Kogi 2019: Bello, Achuba in war of attrition
The governor of Kogi State, AlhajiYahaya Bello and his deputy, Simon Achuba, have taken the rift between them to the public space, with the two camps engaging in a war of wear and tear. YINKA OLADOYINBO, writes on the crisis and its implications for the polity.
That there is no love lost between the governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello and his deputy, Simon Achuba, is no more a secret as the two gladiators have gone public to wash their dirty linens. And since the crisis blew open, the duo have chosen to expose their individual underbelly in the quest to generate sympathy from major stakeholders in the politics of the state. When the conflict first became public knowledge, many people had thought that in a matter of time, the two leaders would bury the hatchet and treat the issue as a family affair so that “governance” did not suffer. But that was not to happen, as events in the last few days showed that Bello and Achuba have raged to the chagrin of all concerned citizens of the state.
Achuba had last year began the processes of opening the can of worms on the frosty relationship between him and his boss. Before then, it was an open secret that the deputy governor had become a stranger in the corridors of power, having been sidelined in the scheme of things. Ironically, both the governor and his deputy are products of the same circumstance. The process that threw up Bello as the number one citizen of the state about four year, produced Achuba, who was not on the ballot for the governorship election of November 2015.
Following the death of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abubakar Audu, the leadership of the party replaced him with Bello to contest the supplementary election that followed the main poll. However, Audu’s running mate, James Faleke, rejected the offer of contesting as deputy to Bello. So after the party was eventually declared the winner of the poll, there was the need to appoint someone to fill the vacant post of deputy governor.
The calculation then was that it would be politically suicidal to leave the Igalaland, where Audu came from, out of the arrangement. So instead of picking a replacement for Faleke from the Kogi West senatorial district where he came from, searchlights were beamed on Kogi East and Achuba, who defected to the APC about four months to the election, was chosen. It was believed that the Chief of Staff (COS) to the governor, Edward Onoja, also an Igalaman, was instrumental to the selection of Achuba as the new deputy governor.
However, as events unfolded in the party and the government, it become obvious that Achuba had been sidelined, as many believed the COS, a staunch ally of Bello, even before he became governor, was a major power centre. The implication was that in the politics of Kogi East, Onoja pulled the string and not the deputy governor. According to feelers with the ruling party and the government, this was the beginning of the rivalry between the two, with the COS enjoying huge confidence of the governor on any issue involving the two.
Nonetheless, Achuba was believed to have carried on but the bubble burst sometime last year because of the alleged cutting of the sources of power and water to his official residence. It was at the time it was discovered that the authorities had not been paying the salaries and some allowances of the deputy governor and his wife. The allegations were promptly denied by government that painted a perfect working relationship between the governor and his deputy.
The macabre dance continued until November 26, 2018, when Achuba proceeded on a two-month leave that was supposed to terminate on January 26. The timing of the leave became an debate as it was said to be a tactical way of sidelining the deputy governor, preparatory to the last general election in the country.
As the situation became more intense, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the governor, Sylvester Akor, had to issue a statement to clarify what the authorities considered as the grey areas. Akor claimed that Achuba proceeded on a two-month annual leave beginning from November 26, 2018, which would end on January 26, 2019. Akor added: “This information is necessary to clear the air on the rumour being peddled that the deputy governor is not on leave.”
But several months after the “leave” supposed to have lapsed, Achuba is yet to be seen performing any official function in his capacity as the deputy governor. It was also that before the 2019 general election, the deputy governor had concluded plans to team up with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Achuba described the claim as a tissue of lies.
The worsening relationship between Bello and Achuba took a major twist when the latter accused the state government of withholding his salaries and that of his aides amounting to N819.7m. Achuba gave the figure through his counsel, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), in a letter addressed to the governor.
The letter read in part: “We act as solicitors to his Excellency, Elder Simon O. Achuba, the deputy governor of Kogi State, (hereinafter referred to as our client) and on whose instructions we write this letter. As you are no doubt aware, our client’s office is a creation of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended). Accordingly, the office is statutorily entitled to the prompt release of all allocations due to it as appropriated by the Kogi State House of Assembly and signed into law as “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. 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.”
But a determined state government dared Achuba to go to court over his claim as it denied owing the deputy governor. The government alleged that Achuba was on a wild goose chase. In a statement by the director general, media and publicity to the governor, Kingsley Fanwo, the government said it had at no time stopped the salaries of the embattled deputy governor as claimed in the letter from his counsel.
Fanwo said, “The Kogi State government has, upon receipt of the said letter, immediately responded to same and expressed its readiness to meet the deputy governor in court over his bogus claims. While we would have ordinarily refrained from making the instant publication, we are constrained to make same in the light of the fallacy contained in the widely publicised letter of demand and the accompanying headlines and news by different news mediums.
