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The Admiral and a “sinking” ship

Before attaining the peak of his naval career as deputy chief of defence staff, retired Admiral Murtala Hamman Yero Nyako must have mastered the craftsmanship…

Before attaining the peak of his naval career as deputy chief of defence staff, retired Admiral Murtala Hamman Yero Nyako must have mastered the craftsmanship of naval warfare. He needs to transfer those skills to political landscape to save his current career as a politician.

Dramatic political changes in the state within the last couple of days are ominous for Governor Nyako, but it would be naïve to write him off too quickly. He still controls the state’s purse, and the opposition isn’t yet a solid group.

Neither though can guarantee comfort to him, given the speed at which things are happening in the state.

The biggest blow to the governor was last week’s “coup” in the State House of Assembly that swept away the entire leadership of the legislature and replaced them with people he has worked tirelessly to obliterate politically.

The coup threw out his foes-turned-loyalists speaker James Barka, deputy speaker Aliyu Isah Ahmadu, majority leader Sanusi Faruk Jauro, chief whip Laori Kwamoti and deputy chief whip Tari Kwada.

It brought in as new speaker Mr Gibson Nathaniel, the man whose re-election into the House of Assembly Nyako worked hard to block two years ago. When Nathaniel later decamped from the Action Congress (AC) to the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) along with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and their supporters, Nyako refused to recognise them as PDP members. For Nathaniel to now head the arm of government capable of removing the governor, it is clear how radical last week’s change was in the state.

It does not stop at that, the man elected as the new deputy speaker Alhaji Alfa Belel is actually seen as a bigger opponent of the governor than the speaker. Although he was elected to the House under the PDP, he has been a subject of attack from the Nyako-controlled state executive committee of the state. They have suspended him from the party and made it clear to him that he won’t be getting a return ticket from the party. Now he is occupying a strategic position that can influence the fate of the governor. The other members of the new leadership too do not present any comfort to the governor. New majority leader Hassan Turaki is a loyalist of the Chairman Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs Professor Jibril Aminu, who has long parted ways with the governor (a recent reconciliation move is said to have collapsed); new chief whip Javan Jambali and deputy chief whip Mike Zidon were AC legislators who returned to PDP and were subjected to the same

rejection as the speaker. The five are now in the driving seat of the legislature.

The new speaker has, however, reassured the governor that they were not there to impeach him. Addressing a news conference on Thursday, Mr Nathaniel said the change of leadership was neither externally-initiated nor was it targeted at the governor. He claimed that the manipulation of the House by a cabal of six legislators, dictatorial tendencies and lack of accountability were responsible for the removal of the past leadership.

The governor doesn’t believe him, though. First when the legislators visited him to inform him of the changes, the governor, surrounded by his chief of staff Bello Tukur and Secretary to State Government Kobis Ari Thimnu, was said to have shown displeasure over the new development. “Nyako, Bello and SSG could not hide their displeasure. They just sat there with gloomy faces,” a source who was at the scene told Sunday Trust. On the same day Nyako’s spokesman Aminu Iyawa said the change was an internal matter in the House; the state executive was not involved in it.

The following morning, armed gang, in three hired buses, stormed the premises of the House of Assembly with petrol, matches and machetes, trying to burn down the House and attack the legislators. They failed to do either, although they did injure some passers-by and smashed some passing vehicles before anti-riot police squad came in and arrested a few of them.

The thugs were suspected to be loyal to the Nyako faction of the PDP, but the party leadership denied it and praised the police for arresting the suspects.

Two days later, in an interview with journalists, the governor reiterated his claim that the new leadership of the House were not members of the PDP. Incidentally, it was a similar claim that has compounded his problems. His claim that Atiku was not a member of PDP was what brought him into open conflict with the former vice president. Initially, Atiku was on the sideline of the political crisis in the state (after losing out in the 2007/08 power grab) and had even attempted to strike a peace deal with him. But after Nyako attempted unsuccessfully to block Atiku’s re-entry into PDP, the two resume their hostilities.

Nyako’s first major challenge was in 2008 when the Barka-led House of Assembly gave him an impeachment notice over alleged fraud and embezzlement – allegations the governor’s aides denied and said the motive was for the control of local councils in the state.

