Sokoto Judicial Commission: Inquiry Or Inquest?

Sokoto State Governor, Ahmed Aliyu
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By: Dr Abubakar Saifullah 

The 2023 governorship poll in Sokoto State was one of the most fiercely fought contests in Nigeria. It was a race for the government house that pitted two old rivals, albeit, former political allies, who parted ways back in 2019.

Although the race was between two major political parties in the state, namely PDP and APC, it was actually a contention involving previously very close political associates, out-going governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and his predecessor and now Senator, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko. Their alliance back in 2015 produced the former as the Sokoto State APC governorship candidate, with Wamakko’s acolyte, Ahmed Aliyu as his running mate. 

The team up paid off, as the duo emerged winners of the election, while Wamakko was voted for his first term in the Senate. In 2019 however, there was a sharp break in the partnership, when Tambuwal decamped from APC and reverted to PDP to pursue a presidential ambition and later fell back on the option of seeking a second term as governor . Wamakko and Aliyu remained in APC and the mentor installed his protégé to vie with Tambuwal in the governorship poll.

In the keenly fought battle, Tambuwal beat Wamakko’s candidate by the narrow margin of 342 votes to secure his second term. From that moment Wamakko had sustained the topmost ambition of installing his protégé, Ahmed Aliyu as the governor, for which he braved all odds and eventually succeeded in accomplishing in 2023.

From his inauguration after beating Tambuwal’s anointed candidate and former SSG, Sa’idu Umar, Ahmed Aliyu has left no one in doubt of his intention to apprehend Tambuwal’s actions as governor of Sokoto State. His first official act was to sack his predecessor’s civil service and political appointees, among them, permanent secretaries, DGs, classroom teachers and health workers.

The new governor cancelled the names of public institutions approved by Tambuwal’s administration to immortalize and honor prominent indigenes of Sokoto State. These sons and daughter included Sheikh Abdullahi Fodiyo, Late President Shehu Shagari, Late Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, Shehu Malami Sarkin Sudan, Late former presidential contender, NSO boss, Umaru Shinkafi and Balaraba Buda, the first indigenous nurse in the Sokoto Province of the 1960s.

Ahmed Aliyu also suspended newly appointed district heads recommended by the Sultanate Council and endorsed by the previous State Government and appointed a committee to decide their fate. He also set up a committee to probe and forcefully confiscate official vehicles that were monetized by the previous government for members of the State Executive Council and some outgoing senior appointees.

The committee on vehicles monetization was the most notorious of the several bodies set up by the new Sokoto helmsman to probe his predecessor. With the support of self enlisted security agents serving as members, they sprang into action, carrying out the task with extreme force. They waylaid affected individuals on the streets or invaded their residences in attempts to effect seizures, until their activities climaxed with the Sallah Day abduction of two former members of Tambuwal’s exco and his Chief of Staff.

Probably caving in to public outcry or forced by the threat of litigation, Ahmed Aliyu set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate Tambuwal’s monetization policy. The body, which has a former Chief Judge of Gombe State, Ibrahim Pindiga, is also tasked to probe other actions of the immediate-past government such as land allocations, sale of government houses and auction of government property.

There are however, a number of issues facing the Commission, one of which borders on its  Chairman’s moral credibility to head such a body in Sokoto State.  Between 2007 and 2008, Senator Wamakko, then the Governor of Sokoto State, awarded a contract for the rural electrification of Illela town and other communities in the state to Justice Pindiga. At the time, Wamakko was facing election cases in the tribunal and courts and it was believed that Pindiga was involved in the effort to scurry favors for him in the judiciary. That antecedent has created suspicions that the former Gombe CJ is even now, engaged in similar efforts for Wamakko, as his party and protégé, Ahmed Aliyu is embroiled in election litigations after being declared winner of the Sokoto State 2023 governorship poll.

No sooner was Pindiga named as the head of the body than reports surfaced in the media, detailing a previous petition against him to the NJC alleging that he altered his date of birth when he was due for retirement as Acting CJ of Gombe State. But he is no stranger to being dragged to the Council.

The former Gombe CJ was at one time in 2016 mixed up in an election tribunal scandal bordering on bribery, when he was a member of an election tribunal in Rivers State and was one of the judges, whose homes the DSS stormed and were arrested in a nationwide clampdown on October 7 and 8, 2016.

The DSS then petitioned the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the National Judicial Council alleging corrupt practices against Justice Pindiga, claiming that he, “in a bid to illegally enrich himself, perfected plans through third party proxies/conduits, with a view to influencing the outcome of the Election Tribunal in the governorship polls in favour of the incumbent Governor Nyesom Wike.” The DSS petition alleged that the illegitimate proceeds to have accrued to Pindiga included houses in his home state of Gombe and automobiles.

Even though he was cleared of the DSS allegations by the NJC, many observers are of the view that Pindiga’s moral status is tainted by these incidents and thus he should not have accepted to serve on any investigative body on corruption. His being a one-time contractor for the government of former governor Wamakko should similarly bar the former CJ of chairing a commission of enquiry set up by an administration on which Wamakko has a controlling influence.

As soon as memoranda to the Commission started pouring in, indications surfaced that the papers were contrived by the government to target certain elements in the past administration, especially those previously hounded by the initial vehicles seizure committee . Regarded as a clear evidence of this is the list of individuals currently being summoned to appear before the Commission.