“The Kogi State government hereby states that the salaries of the deputy governor have been paid up to the same date as that of the governor and other political office holders in Kogi State. It is our belief that the claim for salaries at paragraph 4 of the letter of demand was done to generate sensational headlines in the news, as there is no stated salary arrears in the prepared breakdown of claimed entitlements attached to the letter of demand. The salaries of the deputy governor have not been stopped at any time since he became the deputy governor in Kogi State.”
The government added that certain amount in the sum that Achuba claimed he was being owed were yet to be approved for payment. The statement said: “The sum of N786, 427,480 of the outrageous N819, 709,980 claimed by the deputy governor have not been approved let alone processed for payment by the government. The deputy governor is aware that by virtue of extant financial regulations, even where expenditures are provided for in the budget, they are still subject to approvals, based on an estimation that funds to defray will be available; and where they are approved, the release of such funds still depends on the availability of funds. The deputy governor is also aware that those expenditures may not be approved or that lesser sums may be approved based on the availability of funds. The claims of the deputy governor in this regard are therefore premature and mischievous.”
After the letter was made public, Achuba was sighted at the office of Abba Kyari, the COS to President Muhammadu Buhari, and stakeholders had thought that a ray of hope of the resolution of the crisis was in the horizon. When he emerged from the office of the COS, the deputy governor said he was in Aso Rock because of the rift and expressed optimism that solution would be found to the issues.
Instead of abating, the crisis has exacerbated, with Achuba opening the Pandora box. Addressing newsmen in his official residence in Lokoja last Thursday, the deputy governor shed light on the factors that led to the messy relationship between him and his boss, alleging a plot to eliminate him and other members of his family. Achuba said he fell out with his boss because he was demanding for good governance. He claimed that on several occasions he had to plead, beg and prostrate for Bello on the need to change his leadership style so that the citizens could feel the impact of good governance promised by the APC during electioneering.
“The rift between me and the governor is all about the issue of performance and the infighting between him and perceived enemies. As one that is given the privilege of leadership or a position, you are a father of all and you should know that a few people, from time to time, can do things that may not be in line with your own ideas; it is not good for you to say they have become your enemies. What is important in leadership is dialogue. When you discard dialogue, you throw persuasion away and engage in a fight with those that you are supposed to work with; I don’t know what word can be used in describing such a leader.
“The second is the issue of salary. In fact, it got to a point that he was convinced that the civil servants were insignificant which made me to rise up one day to say something that was very annoying to that person. I said if they were insignificant, do away with them and run the state without the civil servants. But as long as they remained and they come to work, you must pay them their salaries and as you are all aware, the issue of salary is something that has dragged on from the first day of our administration, which I can authoritatively tell you that it cannot end in this tenure. It is impossible because it has become a mess to the extent that you cannot say this is the nominal roll of Kogi State.
“The third reason is infrastructural development. Where there is genuine plan, you arrange your projects in phases. You don’t just go flagging off more than 50 projects and none will be working. Does that make any sense? You become a jack-of-all-trade and the master of none. That is the issue. I’ve been critical of the government and now that it is my turn, I want to show a difference; I want a situation that after we have finished, people will refer to this tenure as a wonderful time in Kogi State; in the state Assembly, we made the sacrifice. What I am going through now is not new but a struggle for the well-being of the people. So up till this moment, it is difficult to point to a project that was started and commissioned by this government,” the deputy governor alleged.
Achuba, who claimed that his current travails was the handiwork of Onoja, accused him of eyeing his post because of the immunity that a deputy governor enjoyed. He alleged that the COS to the governor had committed a lot of atrocities that he would need immunity to cover his track for the next four years.
He alleged that the level of violence in Kogi was “very scary,” warning that, “You cannot by force continue to rule the people you are called to serve. It is on this note that I want to appeal to the law enforcement agents and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to beam their searchlight on Kogi because of the level of insecurity. The insecurity in Kogi State today and the fear of the people is not about armed robbery; it is not about kidnapping anymore; it is not about ritual killers; it is about the gunmen of the governor who have dangle guns in the public without restraint.”
Responding to the allegations, the government through the CPS to the governor, Onogwu Mohammed, said the claim by Achuba was “bogus and an exhibition of a blind rage by an angry suckling with a long-term pattern of abnormal behaviour characterised by exaggerated feelings of self-importance.
The government accused the deputy governor of engaging in a smear campaign against the governor “and we state without equivocation that Mr Achuba has no shred of evidence for his reckless surmising which is nothing but a scripted venture in ruinous adventure.
Despite these unsubstantiated ramblings however, we deem it fit to clear the air by letting the general public know that the Kogi State government will not be dragged into any form of political gerrymandering concocted for the furtherance of any person’s political interest.” The next governorship election is a little over three months away, while the primary election of the APC to pick the candidate of the party for the poll in holds three weeks’ time. Most stakeholders claim that the crisis of confidence has serious implications for the intra party poll for the November 16 governorship election proper in the state. Apart from throwing up a number of contenders for the ticket of the APC, other power blocs within the ruling party have stepped up efforts to change the status quo either through solo or collaborative efforts in the days ahead. Then, who blinks first: Bello or Achuba?