Rising anxiety over Bauchi’s future

Usman Bala

AREWA AGENDA – Since assuming office, albeit in questionable circumstances, as the governor of Bauchi state on May 29, 2019, Malam Bala Mohammed has not disappointed the swathe of analysts and political pundits who were skeptical of his deficient leadership qualities and obvious lack of integrity and financial prudence. True to type, the Bauchi state governor, who won his election more through the courts than through the ballot, has moved from one controversy to another, majorly bordering on financial impropriety and fleecing of the state’s lean resources.

As a starter, Bala Mohammed is currently enjoying a prosecutorial holiday from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a multi-billion naira corruption charge, courtesy of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution that stipulates absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for governors. Mohammed, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party PDP), was elected governor of Bauchi state on March 9, defeating incumbent Mohammed Abubakar of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Since his exit as minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in 2015 and until his election, Bala Mohammed faced corruption trial arising from alleged abuse of office and land racketeering.

Following months of investigation, Mohammed was first arrested in late 2016 in what anti-graft detectives suspected might have involved up to N1.6 trillion in questionable land allocation around Abuja, the nation’s most expensive real estate market. He was suspected of receiving bribes of N550 million to illegally allocate public properties to Aso Savings Limited. The governor was also accused of receiving N314 million in separate suspicious payment from Aso Savings. He was the mortgage banker’s board chairman at the time of the questionable transactions, prosecutors said in court filings.

He was subsequently slammed with an initial N864 million fraud. He was then arraigned on May 10, 2017, before Abubakar Talba of the Gudu Division of the Federal Capital Territory High Court and granted a bail, which he has enjoyed ever since, as his trial proceeded in court. Multiple allege there is a slew of other probes involving billions of naira pending against the governor. While his immunity would prevent prosecutors from bringing charges that may arise from further investigations, it would not prevent those investigations from proceeding on their own.

While Mr Mohammed might have gotten a crucial reprieve from all corruption allegations against him for at least another four years, baring an impeachment or other outliers that could drive him from office, his son, Shamsudeen Bala, will continue to answer all outstanding cases of graft, the EFCC said. The governor’s son is also being prosecuted, and his trial will continue as he has no immunity from prosecution, and will not be getting any by way of his father. Only the president, vice-president, governor, and deputy governor are bestowed immunity under the Nigerian constitution.

Accordingly, a Federal High Court in Abuja recently okayed the order of interim forfeiture of some properties linked to Shamsudeen Bala. Shamsudeen Bala had prayed the court to set aside an earlier ruling that ordered the interim forfeiture of the property. But, the Abuja Federal High Court, presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, refused to set aside the order. The Bauchi state governor’s son is being prosecuted by the EFCC for alleged money laundering. Shamsudeen is facing trial before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja on amended 14-count charge. He is standing trial alongside Bird Trust Agro Allied Limited, Intertrans Global Logistic Ltd, Diakin Telecommunications Ltd and Bal-Vac Mining Nigeria Ltd.

The properties include, a mansion located at Sunrise Estate, Asokoro, Abuja; three four-bedroom semi detached duplexes located at Green Acres Estate, Apo-Dutse, Abuja; and a four-bedroom semi detached duplex with BQ, located at Maitama, Abuja. The trial judge held that in relation to three other properties listed in the schedule, “those who laid claims showed sufficient proof of ownership and no pending charge against them”.

In accordance with the adage that a leopard cannot change its spots, Bala Mohammed’s alleged “itchy fingers” were stretched from Abuja to the Bauchi Government House where he allegedly awarded a company in which he is a director a shady contract worth N3.6 billion, in clear contravention of Code of Conduct and Public Procurement laws. The contract was for the supply of a whopping 105 “officials vehicles” for the use of the governor and other government officials. Insiders, however, said the then commissioner of finance in the state, Nura Soro, had raised questions on aspects of the contracts, leading to his resignation in mid-October.

Ironically, while the governor could squander N3.6 billion on car purchase without due process, the Bala Mohammed administration unashamedly said it could not sponsor over 8,000 candidates from the state for the Senior Secondary School (WAEC) examinations, because of lack of funds. This sparked protests across the state with protesters barricading major roads and government buildings, saying the plan was against the practice of previous administrations in the state.

It is, therefore, quite curious that a man that is so tarred with the brush of corruption and who had described himself as a victim of a vindictive crackdown on opposition elements, especially officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, could muster the moral courage to set up a kangaroo panel to investigate his predecessors and subsequently accuse them of embezzling N1 trillion of state funds. Receiving the report, last week, of the so-called Asset and Funds Recovery committee constituted on July 12, 2019, the governor accused the previous administrations of Governor Abubakar and Isa Yuguda of looting assets and properties worth over a trillion naira.

Considering his antecedents, Governor Bala Mohammed lacks the moral right to accuse anyone of corruption much less his predecessors whose footprints in the governance of Bauchi state are indelible. In his four years stewardship in Bauchi state (2015-2019), former Governor Abubakar deployed a revolutionary approach to governance that saw the massive turn-around of all the sectors of the state’s economy. Abubakar’s giant strides in education, agriculture, health, roads, water, social welfare, infrastructural and human capital development, among others, will remain unbeatable for a long time in Bauchi.

It is bemusing, therefore, that Governor Bala Mohammed, who “stole” his way to power, would have the temerity and moral suasion to lay baseless and unsubstantiated falsehood against former Governor Abubakar, who throughout his public service career, spanning almost three decades, has never been called to question. Governor Bala should reckon with the fact he has a lot of self-introspection to do and the huge task of clearing his battered and almost irredeemable image rather than embarking on a wild goose chase. His poor governance style and alleged looting spree of public resources, reminiscent of his tenure as FCT minister, in just few days in office as a governor, really raise much concern for the future of Bauchi state.

Bala writes from Bauchi.

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