By Emman Ovuakporie
The recurring problem of presiding officers of the National Assembly being in conflict with governors of their home states is being played out in the persisting faceoff between Speaker Yakubu Dogara of the House of Representatives and Governor Mohammed Abubakar. The problem was first brought to national attention after three local government chairmen from the speaker’s constituency were suspended after paying a courtesy call on the speaker in Abuja.
The recurring problem which has defied the intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari is in this interview addressed by Speaker Dogara. Excerpts:
What is at the centre of the problem between you and Governor Abubakar?
Let me start by saying that for me if I have to address this issue I will do so with a lot of pain for so many reasons. It is something that I always wanted to suppress. I have treated it with extreme maturity in the sense that a lot has been said, a lot has been misrepresented to the general public but we always show maturity. It is not every issue you respond to and we will work regardless of what is being bandied about as the truth to be able to find solutions to this. So, I have been extremely cautious on making public comments about these issues because we cannot tell our electorate that we are fighting, and that is why we cannot deliver the dividends of democracy to them.
I was one of the leading campaigners of the APC change agenda in Bauchi and I know I cannot easily extricate myself when it comes to non-performance from any member of our team because we presented ourselves as a team.
That is why I took everything calmly with extreme maturity praying that somehow we will be able to find a solution until it became apparent that so much has been said and if there is no response from my quarters, the tendency is for people to take it as truth because they said lies often repeated takes the character of the truth over time. So it has become absolutely necessary for me to speak to some of these issues, even if it means this is the only time we will do so and then we will wait for the right time so that we bring out the issues as they are.
We started very well but I must say that from the beginning I noticed certain things that really didn’t make me comfortable because we were projecting change agenda right from the very day we started having campaign funds. When the President was going to visit Bauchi, we held meetings about the resources that were available to organise the rally and specifically, if I could recall very well, the meeting took place in Senator Suleiman Nazif’s house. We started it somewhere but we concluded it there, and what transpired at that meeting – granted my deep knowledge of the situation at hand – gave me a lot to worry because as at that time we already had the primaries and knew who the candidates were and to be candid, from that time I started praying that our worst expectation as a people would not be realised.
So we moved on, we campaigned for change and God crowned our efforts and we were able to form government from the centre to the states and to virtually all the nooks and crannies of Bauchi, we were elected unanimously by the people, who believed in the message we delivered.
Initially, I was told that I was in a fight with the governor or the governor was fighting me but I didn’t just believe it as I thought it was just a joke. So until the matter came to a head when my three local government chairmen in the constituency, together with some elders of the party, decided to pay me a courtesy call in the National Assembly in the glare of the media in one of the halls where I enjoined them to support the people, support the government and the governor so that we can realise the promises we made to them.
Clearly, that message was on record and was published and aired on all major media outfits but as soon as they went back to Bauchi, they were suspended and queried about why they visited me. On this, I had cause to confront the governor when we met at the State House and I sought to know from him why he did that, he then told me that because he had taken an oath to enforce our laws and that these chairmen came to Abuja without his approval and the law says he must approve, he had to implement the law otherwise he will account for it on the day of judgment.
So, I said okay, if he feels strongly about it no problem. But apparently these local government caretaker chairmen had taken permission from the Permanent Secretary in the State Ministry of local government but because it wasn’t the governor, he said he must be the one to grant such permission and not any other person. So he suspended them and I said well, that must be it.
Few weeks thereafter, I decided that I was going to intervene in improving the wellbeing of the people in my constituency. I dispatched a medical team to the constituency to attend to the health needs and challenges of the people. When they got there, they were specifically told that they cannot use any of the state facilities for that intervention. I just couldn’t understand why. That was when I started really getting signals that all may not be well.
I was taken aback. On account of that we had to relocate that particular intervention to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital in Bauchi since that is a Federal facility so no one could stop us. The events escalated to the point where we were told glaringly that I led a team to report the governor to the president, and one of the allegations against us was that the members of the National Assembly had requested the governor to buy vehicles and houses for us in Abuja and that he said even if he was swimming in money he will not embark on that kind of bazaar. He actually said that even in the media; but unfortunately right now he has bought the vehicles and given cash to some members that he believed are loyal to him. So maybe he has started swimming in money now that he has done that.
