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Published On: Sun, Sep 17th, 2017

Mama Taraba: A vote of no confidence on President Buhari

Obinna Ezugwu

At Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council meeting, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Senator Aisha Jummai Al-Hassan, alias Mama Taraba was the cynosure of eyes. It was only a week prior that she rattled not only President Muhammadu Buhari, but the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) when she spoke these words:

“Your excellency, our father and our president by the grace of God come 2019. Before you are your people, your supporters for life; the people of Taraba State. They are here to show our homage and to greet you on the occasion of Sallah and for all that Allah has done for you…Chairman of the party, he is our leader, because he is the chairman of the party, I was only made leader of the delegation.”

 

The words were not only an endorsement of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar whom she had led a delegation of party members from her State, Taraba, to pay homage on the occasion of Eid Kabir. It was a vote of no confidence on the sitting president, Buhari, under whose government she serves as a minister, and to be expected, chieftains of the ruling party have not relented in berating her.

Senator Alhassan bucked a trend. Never in the history of Nigerian democracy has a serving minister openly declared support for another candidate ahead of an election. It is an aberration, a total departure from the norm. Her words have remained a talking point since last week, and will remain for a few days. On Thursday last week, she met with the APC National Working Committee where she reportedly apologised.

It had been reported earlier that the meeting would hold on Monday to decide her faith alongside the former vice president who despite having begun campaign ahead of 2019, remains a member of the party. In the end, nothing was done in that respect. Some would argue that the APC ceased to exist in real terms as a party since Buhari took power. The party hardly ever meets. Buhari had been running the country with his clique, the so called Aso Rock cabal. A point buttressed by the non apologetic Atiku in a statement by his media aide, Mazi Ibe Paul.

“His Excellency, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar stands by what he said. There is no point beating about the bush, how can anyone equate a private meeting with a meeting of party organs?” he questioned.

“When was the last time the party organs held any meeting? Has the Board of Trustees or what they call the Elders’ Council been inaugurated? When was the last time stakeholders and party leaders invited him to a meeting? The Wazirin Adamawa spoke as a lover of this country, democracy and the party.

“People who are not too conversant with history as far as democracy is concerned in this country may cast aspersions on the former Vice- President for stating the obvious. The party should do the needful.”

Apparently, they party is fractured. Despite the fuming of some of its chieftains who had suggested that she be fired, Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai noted that it was the prerogative of the president to decide her fate.

The governor had narrated how, in the first place, it was against the advice of party members that Buhari appointed her as minister in 2015. According to him, she neither supported the party’s candidates in 2015, nor voted for Buhari at the party’s primary election in 2014.

“In the APC, she was never in Buhari’s camp, she did not support our candidates during the National Convention and she didn’t vote for Buhari during the primaries,” the governor said.

“But out of the largeness of the President’s heart and to encourage women in politics, he felt that even though she was never a supporter of his politics or his beliefs and because of what she had tried to do in Taraba State, he felt she earned being nominated as a minister.

“Many in Buhari’s camp did not support it, but he overruled everybody because that is how he is; he tries to be inclusive, he considers every Nigerian as his own son or daughter and he nominated her as a minister.”

The governor however, insisted that neither Buhari nor the APC is worried about the development. Wednesday’s FEC meeting proved this to be true.

She had been accused of spending N12m on ‘familiarisation visits’ to unnamed skill acquisition centres in November 2015 as contained in a report from the Auditor-General’s office. An accusation, many found rather amusing coming just days after her declaration.

“They will soon discover billions in her toilet,” wrote Facebook user, Aderemi Michael.

Another, Bello Rabiu noted, “Now, the attacks begin because she is no longer with them.” And Onyenwere Ukeje summarised it thus: “Predictable. That’s how they fight corruption.”

It was believed that the accusation was a ploy to remove her, but she didn’t bate an eyelid. In a later interview with the BBC Hausa service, she restated her stance, maintaining that while she remained grateful for the opportunity Buhari gave her to serve, she would support Atiku in 2019, even if the President was running.

“Let me tell you today that if Baba said he is going to contest in 2019, I swear to Allah, I will go before him and kneel and tell him that ‘Baba I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve your government as a minister,” she said.

“But Baba just like you know I will support only Atiku because he is my godfather if Atiku said he is going to contest.”

But opinions are largely divided on whether she is justified to have declared openly, her lack of confidence in Buhari, and support for Atiku. Some say, she ought to have resigned if she felt the president is not doing well. For others nonetheless, she is a hero who has spoken the mind of the majority of Nigerians.

She is being equated with former Information Minister, the late Professor Dora Akunyili who invoked the doctrine of necessity paving the way for Goodluck Jonathan to assume office as president following Umaru Yar’Adua’s ill-health and eventual death in 2010. At Thursday’s meeting, the party said it recognised her right to hold her opinions.

What her fate will be is a question only time will tell, but it is highly unlikely she would serve punishment, the president being her kinsman – both are Fulani. Whatever be the case, the former senator had defied the odds on a number of occasions to be who she is politically. In a Christian dominated Taraba, she has managed to transcend religion and ethnicity to become the most accomplished woman in the state’s political scene.

In January 2011 PDP primaries, she defeated an incumbent Senator, Manzo Anthony, and running an inspiring campaign, she garnered Christian support and went on to defeat former governor, Reverend Jolly Nyame in that year’s senatorial election to win the Taraba North senatorial seat, thus becoming the first woman to be elected senator in the state.

She had also been the first female to be appointed Taraba State Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice as well as the first woman to be appointed as Secretary, Federal Capital Territory Judicial Council and later appointed the Chief Registrar of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on December 17, 2003.

It was only by the whiskers that she lost out in her bid to become the first elected female governor in Nigeria in 2015. Running under the platform of the APC having joined the party earlier, she was poised to defeat the PDP candidate, now governor, Darius Ishaku, but eventually came short due to a combination of factors.

She proceeded to the tribunal to contest the result and indeed on November 7 2015, the tribunal removed Ishaku, declared her winner of the election, but the decision was later reversed by the Appeal and Supreme Courts.

 

 

 

 

 

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