Bala Mohammed and the Sayawa Issue: A Reformer’s Burden
(The Bogoro LGA Crisis and Matters Arising)
By Amina Abdullahi Girbo
In one of the most disquieting ironies of life, some people have created a completely avoidable controversy at a time that the most concerted effort is being made to settle the age-long legitimate demand of the Zaar people of Bogoro LGA, Bauchi State for a chiefdom of their own. That there will be conflicting narratives in such a situation is not strange.
However, as the community, like others, grapples with the challenge of peaceful co-existence by heterogeneous entities, nothing can be of greater disservice to the quest for peace than the mischievous manipulation of the public psyche through the deliberate distortion of facts.
The coverage of the recent arrest of one Air Commodore I. Komo (Rtd.), “the self-acclaimed ‘Gung Zaar’, of the Sayawa Monarchy” in the Bogoro LGA of Bauchi State, falls within this dubious category.
Among the distortions, none is as discreditable as the claim that Komo’s arrest was part of a grand design by Moslem governors of the north, to persecute Christian monarchs particularly those in constituencies that allegedly voted for a particular candidate in the last presidential election. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In another curious twist to the patently false narrative, the media house in question wondered why Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State would commend the state police command for promptly arresting the retired Air Force officer whose activities were in blatant contravention of Chapter 24, Sections 3 and 4 of the Appointments and Deposition of Chiefs, Law of Bauchi State and which misconduct, bordering on impunity, was responsible for the crisis that led to one death and the destruction of several properties in the area.
One wonders if the newspaper would have preferred that the Police authorities or the Bauchi State Government simply folded their hands and allowed a relapse to the painful intermittent carnage and despoilation for which the area has gained notoriety. Would the newspaper in question not have turned round to accuse the government of insensitivity, and even liken the governor to Nero who reportedly stood by while Rome burned?
As a responsible Government, we are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the destruction of property. We commiserate with the family of the deceased and in fact all those who have lost loved ones in the course of this painful and protracted saga.
Incidentally, the distortion of the Bogoro issue comes against the backdrop of recent steps by the state government to find a lasting solution to the crisis that has lingered for over seven decades, long before Governor Bala Mohammed and many of the present actors were born. The ongoing effort, albeit discreetly, had been aptly captured in an earlier release by the Special Adviser to Governor Bala Mohammed on Media and Publicity, Mallam Mukhtar Gidado thus: “As a responsible and responsive government, the administration of Governor Bala Mohammed has changed the hitherto destructive and acrimonious trajectory in the area by establishing a proper mechanism that will lead to the creation of a Sayawa chiefdom that would be acceptable and embraced by all stakeholders for peace to reign in the affected area”.
Gidado’s position is validated by the fact that the Governor has since established a committee to profer modalities for harmonizing and implementing the reports of Justice Babalakin, Alhaji Shehu Awak and Justice Bala Umar commissions of enquiry on the crisis and the Bauchi State House of Assembly Law on the creation of the Sayawa Chiefdom.
Understandably, resolving issues of self-determination requires navigating a labyrinth of complex legal, administrative, cultural and other webs, some historical, others created by opportunists and impersonators who often mistake compassion for cowardice, thoroughness for tardiness and governance for self-interest. But we should always be guided by the legal dictum that you cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand. Failure to observe that time-honoured dictum is at the root of the present Bogoro crisis: a man wakes up and proclaims himself “king” over a non-existent kingdom in a super-arching geopolitical entity that is a creation of law. If every community exhibited that ignoble affront to constituted authority, anarchy of monstrous proportions will take over the land.
It is sad to note that, from intelligence available to us, some prominent indigenes of the area who did nothing when they were privileged to occupy strategic legislative leadership and other important positions that afforded them ample opportunities to resolve the problem are among those now stoking the fire of unconstitutionality, leading the community to the abyss of self-immolation. No responsible Government will tolerate such impunity indefinitely without losing its moral authority to govern.
Yet, the Bala Mohammed Administration acknowledges the legitimate desire of the Zaar people to have their own chiefdom, to be treated equitably with other people. Thus, the Government has been working both discreetly and openly to put the matter to rest, in a manner that will satisfy extant constitutional requirements, a formal environment that is premised on the following mandatory and/or expediential considerations:
1. The emergence of a chief anywhere must be preceded by the creation of a chiefdom by law. (So far, that has not been done in the case of the Sayawa demand hence the designation of a “Gung Zaar” is not only preposterous but a clear unconstitutional and provocative).
2. Establishment of the selection procedure for the chief as well as the procedure for the emergence of the kingmakers whose duty it is to nominate the candidate of their choice based on the legally established criteria.
3. Establishment of the administrative procedure for running the chiefdom in line with extant laws including the powers vested in the Local Government Service Commission to forward the name of the chieftaincy nominee to the Governor for approval.
4. State recognition of the Chief-designate with the seal of the Governor who is also empowered by law to revoke such recognition if the need arises.
5. Creation of the paraphernalia of the office with the provision of a befitting palace as a major component
6. Community engagement. In a situation such as the Sayawa kingdom, community engagement is expedient for two very significant reasons: firstly, to mitigate the misgivings likely to arise from the dislocation of the existing social order and power relations. Secondly, to guarantee that while the legitimate demand for “self-determination” by the majority is granted, the interests of the several ‘minority’ stakeholder groups that have lived side by side with the dominant group are protected by law.
