By Ndama Abubakar

Former deputy governor of Niger State Ahmed Musa Ibeto

Former deputy governor of Niger State Ahmed Musa Ibeto

For seven years, Ahmed Musa Ibeto, the immediate past deputy governor of Niger State, and his principal, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, were the best of friends. The two shared banters, even bawdy jokes, in public. When Gov Babangida elected to be addressed in protocol as chief servant of Niger State, he also gave the same title to Ibeto, who was addressed as deputy chief servant.  In fact, as a mark of their proximity and camaraderie, the governor moved the office of the deputy governor to Government House, where both easily interracted officially.  Indeed, to many Nigerlites, the exemplary pair were two brothers from different mothers, or as the Nation newspaper would describe them famously, “they were like Siamese twins.” Inseparable,  isn’t it; at least until the governor’s alter ego dared to dream – to succeed his principal in government house. Once that happened, the two came to a crossroad, where they both took opposite political directions. The once impregnable friendship, touted as a model in political marriage in Nigeria, split in the middle, and like the story of Humpty Dumpty in the children’s supplementary reader, the broken partnership between the two was never to become reparable.

On November 21, 2014, Ibeto declared his intent to become the governor of Niger State; that was barely one week after the golden boy, the governor’s favoured aspirant, had done similarly and  picked the gubernatorial nomination form. Ibeto was shocked, because in an interview with reporters at the Chanchaga PDP secretariat, after he picked the gubernatorial nomination and expression of interest form, he said he had always believed that his principal was well disposed towards his aspiration, because each time he had broached the subject with him he had never kicked against it.
In spite of the governor not being on his side, Hon Ibeto, a strong fatalist, like many Muslims, said he sought for the gubernatorial office, not from any man, but from God.

