Indications emerged on Friday that Nasarawa State might explode in an orgy of violence unless urgent steps are taken to rein in opposing political forces that are fighting to occupy the Government House, Lafia.
This followed the dismissal of the allegations of misconduct brought against the state Governor, Tanko Al-Makura by an investigative panel set up the state Chief Judge, Suleiman Dikko.
The state assembly on Thursday, July 17, filled 16 charges bordering on official misconduct against Mr. Al-Makura.
On Monday, July 24, the assembly caused a notice of impeachment notice, which was signed by 20 out of the 24 members of the assembly, to be served on the governor.
The 20 lawmakers, who signed the impeachment notice are members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP while the four, who refused to sign the document, belong to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
However, Mr. Al-Makura was cleared of all the charges brought against him by the PDP-led legislature on August 5, a situation which angered the lawmakers and the PDP in the state.
In acquitting Mr. Al-Makura, the panel held that the assembly failed to prove that the governor was guilty of any of the charges brought against him.
But investigations by PREMIUM TIMES in Lafia revealed that the PDP-led assembly might still go ahead to remove Mr. Al-Makura on Monday against the verdict of the probe panel.
The lawmakers, who are said to have relocated to Abuja for fear of being attacked by the governor’s supporters, are billed to return to Lafia during the weekend, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
A source in Lafia, who pleaded not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, confirmed the lawmakers would reconvene on Monday or Tuesday to take a major decision that would change the political landscape in the state.
Based on negative security reports, the source said the assembly, which was expected to resume from recess on Monday, could not hold plenary sitting.
Particularly, the source said many of the PDP lawmakers who signed Mr. Al-Makura’s impeachment notice and who had moved to Abuja, could not return to the state.
He said, “I can conveniently tell you that the lawmakers will return and continue their work as provided for in the 1999 Constitution. When they resume plenary on Monday, a major decision will be taken to show that the state legislature cannot be cowed by any arm of the government to abandon its constitutional responsibilities.
“The law is clear on what the responsibilities of the assembly are and how such responsibilities should be carried out. The law is also clear on what the executive can do and what it cannot do. So when the chips are down, the lawmakers will do their job no matter whose ox is gored.”
The source dismissed insinuations that the lawmakers fled the state to avoid repercussions from supporters of the governor, saying nobody could stop the assembly from sitting when members are ready to reconvene.
Rallies and counter-rallies of rancour
As tension continues to build in Lafia, the state capital, hundreds of APC supporters on Wednesday took to major streets to celebrate the failure of the assembly to remove Mr. Al-Makura.
To drum their support for the governor, a major rally was held at the headquarters of the state chapter of the party located along Shendam Road, where top party brass addressed a mammoth crowd of supporters.
While the rally, which attracted supporters from the 13 local government areas of the state lasted, the state capital was soaked in tension as supporters of the PDP watched the celebration with bottled anger.
To avoid any breakdown of law and order, security agents comprising of the Army, the Nigeria Police, the State Security Services, SSS and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, guarded strategic locations around the capital city.
However, on Thursday morning, more security operatives were deployed to various locations in Lafia just as the PDP was set to hold a counter rally in support of its lawmakers in the state assembly.
Several vans conveying fully-armed military, the police and personnel of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps patrolled major streets of the city while many residents watched from the windows of their houses.
As early as 7a.m, bus-loads of supporters had started arriving at the party’s headquarters along Jos Expressway with party faithful adorning T-shirts with various inscriptions to show support for key leaders of the party.
Some of the T-shirts carried the pictures of the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, former Governor, Akwa Doma, among many others.
By 9 a.m, Mr. Maku accompanied by Mr. Doma, Senators Solomon Ewuga and Suleiman Adokwe, arrived at the party secretariat to show solidarity with the 20 members of the party who are fighting hard to remove Mr. Al-Makura from office.
A former National Assembly member, John Danboyi, former Deputy Governor, John Abdul and other top PDP leaders in the state were also at the rally.
The PDP leaders were received and introduced by the state Chairman, Yunana Iliya, and members of his executive committee.
After a brief ceremony, the rally moved in a long convoy to the House of Assembly. They were blocked from entering the premises by security operatives guarding the complex.
However, after singing and dancing in front of the gates for close to 30 minutes, the crowd surged into the assembly grounds in defiance of the order of the armed security operatives.
