Achuba’s impeachment and new challenges for Kogi APC
YEKINI JIMOH writes on the emerging scenario Kogi State ahead of the November 16 governorship poll following the removal of the state deputy governor, Simon Achuba by the state House of Assembly.
THE current travails of Elder Simon Achuba of Kogi State is not peculiar as far as the status of deputy governors are concerned in politics in Nigeria. They are often regarded as mere spare tyres and always at the mercy of their principals in the high tech power games at the state level.
For Achuba, the untold story behind the crisis that climaxed in the state House of Assembly removing him from office dates back to about four years ago. He had defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC) a few days to the 2015 governorship election in the state. He became the deputy governor after the swearing in of Alhaji Yahaya Bello as the governor, the fourth civilian governor of Kogi, following the refusal of the deputy governorship candidate to late Prince Abubakar Audu, Honourable James Faleke to accept the position. But the once robust relationship between Governor Bello and Achuba, with the leadership of the state chapter of the APC suspending him. It was the height of the gradual buildup in the frosty relationship following accusation of disloyalty leveled against Achuba in 2017.
Rather than abating, the cold war worsened because of the issue of workers’ salary. The payment of salaries was put in abeyance because of the screening of workers by the government.
Achuba was said to have advised that civil servants that were yet to be screened should be paid. The yawning gap between the governor and his deputy became more pronounced as the latter no longer featured at major functions organised by either the state government or the ruling APC. With each camp sticking to its gun, the deputy governor decided to take his case to the Presidential Villa in Abuja where he held a closed-door meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Mr Abba Kyari. He unequivocally declared that the centre could no longer hold in his relationship with Governor Bello. He alleged that he had been sidelined and deprived of certain privileges of office as the deputy governor of Kogi. “For now, it is not very smooth; it is not what it is supposed to be and it is not supposed to be like that,” he told State House correspondents. Achuba said he had operated without statutory allocations in the last two years.
Details of the allegation he levelled against the governor began to crystalise. It was alleged that the governor had stop approving Achuba’s statutory allocations. The sum total was put at N819.7 million, consequent upon which his counsel, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), issued a seven-day ultimatum to Governor Bello to pay up the outstanding allocations due to the office of the deputy governor covering 2017, 2018 and 2019 .Falana, in a letter dated July 17, 2019, stated that the accumulated allocations, included travel allowances, hotel bills, pledges, outstanding monthly imprest and salaries due to his client.
He said: “If our client’s request is not granted within seven days of the receipt of this letter, we have our client’s instructions to seek redress in the National Industrial Court. It is hoped that Your Excellency will not allow our client to resort to litigation in respect of this matter as that may embarrass the Government of Kogi State. Our client has informed us that your Excellency’s Administration has consistently refused to give approval for the release of funds for the smooth running of the office of the Deputy Governor even after memos to that effect have been approved by your office. In particular, the statutory allocations approved for the office of the Deputy Governor have been withheld by the State Government since 2017.
“These said statutory Allocations are duly captured in the Kogi State Appropriation Laws of statutory allocations of 2017, 2018 and 2019 supported by various memos sent to your office since 2017 which were duly approved without cash backing till date. Notwithstanding the fact that the statutory allocations have been illegally withheld our, client has continued to carry out his functions as the Deputy Governor of Kogi State. In as much as our client is prepared to continue to discharge the enormous responsibilities of his office, he is currently hampered by lack of funds which has wide ranging implications for the State even as it prepares for the forthcoming gubernatorial election. In view of the foregoing, we have our client’s instructions to request Your Excellency to use your good offices to ensure the immediate payment of the withheld statutory allocations legitimately appropriated for the office of the deputy governor of Kogi State since 2017.”
