Erstwhile deputy governor of Kogi State, Simon Achuba, speaks on his controversial impeachment as well as other national issues in this interview with Kassim Omomia, Andy Asemota and Alex Emeje
Six years after Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State assumed office, can you speak on the challenges and progress of the state?
Well, somehow, this question ought to have gone to Bello himself but the fact is that every Kogite and every Nigerian is a participant in our democratic journey and from my own assessment as of the time I was Deputy Governor for four years, there was no intention in him to do a good work. You know, one must first have intention to do a good work.
But there is no intention in him to do a good work. For every step was taken in deceit to make people believe there was a desire to do something, but at the end of day, those projects flagged off were never accomplished, at least I can cite more than 30 instances. Starting from my local government, Egbagi road was flagged off and up till this moment, nothing has been done. Go to Bata, Bata road was flagged off and nothing has been done. Go to Igala Mela-Odo road, it has long been flagged off, but nothing has been done. Many projects – uncountable projects -were flagged off but none has been done. Go to (Kogi) West, it’s the same thing.
Sometimes, when contracts are signed, as soon as they are mobilised to site, that is the end of the project and that has been the situation. And it was very embarrassing for me that have been very critical of people in government, who had not been performing.
I wondered how come I was in government and the same thing continued. I kept putting pressure on him but when I was two years in office; I went to him and said sir, ‘it is an aberration for us to be in office for two years and there is not a project to commission; it is not done anywhere. I said if he so pleases, let us look at the projects left by our predecessor (Wada) that were over 90 per cent near completion, let us complete them and invite Mr. President to come and commission them’.
Nobody would have bothered whether we were the ones who started the projects or not but all that advice fell on deaf ears. For instance, Kogi Hotels had been built and over 90 per cent completed. Its interior works had all been done, all that was left was landscaping alongside furnishing.
Till this moment, the hotel remains the same. What he did in our third year or fourth year when the President was coming for campaign, he thought that the President would come and he would take the President there. He started painting the hotel in a hurry but the President sent a message to us because he had a security information that there was nothing for him to commission and it would be embarrassing for a President to come to such a place and say he wants to commission an unfinished work, that he was not coming for any project.
The President came and went straight to the stadium and from there he left because security information must have told the President not embarrass himself. Going down the memory lane, after his first tenure, he manipulated himself back against the wish of the people of the state. He is yet to repent. Up till this moment, there is nothing you can point as the legacy of the Governor Bello.
So, now that Bello says he will contest the 2023 presidency, what is your take on this?
You see, in life, you are not born today and you immediately become an adult. You go through the processes of growth. When a child is born, he first starts crawling. He starts babbling and mumbling some words. He starts taking steps and he starts walking. If in little thing, you cannot excel, how do excel in great things? You are giving a family to manage, you couldn’t manage it but you want to be giving an entire village to lead.
You are given a state to manage, you cannot manage the state but you are talking of managing the entire country. Has Nigeria become a cheap nation or a failed state, such that Bello will become its President? If it is, it means that everyone should carry his load and relocate to any nearby West African country because there will be no hope. I wonder why the leadership of the party allowed him to be wasting the people’s resources and deceiving himself.
Since after the marriage between you and Bello collapsed, are you still of the All Progressives Congress?
I have never at any time made any declaration that I have moved from the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am still a member of the APC.
There were speculations that you were from the Igbo speaking part of the state and this led to the trouble you had with the leadership of the state, how true is this?
If I may ask you, can somebody be a chairman of a local government area or a vice chairman, if he is not an indigene of that place? In 1996, I won in my local government. I won in the state assembly polls in 1999 and in 2003. Could I have been in Kogi State House of Assembly for two terms and as a Deputy Speaker, if I were not from the state?
Does anything suggest that I am not from the state? Could it be my look or my understanding of any language? I don’t understand Igbo and I don’t speak Igbo. So, how come I have become an Igbo man? In politics, a lot of things happen, those were part of the campaigns that came in just to reduce my chances of becoming the deputy governor then. Outside that, I don’t think it has anything to do with who I am. I am an Igala from Egbagi land.
Of course, if I have to dig deep into the history of Egbagi people, we are the soldiers of Igala land. So, we are soldiers by nature, we are fearless people. So, that blood runs in my veins. When I talk sometimes, you can perceive that.
At what point did you fall out with Bello that resulted in your impeachment?
