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Njiwah: Umar is Suntai’s Biggest Mistake

Former Secretary to the Taraba State Government, Emmanuel Njiwah is a former ambassador, commissioner and board chairman, who ran for the presidency in the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1993. In this interview with journalists, he gives an insight into the politics of the state. Emmanuel Bello presents the excerpts:

The Acting Governor of Taraba State, Garba Umar, in a recent exclusive interview with THISDAY, accused you and other former commissioners of “tampering” with N400 million flood mitigating grant, which was why he sacked you all. What is the true story?

You have asked me as a person but I will speak on behalf of the team that was sacked by the deputy governor. First and foremost, Garba Umar became the deputy governor by appointment; he did not contest the election with Governor Danbaba Suntai. He only came onboard when our former Deputy Governor, Sani Abubakar Danladi was impeached by the State House of Assembly. Umar had spent barely three weeks when Suntai had a plane crash with his security aides. The deputy governor had not known anything about governance. All along he had been in the private sector, but he had to take over the mantle of leadership as acting governor, following the governor’s mishap.

But before the crash, Suntai had set up committees in charge of disbursing the flood funds for the purchase of relief materials for those who were affected by the flood disaster in the state in 2012. The main committee was chaired by the deputy governor, with some of us as members, including the Chief of Staff, the then Head of Service and commissioners of Justice, Environment, Finance, Health and Information. Most of the job was done before the governor had the crash. There were two main committees in charge of purchases. The materials bought were determined by the main committee, through the logistics committee which was to do market survey and identify the quantity, quality and price of each of the items to be purchased.

No member of the main committee was involved in purchases, except the wife of the Chief of Staff –now SSG, who got the contract to purchase the items. So, I don’t know the money Umar keeps saying we tampered with. The reports of the two committees are there. There is no missing fund in the report. There is nobody who said he was not giving some money meant to purchase an item. I don’t know how I, as the SSG who was in the main committee tampered with the funds. Even the commissioners who were involved in the purchases returned the sum of more than nine million naira as discount gotten from the purchases. When the report was submitted, it was supposed to be scrutinised by the executive.

But meanwhile, the deputy governor who is now in acting capacity was finding a way to do away with some of us. He was trying without success to lobby through some of us to take over as substantive governor. He wanted me, particularly, to prepare a memo stating that Suntai was incapacitated so his deputy should assume his office. He promised to make me the deputy governor, with the sum of N100 million, lobbied through a permanent secretary and two other commissioners, which I will only mention their names if he (Umar) denies this. This was what happened. So, he decided to attach the commissioners who were very loyal to Suntai and I who refused to write the memo, to the flood funds so as to remove us from office. No one tampered with the flood funds. It was what he planned and executed.
What did you do when you were sacked?

We went to court within the first three days, because we knew we were wrongly sacked. We went to court since July last year. The judgment was to be passed on May 11 this year but the court is yet to rule on the case. I wish to say somebody somewhere is tampering with justice in the state, but I don’t want to talk about the matter since it is already in the court of law. The deputy governor said he booted us from office because, according to him, we are corrupt. We said we are innocent. We went to court, but the deputy governor is preempting judgment by still saying we are corrupt. I don’t know where he got his own judgment or whether he has taken over the duties of the court.

Umar has always said his relationship with his boss is still very cordial. That he is taking care of the governor and his family. Do you have a different view?

There is no better word to describe the kind of relationship he presently has with the governor. They are not cordial in any way. Immediately the governor had the plane crash, Umar started plotting on how he could take over. Anybody who is cordial with his boss would not do that. He also moved to remove all the appointees of the governor in order to clear the way for him to become the substantive governor. Is that cordiality? He said he is taking care of the governor. It is not true. Suntai is the executive governor of the state and he is entitled to be taken care of by the government and not by Garba Umar.

Umar does not have the resources to take care of Suntai. Before his appointment as deputy governor, Umar had not up to N20 thousand in all his accounts. All we knew about him was that he was a trader, selling nuvan (mosquito insecticides) in Gombe State. Umar does not have the capacity to take care of Suntai in any regard. It is the government that is supposed to take care of the governor but the government being run by Umar is not doing that.