A few days later, there was another twist to the faceoff between the governor and his deputy. Achuba raised the alarm that his life was in danger. He told news men at his residence in Lokoja that information available to him showed a plot a plot by some agents to attack his residence. He said he was putting the Inspector General of Police the Director of State Security Service and law enforcement agents on notice that if anything should happen “to me and any member of my family or any of my staff,” they should know who should be held responsible.
He lamented that he had been suffering in silence since he assumed office, claiming to have deployed his personal resources to sustain his office. “The insecurity in KogiState today and the fear of the people of the state is not about armed robbery; it’s not even about kidnapping anymore. It’s not about ritual killings,” he alleged. He added: “My salary is N385, 000. How can the governor assume that I should run the office of the deputy governor if there are no other funds outside my salary? If you have been given the opportunity to serve at any level and you are exhibiting behaviour like this, how do you expect people to describe you after you leave office?”
Achuba used the opportunity of the press conference at his residence to shed light on the genesis of the frosty relationship with Governor Bello. He claimed the problem started right from the inception of the administration when the governor defaulted on workers ‘salary. According to him, his position was that the salary should be paid to workers since they had worked for it. He also accused the governor of not executing a single project since he assumed office. “Leaders should not be a master; you should be ready to serve the people. I belief that whoever has the opportunity of being a governor should humble himself in all honesty and should not go about fighting people even when the fight is unnecessary and avoidable,” he said.
Achuba equally took the raging battle between him and the governor to another court of public opinion. He appeared in a programme in one of the private television stations, speaking extensively on what he perceived as woeful performance of the administration of Governor Bello. His action and outburst proved intense anger in the official circle, leading to the setting up of a seven-man panel by the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Nasiru Ajanah, to investigate deputy governor. Justice Ajanah inaugurated the 7-man panel to investigate Achuba over the allegations of gross misconduct leveled against him by the state House of Assembly.
Crux of the matter
While inaugurating the panel at the conference room of High Court in Lokoja, Justice Ajanah stated that he was guided by the virtue of section 188 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), at the request of the Speaker of House of Assembly to appoint a panel to investigate the deputy governor.”I have appointed each of you, knowing that you are persons of unquestionable integrity and will bring this to bear in discharge of the onerous duty before you. You are asked to investigate the allegations against His Excellency, the deputy governor of Kogi State in line with section 188 of the 1999 constitution as amended. This duty you are to carry out without fear or favour. The basic rules of fair hearing must be sacrosanct in your proceedings. I have no doubt you will discharge this duty which you owe God and Kogi State meritoriously,” Ajanah stated. He explained that the panel members had three months within which to submit their reports to the Assembly. The members of the panel were: John Beiyeshea (SAN) as the chairman; Justice S.S Idajili (retd); U.O Onaja; Z.A Asun; E.I Omuya; Ibrahim Ndagi Adamu; Ada Shuibu as members and Bamidele Aina as the secretary of the panel.
On October 18, 2019, the chairman of the panel, Baiyeshea led the other members to submit the report to the Speaker, of the assembly, Kolawole Matthew. Speaking at the event, the chairman said: “We have done the best we know how to do according to law and evidence presented to us. Our committee report is only to the State House of Assembly through the Speaker, in accordance to the constitution.”Baiyeshea said the panel was on standby in case the Assembly wanted further clarification and reference, stressing that, the “report is in three volumes; Volume 1 contains all documents forwarded to us by the chief judge that he received from the assembly, and additional reports made available to the committee;Volume 2 contains the evidences giving during the proceeding and Volume 3 contains reviews of the committee and recommendations.”The chairman who urged any interested persons to approach the right channel to obtain a copy if they desired, declined to reveal the position of the committee, saying doing so would be against the law.
Receiving the document, speaker of assembly said the lawmakers promised would be painstaking in handling the report to guarantee justice. “We shall go into the reports thoroughly, look into the recommendations and do justice to it.”Honourable Matthew said the panel have gone into history in Nigeria as the first to perform a work devoid of any interference. He said the lawmakers would also be conscious of their place in history when taking a decision on the report of the committee. “How we manage the affairs of today will become history tomorrow. Kogi is greater than all of us, and justice will be served,” the speaker assured.