7. Rehabilitation of the several thousands of people who have been displaced over time in such a way that the conditions that have triggered violence and loss of lives are effectively eliminated or reduced to the barest minimum. (In this regard, it is instructive to note that the State Government is already addressing the problem in collaboration with the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
In all fairness, it is pertinent to state that, for many of the dispassionate and objective persons from the area with whom I have discussed the problem, three issues have been of major concern. Firstly, they are at a loss as to how and when a ‘Sayawa monarch’ could have emerged when there is yet no law creating the Sayawa kingdom. Secondly, they contend that the restiveness and agitation in the area is exacerbated by perceived delay in implementing the reports of the several commissions of enquiry that, though working at different times, had all unanimously recommended the creation of a Sayawa chiefdom. Thirdly, they hate to imagine another implosion at this period in the history of the country, reasoning that everything should be done to limit the pressure on the nation’s security agencies and the military.
Consequently, they recommend that the Government should place the task of resolving the Sayawa Chiefdom issue on the front burner.
The Government shares their concern. Government also appreciates the prevalent view in Bauchi State that, going by his antecedents, Governor Bala Mohammed is probably in the best possible position to put an end to the crisis. I will quickly add that such optimism is not misplaced.
For one, his policy of inclusiveness and diversity management has endeared him to many an indigene and resident of Bauchi State to the extent that the Christian community in the state will readily vouch that never has it experienced a greater sense of belonging under any administration. The same goes for other minority groups. Ironically, those who insinuate religious bias against Bala Mohammed would be surprised to know that, despite the demographic superiority of Moslems in the state, the Security Adviser to Bala Mohammed, Brig. General Markus Yake (Rtd.) is a Christian from Bogoro of all places!
For another, that Bala Mohammed will transcend primordial sentiments to do the right thing in the Bogoro case is further buttressed by the role he played when against all odds, as a serving senator, he moved the historical Doctrine of Necessity motion that smoothened the path for Goodluck Jonathan to assume office as president and commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2010.
At the risk of sounding immodest, I can say with all the emphasis at my command that, for all practical purposes, Bala Mohammed has not lost an iota of the noble qualities of fairness, compassion, patriotism, courage in the face of danger and statesmanship that inspired him to move the 2010 motion, an action that was considered by many as the moral equivalent of political suicide. If he did it at a time that he was still standing on one leg politically, I do not see why he should not be able to implement a recommendation that enjoys near universal consensus in the affected area.
Moreover, through concerted and honest community engagement, the Administration is daily gaining the buy-in of strategic stakeholders without whose support the path to success could become foggier that the indiscretion of the self-proclaimed “Gung Zaar” is creating!
I dare say that at this critical watershed in its history, Bauchi State is lucky to have a gutsy Governor in Bala Mohammed; an accomplished civil servant, lawmaker and administrator who, once convinced on the genuineness of a cause, spares no effort to achieve it, trusting always in the guidance of Allah. The scion of a District Head, Bala Mohammed’s DNA naturally predisposes him towards the promotion of holistic peace anchored on fairness, equity and justice. There is no question that he believes that it is right to create a Sayawa chiefdom.
However, even as he recognizes the urgency of the task, and the very strong attraction of adding this to his already loaded legacy as a trailblazer (by being the Governor under whose watch the Sayawa chiefdom would be created), he prioritizes lasting peace for all over the transient personal glory that may not even outlast his life time.
To quote Gidado’s statement again, for Bala Mohammed, the overriding motivation is: “To create a Sayawa chiefdom that would be acceptable and embraced by all stakeholders for PEACE TO REIGN in the affected areas” (Emphasis mine).
In the light of the above, it becomes doubly imperative to call on mischief makers, and they exist everywhere, to give peace a chance. Spreading falsehood, instigating violence and encouraging impunity can only foul up the air and prolong the desired goal of creating the Sayawa chiefdom.
In particular, it amounts to gross treachery for anyone to try to hoodwink the public to believe that the present flare-up in Bogoro was caused by the Government’s attempt to punish those who allegedly voted for a particular candidate. The argument would have made better sense if the allegation had been that the people did not vote for Bala Mohammed (which is patently needless because the Governor is a complete democrat who believes in the right of everyone to exercise the franchise without intimidation) or that Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, the Governor’s party, had lost in the state.
But to the glory of God, contrary to the plan of some politicians from the area who playing God, had boasted that they would dispatch Bala Mohammed to political oblivion, the three local governments of Bogoro, Dass and Tafawa Balewa voted overwhelmingly for the Governor. So, even in the unlikely event that the Governor was a vindictive person, what would be the justification for punishing anybody from constituencies that stood by him even against their misguided sons and “leaders”? Thus, rather than persecute them, the logical thing which Insha Allah, the Governor will do all over the state, is to deepen the provision of democracy dividends that had endeared him to the electorate.
I am constrained to make this point: election is not a war and not every disagreement should end in perpetual adversity or enmity. Firstly, though defeat can be painful, it is time for those who were trounced after over-estimating their electoral value to eat the humble pie and accept that leadership is bestowed by God. They should be reminded of Chinua Achebe’s admonition that those whose palm kernel have been cracked for them by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble. Secondly, time has come for all the stakeholders in Bogoro to bury the hatchet, tread the path of constitutionalism and support the genuine effort of Government to bring about comprehensive and lasting peace to the area.
It goes without saying that Governor Bala Mohammed is acutely aware of the primacy for peace all over Bauchi State and in Bogoro in particular if he is to build on the giant strides of the first four years and achieve his lofty dream of transforming Bauchi State from the Tourism Pearl of Nigeria to the Dubai of the country. He is determined, above all, to redouble his effort at eradicating or at least mitigating those factors that have all along predisposed individuals and communities towards hostile agitation, mischief and impunity. He is also aware that the creation of the Sayawa Chiefdom will greatly aid in this effort. That there will be moments of distrust, despair and disappointment should never be allowed to truncate the hope of a brighter future for everyone in the state, particularly the Sayawa people. It is reassuring that Governor Bala Mohammed appreciates that such is the burden of a reformer like him and that his case will not be any different.