There were seven aspirants in PDP primaries, which took place at Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi Conference Centre, which overlooks Minna Government House. One aspirant, who had sub-zero faith in the process, withdrew, while the others decided to try their ‘luck,’ to test the limit of their faith and credulity in the process. Hon Ibeto scored 34 votes, coming third in the nomination race. He immediately denounced it as a “charade,” and lodged a protest at national secretariat of the party in Abuja. As was the culture of PDP then, the standard response of the party was taken from its rule book, which counselled neglect, reject, or ignore. Consequently, Hon Ibeto’s petition was rebuffed, like many others from other states. Rankled, the former deputy governor would later refer to this callous and undemocratic treatment as “injustice from the PDP”.
On January 19, 2015, Hon Ahmed Musa Ibeto quit the PDP, ending a lopsided partnership with his friend. And he did that in a most dramatic fashion: to coincide with the whistle tour nationwide campaign  of the APC presidential flagbearer, the redoubtable Muhammadu Buhari. He would later tell his audience, during 2015 gubernatorial campaigns in the state, that he left the PDP because of injustice and lack of internal democracy in it.
But Dr Babangida Aliyu differed. He said his deputy simply lacked basic morality, because after rising to such a position of prominence on the platform of PDP, “how can he …. simply because he failed election,  dumped the party.” Besides, he said, “personally I went to his house and advised him with the consultations I have made. I told him not to contest to avoid disgrace, but he refused.” He said the PDP had an unwritten agreement that whoever was the deputy governor could not contest gubernatorial race.
When Hon Ibeto crossed the political carpet to APC, his principal affected an attitude of unconcern. Indeed, he even attempted to play chivalry, by saying that his deputy had the right to defect to any party, and that as a deputy governor, “he will continue to enjoy all rights and privileges of his  office.”
The problem, however, was that the deputy governor did not make a solo exit: he skimmed off the creamy top of the party in the state, defecting with about 200 PDP stalwarts from the 25 local government areas of the state, a coterie of former and current party leaders and MPs at both the state and National Assemblies. In terms of number, they were small,  but in terms of symbolism, in terms of what the defection meant to a state with over four million souls, they were devastating. These defectors, small though they were, weild disproportiate influence and clout, and only the poorly discerning political analyst could dismiss their potential and electoral value. Dr Babangida Aliyu, displaying political bluster and bravura, first dismissed them, labelling them as ‘stomach politicians’, that is political opportunists hankering after their pockets. But as more people defected, the impact of Hon Ibeto’s defection dawned on him. In 16 years of its adventure in power, the PDP in the state had never lost such creme de la creme. Instead, it had always gained, depriving the opposition in the state of influential men of timber and calibre. Now, it is losing its juggernauts. The governor panicked, then dug into the trenches to launch a series of reprisal bombardments against his former ally. The first salvo was fired February 11, 2015; the governor ejected Hon Ibeto from the weekly cabinet meeting, arguing that since he no longer belonged to the PDP family, he had become like a fifth columnist in their midst, likely to spill their electoral battle plans to the opposition party he now belonged. And although he did not go back to the weekly cabinet meeting, he threatened to fight his eviction from the body to which he was constitutionally entitled to sit. Persuaded by his own convictions and the emissaries sent to him by the governor, Hon Ibeto stayed away from subsequent meetings of the august body, but on February 18, 2015, the governor fired a second panic salvo. He  said he was going to ummrah, and contrary to his tradition and the  constitutional provision, he handed the reins of power to the speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly, Bar Adamu Usman, to serve as the acting governor of the state. That was an affront to Hon Ibeto who still existed as defacto deputy governor. And as if that was not enough, the state government began to make moves to impeach the deputy chief servant, a move stymied by a Minna high court, which restrained the state Assembly from “tempering, violating, or withdrawing the rights and privileges of the deputy governor…,” and that he should not be obstructed from discharging the functions of his office. The last show of force  was the order handed down to Hon Ibeto, via a letter dated February 27, 2015,  to relocate his office and staff in Government House within 48 hours. The letter, signed by Zainab K. Ishaku, director of administration in Govt House, said inter alia: “In line with the ongoing renovation exercise of structures and facilities in Government House, I write to inform you that the next exercise will focus on the deputy governor’s office inside the Government House.
“On the basis of that therefore, I wish to inform you to relocate temporarily to the office of Bank of Industry located in F-Layout, Minna.”
The new office located some 700 metres from Government House, is a dingy, vermin-infested abandoned, uninhabitable facility. The power supply to it had been cut by PHCN and it lacked functional plumbing facilities. It was stuffy, without air conditioners and an alternate back up generator. The roofs leaked. From all indications, this facility was more desperately in need of renovation than the one the subject was vacating. In spite of these structural drawbacks, this was the temporary office, from which the deputy governor was expected to operate. Hon Ibeto passed through all of these travails, and what is remarkable is that he passed through them all with stoicism and decorum, without using a foul language against his erstwhile friend, who never forgo an opportunity to condescend. As he would later tell our correspondent in an interview, he had always been a man of peace.
Without doubt, Hon Ahmed Musa Ibeto is a huge ‘catch’ for any political party. An historian, he became local government chairman at the age of 28, shortly after completing his National Youth Service. He is religious, ascetic, honest, respectful, hard working, experienced, focused. He brings these values into politics, into all his endeavours. When he joined the APC, which was an amalgam of different political orientations, the party benefitted from his universal appeal and leadership. His coming coalesced these orientations into a cohesive fighting machine. It became the party’s turning point. The APC candidate then, Alh Abubakr Sani Bello, had a strong reputation: he had an unsullied past. Supported by Hon Ibeto, whose character was unimpeachable,  the APC goodwill multiplied, leading to a resounding victory in the April 11 governorship polls. In recognition of his tremendous impact as APC leader in the state, a grateful Bello said in his post victory acceptance speech: “I wish to express my deep gratitude to our party leader and Deputy Governor of Niger State, Hon. Musa Ahmed Ibeto. The tremendous  wisdom and experience he brought to the party have contributed immensely to making today possible. I sincerely hope that I can personally continue to count on your wise counsel as we embark on this tough but inevitable journey of building a prosperous and inclusive state for all.”