Well, when you listen to Bello’s initial broadcast highlighting the intention of his government, it looked so beautiful. Every right-thinking Kogi person would think that a new dawn had come but such broadcast were not backed up by actions. He started by making people believe all is well but that became a deceit and I kept mounting pressure on him that he had to do something to make his administration different. Such words never went down well with him.
The second issue was the fact that he had a Chief of Staff, who had the ambition to become governor, who I suspected, had the capacity to do anything to become governor. He started feeding Bello with wrong information. Meanwhile, my commitment to administration was 100 per cent but wherever there was an error, I always briefed him and told him the consequences.
You know, when you stay long on the field, you become a political prophet because whenever a thing is coming you will know what the consequence of that thing will be. For a neophyte, he may not know. He may think that it is something good but that is the thing that will kill him.
So, I kept protecting the government from shame, embarrassment and things like that but they were not going down well with the Chief of Staff and how could I have such knowledge and experience and not bring it to use in government that has given me the privilege to become a deputy governor?
You know, we didn’t contest election, the man (Audu Abubakar) died and we came on board. It was by providence. Ordinarily, this circumstance should humble anyone to think that God brought him into office and he must do things to His glory. The Chief of Staff had his ambition and he kept feeding the governor with lies. He was targeting the governor not me which, I am sure, is clear to the governor himself now.
Every Wednesday, whether it is Exco or not, I will go to the church. I don’t play with my meeting time with God. But they had another thing they trusted. Bello knows the story better now. I am sure that is why between them, the going is no longer smooth.
God has a way of making things known. I was contented with my office. Nobody would have known what was happening if for two years down the line they gave me the money to run my office. That was when the issue exploded.
For two years running, I used my own money to run the office. The Chief of Staff persuaded the Governor to stop releasing money (imprest) for my office. I had a retinue of staff (aides) to take care off. When we travel, I have to give them hotel and feeding allowances. All these, I was doing for two years and it became too much a burden.
I wrote to the President and the National Chairman of the Party (APC) but they could not bring Bello to do what was right. It was a constitutional breach anyway because once he signed the state government’s budget, he ought to allocate the funds as it is in the budget or a percentage of what is allocated but that was his problem. It became too much.
First, he was not doing anything in the state. He came and cut down the work force, rightly or wrongly. Yet, he could not pay salaries as and when due. And he had no project to show for the money that was coming. What is he doing with Kogi money? Those were the questions I started asking when the demonstration of arrogance became too obvious and unrestrained.
From what you have just said, was it the chief of staff or Bello that was the problem?
It was the Chief of Staff, who made it impossible for Bello to perform because his target was basically money matters. Anything that cannot bring money instantly was nothing of interest.
Can you bare your mind on some provisions in the 1999 constitutions that the nation needs to review so as to strengthen our democracy?
Yes, our constitution requires a review to strengthen our democracy. First, is the electoral law. Somehow, the electoral provisions should be transferred into the constitution greatly and deeply, such that no changes by government will be made easily.
When it becomes a constitutional matter, such that we can have a situation where everyone’s vote will count, whether all governors defect to one party or not, it doesn’t matter because Nigerians will vote for whom they want and that person will become President. After all, the governors that are defecting have only one vote each.
The defection of governors, senators, House of Reps members is because votes do not count. If votes count, a governor has one vote and that is all. So, it (electoral laws) should be made a constitutional matter such that frequent challenges will not be there and we will have a nation running smoothly.
Secondly, on the electoral matter, until the electoral issues are totally addressed, the fight against corruption can never work. Why? As long as there are loopholes for criminals to use in coming to the corridors power, the fight against corruption remains on the floor because we have a nation where individuals who had been convicted but had covered their sins are in the corridors of power.
So, where do you think we will go? They will only further their trade in corruption. Anything coming that has the tendency to expose their trade will be frustrated but once these things are properly done and the people have the right to choose their leaders, who are men of good character from various communities, things will change in the country. If a President is corrupt, the other leaders will make sure he is dealt with because they will come together and speak with one voice. That is a sure way to keep the nation standing. The issue of ethnicity or where you hail from will naturally die down as soon as the electoral process is addressed.
Even these secessionists’ views will all die down because in it (the new constitution), there would be rotational principle that is properly embedded. Once it is time, a state or geo-political zone will bring out the President for the nation because there is no state in Nigeria that cannot produce a presidential candidate. There is even no local government that cannot produce a presidential candidate. So, you will see that there will be peace everywhere and you also discover that once a President comes, he will not think of ethnic or religious inclinations because he knows that the next person will do the same thing.
So, we would be looking out for which region will bring out the best President, there will be competition, even though some will say it is not democratic, it is. So that is one aspect of the constitutional review.
