OPINION: The debt Niger State owes David Umaru

Words by Abdullahi Bello Kuta

As a non-resident indigene of Niger State, I made a habit of constantly keeping track of the political events there. In this torturous practice, I got to know the principal actors of the politics of my dear state. I saw a state languishing under the seeming dominance of the PDP government, with the opposition parties clearly boxed to the corner. Ours was a predictable politics of the ruling party that considered itself invincible and the opposition parties resting on the shoulder of an uncompromising personality.

In Niger, that person who stood up to the tyranny of the ruling party was Barrister David Umaru, a two-time Gubernatorial aspirant and victim of PDP’s notorious rigging schemes. Though Senator Umaru contested results of the Guber elections and despite failing to have them judged as the frauds they were, being victories obtained through widely witnessed electoral malpractices typical of the PDP, he didn’t bow out of politics. He remained a frontline critic of the state government, exposing its frauds, ill-considered policies and brazen misappropriation of public funds. He was our eye to the excesses of the Niger State Government between 2007 and 2015, when, as karma would have it, he defeated Governor Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, in their bids for the Senate.

Looking back, I doubt anyone deserves praise for keeping the opposition alive in Niger State more than him. Some of us only got to realise the massive corruption and lack of transparency that wracked Governor Mu’azu Aliyu’s administration through Umaru’s whistleblowing, and the many advertorials he sponsored in major national dailies, which the government couldn’t refute. All they could was the usual barrage of personalised attacks instead of convincing the people whose mandate they abused, that Umaru’s revelations were untrue.

We were all witnesses to political aspirants who stepped forward to vie for the Office of the Governor and disappeared when that couldn’t be realised. We saw Engineer Mustapha Bello, who only remembered he’s a politician and that certain responsibilities are expected of him only in election years. We saw

Malam Isah Ladan who joined the race spraying wads of money as though he owned a mint, and then disappeared, with nothing heard about and from him again, when his ambition wasn’t achieved. We saw Malam Sani Musa 313, Senator Isah Mohammed, Engineer Y. Y. Sani, and several other Guber candidates who came to the scene and quite predictably disappeared when that dream met a brick wall. These, from their antecedents, were the people we could describe as political opportunists, something not attributable to Umaru who, despite the electoral losses, remained resilient in the struggle to oust PDP in Niger State.

This exemplary trait of Umaru is the reason I was quite shocked when I saw some damning essays authored by semi-literate and amnesic hacks and sycophants who really had no idea of the role the man had played in levelling the political ground for the APC in Niger State, investing his personal resources as first a stalwart of the ANPP, and then its evolution into the CPC. He is, as agreed by a number of us at various political forums, the Muhammadu Buhari of Niger State, only that, unlike Buhari, he doesn’t have the advantage of the membership of a dominant ethnic group and religion. Thus, his advocacies, aside from championing political liberations, were frustrated by resistance to frustrate him based on ethnic and religious sentiments and identifications.

The theme of the recent attacks on the person of David Umaru was his agitation that a member of his senatorial district be made the Secretary to the Government (SSG) of Niger State based on a clear constitutional requirement for fair representation of the members of all senatorial districts in government. The rationale for this, as outlined by all thinking Nigerlites, is: since the Governor is from Niger North, his Deputy from Niger South, the third highest Executive Officer, one with marked administrative responsibility, and not just advisory role, ought to be from the Niger East. This was all Umaru asked for, and this also was the agitation of the obviously politically side-lined people of Niger East who, like me, see the office of the Chief of Staff allocated to them, as unfair compensation despite giving Governor Abubakar Sani Bello the bulk of his votes, the highest of the three senatorial districts, in the election that brought him to power. What stirred the hornet’s nest was that the Governor has chosen a member of his own senatorial district and local government area as the SSG, rousing a feeling of marginalisation, which the people of Niger East had endured all the while.

Nigeria is a polarised state, and so is Niger State. This is why we must be intelligent in dismissing Umaru’s observation as ethnically based advocacy, with some even accusing the man of tribalism and, elsewhere, someone even embarrassed himself pointing out that the senator isn’t from Niger State. Even Buhari, despite not being massively supported by the Igbo, remains sensitive to their plights, and has even appointed an Igbo as head of the nation’s biggest and most relevant institution, the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission.

That Umaru cries for representation of his people in the senate is a legitimate discharge of his duty, not just as a conscious politician among a people not fairly represented in government but also as a senator elected by these people to protect their interests. You don’t expect a Niger East senator to carry the problems of the people of other senatorial districts, which also have their representatives at the legislative chambers, on his head. And the irony of this is, even the Governor of Niger State, whose decisions some endorsed ignorantly, is a product of a quota system based on the State’s zonal arrangement. The people of Niger State, including the Governor, owe David Umaru a debt of gratitude and respect, for his political resilience in keeping the opposition alive at the time those attacking him now were dining with the powers that be!


 

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