That can be confirmed. Some of the members he gave the vehicles have come to me as their leaders and told me that this is what the governor has done for them, so they are not lying. He said that was why we were fighting him. These are specific allegations that I think we owe a duty to rebuff so that people can really know the truth.
Did you report the governor to the president?
Not at all. And this is a story that needs a lot of pages to be published but I don’t know if there has ever been a governor in Bauchi that was stoned in his first year in office, yet that was becoming the order of the day in Bauchi as anywhere the governor went to, he was being pelted with stones. These reports were everywhere and it came to the ears of the President and obviously, if the president wants to know what is going on in Bauchi I am the one who is close to him here so he literally summoned me and sought to know what the problem was.
Why would the people who brought in a government with so much zest and expectation start stoning the governor?
The President wanted to know what was really going on in Bauchi and I told him that Sir, they said I am fighting with the governor and any time I have an opportunity to discuss anything with you, you know that I don’t discuss personalities or mundane issues. I always bring issues of national interest but because they say I am fighting with this man, I am not in a suitable position to tell you, but I beg you, if you give me another appointment, I am going to bring elders from the state that you can speak to and they will be in a better position to tell you what is wrong in Bauchi.
So the President instructed his protocol and said that Bauchi is home to him and he values the contribution of people of Bauchi to his election and wants them to pick a day that he will have minimum of two hours that he will devote to this problem.
It wasn’t because he refused to support me to be Speaker, it wasn’t because anybody had reported him. It was because the people were getting so angry that they decided to take their destiny in their hands and everybody knows. You can find out from them in Bauchi that that was the direction we were heading to, a very dangerous direction and the President needed to intervene.
So after this appointment was given to us, the President suggested about two persons that were going to join the team. We formed that team, went to the President and briefed him. He listened to us, all the elders, each person in that delegation took time to talk to the president and after, the President said go and enlarge or expand this forum, when you have expanded the forum, articulate all the issues that you perceive that if they are addressed, all will be well in Bauchi going forward; itemise them, call the governor, give him and then I give you two weeks to bring back the report to me and bring a copy to me as well.
That was the directive of Mr. President. So we went and enlarged the delegation, they are all alive today and can testify to this and then we set up a committee of APC elders in Bauchi to draft the document and come up with all issues as directed by the president which we could then use to meet with the governor. When the work was completed, we studied that document and found out that we had a perfect document; if the governor could solve between 60 to 70 percent of the issues, then we will forever solve this problem of people taking laws into their own hands and trying to express their grievances by pelting the governor wherever he goes.
We then summoned a meeting with the governor and he gladly attended. We had a discussion and presented this document to him and he said he had already solved more than 80 percent of the issues we itemised, but that in the new found spirit of brotherhood, it was just because we had not been meeting or he would have informed us but that he can guarantee that he had solved most of the problems.
So we now said fantastic, take this document sit down with your team, review it, all the ones that you have implemented mark them as implemented, if there is one or two or three issues that are not there, we will come back, meet and agree on them and then we will now go to the president that these are the issues that are still outstanding and need to be resolved.
No sooner than he left the place, he said that he was no longer interested in the intervention so we were left with no choice but to report to the president what happened. He had the document for two weeks with all the issues that we raised and that document is still available out there, we even gave it to the party. It was after two weeks of handing over that document to him that we saw the president and told him this is how far we have gone and this is the document we have given to the governor.
So whether he will resolve it or not we don’t know but this is what happened and where we are because we owe it a duty to report back to the president. That was done and then on account of that we thought it was good that the party should also know because the leadership of the party was beginning to express worry too about the turn of events in Bauchi, so we decided to take the same document that we took to the president and gave it to the party.
So, where is the issue of reporting someone in this case? The issue of reporting does not even arise.
Did you really beg the governor for vehicles?
This is the third time I have won election. Truly speaking, I don’t know if it is in the culture of the state to buy houses for members from that state or senators as I have not received any anyway, so I can’t remember when we sat with the governor to discuss this.
There was never such a meeting and we have challenged him if that meeting took place, where did it take place and when? But he was on BBC and all major media outfits that it was because we begged for vehicles and houses and that he said even if he is swimming in money he won’t do it, that we are fighting him. There was never a discussion like that. I cannot recall any. If they ever discussed such a thing, perhaps it could be with some of these members that he has bought vehicles for right now. I don’t know if they were the ones who asked him, I can’t even recall. That meeting did not take place.