The second one is that the state Electoral Commissions should be abolished to allow for a democratic process at the grassroots. In many states today, when a governor conducts local government elections, he will claim his party won in all the local governments. There is no beauty in it. I don’t love a situation where there is no competition among parties.
Where there is no competition, just as these governors and senators are defecting, it irritates me. Why don’t you stay in your party, fight and take over power if the other party is not performing well. That competition is what keeps the nation going. So, SIEC should be abolished.
Thirdly, the immunity clause should be removed from the constitution because the arrogance of many governors is triggered by immunity.
Do you equally subscribe to the removal of immunity of the President?
All of them should have their immunity removed from the constitution. The President could be removed from office when there is an obvious error. When that happens, people will sit up because the title of excellency attached to the name of Mr. President or governor signifies someone without blemish. That is what it means. Unfortunately, most people that have blemish are the ones occupying important positions and they are called excellences.
For you to be referred to as an excellency, it is the greatest name anyone can be called on earth because it is like the name of God himself; an Excellent God, God without sin, God without blame, who is perfect in all things. Can any Nigerian say we have a perfect governor anywhere?
So, when that immunity is removed, you can’t go and harm people and be left unpunished. The security agencies will no longer fear the governors once their immunity is removed. It is the immunity that subjects security agents to the governor because nothing can happen to him. He can kill and nobody can question or arrest him, that is what immunity is. You are also immune from arrest.
So, if a wicked man is given such powers, what do you think he will become? He naturally becomes a tyrant. For a man who has no love of the people and he has such a cover, he will become a tyrant. He will do anything.
Outside that too, the issue of agitation and religion should be addressed. We should not have issue of religion embedded in our constitution. Let it be that anybody has the right to worship any God he believes in. It is only then the issue of being a Muslim, a Christian or an atheist will naturally die down.
We will not have a united Nigeria as long as we continue to play ethnicity, religious and other cards. Our journey will be sluggish because it will be weighing us down along the line. It is like if I am in an office, I will not want any Muslim to work with me. Why? A Muslim who has the capacity, who has the intelligence, a Muslim who is knowledgeable and he can do the job, for me; sometimes I discover that people who are not of the same religion with you are even more loyal, so, why should you discriminate?
We have to look for a way of addressing these challenges. Nigeria should not be described as a Christian or Islamic nation or an atheist’s nation but a nation of the people of God.
What is your take on local government autonomy?
If you look at the provisions of the constitution carefully, autonomy is given to local governments.
Why are they not autonomous?
It is due to the arrogance of governors. An amendment to the constitution should ensure that allocations to local government areas will come directly to them from the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission. So, no governor will have access to local governments’ funds. No state assembly will sit to allocate funds to local governments any more. When that is done, the financial autonomy of local government will be guaranteed. Any local government that obeys the order of his governor, withdraws money and gives it to his governor will be the one to account for the infraction.
Also, if states’ assembly have financial autonomy, many houses of assembly won’t be an appendage of their governors. They have become an extension of state government houses. When their governors dictate a tune and they will follow it, whether the laws they are trying to make will be favourable to the people or not, as long as their governors want the law.
A governor is just an individual, who has only four or at best eight years. Most states assembly are doing things wrongly as if their governors are going to remain there forever. This is the problem. States assembly in the country have been reduced to as an extension of government houses and it is not supposed to be like that.
The states assembly are the watchdog of the society and they ought to protect the interest of the people. So, the independence of the states’ assembly, the judiciary and local government is something that is a necessary in the amended constitution for things to go well in the country.
Let’s link your case with the state assembly being an appendage of the executive. A panel was set up by Kogi State Assembly to look into your case and, of course, you were exonerated. However, the state assembly still went ahead to make a proclamation of impeachment. What actually transpired?
That is to tell you how they are an appendage of the government house. In the case of Kogi State, they are an appendage of Yahaya Bello. As a legislature, the constitutional provision is very clear.
Why did they go ahead?
Such declaration was against the letters of the constitution and against the people of Nigeria. It is something I am studying what next needs to be done because to forcefully move me out of my residence is against the constitution which they need to defend someday. I am looking at that.
At what point was your life endangered by the state government? Was there any time the government attempted to assassinate you?
Yes. Let me recall one incident.
In a situation where my gate was barricaded by armed SARS men, who entered my compound and put out the light, disarmed my own security men and threw the whole place into darkness. I was in the house, I asked them to put on my generator, it was put on but they (SARS personnel) went to the generator and removed its battery and put it out; leaving me in darkness with my family.
