impeachment process.
Commenting on the new twist in the impeachment saga, some lawyers said if the inauguration did not take place before the end of the tenure of the CJ, a new CJ would have to be appointed before the investigative committee could perform its duty. However, since the responsibility of appointing a new CJ also rests with the state governor, it is suspected that Nyako would like to appoint anyone that would not be sympathetic to his plight. Criticising the move by the CJ to set up the panel, Phineas Padio, publicity secretary of the APC in the state, wondered why Mammadi still went ahead to set up the panel after he had ruled that the method used by the lawmakers to serve the impeachment notice on the governor and his deputy was unconstitutional.
“The acting CJ had ruled that the notice of impeachment must be served through personal means; he even quoted a Supreme Court ruling that said it could not be served through the pages of newspapers as the House did. Yet, he went ahead to constitute the panel, while the notice was not properly served,” he said.
But Solomon Kumanga, press secretary to the speaker of the House, alleged that the lawmakers were armed with enough information to show that the executive arm of government had brought in mercenaries to kidnap members of the assembly. “We are not aware of the holiday but there is need for prayers because we have information that they have smuggled in mercenaries to attack or kidnap the people involved in the impeachment. That is why security is beefed up around them,” Kumanga said.
Whatever be the situation, Nyako has done everything he could think of to frustrate the operation of the impeachment panel. On Sunday, July6, he declared a two-day public holidays on Monday, July 7, and Tuesday, July 8, in order to forestall the inauguration of the panel by the acting CJ. It was being argued by some watchers of the unfolding drama in Adamawa State that without the panel’s inauguration by the acting CJ, the legality of its sitting might be questioned. But others have also argued that the constitution is silent on who should inaugurate the panel. According to this school of thought, the constitution limits the power of the CJ to merely setting up the panel.
When the governor announced the public holiday on Sunday, July 6, he said the period would be devoted to prayers by the citizens and civil servants for restoration of peace in the state. A statement by A. Abba, chief of staff to the governor, stated: “His Excellency, Governor Murtala Nyako, has approved Monday, July 7 and Tuesday, July 8 as work-free days in Adamawa State. This is to enable the people of the state to reflect on the current happenings in the country and to use the period to offer special prayers for peace in the state and the country. The period is to also allow Adamawa workers reflect on their current challenges. It is also a thanksgiving period for the citizens to appreciate God’s protection despite all challenges.” Indeed, Adamawa is one of the three North-East states that have been under emergency rule since May 2013 following escalating violence by Boko Haram, a terrorist Islamic sect. The other two states are Borno and Yobe.
Not everyone believed the governor’s reasons for the two-day holidays. One of the bitter critics of the holidays is Adamu Kamale, deputy majority leader in the state House of Assembly. He berated the governor by saying it was an attempt to prevent the impeachment panel from performing its duty. “The issue now is not before the House. There may be mischief to this in whichever way you look at it. But, already, the (acting) chief judge has set up a seven-man panel to investigate the governor and his deputy and there is no way they can block the CJ. In addition, praying to God is supposed to be a daily affair as most of our religions are practising it. For two days to be set aside as praying days, well, I don’t know his intention. I will have to read the statement probably I can pick something from it.”
Nevertheless, the seven-man panel constituted by Justice Mammadi, who was scheduled to retire from government service on Monday, July 7, held its inaugural closed-door sitting at the J & J Holiday Villa, a hotel, in Yola on Monday, July 7, amidst tight security. Prior to that, there was an announcement that Abubakar Babayola, chief registrar of the State High Court, was going to inaugurate the committee since the acting CJ was due to retire on Monday, July 7. Babayola later described the earlier proposed inauguration of the committee as a “mere ceremony,” which was not a mandatory constitutional requirement. Babayola had on Friday signed the statement announcing the composition of the committee on behalf of the retired acting CJ. The statement partly read: “The Hon. acting Chief Judge, Hon. Justice Ambrose D. Mammadi, by the powers vested on him under Section 185(5) of the 1999 Constitution as (amended), has approved the appointment of a seven-man panel to investigate allegations of gross misconduct of the Executive Governor of Adamawa State, Admiral Murtala Nyako, and the Deputy Governor of Adamawa State, Mr. Bala Ngilari.”
Mammadi, had on Friday, July 4, set up the panel to investigate allegations of gross misconduct levelled against the governor and James Bala Ngilari, his deputy, by the state legislators who had started an impeachment move against the governor.
But by midweek, the committee which is being chaired by Buba Kaimaga with Laraba Hassan, Njidda Kito, Joshua Abu, Binanu Esthon, Sa’ad Lawan and Esthon Gapsiso, as members was having difficulty in getting a venue for its public sitting because it was ejected by the authorities of the J & J Holiday Villa, who expressed concerned over the heavy presence of security men at the venue.
The Adamawa State House of Assembly first made public its intention to impeach Nyako and his deputy through a notice of impeachment on June 18. Initially, 19 members signed the impeachment notice. Of the 19, three were former members of the APC, who defected to the PDP. Two of them were elected to the House on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria, and the remaining one under the platform of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. The two parties collapsed with a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, to form the APC. The APC had, therefore, approached the court on June 20, to challenge the carpet crossing of its members and demanded the court to declare their seats vacant for a fresh election.