Or are you angry because he didn’t support you to be speaker?
There are many people out there who didn’t support me. As a matter of fact we have Dr. Sani Abdu who is a member of the House from a constituency neighbouring mine, if there is anyone we should be closer than any other member from Bauchi because we share proximity and he was the one that nominated my opponent in the election but we now have excellent working relations with him. Even the man who contested against me Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila himself, we are not sworn enemies so why should I be an enemy to the governor on account of the fact that he refused to support me?
Did he in any way try to torpedo your aspiration?
God gives leadership and to be candid everyone in Bauchi will tell you the circumstance under which the governor emerged during the primaries. God used human beings and I am happy to say that I am one of them. In fact, that is why these issues have lingered for this long without me saying anything because my fear has always been that if he fails, I must account to the people of Bauchi because I gave my words and went with him, campaigned with him and told everyone that cared to listen that this is a credible alternative to what we had then.
Did you know him very well before then?
To be candid, from day one he wasn’t my candidate. Everyone knows that in Bauchi. There was nothing he didn’t do before the primaries but I refused to see him because he wasn’t my candidate. But circumstances led us. He became our candidate on account of the fact that we were just angry with the candidate the institutions in Bauchi were promoting. I had to take the same Dr. Sani Abdu to see the main candidate that our traditional rulers and the institutions in Bauchi, everyone was supporting.
Apparently, we blamed him a lot because obviously he had already formed his government. He had an association within the APC known as progressive circle and they had their SSG, Commissioners, etc. He was already behaving as if he had become the governor without us so we now said if we go with this man what will be our fate in this movement? Because sometimes you have to look at things from the perspectives of how interests will be accommodated in politics.
So it was only on the day of the primary elections that I now sought from the APC elders from my zone that if they are not going for this man that everybody wants in Bauchi even traditional rulers have said this is the person they want who of the remaining candidates do we go for? We now shifted support from the candidate everybody wanted to say we will support MA Abubakar to be governor of Bauchi State as against the man that everybody wanted and he knew that. Everyone in Bauchi knew that. In fact, all the elders were looking for me but I dodged them, it can be confirmed I didn’t see them until after the primaries.
So everyone now tells me they are holding me responsible for what is happening in Bauchi. But the point is I never interacted with him, I knew him from far and didn’t know who he was.
Was that a mistake on your part?
No, I was convinced by the overwhelming majority opinion on the side of our own leadership from my zone.
So for him to even confess to the whole world knowing the kind of sacrifice made to put him there as governor; to confess that he didn’t support me only lent vent to my thinking that there was some kind of display of the attribute of a novice. So I was prepared to let that one go. Whether you supported me or not, God has already made me Speaker so I shouldn’t dwell on that.
What really moved me was how we can get the government off the ground in Bauchi and to show that yes, we are different from the previous government. That was just my motivation not who supported or who didn’t support me.
What were some of the specific issues raised by the elders against the governor when they met the president?
Even though I wasn’t part of the committee that drafted it, I reviewed it before it was passed to the governor, the president and the party. Major issues that came up in the course of that deliberation was first of all the interest of the state, how finances were being managed. The issue of accountability was the number one thing, sticking to the APC core principle of fighting corruption and promoting transparency.
The feeling was that nobody knew what was accruing to the state and what was being used for, and as a matter of fact, the trend has continued. Even during this Paris Club debt refund, nobody in Bauchi knows what truly accrued to the state, nobody knows what was done with the money. Even the state Assembly that must appropriate the funds were not even informed, they just heard that he took money and spent it.
That was one serious example and then we were owing workers, pension had not been paid so use the money you were getting to pay salaries, pay pension. When people don’t have salaries, everything collapses, the economy of the state collapses, so that was first and foremost that was addressed in that document, pay salaries, pay gratuities and stop the endless verification, it has lasted for more than one year now and they are still doing verification in Bauchi State as we speak; stop it, pay people, be transparent.
In Bauchi, the moment Ahmadu Muazu left governance, development stopped in Bauchi. Clearly no new district has been opened, the whole capital is crammed up, there’s no water, challenges left, right and centre, we cannot continue like that. This is not a struggle between I and governor M.A Abubakar because I want to contest for Governor, it is a struggle between forces of good and forces of retrogression, between who wants to see advancement in Bauchi State and those who say they are offering leadership while they are just filling their pockets.