Governor Kashim Shettima is to be suspended from office early this week and replaced by a Military Administrator as part of plans by the Federal Government to launch a decisive military offensive against Boko Haram insurgents, Sunday Trust learnt from authoritative sources in Abuja at the weekend.
Members of the Borno State House of Assembly are also to proceed on suspension to enable the Military Administrator to exercise full executive and legislative powers. President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to announce the sudden move on Wednesday when he swears in 11 new ministers, including Lt General Aliyu Mohamed Gusau, who is expected to take over as Defence Minister.
Sources told Sunday Trust that the Presidency has already identified a retired Army General that it intends to appoint as the Military Administrator of Borno State. According to the sources, the Presidency believes that placing a soldier in charge of the state government will send a signal to the recalcitrant insurgents and also give impetus to the highly stepped up military effort that it is planning in the wake of deadly attacks on several Borno communities by the insurgents in recent weeks.
It was not immediately clear if the presidency’s planned move is meant to punish Governor Kashim Shettima, who had a sharp exchange with it last week over handling of the war against Boko Haram. Emerging from a private meeting with the president, Shettima told reporters that the insurgents were often better armed and better motivated than the army in the ongoing war. Jonathan’s senior special assistant for public affairs, Doyin Okupe, replied the next day, saying Shettima’s claim was not true, that the governor is too inexperienced to know about weapons and that the military is winning the war against Boko Haram. Shettima, however, visited the State House again last Thursday and had another private meeting with Jonathan, where observers thought they had resolved their differences. Sources said Jonathan invited Shettima to the meeting after last Wednesday’s renewed Boko Haram attack on Bama town.
Sunday Trust learnt that the move to suspend democratic structures in Borno State was recently revived following a similar attempt last May, when Jonathan first declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. His proposal to suspend governors and state legislators in the affected states was vehemently opposed by the National Assembly, lawyers and civil society groups. They pointed out that a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Atiku versus Obasanjo made it clear that a governor, deputy governor, vice president or a president can only lose his position in one of four ways. These are death, permanent incapacitation, resignation and impeachment. A parallel move by Jonathan to seize the financial allocations of the three states and commandeer it to fund military operations was also thwarted by the House of Representatives, which deleted it from the gazette emergency notice issued by the president.
Contacted for his comments yesterday, Shettima’s spokesman Isa Umar Gusau said he was “surprised to hear that the federal government may be contemplating such an illegal, unjustified, unconstitutional and highly controversial move that will heat up the polity and endanger this country’s democracy.” He said his boss is a very calm, extremely patient person, who is not given to muckraking or unguarded utterances. He said “what the governor said was a product of long observation, a welter of information from persons at the receiving end of the attacks and also careful reflection. The view is shared by all elders and community leaders in the state. It was not meant to embarrass anyone but to alert Nigerians to the danger we all face and to seek the support of all citizens towards overcoming it.”
Gusau also said, “If the reason for the alleged move is in order to win greater support for the military in this battle, I doubt if anyone else can do what Governor Shettima has done and is still doing by way of assisting the security operations and also by bringing quick relief to victims of insurgent attacks, including the widows and families of security agents.” He said the Borno State Government under Shettima has provided vehicles, allowances, fuel and other equipment worth hundreds of millions over the years to the military and other agencies fighting Boko Haram.
In addition, he said, Shettima paid over N200m to families of soldiers killed in operations as well as provided hundreds of millions of naira as relief to families of civilians killed by insurgents. The governor, he said, promptly visits communities attacked by insurgents and arranges immediate relief and resettlement. This is necessary in order to build up public confidence in security operations and maintain popular backing for the military operations, he said.
Contacted for comments yesterday, President Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati told our reporter that he was not aware of any such moves by government.
“I’m not aware of such a plan,” Dr Abati said. “We’ve just returned from Owerri, Imo State, where the president received politicians who have joined the PDP. Why not call the military authorities to confirm that to you. As you know, the constitution is very clear on how a governor could be replaced. I cannot confirm anything to you on this issue.”
Meanwhile, constitutional lawyers spoken to yesterday described the planned move by the Presidency as illegal and unconstitutional.
A constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Human Rights Monitor, Barrister Festus Okoye, said removing a state governor and dissolving the state assembly will amount to ‘constitutional aberration’ capable of affecting the 2015 polls and giving the fight against insurgency ‘an unwarranted political colouration.’
He said the state of emergency that was declared in accordance with Section 305(1) of the constitution and published in Federal Government’s Gazette, after its approval by the National Assembly, did not provide for dissolution of any of the states’ democratic structures.
“The details of the proclamation do not include the removal of the governor and the dissolution of the House of Assembly and other elected democratic structures. It is a constitutional aberration to declare and (or) assume that a state of emergency must of necessity extinguish democratic structures or lead to their dissolution or suspension. The governor and the state assemblies are elected and the conditions for their removal or suspension are also constitutionally spelt out,” he said.
“The governors of the affected states have displayed uncommon courage in the face of the massive onslaught by the insurgents. The security agencies have been doing their own bit. The missing link in the fight against insurgency is in the area of intelligence gathering, analysis and implementation. There is also an imagination deficit in the approach to the challenge of insurgency.
“Any approach to tackling insurgency that does not creatively factor the local population into the solution will not achieve the desired result. The Nigerian people must bond together and tackle the challenge of insurgency.
“The dissolution of democratic structures in any of the states will put an undeserved strain on the 2015 elections and give the fight against insurgency an unwarranted political coloration. The dissolution will be unconstitutional and will polarize the National Assembly. I do not see the National Assembly approving the amendment to the details and when such is defeated in the National Assembly it may demoralize the armed forces. As we move towards the 2015 elections, we must avoid constitutional impunity that will put an undeserved strain on our fragile constitutional democracy,” he said.
Also, human rights activist Femi Falana, SAN, said Governor Shettima cannot be held responsible for the seeming successes being recorded by the dreaded Boko Haram troops in the North East.
Falana, who stated this in a telephone interview with Sunday Trust yesterday, said that no Military Administrator can fight the Boko Haram when army commanders have failed to conquer the insurgent group.
The senior lawyer said it was because of the illegality of the arrangement that President Jonathan could not appoint Military Administrators when he declared state of emergency in three states in the North-East zone last year.
“It was because of the illegality of the proposition that the president could not appoint Military Administrators (MILADS) for those three states when he declared a state of emergency last year. Since the constitution has not been amended to empower the president and the NASS to remove an elected governor, there are no bases to remove the Borno State governor. If anybody has to take responsibility for the worsening security situation and for the crisis in Borno State and the North-East, so far, it is the president who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and not the governor, who is a glorified chief security officer of the state.
“In fairness to Jonathan he has repeatedly assured Nigerians that the situation is under control and that the FG is winning the war against terror. The unarmed governor of Borno State cannot be held vicariously liable for the seeming success being recorded by the Boko Haram fighters, who appear more armed than Nigerian soldiers and have resorted to guerilla warfare, which is very alien to the Nigerian armed forces.
“Instead of resorting to any diversionary tactic, FG should go back to the drawing table by motivating the soldiers and equipping them with modern weapons as well as improvement of the intelligence gathering,” Falana said.
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