Long before he dramatically survived an impeachment plot early August, Governor Tanko Al-Makura of Nasarawa State seemed versed in dealing with a prickly opposition-controlled legislature with which he traded allegations for years.
When the Peoples Democratic Party-led assembly demanded the dismissal of an official who accused its members of extortion in 2013, Mr. Al-Makura complied swiftly.
Yet, when the legislators pressed for the dissolution of the state electoral body’s board, the governor called their bluff.
As the lawmakers threatened to move against him in 2012, the governor secured the intervention of President Goodluck Jonathan, and agreed, as a condition for peace, to return to the PDP he once belonged, according to several state officials and lawmakers.
He did not keep that promise.
But PREMIUM TIMES has confirmed, through interviews with dozens of state lawmakers, local politicians and officials of the state government, how those differences and the latest impeachment charges merely mask a feud driven more by disagreements over access to state contracts, amid claims of financial abuse and extortion between both sides.
While the lawmakers accuse the governor of siphoning state funds through contracts awarded to cronies, supporters of the governor accuse the legislators of extortion.
An earlier investigation published by this newspaper in August 2013, showed how the assembly used intrigues, blackmail and outright confrontation to extort Mr. Al-Makura.
In 2013, Hajara Danyaro, Mr. Al-Makura’s then Senior Special Adviser on Interparty Affairs, told the media how the assembly pressured the governor to pay them N300 million before allowing the governor raise a N10 billion bond from the capital market.
Mrs. Danyaro said the excessive demands for gratification by the lawmakers could not be sustained by the state’s lean resources.
In what the government considered as a reprisal August 2013, the assembly launched a major investigation into government’s activities between 2011 and 2013, summoned key officials, and unleashed its public accounts committee on select ministries and agencies, officials of the Nasarawa State government told PREMIUM TIMES, asking not to be named so they are not victimised by the lawmakers.
Mrs. Danyaro herself was summoned to prove her allegations, after which the House passed a resolution calling for her sack. Mr. Al-Makura heeded the directive. He later told reporters the decision was to calm “frayed nerves”.
Governor’s grandstanding turned sour
Despite what many Nasarawa citizens adjudge a comparatively improved performance by Mr. Al Makura—a point acknowledged even by his critics — the governor also faces allegation of violating procurement rules and using proxies to corner state contracts.
“We have witnessed positive changes particularly in the construction of municipal roads. We have witnessed drastic changes over and above those who were there before him,” said Alumaga Zachariah, a fierce critic of the governor, and the legal adviser to the dreaded Ombatse cult.
But beyond the roads and other key infrastructure, Mr. Zachariah said the governor has shown no marked difference from the past administrations in the area of accountability.
“We are aware that the whole contracts awarded in the state are given to his companies and cronies. This is the issue. I think he would have done three times better than what he has done if the funds were properly invested,” Mr. Zachariah said.
Lawmakers detailed how the governor refused members of the state assembly access to contracts, while companies linked to him easily won most of the most lucrative contracts.
One lawmaker told PREMIUM TIMES that in his first year in office, Mr. Al Makura allocated some “minor” contracts to members of the house while the major jobs went to his relations and friends.
Another lawmaker said the governor could have avoided the current crisis if he had adhered to the financial regulations and acted proactively in his political decisions.
Impeachment gathers steam
When the state lawmakers first moved to impeached the governor in 2012, state officials said Mr. Al-Makura approached President Jonathan to intervene at a time the PDP was separately pushing to unseat the governor at the Election Petition Tribunal.
Presidency sources said as part of the conditions for a truce, Mr. Al Makura, a former member of the PDP, agreed to return to the party. But after the Supreme Court returned him as governor, Mr. Al-Makura turned down the deal.
If the lawmakers were on the lookout for an opportunity to act against the governor, they found one then, lawmakers said. Central to the move was Mr. Al Makura’s alleged involvement in a fraudulent contract for the State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB.
The N1.1 billion contract was awarded to Relevant Technology, a state-owned skills acquisition centre. The contract for the provision of furniture to public schools was to empower the firm engage trainees in the practical aspects of their trade.
But after the award, the firm was disallowed from handling the contract based on the terms agreed by the government, officials in the SUBEB office said. A greater chunk of the contract sum had been paid out to surrogate companies recommended by top SUBEB officials.
Investigation by the House of Assembly showed that three close relatives of Mr. Al-Makura diverted the contract, according to state lawmakers, and the spokesperson for the assembly, Mohammed Ibaku.
“It was found that SUBEB introduced extraneous deals into the contract which were not part of the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, earlier signed between the government and Relevant Technology,” one lawmaker said. “The deal made it possible for the management of SUBEB to take over the same job they earlier awarded to Relevant Technology against the provision of the procurement law and the MoU.”