Not long after, the party’s leadership drove into the assembly complex and went straight to the entrance of the gallery.
It was at the entrance to the gallery that Mr. Maku, Mr. Iliya and other bigwigs of the party stood on the back of a Toyota Hilux van to address supporters.
Before addressing supporters, the state PDP chairman had handed a solidarity letter to the Clerk of the Assembly, Ego Mai-Keffi, to deliver to the members.
Speaking amidst shouts of PDP slogans, the information minister warned the APC and the executive arm of government against acts of violence and or intimidation against members of the PDP in the state.
Mr. Maku said, “The attack on PDP members must stop. The violence against members of the PDP in the state house of assembly must stop. We want peace but nobody should test our resolve. The PDP members must be strong. The PDP members must be united and must eschew violence.”
Mr. Maku argued that but for the need to set a standard of good conduct, the PDP would have unleashed its supporters against troublemakers in Lafia.
He said the action would have been taken to avenge the recent attack on a vehicle belonging to its lawmaker, as well as the burning of a house belonging to one of its leaders in the state.
Mr. Maku argued that it was counter-productive for the APC to try to block the lawmakers from carrying out their constitutional duties, noting that by organizing a rally in their support, nobody in the state would be left in doubt about the position of the PDP in the ongoing crisis.
He referred to the APC as a party of violence and thuggery, and warned it to remember that the PDP has majority of members in the state.
“Let me make it very clear; if we blow a whistle today, nobody will work in Lafia. If we want tom do what they (APC) are doing, and we blow a whistle, our members will enter Lafia and nobody will be able to work because the majority of people in Lafia belong to PDP,” he said.
On his part, Mr. Doma called on members of the party to close rank and support the state lawmakers to carry out their constitutional responsibilities to the people of the state.
The former governor insisted that the attempt to stop the lawmakers from sitting was illegal, undemocratic and condemnable.
Supporters of the party sang and danced round the assembly complex calling Mr. Al-Makura uncomplimentary names including referring to the governor as representing an endemic Ebola sweeping across the state.
Barely two hours after the PDP moved its rally back to its secretariat along Jos Expressway, the APC brought out its members for a counter rally.
Members of the APC poured water on the streets of Lafia and swept everywhere they went with brooms in a mock attempt to drive the scourge of the PDP away.
While sweeping, the party faithful sang, “Ebola came to town, we must get rid of it. Ebola came to town; we must get rid of it immediately.”
They said the visit of the PDP leaders and their supporters was like an Ebola virus, which they insisted must be washed and swept off the streets of Lafia..
The APC procession moved from Jos Road to the assembly complex and Shendam Road, where they were received by Othman Adam Boss, the House member representing Keffi-West on the platform of the APC.
Mr. Boss oversaw the sweeping of the assembly complex as women and youths chanted loudly in Hausa, “Ebola came to town; we must get rid of it.”
Reacting to allegations made by the PDP, the Senior Special Adviser to the governor on Media, Abdulhameed Kwarra said the executive arm of the government would not join issues with the opposition party.
Mr. Kwarra noted that the executive does not interfere in the constitutional duties of other arms of the government, adding that Mr. Al-Makura had allowed the due process of law to prevail in the impeachment move.
He said, “If they have a problem with the constitution of the panel by the state chief judge, they should go to the court and challenge him. if they have a problem with the verdict of the panel, they should still go to court.
“That is what the law says. They should not try to drag us into any of these things. We will only join issues with them if we are served by a court of competent jurisdiction. If you beat me up, must you also stop me from crying,” he queried.
Security on red alert
Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, the Nasarawa State Police spokesperson, Numan Umar, said the command took proactive measures to ensure that there was no breakdown of law and order during the counter rallies in the capital city.
Mr. Umar noted that the Police in collaboration with other security agencies in the state provided security for the two parties to organise their rallies in an atmosphere of peace and orderliness.
He said, “If you go through Lafia, you will see the deployment of police and other security agencies manning strategic location in the city. When issues like this happen, we have a joint security committee comprising the Army, the Police, the SSS, the Civil Defence were we put heads together to try to resolve problems. That is why we have not had any major security breaches in the state. As you can see, Lafia is generally peaceful and by the grace of God, it will continue to be peaceful.”
Asked whether the security agencies in the state are ready to take on any breach of security ahead of Monday’s resumption of the state assembly, he said, “We are prepared for any eventuality in the state.”