By Victoria N. Ikeano
TO say that there is no love lost between the Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura and former deputy governor and minister, Hon. Labaran Maku, is stating the obvious. An opportunity for both parties to bury the hatchet, at least symbolically, presented itself at the 20th anniversary celebration of the creation of the State. What a perfect photo shoot it would have been seeing Gov. Al-Makura and Maku shaking hands; seeing former Governor Abdullahi Adamu now a serving senator under the ruling APC, hugging his former deputy, Maku now national secretary of the opposition party, APGA. Editors would have grabbed such photographs with both hands and splashed them on their front pages.
Maku’s absence was quite evident, not least because former and serving high ranking public officials from either side of the political aisle were present. Consider that Mr. Damishi Luka, erstwhile deputy governor who led the plot to impeach Al-Makura his boss, was present. Recall that Luka parted ways with the governor by decamping to the PDP whilst still in office and thus became leader of the PDP in Nasarawa State. He served out his tenure as deputy governor, apparently because the governor’s then CPC party, did not have the numbers in the then House of Assembly to impeach him. And so he was ‘tolerated’. He practically abandoned his office while still retaining the cherished title of ‘deputy governor’. The point I am making is that despite the frosty relationship between him and Al-Makura and notwithstanding the seeming humiliation he suffered towards end of his term wherein he was ‘deputy governor’ only in name with no assigned duties any longer and as an arrowhead of the PDP impeachment move against the governor at the time, Damishi Luka still turned up for the anniversary celebration. Tellingly, all former deputy governors of Nasarawa State were at the event; from Professor Onje Gye Wado who was deputy governor during Senator Adamu’s first term through Chief Michael Abdul who served under former Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma, to Luka Damishi and now to the incumbent deputy governor Hon. Silas Ali Agara.
Interestingly, all of them are from the northern senatorial zone, comprising Wamba, Akwanga and Nasarawa Eggon axis. With aforementioned people in attendance, including the like of Wadada, Solomn Ewuga and Adokwe to mention a few, all of them stalwarts of the opposition PDP, Maku’s absence was conspicuous. Also, all former governors of the state were there in person except the elderly Akwe Doma who was there in spirit, represented by his former secretary to the state government, Timothy Anjide. But Hon. Maku was neither present physically nor did he send a representative.
Then the question, if literally everybody was around, why not Maku? Is it possible that Maku, a former national publicity secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), former deputy governor of Nasarawa State, former minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, former governorship aspirant of the PDP, former governorship candidate of APGA and current national secretary of APGA was not invited? I sent him a message which read, ‘Sir, were you officially invited to the 20th anniversary celebration of Nasarawa State? Your absence was noticed’. The reply was terse, it went thus, and “I was not invited”. Then I reverted to the state government.
Chairman of the 20th Anniversary Committee who is also the incumbent deputy governor, Hon. Silas Agara, told me on telephone, “I personally signed the invitation for all the deputy governors; it is not possible for us to invite one person and leave out the other in this type of ceremony because this is something that concerns all Nasarawa State people”.
Maku has been having what many regard as a running battle with the state government since he elected to run for the governorship position in last year’s elections. As the highest ranking PDP public official when he was a minster, Maku aligned himself with the plan by his party then, to impeach Governor Al-Makura. He led a motorcade of top Nasarawa PDP stalwarts from Abuja which included Akwe Doma, to a rally against the governor at the State House of Assembly premises in Lafia where the party accused the governor of “impeachable offences”, which included “misappropriation of funds.” At the PDP’s primary election to choose its gubernatorial standard bearer for the 2015 polls, Yusuf Agabi emerged as the winner. Maku was second, ahead of former governor Akwe Doma and Senator Solomon Ewuga (also a one- time minister) in the primary election. Maku contested the result, insisting that he was rigged out. He thereafter pitched his tent with APGA and emerged as its candidate for the election.
The rather sour relationship between the government and Maku gained ground during the campaigns when he accused the government of orchestrating the communal crisis that was rocking parts of the state and of “importing herdsmen from outside to kill our people”. The government denied this. It maintained that the crises were being stoked by ethnic jingoists with a political agenda. Maku hinged his campaign message on “restoring peace and development” to Nasarawa State. He complained of religious and ethnic persecution. He is an Eggon, the largest tribe in the state. Notwithstanding their numerical strength, the Eggons are yet to produce a governor. Analysts say that no one tribe in the state has the numbers to elect a governor without the cooperation of other tribes. By the way Nasarawa State consists of several tribes, making it a mini-Nigeria of sorts. In one of his campaign trips the former minister’s convoy was attacked as it passed through Kwandere, the governor’s community. However, he blamed the attack on miscreants, exonerating the governor.
Soon after INEC declared Al-Makura winner of the election, Maku cried foul, saying that the results were upturned in favour of the governor. He asked the governor not to present himself for the swearing-in ceremony. Then, he headed to the tribunal asking it to declare him the rightful winner. Maku pursued his case right up to the Supreme Court where he lost. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Governor Al-Makura reiterated his call that he was extending his hand of fellowship to all those who vied against him. If one thought that the brickbats would end with the Supreme Court’s verdict, he was mistaken.
Maku has not stopped to criticise the Al-Makura – led government for “its failings”. In July 2016 he called for the declaration of a state of emergency in the state “due to non payment of salaries, starvation, insecurity, kidnapping and hunger in the state”. Expectedly, this was met with strong rebuke from the state government.
In August Maku responded to an invitation by the State Police Commissioner on the rumoured resurgence of “Ombatse”, a militia group associated with the Eggons. He alleged that it was a frame up by the state government which wanted to tarnish his image by linking him with violence, describing the invitation as unwarranted because he is a man of peace who had never deployed violence or resorted to violence.
Ikeano writes from Lafia