The impeachment move eventually collapsed because the elite in the state didn’t support it. Sources said even Atiku who was then in the opposition AC reportedly refused to back the move when approached by some of the legislators, not because he liked Nyako but because he didn’t trust Barka.

Barka later mended fences with Nyako and the House earlier this year even passed a vote of confidence on the governor.

Nyako’s next major trouble was his split with most of his elite supporters who feel he has betrayed them and began to turn against him. Professor Jibril Aminu, former industries’ minister Bamanga Tukur, national vice-chairman of PDP (Northeast) Paul Wampana, businessmen Aliyu Walga and Salau Gidado and a host of others constitute this group. They accused him of turning the government into a family business, but his supporters counter accused them of wanting the governor to hand over the purse of the state to them.

There is also the challenge from the Elders’ Forum, made up mainly of non-Fulani elite, such as former Plateau State military governor Dan Suleiman, former road safety chief General Anthony Hananiya and former defunct Gongola State governor Wilberforce Juta and so on, who accused Nyako of marginalising other ethnic groups in the state – accusations denied by his aides who placed series of newspaper adverts denouncing the group.

Then there is Prince Medan Teneke-led faction of the PDP, made up mainly of middle-ranking former supporters of the governor who felt they were not fairly treated in government.

Nyako has so far managed to contain all these groups, although in actual sense (with the exception of Teneke group) they haven’t really launched a sustained attack against him.

This was going on, when suddenly came the challenge from Atiku whose team Nyako’s replaced in the state after they were deregistered from PDP ahead of the 2007 election by the team that later brought Nyako into power.

When Atiku was AC, Nyako apparently did not feel seriously threatened by him, perhaps because of the expected support from the PDP-controlled federal government. But when Atiku returned to PDP, the threat became serious, and Nyako moved in to abort it. The move helped in creating the latest scenario.

Atiku had apparently tried to avoid confrontation with Nyako when he began move to return to PDP. The two had reportedly met and agreed on a deal: Nyako will retain his control of Adamawa State while Atiku will pursue his presidential ambition in the PDP. It was a deal that seems beneficial for the two, but which many people in the state were uncomfortable with mainly because of alleged poor performance of Nyako’s government. Luckily for those opposed to it, the deal collapsed before its take-off.

Ironically, it was the governor who unilaterally abrogated the deal and announced publicly that he had not reconciled with Atiku. This placed the former vice president in the opposition’s driving seat, and the other groups have since started closing up their ranks.

It was the semblance of that unity that they used to come up with a common position during their visit to the national headquarters of the PDP to demand for the dissolution of Nyako-backed state executive committee of the party. The governor is currently working hard to counter this move, but at the rate the opposition against this executive committee is growing, it is very difficult to sustain it. Latest report claims that the governor wants to negotiate a deal in which the position of the party chairman Umaru Kugama and that of the secretary could be traded with other groups. No confirmation of this claim yet, but it will hardly please the main opponents of the governor.

Worse still, a group of lawmakers and party stalwarts have launched a legal battle to get the Kugama-led committee dissolved. Their apparent strategy is that if the PDP national secretariat fails to dissolve the committee, the court could do it.

All these are meant to add pressure on the governor who is also battling with the labour unions in the state.

These do not even include threats from the opposition parties, such as the AC, now led by former Governor Boni Haruna; General Muhammadu Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), led by ex-lawmaker Ibrahim Waziri in the state; and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), controlled by former minister Abdurrahman Adamu.

Still, Nyako is fighting from a vantage position. He is firmly in charge of both the state’s internally-generated revenue and the federal allocations to the state. He hasn’t yet lost grip of the officially-recognised faction of the PDP in the state. And members of his family maintain firm control of many lucrative government agencies in the state. Ironically, these are the same factors that his opponents are equally using against him.

Wherever the pendulum swings, though, it is becoming increasingly clear that in the treacherous waters of Adamawa politics, the retired naval officer needs all his skills to steer his ship ashore – if the opposition forces fail to gather enough strength to sink it.

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