Opinion: Why Yari should take his empty seat home by Azu Ishiekwene

Opinion: Why Yari should take his empty seat home by Azu Ishiekwene

Editor's note: Azu Ishiekwene is a member of the board of the Global Editors Network writes on the security situation in Zamfara state.

He also analyses efforts so far made by the governor and the Zamfara state government in finding solution to the menace ravaging the state.

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Zamfara state governor, Abdulaziz Yari, offered Greek gift as Christmas present: his soon-to-be-vacant official stool is not worth the paper on which he made the promise to step down as governor if doing so would bring peace to the state. There is no need to give up his seat or to step down.

Out of the goodness of his purple heart, however, the governor, whose state now appears to be run officially by bandits, mostly illegitimate political children of former governor Sani Yerima’s fanatical experiment nearly 20 years ago. The monsters have now come of age.

Yari said he was willing to make any personal sacrifice, including giving up his post as governor, if that might retrieve the state from the control of these bandits.

His stool, the governor said, is not worth the life of a single resident, much less the tens of hundreds who have been killed, wounded or dispossessed since the current escalation of deadly banditry in the state.

I had to wait for a few days to pass to be sure it was Yari speaking. Even after that, I only paid attention to reports carrying not only his speech, but his photograph as well, just to be sure it was not another Yari.

But there he was, wearing his bleeding heart on his sleeve and speaking from Zamfara, of all places, where he had been a stranger for the better part of the last four years of his tenure.

I don’t know if he missed his way to Gusau, but surely, Yari, the undisputed runaway crown prince and executive governor-in-absentia, does not expect us to take his crocodile tears seriously.

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If he was crying privately, we might even have offered him buckets to collect his tears and then admonished him quietly for mockery. But to make a public show of his concern about the state of affairs in Zamfara, after all he has done horribly wrong, particularly in the last four years, is an insult the grieving people of the state could do without.

So, it’s ok for President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency now, on the eve of Yari’s departure as governor? Around July last year, when it was very obvious that things were getting out of hand, LEADERSHIP newspaper wrote a frontpage editorial asking the President to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara.

The newspaper argued – and it was quite clearly the case – that bandits in Zamfara were killing for sport and that the governor, apart from accepting that he was only chief security officer in name, had also abandoned the state and camped in Abuja.

The newspaper said in that July editorial that, “The killings in the state are more than all the killings in all the other states of the country put together…Now that the Zamfara State government has failed in its duty – the state is effectively a failed state – we should stop pretending about it. If the governor who collects millions of naira as security vote and has a plethora of security men guarding him has fled the state, what is the point pretending that a normal intervention will end the banditry?”

In response to the editorial, the governor used part of his security vote, which if he couldn’t use to secure the State he could at least have used to provide succour, to abuse LEADERSHIP in acres of pages of sponsored advertisements.

Five months later, the same governor sees the light and invites a long line of sympathisers to help wipe away his tears.

Not so fast. It’s important to examine Yari’s real motive. I’m not ruling out the raging war by bandits as a reason, but Yari’s conduct shows that banditry is just a convenient mask for his loss of political influence within his party. He is offering his stool, not to save the state, but to spite his adversaries and purchase sympathy.

In coming to terms with the heavy defeat he suffered during the last governorship primary in the state at the hands of the Abuja forces led by Kabiru Marafa and Adams Oshiomhole, Yari is happy to cover his shame with whatever he can find, including a fig leaf of emergency rule.

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All the pretence that he’s happy to step down now to save the state is nonsense.

He can cry until the handkerchief factory closes down, his fake tears will not save him from answering questions about what exactly he did with the state’s security vote, at least in the last four years, when security mattered most.

We have seen voodoo expense sheets in newspaper adverts claiming that Yari put up a braver fight against the bandits than Napoleon did at Waterloo, but to what effect? To what purpose?

The governor collects tens of millions of naira from Abuja monthly as security vote only for him to disappear and camp out outside Gusau until the next cash load is ready. Since when did his love for the people of Zamfara become more important than his personal safety and security? Since when did his commitment to serve become more important than his personal comfort?

Wasn’t this the same governor who instead of providing vaccines when meningitis broke out in Zamfara two years ago said the outbreak was punishment for widespread fornication?

Apparently, the only punishment worse than meningitis was Yari’s election as governor. The offer of a virtually empty seat in Government House is not worth his redemption. Zamfara is not the only state under siege. Katsina State Governor, Bello Masari, has also cried out; while in the North East, Borno and Yobe have been in the eye of the storm for years now.

In spite of the deadly attacks, which have increased dramatically in recent times, however, it is to Governor Kashim Ibrahim Shettima’s credit that he has stood firm with residents in Borno in the face of grave danger, offering succour and hope wherever he can under very difficult circumstances. That is what leadership demands.

Yari may complain that the present scale of violence in Zamfara is beyond what a state government can contain, however zealous it may be. He would be right, up to a point. I think that whatever cleaning up Buhari may have done in the military top hierarchy when he took over, the majority of the fighting forces are still being poorly served by deep-rooted corruption in the system.

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Add that to the weak, deeply fragmented, failing neighbouring countries on our northern borders and you have a compounded problem.

But poor leadership in Zamfara, particularly in the last four years, has also made the state an attractive destination for bandits with a bloodline to the Yerima era. Yari’s will be remembered for his frequent and prolonged absences from the state and his faux pas over meningitis. He will also be remembered as one of the governors charged by EFCC for pocketing $3m of the Paris Club refund, which should have been used to pay salaries.

Each breach of faith by the governor - and they are in multiples - has only made the people of Zamfara more vulnerable, more insecure. The bandits have been a terrible plague; but Yari has been no less a predator.

Perhaps one thing he did well was holding the chair of the Governors’ Forum – a side hustle which neither requires presence of mind nor sustained effort. He can keep his seat as governor till the end; Zamfara will manage to survive him.

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