In the same interview, Umar claimed Taraba people are having the best governance now. Don’t you think he has done well primarily in the area of infrastructure development?

If there is any time in the life of Taraba State that there was the worst administration, Umar’s time is worse than that worst. Somehow, I have been in the government of Taraba State in different phases, since its creation. I was a director in the ministry, commissioner, board chairman and SSG. So, I know that no government – both military and civilian, has been as bad as the one steered by Umar. He has not developed anything in the state. All the projects started by Suntai have stopped.

Taraba state is in its worst period. Under Suntai, even when all the north-eastern states had some crises, Taraba never experienced any. The governor was proactive and knew how timely to arrest such crisis and to crackdown on suspected insurgents. But this man is rather aiding the insurgents. I am not the one saying it, but the people who know it are reliably saying it and are ready to testify. He seems to be taking side. And the reason is simply because he is hell-bent to take over Taraba so he cannot hesitate to do anything that can pave the way for him to succeed.

But he claims to have done well and that if the people ask him to contest the governorship as a clarion call, he would.
I don’t know that kind of clarion call. Honestly, the greatest mistake Suntai has made in his life was picking Umar as his deputy. There can be no mistake worse than this. Suntai had relied solely on elders to pick someone for him from the northern zone. The governor did not know this man. If he had known how bad he is, he wouldn’t have picked him. I don’t want to speak on his intelligence, otherwise, I worked with him and I know he doesn’t have the moral and intellectual capacity to be governor of the state.

For example, the College of Agriculture Governing Board had paid him a courtesy call. The members advanced some demands, which I was there – as the SSG. He told them yes I would do these things; no I would not do those ones. At the end, I summed up the things he said he was going to do and those he turned down. I prepared a memo in that regard for his consideration and approval. But upon giving him the memo, he asked me what is this, SSG? I told him these are the things you approved for the college.

He said ‘no I didn’t mean what I said’; that it was only a political talk. I asked how do you mean, Your Excellency?  I told him he is acting governor, so whatever he promises the people or public institutions he has to fulfill it – that’s how the government works. Then I asked him why he gave them fake promises. I know, though not very sure, that was one of the reasons he got angry with me. And I doubt if he has granted those requests.

Was there any agreement between Umar and Suntai that Umar would not run for office? If there is, was the agreement written or oral?
On several occasions, Governor Suntai emphasised to him (Umar) that I have brought you to complete my tenure with me. Under no account should you nurse any form of ambition to contest, because the northern and central zones have produced governor. So, in 2015, we shall relinquish power to the southern zone, and the reason I have appointed you my deputy is because of your age – so that you would not have any ambition to take over, so please abide by this and if at the end of our tenure you don’t see me advancing you, don’t be annoyed because we must give the governorship slot to where it belongs, for justice and equity. Umar said no no no, I am very ok sir; I am not going to contest. But now he has forgotten that the governor picked him from an inconsequential corner.
Do you think he is bound by that agreement, considering the fact that it is not constitutional?

Constitutionally, he is not bound by it. Morally, he is. That is why I said he lacks the moral right to contest. Umar has no moral competence. Recall his promise with the College of Agriculture which he reneged on.
Do you mean, apart from Umar who is kicking against power shift, stakeholders from the north and central zones are in support of power shift to southern zone?

When former Governor Jolly Nyame was leaving office, people from all the zones contested to succeed him including those from the northern zone where he comes from. This was because nothing had come up clearly on how power should shift in the state. But after Suntai succeeded Nyame from the central zone, morally, those of us who have been resident in the state, who grew up in Taraba and served in the state, feel the fairest thing to do is to support the southern zone to produce the next governor.

Unfortunately, Umar does not share this opinion, because he is a Taraba indigene by extension. He was not born in Taraba; he didn’t grow up in the state; he didn’t school in Taraba and he didn’t reside in the state for a week. He wasn’t known in Taraba State so he does not know the politics of Taraba. After 18 years of rule by the north and central zones, he still doesn’t want the southern zone to have it, why? Democratic governance, both at the level of presidency down to governorship and other positions, has to be rotational.

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