The sudden divorce between Niger state Governor, Dr. Babangida Aliyu and his deputy, Ahmed Ibeto was unexpected given the amity that shadowed the relationship between the two top officers of the government up till about two years ago.
Governor Aliyu had at different fora referred to his deputy as his confidant and had delegated to him responsibilities that many other governors shied away from doing. In doing so, the governor had claimed that he did so in the knowledge that should he drop dead that his deputy would be sworn in immediately.
In their first term in office, the deputy governor was as a sign of the confidence from the governor assigned the portfolio of Water Resources and subsequently, Poverty Eradication.
Besides, he was made the first Amirul Hajj under the Babangida Aliyu administration and all along, represented his principal at different occasions, thus pointing to the fact that all was well between them.
How did he become deputy governor?
Ibeto was a member of the House of Representatives when he was in 2006 picked as running mate to Aliyu after the demise of the then speaker of the House of Assembly Alhaji Alhassan Jikantoro who had been pencilled down for the position. Aliyu himself was also a late entrant in the contest having been reportedly summoned from his duty post as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, MFCT to enter the contest.
As the 2015 exit date for Aliyu approached, Ibeto commenced his moves for succession.
Governor Aliyu, however, at different fora made it clear that though the governorship position had been zoned to zone “C”, he said it would be preferable for the elders from the zone to jointly present a candidate for the purpose of avoiding a rancorous primary.
No consensus was reached and in the end, Ibeto and eight others entered the contest including Umar Nasko, the governor’s immediate past chief of staff who was regarded as the governor’s own anointed candidate. Despite the signs of Aliyu’s preference for Nasko, Ibeto persevered in the contest. His determination allegedly widened the gulf between them that began to be noticed about two years ago.
The support that the governor gave to Nasko rubbed off negatively on Ibeto and many other aspirants in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Ibeto and the other aggrieved PDP aspirants petitioned the National Working Committee, NWC of the party which did not heed their pleas.
Ibeto eventually defected to the All Progressives Congress, APC and made a show of his dissatisfaction with the PDP when he attended the APC presidential campaign last January.
That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Initially, Governor Aliyu took it with philosophical calmness saying Ibeto remained his deputy and pledged he would continue to enjoy all the perquisites of his office.
However, not many days hence, the governor made a U-Turn when he reportedly walked Ibeto out of the Executive Council meeting on February 11.
The government’s spin doctors had first disclosed that Ibeto had on his own decided to absent himself from the meetings on account of his political differences with the governor. However, that account was subsequently rubbished by the deputy governor.
“It is not true that I excused myself out,” Ibeto said in his reaction. “When I received notification of the Council meeting of the day, I went as usual. The Governor had in his opening remarks said that people and members of the Executive Council were aware that I have decamped from the PDP to APC and that we have gone on campaign around the state and that I have been calling him a thief.”
“I explained that I have never referred to him as a thief. The fact is that people wanted to know why I left PDP for APC and I have been telling them that I left PDP because of the injustice in the party and nothing more,” he declared adding the governor threatened to use security men on him if he refused.
The relationship seemed to be deteriorating daily and two weeks ago as the governor embarked on a vacation and sidestepped his deputy when he handed over the administration to the speaker of the House of Assembly, Barrister Adamu Usman.
Defending the action, the chief press secretary to the governor, Mr. Israel Ebije said his boss acted within the ambits of the constitution.
Ambits of the constitution
He cited section 193 of the federal constitution which states: 193. (1) The Governor of a State may, in his discretion, assign to the Deputy Governor or any Commissioner of the Government of the State responsibility for any business of the Government of that State, including the administration of any department of Government.
(2) The Governor of a State shall hold regular meetings with the Deputy Governor and all Commissioners of the Government of the State for the purposes of –
(a) determining the general direction of the policies of the Government of the State;
(b) co-ordinating the activities of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Commissioners of the Government of the State in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and
(c) advising the Governor generally in the discharge of his executive functions, other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this Constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.
The governor’s action was flayed by one time chief whip of House of Representatives Bawa Bwari who said the action contravened section 190 of the Constitution which states: Whenever the Governor transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary such functions shall be discharged by the Deputy Governor as Acting Governor.
“The fact is, any blatant disobedience of the constitution by a public office holder can be grounds for impeachment. The constitution is not anybody’s plaything, and we cannot choose when to obey it and when not to do so,” Bwari said.
On the contrary, the deputy governor is the one under the threat of impeachment.
Ibeto indeed has gone to court to stop any planned action against him and a Minna High Court last Wednesday granted orders against any such move.
Justice Mayaki who gave the order also restrained the House from tempering, violating, withdrawing the right and privileges of the Deputy Governor pending the hearing.
Also, the court ordered that the Deputy Governor should not be obstructed from discharging his function as the deputy governor and alternatively ordered that all parties in the suit brought before the court should maintain status quo ante bellum.
Reconciling two leaders
Just as steps were being taken by some politicians to reconcile the two leaders, a directive came few days ago directing the Deputy Governor to move out of his office located besides the Governor’s Office within the Government House.
The secretary to the state government, Sa’idu Idris who signed the letter to that effect gave Ibeto up to last Monday to vacate the office which he said was to enable repairs in the office of the deputy governor.
Despite recent developments, Ibeto remains unwavering in his assessment of Governor Aliyu saying he treated him well until recently. He praised the governor for exposing him to several responsibilities that other governors were unwilling to do to their subordinates.
“At a certain stage in our journey, I think something happened, I believe people must have told him (the governor) a lot of things against me. Though I tried to talk to him over it to disabuse his mind from some of these things that they must have polluted his mind about me.”
The relationship is apparently, irreversible given Ibeto’s final submission on Aliyu: “I will not want to work under the chief servant if given another chance. He is no more the chief servant I started working with in 2007.”