Monday, 9 November 2009

The Power Behind The Throne

The unabashed appointment of Katisna State indigenes into public office against the federal character principle as enshrined in the constitution is attributed to a powerful group formed in President Yar'Adua's home state in 1998

By Emma Alozie

Dangiwa Abubakar Umar, a retired colonel and former military governor of Kaduna State sees something wrong with some appointments made by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua since he became president in 2007. Umar was particularly irked that the president's appointments are tilting towards Katsina State, his home state, an act he described as “a disturbing pattern of nepotism, cronyism and chronic disability to treat the whole country as a single constituency.” According to him “all too often as in this instance, a high profile office falls vacant and the president rushes to locate an indigene of Katsina – or in some cases Kano State – to fill it. Few can pretend not to notice or take issues with the choice of Katsina-born Alhaji Abdullahi Indi, an assistant comptroller-general, a lower level position in the hierarchy of that institution, as comptroller-general after recent appointments of Katsina State indigenes as chief executive officers of a string of parastatals including the Petroleum Training Development Fund, the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, the National Inland Waterways Authority and for that matter, Federal Road Maintenance Agency.”
The former military governor has voiced what many have found difficult to say. Although the letters of the nation's constitution advocates the principle of federal character in the appointment or employment into federal ministries, departments or agencies, MDAs, the president is ready to breach this principle to satisfy certain interests. Perhaps, what Umar and many other Nigerians do not know is that these appointments are influenced by forces which came to be way back in 1998 when the president was aspiring to be governor of Katsina State. The emergence of the group which today is still known as the Katsina Mafia can be said to be fortuitous. As a governorship aspirant in 1999, President Yar'Adua did not have the wherewithal to successfully prosecute the project. He therefore sought and got the assistance of some good Katsina State indigenes to raise money for his campaign. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, in a piece titled: “Yar'Adua, Great Expectations, Disappointing Outcome” which was published in el-Rufai's blog earlier this year, said, “The PDP has from its inception, perfected the bad habit of expecting its candidates for political office to bear the disproportionate burden of campaign expenses. So Umaru got the ticket but had to raise monies for his governorship bid. As the head of the Yar'Adua family, he was assumed to be wealthy. This was far from the truth. Umaru had no money to spend on the governorship.” The minister who is now a fugitive in America, said a group of young professionals of Katsina State origin, who had made money from the Petroleum Special Trust Fund, PTF, programme under the supervision of General Muhammadu Buhari, came to his rescue. Their leader was Tanimu Yakubu, an Economics graduate of Wagner College, New York. He rallied round the likes of Dr. Aminu Safana and Ibrahim Shema who is now the governor of Katsina State. Nura Khalil was part of the group but decamped to the then All Peoples Party, APP. Other businessmen like Dahiru Mangal and Ahmadi Kurfi contributed financially to the “Yar'Adua for Governor Campaign” in 1998/99.
What began as a fund raising group has held thick from 1999 till date. Perhaps as a way of showing appreciation for the magnanimity of these fund raisers, the then Governor Umaru Yar'Adua formed what was then known as Katsina Group of 11, (K-11), which he later increased to K-34. This group included his kitchen cabinet members, party leaders, state assembly leadership and his campaign financiers. They thus became the main vehicle for the political control and governance of Katsina State. Notable among this K-34 are Tanimu Yakubu, Aminu Safana, Ibrahim Shema, Nura Khalil, Dahiru Mangal, Ahmadi Kurfi, Sayyadi Abba Ruma, Aminu Bello Masari and Samaila Mamman among others.
After the 1999 election in which they were supremely responsible for the emergence of Yar'Adua as governor, positions were used to compensate those that were to be compensated and the rest continued to enjoy juicy contracts. Tanimu Yakubu became commissioner of finance, Aminu Safana was appointed the secretary to the state government, SSG, Ibrahim Shema became the attorney general and commissioner of justice, Masari was catapulted to the House of Representatives and was later given massive support to become its speaker while Mangal chose whichever contract he wanted.