The committee, which was inaugurated on August 26, 2019, had maximum of 90 days to submit its report, but the members completed the assigned in 49 days. So, less than an hour after the submission of the report, the assembly removed Achuba from office after an emergency meeting. The Majority leader of the House, Bello Balogun announced that the assembly met, sat deliberated on the recommendations of the panel to arrive at their conclusion. And the action of the lawmakers has generated mixed feelings among the people, particularly Kogi stakeholders. Achuba kicked against the action of the lawmakers, saying it was not a true reflection of the report of the committee. He said action would not stand the test of time. Achuba claimed he had a certified true copy of the committee’s report said he was surprised that the assembly would claim to have impeached him when the committee report and finding. He described the decision to remove him as deputy governor nonsensical, promising that the government would not get away with the action.
Also reacting, the state chapter of the PDP condemned, in strong terms, the alleged removal of the deputy governor. The party, in a statement,alleged: “Our party holds that by coercing the State House of Assembly against the deputy governor even when the state’s judiciary panel acquitted him of all allegations, Governor Bello only confirms that he has lost public trust and now desperately resorting to dirty politics and crafty methods for survival.”
It added: “The PDP, however, alerts that the next victim of such underhand methods would be the state assembly itself, which now appears to be on the way to being used to enact draconian rules to suppress and intimidate the people of Kogi State, since there is no way Yahaya Bello will win the November 16 election and return to office.”The opposition party said the incident had reduced Kogi to what it described as a butt of jokes among compatriots in other states. The PDP noted that ahead of the coming governorship election, it was confident that the governor would be “kicked out of office” through the ballot box. It accused the governor of seeking to repress his deputy over the exposure of alleged impunity and corruption in his administration. It said Nigerians expected Governor Bello to respond to the allegations raised by Mr Achuba and called on the citizenry to condemn the removal of the deputy governor from office by the assembly.” Nigeria is a nation governed by law and nobody, no matter the desperation, should be allowed to turn her or any part thereof to a Banana Republic,” the PDP said.
Meanwhile, other stakeholders in the forthcoming election are divided on the immediate and long run implications of the imbroglio and the eventual removal of Achuba by the state House of Assembly, on the ruling APC. With the election just about three weeks away, some pundits argued that the party would need to work extra hard to heal the wounds in order to consolidate its grip on power in Kogi. Others contended that the party had succeeded in evolving a counterforce to the embattled deputy governor in the choice of the incumbent Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja as the running mate to Governor Bello for the November 16 poll. Both the chief of Staff to the governor and Achuba hail from the same constituency. There are other stakeholders who believe that the crisis that culminated in the removal of the deputy governor has created more crevices in the entire machinery of the APC which the main opposition party could capitalize on to create a major upset at the poll. Those who belong to this school of thought believe that Achuba was bound to have a measure of influence and following because of long political experience, coupled with some lessons he might have learnt since he became part of the Bello administration. The belief is that he might have some loyalists and sympathisers even in both the corridors of power and the APC who might extend their allegiance to Achuba where he eventually decided to tilt during the election. Such individuals, according to the observers, might team up with some forces within the APC within and outside the state that had been at logger heads with Bello to fight him over his bid to secure second term in office on November 16.
Conversely, other stakeholders claimed Achuba lacked any stronghold in the government and the APC in the state, given his own account of the crisis that led to his removal from office. According to them, he had been fighting a lone battle as none of the APC stalwarts in the state or outside Kogi identified with him in the fight against injustice and fairness. Other observers asserted that if the experience from other states since 1999 when Nigeria returned to civil rule was anything to go by, the power game between Governor Bello and Achuba may have been won and lost. in their own opinion, he may have to live to fight another day because governors have always had the last laugh in any major squabble with their deputies.