Besides, while still awaiting the commencement of the case, the APC also got an injunction against the impeachment of the governor and issued a seven-day lifespan order. But the same judge who issued the order also set up the panel to investigate the alleged misconduct of the governor without vacating the injunction order.
Curiously, Ngilari is not insulated from the plot, especially when it is common knowledge that he still remains in the PDP while his boss had defected to the APC last year. But it is believed that some powerful forces in the state would want to maintain a clean break from the past, hence, the decision to sacrifice Ngilari. The thinking is that if Ngilari should be allowed to continue, he would become the biggest beneficiary of the impeachment as he would be sworn in immediately as governor, while Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri, current speaker of the House, who happens to share local government area with him, would be relegated to an ordinary member of the House.
Another calculation being speculated in the saga is that if Ngilari is allowed to take over and being a Christian minority, he would pick Awwal Tukur, a former member of the House of Representatives and son of Bamanga Tukur, a former national chairman of the PDP, as his deputy. But Fintiri is also said to be interested in becoming the acting governor as witnessed in Ekiti State when the then Governor Ayodele Fayose was removed with Biodun Olujimi, his deputy, in 2006.
In the Adamawa case, the governor was charged with 20 offences while his deputy faces six impeachable offences in the sack move spear-headed by 19 of the 25-member Assembly. The charges against the governor include fraudulent awards of contracts of over N8 billion through a company in which one of his wives is believed to have an interest, alleged; corrupt siphoning of N300 million public funds through a company for the construction of Mubi by-pass road without mobilising to the site or any construction carried out after collecting the money. Others are gross violation of his oath of office by outrageous patronage and dominance of his family and friends in the discharge of government business, gross violation of Section 120 of the Constitution and gross misappropriation and diversion of internally generated revenue for personal use to the detriment of the people of Adamawa State.
The move to impeach the governor started some three weeks ago, when the Assembly after receiving briefs from Nyako’s commissioners, passed a resolution to sack him. The impeachment move was sequel to a motion on a constitutional matter raised by Laori Kwamoti, deputy speaker and a PDP member, on the floor of the House backed with a document signed by 19 of the 25 members. The lawmaker had cited Section 188 of the Constitution as the basis for his motion.
Once that was done, Usman Abdulkareem, also a PDP member representing Nasarawo/Binyeri, moved for the impeachment of Ngilari, stating that he had a petition signed by eight lawmakers alleging gross misconduct against him. Consequently, Fintiri directed the clerk to serve separate notices to the affected personalities and all the 25 members of the State House of Assembly. Very few persons took the lawmakers serious when they declared their intention to impeach Nyako and Ngilari.
In the ensuing drama, the EFCC froze the accounts of the state, thereby making governance almost impossible. Earlier, three officials of the state, including the accountant-general were arrested and interrogated by the anti-graft agency. But Nyako and his supporters believe that his problems were engineered by his political foes. Besides, some of his former allies in the PDP such as Joel Madaki, who had supported the governor when the heat was turned on him by Abubakar, Mohammed Buba Marwa, a retired brigadier-general and former governorship aspirant; Makus Gundiri, another PDP former governorship aspirant; Ahmed Gulak, former political adviser to President Jonathan; Senator Jibril Aminu and Boni Haruna, former governor of the state, are said to have constituted a powerful bloc to remove Nyako from office. Also, Tukur has an axe to grind with the governor for the role he played in ensuring that he was removed as the PDP national chairman.
The totality of all these probably informed the governor’s initial decision to throw in the towel and hand over power to his deputy. But the leadership of the APC was said to have asked him to tarry a while longer. But by Wednesday, July 9, the embattled governor appeared to be more combatant than before. Answering reporters’ questions, he said he would not resign over the impeachment threat against him and his deputy. He also assured his audience that the situation was not bad enough to seek help from President Jonathan, but he would not rule out asking for his help if the situation demanded for it. Nyako was in the Presidential Villa, Abuja to attend the inauguration of the steering committee of the Safe School Initiative. Besides, he said he expected the lawmakers in his state to obey the rule of law. “Well, it is in the court and the court said it was not properly done. We are hoping that if they want to do it, they will do it following the due process in whatever they want to do,” he said.
Speaking through Ahmed Sajoh, his spokesman, later Nyako vowed not to appear before the seven-member investigative panel, since according to him “it is an illegal body which has no basis in law.” Apart from that, he said the House was not supposed to paste the notice. “They are supposed to serve it on him. Besides, the panel was illegally constituted because those behind it ignored a subsisting court order. The composition of the committee itself is faulty because indicted persons as well as card carrying members of the Peoples Democratic Party are among the panelists.” Besides, Sajoh also said the seven days allowed for the court order to be served on the governor had elapsed. He insisted that Nyako was not bothered by the impeachment moves against him, stressing that the governor had always said that posterity would vindicate him. But in the meantime, who will save Nyako? The answer to this may be answered sooner than later.