As cohesive as this group looked from the outset, there has been some re-alignments since then. Aminu Safana left for the House of Representatives, Tanimu Yakubu was recommended for appointment as managing director of Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria, FMBN, in Abuja; Abba Ruma who was in the opposition party was lured to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and was appointed SSG while Bello Masari has since been estranged for two reasons – his opposition to the former President Olusegun Obasanjo's third term against the directive of the then Governor Yar'Adua, and his ambition to become governor of Katsina State whereas Yar'Adua had already anointed Shema as his successor. Senator Samaila Mamman had his disagreement and never returned to the Senate, while Senator Kanti Bello who initially in 1999 defected to the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, because of the governorship ticket denied him in preference to Yar'Adua came back to the PDP fold in 2002. He was elected senator in 2003 and again returned in 2007 where he is presently the Senate chief whip.
With the emergence of Yar'Adua as president in 2007, the group relocated to Abuja where it became a powerful influence in federal appointments. So far, the men are holding sway, dictating the pace of the administration and are ever willing to tell any willing ear that they are in control. Even some prominent northerners are complaining about the unabashed way this group is carrying out its business in Aso Rock. Though the first lady, Hajia Turai Yar'Adua is not an official member of this group, her influence looms very large in the affairs of governance.
The tilt of the appointments confirms the grip of the K-34 at the corridors of power. From the financial sector to the oil sector, from the National Assembly to the public service, the K-34 members have been flexing their muscles and fixing whoever they want from Katsina State in key positions. For instance, for the first time in recent memory, Senator Kanti Bello, the Senate chief whip and a ranking member of the K-34 was made the Amir Hajj ahead of the usual principal officers of the National Assembly. So far, there are over 15 federal appointments in favour of Katsina State indigenes since the inception of Yar'Adua's government.
Oil blocs and oil lifting licenses have been redesigned to accommodate the interests of the K-34 cabal. From the 50 licenses the Obasanjo government granted to various oil companies, Yar'Adua came and pruned it down to 28, making it possible for the K-34 to make in-roads in who gets what? Today, Petro Energy, owned by Dahiru Mangal, an avowed K-34 member is calling the shots in oil lifting business in Nigeria. CAMAC Petroleum and Sahara Energy are two oil lifting companies that members of the Katsina clique has interest in. In fact, a source disclosed that top members of the cabal are just using their goons to front these oil companies.
One thing interesting about this group is that the inner circle may not only be those with Katsina State origin alone, but anybody that has one thing or the other to do with the first family may be inducted into the amorphous powerful group. This explains why marrying the president's daughter is considered to be the wisest thing to do now in the political circle. The two sitting governors who did that have a lot of flowing influence from that singular act.
Garba Shehu, a media executive noted that, “there are these impressions that the president is holding power for his home state, Katsina and the north-west geopolitical zone to the disadvantage of other areas and, understandably, this has been generating an angry rhetoric from the citizens on whose behalf state power is supposedly being exercised.”
In Katsina where the group has tremendous influence, every political position in the state in 2011 has been shared. Sources say that Governor Shema has fallen out of favour with the K-34. His sin is that he is trying to be his own man and is running the state the way he deems proper. The governor has been labeled disloyal to the interest of the president and therefore must be sacrificed. A top member of the group is reportedly penciled down already to take over from him in 2011. Sources disclosed that the governor is trying to placate the president and the group with the naming of Katsina State University after Mr. President.
Katsina Mafia may be an off-shot of the dreaded Kaduna Mafia, which was formed in 1966 after the Nzeogwu coup. Famous members of the group included Adamu Ciroma, Mamman Daura, Ibrahim Tahir, Mahmud Tukur, Shehu Musa Yar'Adua and Muhammadu Buhari. The Kaduna mafia had one unique feature: most of them are ex-students of the famous Barewa College, Zaria, the oldest high school in northern Nigeria. Probably to show that the school is a fertile ground for breeding men of power, it has produced four of Nigeria's 13 heads of states since after independence – Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari and now Umaru Yar'Adua.
The power and influence of the group might have waned since the creation of Katsina State in 1991. A great majority of the Kaduna Mafia are now of Katisna State origin. Also, the emergence of Abuja as the nation's power base and its proximity to Kaduna State might have whittled down the influence of the group.
Again, there was the Lantang mafia, which was made up of top military officers in the country from Lantang in Plateau State. This group influenced appointments into the army and into political offices during military rule in the country. The group fizzled out with the retirement of General Domkat Bali from the army in 1991. The return of the country to civil democracy further weakened the influence of this group. Nigerians believe that like the previous groups, the Katsina mafia will be history with the passage of time.

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