Among those fingered in the deal was the Secretary of the Board who is also the governor’s son in-law, Ahmed Ubangari, a consultant to the board and Mr. Al-Makura’s nephew, Sarki Usman, and the board Chairman, who is also the governor’s uncle, Abdulkareem Abdullahi.
Lawmakers said they were angered that while Mr. Abdullahi had been giving them small contracts under the schools construction project, the mega contracts were awarded to firms owned by members of the Al-Makura family.
The lawmakers also queried the appointment of the governor’s nephew as consultant to the UBE and his alleged takeover of the jobs earlier awarded to Relevant Technology.
Arguments and counter arguments
The Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Mohammed Ibaku, confirmed PREMIUM TIMES’ earlier findings.
“It is true that the governor’s relations were involved in a contract scam. We investigated the matter. There is one Ahmed Sarki Usman, who acted as a consultant and director of a company. He is a nephew to the governor,” he said.
“We also found that the Secretary of SUBEB, one Ahmed Ubangare, who personally signed N280 million. The total amount they siphoned was N803 million. They confessed and apologized.
“The next day, the governor sacked the nephew as a consultant to the board thus confirming that what we investigated was true. On the last day we were to see them, the governor interrupted by serving the suspects arrest warrant.
“We told the police to allow us finish our investigation before effecting the arrest. They arrested some of those who were fingered in the crime and left others. On the last day of our investigation, the governor went on air to say that he has dismissed the consultant who is his nephew.
“He might have thought that would distract us from going ahead with our investigation. But he failed in that regard. If you go through our allegation, this contract scam is part of it.”
Asked to clear the air on the N300million bribery for bond allegation against the assembly, Mr. Ibaku said no lawmaker in the state got any money from Mr. Al-Makura for the purpose of giving approval to raise a bond from the capital market.
He challenged anyone with evidence of such payment to produce same to the public, adding that the allegation was part of the propaganda against the assembly.
“We have said that some reporters are taking over N500, 000 monthly to work for the governor. The Nation Newspaper reported that we were given $180,000 and we have challenged them to publish who gave us the money. These allegations will not stop us from doing our constitutional duties.”
But the governor’s spokesperson disagreed with Mr. Ibaku, saying the allegations were an attempt to rope in Mr. Al-Makura into the infraction at SUBEB.
“It is not important to say who is related to whom. What I know is that the secretary of the board is the son in-law to the governor of Nasarawa State and that is not to say if there are infractions in the schools board, they can link that to the governor,” Mr. Kwarra said.
The SUBEB claims are part of the impeachable offences drawn up by the lawmakers against the governor.
Another ground upon which the lawmakers launched their attack against the governor was the March 22 local government election in the state.
In preparing for the poll, the house had hastily amended the state electoral law to allow local government returning officers to announce election results in their domains and declare winners too.
The new law effectively disempowered the chairman of Nasarawa State Independent Electoral Commission, NASIEC, an official they believed could easily be influenced by the state governor.
After the poll, the returning officers declared 10 PDP chairmanship candidates as winners out of the 13 council areas in the state. However, flowing from complaints by the APC, the NASIEC Chairman countered with the declaration of the returning officers by reversing the results of six council areas.
At the end of the process, the APC clinched the chairmanship seats in the six disputed council areas which were initially won by the PDP thereby tilting the balance of power against the lawmakers.
Some principal officers of the assembly, including the speaker, lost their local government chairmanship to APC candidates. Angered by the decision of the NASIEC chairman, the lawmakers ordered the removal of the commission’s board members.
After the governor declined to sack the NASIEC board, the assembly refused to appropriate funds for the commission under the 2014 budget law.
Mr. Al-Makura called the bluff of the lawmakers and sourced funds elsewhere to run the commission and pay salaries to its workers.
That decision is also part of the grounds for impeachment attempt on the governor as shown on charges 13 and 14 of the impeachment notice.
Between the lawmakers’ defiance and the rule of law
Despite being cleared of wrongdoing by an investigative panel, the spokesperson for the House, Mr. Ibaku, vowed that the House would continue with its impeachment against the governor.
But senior constitutional lawyer, Itse Sagay, said the assembly has no powers under any law to impeach a governor after he has been cleared by the probe panel.
“That’s not possible,” Mr. Sagay said. “That is legally and constitutionally impossible. They would be operating totally outside the law. They will become outlaws. The governor should just ignore them.”
Mr. Sagay argued that the impeachment process against Mr. Al-Makura failed with his acquittal by the investigative panel.
“The impeachment is over. The panel’s decision is final. There can be no further impeachment. It is all over. It is irrelevant if they did not appear before the panel.
“They made allegation against the governor and asked the Chief Judge to set up a panel and they failed to appear and so couldn’t prove them and the allegations were dismissed. That is the end of the story. Forever and ever, they can’t impeach the governor again.”