From John Adams, Minna
The ancient railway city of Minna, the Niger state capital last week witnessed one of the most “tension soaked” moments since the creation of the state in 1976.
The arraignment and subsequent remand of the former Governor of the state, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu, brought out the other side of Minna residents, some of whom had celebrated brazenly the defeat of Aliyu’s anointed candidate, Umar Nasko, in 2015, by the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Before the arrival of the former governor and his erstwhile Chief of Staff and PDP governorship candidate in the April 2015 general election in the state, Nasko to Minna from Abuja where they were kept for three weeks, there were mounting tensions in the state, especially within the camp of the former governor.
The unrepentant supporters of the former “Chief Servant” had accused the state government of having hands in his arrest. They also alleged that the government had mobilized motorcycle riders and thugs in the state with N5, 000 each to come and boo the former governor when he is brought to the court.
But the allegations were promptly denied by the government who described it as a cheap propaganda and attempt by some individuals to set the government against it former governor.
In a statement by the state commissioner for information, culture and tourism, Jonathan Vatsa, the government said it has no hand in the travail of the former governor, even though it strongly supported the anti corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
“The attention of the Niger state government has been drawn to a malicious publication in the online media alleging that the government has mobilized thugs with intention to boo the former governor of the state Dr. Muazu Babangida on Tuesday when he appears in court.
“For the purpose of emphasis, the state government wishes to state that the online publication is a hand work of some mischief makers who are out to portray the government in a bad light.
“As a government, we have respect for both our past and present leaders at all levels because of their immense contributions to the development of the state, and therefore will not do anything capable of tarnishing their good reputations.
“However, as a government, we strongly believed in the rules of law, and the anti corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari administration which is out to rid the country of every forms of corrupt practices. The state government therefore has no hand in the travails of the former governor who is currently facing corrupt charges before the Economic Financial Crime Commission (EFCC)”.
The state government’s denial was however not enough to douse the tension already generated by the speculations, as the people were apprehensive and feared there was likelihood of a possible break down of law and order in the state. This led to the unprecedented presence of heavily armed security personnel in and around the court.
However, not satisfied with the state government’s explanations and denial, the pro-Babangida Aliyu supporters, also mobilized themselves in hundreds and stormed the Minna High court with the intention to confront any “government sponsored” anti Babangida Aliyu group.
Although they were prevented from gaining access into the court by the heavily armed security personnel, the supporters gathered some few meters away from the high court as they sang and danced, chanting “Talba”, solidarity song, “Sai Talba” (up Talba) throughout the almost eight hours that the court proceeding lasted on the first day of his appearance.
The protesters carried placards with different inscriptions some of which reads, “Talba we trust,’ ‘Talba we know,’ ‘EFCC is a political dog’, ‘Free Talba, there are more thieves in APC than PDP” “there is no change yet in Nigeria”.
Some of the protesters who spoke to our correspondent said the trial of the former governor was purely political, saying that “there are even more thieves in APC than PDP. There is no difference between the two parties.”
They questioned the decision of the anti graft agency to arrest the former governor, two years after he left office, describing the arrest as politically motivated and a witch-hunt by the APC- led government.
They however went home disappointed as the former governor was remanded at the Minna medium prison by the High court presided over by Justice Aliyu Mohmned Maiyaki.
Ironically, Maiyaki was the same Judge he (former Governor Aliyu) used to probe the eight years administration of his predecessor, late Abdulkadir A. Kure, when he (Aliyu) set up a commission of inquiry.
Aliyu and his erstwhile Chief of Staff, Nasko , were slammed with a six counts charge of dishonestly converting to personal use money belonging to the Niger state government amounting to over N5 billion naira.
The accused persons pleaded not guilty when the charges were read to them by the presiding judge.
Aliyu and Umar were accused of committing illegal act of criminal breach of trust in 2015 contrary to section 97 of criminal code. Aliyu alone, was also accused of the withdrawal of the sum of N540m from zenith bank account No.1012424374 for personal use contrary to section 111 of penal code and punishable under section 104 of the penal code.
Also the former governor was accused of dishonestly converting to personal use over N1.725 billion belong to Niger state government into personal use from zenith bank contrary to section 311 of penal code and punishable under section 304.
However the fourth count charge of dishonestly converting to personal use the proceeds from the sale of Niger government shares in the power plant amounting to N1.900bn involved both Aliyu and Nasko, while the fifth and sixth counts bothered on using ecological funds of N800m among others.
Initially when the news first flittered into the state, concerning the arrest of Aliyu by the EFCC, it was greeted with mixed reactions by a cross section of the state. While some people, like Mohammed Aliyu, an Abuja based lawyer, and an indigene of the state, believed that the arrest of the former governor was long overdue because of what he described as his “high level of corruption and impunity” during his eight years rule, others are of the view that the former governor’s recent political activities may have led to his current travails.
Aliyu pointed out that if the present administration in the state had heeded to several calls by the state House of Assembly to open the account books of the former governor, it would have been a different story by now.
“You and I know that this current trial of the former governor is by the federal government, the state government has no hand in it, that means until now, Governor Bello’s administration has not found him (Babangida Aliyu) wanting in his eight years in office, including the discovery of this ecological fund.
“What happened to the N6billion ward development fund that is missing? what about the 10 kilometer road project in each of the 25 local government where over N12billion was paid to ‘ghost contractors’ and no work was done, or are you talking about the three arm zone project which we understand that about N3billion was expended and the project abandoned?”
But a retired Permanent Secretary in the state, who did not want his name in print, had a different view on the current predicament of the former governor even though he said he was not exonerating him from any wrong doing while in office for eight years.
He pointed out he was not surprised that the former governor was picked by the anti graft agent and made to go through this ordeals if his recent political activities was anything to go by.
“You know recently Babangida Aliyu played host to two important political groups within two week. First was the Ali Modu Sherif -led faction where he led the group to the former Military President, General Babangida.
“Secondly he also hosted the Jerry Gana -led elders committee and equally led them to house of General Babangida, and am very sure that these two activities of the former governor must have cost him this huge embarrassment.
“This administration, I must confess has displayed a high level of intolerance at all levels towards the opposition. Their fight against opposition has completely derailed their programme and they have lost focus, and that is why we are where we are at the moment as a country”.
Although the former governor has since been granted bail alongside Nasko, for seven days that they were remanded, the Minna medium security prison became a “Mecca” as local and national politicians trooped in their large numbers to visit them.
The list of dignitaries was endless but among the early callers at the prison were some powerful elders in the state, the elder brother of the ex governor and Sardauna Minna Alhaji Ibrahim Aliyu, Niger state chairman of the PDP Alhaji Tanko Beji, and Alhaji Dattijo Aliyu a former commissioner in the state, among several others.
It was gathered that some members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a very top member of the APC administration in the state were also in the prison to visit the former governor.
However the Prison officials were said to have kept “open eyes” on the visitors by not allowing them exceed the mandatory period allowed for visitation. According to a source close to the prison, “the crowd would have been more than that but we have to control it so that we don’t run into problem.”