Top on the list of those invited to appear before the body is the immediate-past governor of the state and now senator, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, his Deputy, Munir Ɗan Iya, all members of his Executive Council, SSG, Chief of Staff and Head of Service, among other senior appointees of his administration.

A twist to the affairs of the probe however, is the Commission’s receipt of memos raising credibility issues on its members, who the papers claim, have benefitted from land allocations by the Tambuwal government towards the end of his tenure. Sources close to Pindiga’s probe reveal that two of his members and his Secretary received plots at the Sokoto New City, an aspect of Tambuwal’s land policy that is under investigation by the Inquiry.

Another lacuna in the Commission’s work is the period of coverage by the probe in it’s terms of reference. The inquiry is restricted to cover Tambuwal’s two terms as governor, (2015 to 2023 but general opinion views the time limit as a serious moral breach and outright display of double standards, due to the fact that all the policies and actions under Pindiga’s investigation were actually taken and pursued by governors before Tambuwal, including Ahmed Aliyu’s mentor, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko.

Public view quickly points at similar monetization of official vehicles by Wamakko when he was governor, to himself and members of his cabinet, who included Ahmed Aliyu. Wamakko benefitted from such policy after his second term in 2015 and in fact received periodic automobile gifts from Tambuwal afterwards.

Ahmed Aliyu had his official vehicles monetized in his favor, when he resigned as Deputy Governor in 2019 to contest election against Tambuwal on the platform of APC. It is said that one of the beneficiaries of Tambuwal’s gesture had cause to tell the initial vehicles seizure committee that he would give up his own vehicle, only on evidence that Ahmed Aliyu had returned the ones in his possession.

Tambuwal was also not the first governor to allocate government land to individuals for residential or corporate development. Wamakko as governor, had the record of allocating more plots than any governor in history for such activities.

Some of Wamakko’s plots allocations are the one kilometer sprawl of plazas along Maiduguri Road, the shops lining the commercial street at Gawon Nama, which include his own blocks of plazas, attached to his private residence and the business premises surrounding the vast perimeter wall of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University Teaching Hospital on three sides. He also allocated the half kilometer plots attached to Nagarta College along Sultan Abubakar Road for commercial activities, as well as for another half kilometer line of shops along Lamido Adama Road.

Ahmed Aliyu’s mentor also allocated carved out plots to individuals within government developed areas, after declining to revoke such allocations by his predecessor, Attahiru Bafarawa. Wamakko gave out such lands at the Umaru Mohammed Quarters along Yauri Road, while a number of his cronies have built up on his own and previous land allocations.

Wamakko’s refusal to revoke Governor Bafarawa’s curved out plots allocations was obviously due to a precedent that directly affects him. His current residence at Gawon Nama is built on a land on which a government residential quarters was previously built. The house was sold/allocated to Wamakko by Bafarawa, after which he demolished it and constructed his mansion, which he eventually extended by building across an established street, when he became governor.

The private residence of the current Governor, Ahmed Aliyu on Junaidu Road is also built on a plot that was occupied by a government quarters, which was allocated/sold to him during the Wamakko administration. In fact, that was said to distract him from completing the reconstruction of his official residence along Secretariat Road, when he was Tambuwal’s Deputy Governor, in spite of directly handling the contract. 

One of the aspects of the Pindiga Commission that is widely held as curious is its probe on the sale of government houses. The initiative began as a general policy when in 2003, the Attahiru Bafarawa administration completed and sold the Federal Housing Estate along Gusau Road.

Wamakko as governor of Sokoto State, built and sold the quarters at Bado, along Birnin-Kebbi Road, while his attempt to sell the high-rise Umaru Mohammed Quarters and old Bado Quarters at Farfaru was stalled by issues bordering on the sincerity and motives of the policy. The latter two estates were among the government houses sold to tenants by the Tambuwal administration.

Estate and housing sector practitioners are puzzled by what they refer to as the needless hullabaloo raised on the sale of government houses by  Ahmed Aliyu’s government. The policy, which began nationwide and across tires of government in the 1990s, was an initiative out of the resolution to advance the provision of shelter to Nigerians through public divestment from the sector.

By virtue of that resolution,  the Federal and most state governments have since then sold off their houses to occupants. While states like Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and even Zamfara and Kebbi, which were recently carved out of Sokoto had no houses in their possession, Sokoto had as at 2023, still retained ownership of quarters constructed in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, until Tambuwal sold them to tenants in his first term.

Public opinion, which was reflected by a number of memos to the Judicial Commission, therefore questions the moral status of the Pindiga Commission. It is generally viewed as an irony that Wamakko and his protégé, Ahmed Aliyu, who are direct and recurring beneficiaries of a set of policies are turning round to carry out an inquest on the same actions by another governor.

Individuals and groups affected by the development in Sokoto State are not however, leaving matters to morality and conscience. The individuals being probed, especially members of Tambuwal’s exco, have headed to the Federal High Court Sokoto to seek a restraint on the actions of both the initial seizure committee and Commission of Inquiry.

Regardless of the substantive suit, Pindiga’s Commission has gone ahead to issue summons to individuals affected by the controversial probe, which raises another question about the real motive of the whole exercise. Observers query why a body headed by a former CJ, with members from the legal profession find it exigent to pursue a course of action in disregard of a subsisting process in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Dr Abubakar Saifullah sent in this piece from Jailani Mabera, 


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