Nigeria News

Plateau 2015: Politics Marred by Bitterness

Seriki Adinoyi, in Jos, looks at the bitter contest for power in Plateau State ahead of the 2015 general election

Serious politicking has begun in Plateau State ahead of the 2015 general election. Stakeholders are aligning and re-aligning to form groups and platforms for the contest for power.
What is, however, ominous is that rather than showcase achievements and good attributes that make leaders, the politicians are engrossed in politics of bitterness, blackmail and victimisation. Many are allowing their selfish ambitions to rule their sense of morality and reasoning.

Succession
The state governor, Da Jonah David Jang is not vying for the governorship position again, but he is certainly interested in determining who succeeds him in 2015. He believes the success of a leader is also measured by the choice of his successor.
But the governor is playing the succession politics close to his chest, to the surprise and frustration of many, even among his supporters. Those who are close to him, however, believe he is only taking his time to pray to avoid mistakes that would be regretted later. They believe he is only trying to come up with a credible choice that will benefit the entire state.

Zoning
But critics allege that Jang is merely angling to satisfy his ambition of handing over to a fellow Berom person – contrary to the principle of rotation that is being practised in the state. Those holding this view feel the governorship seat should go to the southern zone of the state in 2015.
According to them, Chief Solomon Lar and Chief Fidelis Tapgun (both from the southern zone) had ruled the state for nearly eight years. Chief Joshua Dariye (from the central zone) had also ruled for eight years, before Jang, who is from the northern zone is now completing his eight years in office.

Some feel the power pendulum should now go back to the southern zone, where it started, in the spirit of zoning. But the governor is alleged to be uncomfortable with this. He is believed to be intent on handing over to someone from the northern zone, and a Berom from his local government.
Mr. Edward Pwajok, the current Commissioner for Justice, has been mentioned as Jang’s favourite for the governorship post. Pwajok, like the governor, is from Jos South Local Government Area, in the northern senatorial zone.

Jang versus Assembly
Jang has recently been accused of gross financial misappropriation in a petition before the House of Assembly. It is believed that those behind his travails are people who are against his stance on the zoning issue.
The petition, which centres on the management of the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P) fund and the state’s allocation from the Federation Account, accuses the governor’s immediate family members and members of his executive council of involvement in fraudulent acts.

Many believe that the allegation was a way of engaging the governor, discrediting him before his supporters, and trying to pressure him into dropping his alleged attempt to scuttle the zoning arrangement. As if to anger the Assembly and spur the legislators in quick action, the petitioners described the state legislature as a toothless bulldog that had been reduced to a mere appendage of the executive arm.
Obviously, angered by the negative impression created by the petition, the lawmakers soon swung into action and swore to get to the root of the allegation.

From Legislature to Court
But Jang has tried to stop the probe by the legislature. An aide to the governor has obtained a court order to stop the Assembly from investigating the governor. The aide had prayed the court to stop the Speaker of the Assembly and the other 23 members from investigating the allegation against the governor.

The petition, written by a group, Plateau Patriotic Front, was received by the Assembly on May 15. The order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants – the speaker and assembly members – from acting on the petition was received by Assembly on June 11 through the plaintiff’s counsel, Mr. Sunny-Gabriel Odey.

In the originating summons sent to the State High Court through his counsel, the aide wanted the court to make a declaration by virtue of Section 128 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) that the defendants could not validly inquire into, deliberate or debate on matters relating to the governor’s conduct without a resolution of the house published in its journal or in the official gazette of the state government. He also urged the court to declare that the House of Assembly could not entertain, hear, consider or debate a petition addressed, filed, and presented by a person who is not an elected member of the Assembly.

The plaintiff wanted a declaration that the petition dated May 15, 2014, addressed to the Speaker, Plateau State House of Assembly, by the Plateau Patriotic Front, was not, cannot, and could not have been validly and properly presented to the Plateau State House of Assembly as to warrant it being considered, regarded or countenanced in any way or manner by the Speaker of the Plateau State House of Assembly and/or the members of the Plateau State House of Assembly, the said petition having been originated by an unknown person, or persons with no ascertainable address and further not having been signed or presented by any elected member of the Plateau State House of Assembly.

Jang’s aide also sought an order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, “whether by themselves, their members, their agents, privies or assignees or any other person acting through them or however from giving effect to or acting on or upon any petition except in compliance with the Rules of the Plateau State House Assembly, 2008 (as amended) and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”

But experts believe  no court can stop the work of the legislature.
A lawyer, who preferred anonymity, said, “There is a plethora of court pronouncements to the effect that no court has the power to obstruct any legislative house from performing its functions under section 88 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), in the case of the nation, and section 128, in the case of a state Houses of Assembly.”

Unafraid
But supporters of the governor say he is not afraid of the legislative probe. They claim that Jang had written letters to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission regarding the petition by Plateau Patriotic Front, asking the anticrime bodies to come and investigate him.
“We are only cautioning the lawmakers to follow their own rules in going about their investigation, in ensuring that they don’t dance to the beat of a faceless petitioner, whose aim is to cause disharmony in the state,” an aide of the governor, who did not want to be named, said.

Memo
But on realising that the Assembly was bent on going ahead with the investigation, the government issued a directive to civil servants and state government appointees not to appear before the legislature.
The memo said, “I am directed to inform you that henceforth, no ministry, department or agency is to appear before any committee anywhere with respect to any petition unless you seek clearance and obtain approval from the governor.”

The memo, which emanated from the office of the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Shedrack Best, and signed by Permanent Secretary, Policy and General Services, Mr. Izam Azi, was copied to all government ministries, department and agencies of the state as well as commissioners and special advisers.
Many feel the attempts to scuttle the Assembly’s probe may be strengthening the belief that the state government truly has something to hide.

Tit for Tat
But the opinion within government circles is that since the Assembly had decided to disobey the court order stopping the probe of the petition, the government appointees and civil servants are also justified to disappoint the legislature by not appearing before it.
Reacting to the petition by Plateau Patriotic Front during a recent inspection of projects, Jang said, “I am actually wondering where I get the money to execute all these projects, yet somebody is somewhere telling me that I have stolen N50 billion. If I had N50 billion, by now, I would have since completed all these projects.”

But experts say the legislature has the right to summon anyone under employ of the state government without recourse to the governor.
Section 129 (1) (d) of the 1999 Constitution empowers the legislature to issue a warrant for the arrest of any person who refuses to heed its summons.

Digging in Their Heels
For now, both the Assembly and the governor have dug in their heels and would not rescind either the attempt to probe the government or the directive barring civil servants from appearing for the probe. The legislature has also hired a lawyer to defend its actions, while instructing its committee on petitions to go ahead with the investigation.
No one knows how the issues would play out. What is clear is that politics in Plateau State ahead of 2015 is fast plunging into the realms of bitterness, particularly, as regards the choice of the next governor of the state. Arresting the descent will require the concerted effort of the stakeholders.

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