So, I was under such a threat, nobody could come in and nobody could go out. That was the circumstance I was in and because my children and wife were there, I had to manage the situation wisely. This brings to mind how security agents would connive with politicians to do the wrong things. The then Commissioner of Police in the state called me in the morning and told me that he could not guarantee my security. You can see that level of arrogance when policemen are given money and propped up to do a thing.
So, I had to leave the house so that my wife and children won’t be hurt. You can be rest assured that if I were alone in the house, nobody would have forced me to leave. But with my family around, I had to be very careful.
What is your take on Justice Ajana’s role in your impeachment? He empanelled the committee that exonerated you and swore-in the Chief of Staff as your replacement. What do you think transpired?
That is to tell you that things were not normal. It is an abnormal thing for a chief judge to swear in another deputy governor when there is a sitting one. A deputy governor, who, by law, has not been removed.
So, if the assembly wrote him that they had appointed a new deputy governor, at least, they would accompany it with a resolution and the report of the panel. So, the report of the panel that got to him, what was in it? He is late already. He was a friend I had known for a very long time for his integrity but he was forced to do what he did. However, it was within his discretion not to allow himself to be used.
Against this background, would you support clamour for state police?
State police will be nice if we have excellent people in position. Yes, if we get it right, and if we have governors who are excellent. If we have a state police, its officers will know immediately if a criminal enters the community. If anything happens, there will be speedy investigation because its officers can easily get information.
The essence of state police is for its officers to remain within their localities. But if you give the state police to someone such as a tyrant, the level of tyranny in the land will increase beyond measure.
Once, you are not in their party, they will look for a way to make sure you are implicated at all costs. So, for us to bring in state police, we must get rid of the tyrants and bring in excellent governors. No man is perfect but we need, at least, people who will treat issue dispassionately with love and justice.
Congratulations on the court’s verdict that quashed your impeachment. Have they started paying all your entitlements and what is your message to Nigerians in the face of insecurity, secessionist agitations, among others?
On the issue of remuneration, they have gone to the Court of Appeal. On the issue of impeachment, they are also on appeal. Why are they on appeal in all these cases? Let me tell you, legal fees is a source of money in Kogi State where in government funds are taking freely. So, whether they stand a chance in a case or not, they go on appeal so that they could pay any amount to their lawyers. The lawyers come to the court to waste the time of the court by bringing different motions. They will file an appeal but they will not even serve the respondents.
They filed an appeal in respect of the verdict on my impeachment but for more than one year, I was not served until I was told that there was an appeal and I said didn’t know about it. My lawyer wasn’t even aware of the appeal. I have to go to the Court of Appeal myself to see that they have filed an appeal there.
There is need to check legal fees in Nigeria with reference to Kogi State because even if you are not a lawyer and there is a panel and the panel says the person is not guilty, the matter comes to an end. Why would a state and even an attorney-general, who has been conferred with Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) go on appeal?
Let him state one reason why he would go appeal?
There is no other reason apart from using it as a conduit to drain the state resources. These people, who came to government when they had nothing, go and see the houses they have in different places and they think that people don’t know. There is nothing that is a secret in Nigeria. If you are stealing money and you are in office, people will know. Some of the government’s appointees have never done anything in their lives before their appointments. I have never worked as a civil servant. I have been into business till date.
Well, during politics, the return on investment is very little. All the things I have, I had them out of politics, but during politics, one is never at rest and whatever comes is going out, including whatever you are getting from your business. But some people come into office as thieves; they come to steal state funds without fear of God.
They, that is in Kogi State, do it to the extent that they boast that they are working with EFCC and the commission can’t do anything to them because they are the ones teaching them how to get their figures right.
So, to Nigerians in the face of the violence in the land, I urge them to look unto God and continue to pray for His intervention. Let us pray so that He provides us with leaders who have the right solutions. We want Him to open the eyes of our current leaders to know what to do because if we have the army, the air force but these bad elements who do not have the air force, are still harassing us, then something is wrong. Why has this fight taken this long?
Why would a nation allow its borders to be so free that foreigners would become our own problem? We say they are foreigners, they are not indigenous Fulani, who brought them in?
It has to do with the immunity that allows a governor to do and undo. These elements were brought in by some governors for the purposes of elections and after the elections the people were not settled. They tried kidnapping and they got too much money, so it became a trade. They had to beef up, buy more guns and continue with it because bandits, armed herdsmen, Boko Haram have become big business.