Labaran Maku, the national secretary of All Progressives Grand Alliance, was the party’s governorship candidate during the last elections in Nasarawa State. Maku speaks on the allegations that he is linked with recent militia activities in the state, in this interview with Adams Abonu. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the allegations by the Nasarawa State government about your links with the emergence of the New Ombatse, a new militia group in the state?
I have been the subject of a mischievous campaign by Governor Tanko Al-Makura to tarnish my image and frame me up as sponsor of an alleged New Ombatse militia in Nasarawa State. You have covered Nasarawa State and the crises that have engulfed the state in the past four years as a journalist. You are aware of the crises between Ombatse, Alago, Migili, and Fulani mercenaries that were imported into the state and the violence that took place. I am also sure that THISDAY covered the destruction of so many communities in the state from Asakio, Agyaragu, Duduguru, to Tudun Adabu, Deddere, Gidan Gambo and several others that were destroyed. I am also aware that you covered the destruction of Agbashi and Bassa towns that were almost totally razed down.
All these crises had two dimensions. One involved Ombatse and other communities, such as the violence in Asakio, the crisis in Agyaragu. The Ombatse cult or militia as the case may be was never part of the history of Nasarawa State. I am Eggon by nationality but Ombatse has never been part of Eggon culture because i grew up in my community and I am familiar with the culture and history of our people. Ombatse emerged in the political space in 2011 during the campaign of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change with Tanko Al-Makura as candidate and that was when we began to have crisis among Nasarawa people.
I have been a development activist and a journalist. I have served in Nasarawa State as commissioner in two ministries, including internal affairs, youths and sports and information and as deputy governor spanning eight years. During those years, my boss (former Governor Abdullahi Adamu) assigned me to be art of peace processes that brought peace to communities in crisis. It is not at this time in my life that I would condescend so low as to begin to sponsor violence in the state, as is being mischievously alleged.
Are you insinuating that the Ombatse militia emerged with the candidature of Governor Al-Makura in 2011?
Al-Makura set up a judicial commission of inquiry on the Ombatse crisis that threw up many issues. Everything about Ombatse was surrounding Al-Makura’s election in 2011. We never heard anything about Ombatse before he contested election. They (Ombatse) were the people that reportedly followed him during the campaigns and they would surround him in rallies. Ombatse was a club to fight for Al-Makura’s takeover of power in Nasarawa State.
The day he was sworn in on May 29 2011, they were all over in black uniforms at the stadium in Lafia. That was when Ombatse began to emerge from the election. We began to get worried where all these were coming from because it was strange to our cultures in Nasarawa State. So I began to speak out against the worrisome development as Minister of Information. I raised an alarm that this was a sign of danger to us as a people and needed to be nipped in the bud. Then Governor Al-Makura responded that the Ombatse group had a right to express their cultural identity.
Afterwards, I went to the palace of the Aren Eggon and suggested the paramount ruler issue a statement, which was released on radio and television, denouncing Ombatse and stating clearly that Ombatse was not and cannot be part of Eggon cultural expression. My life was even threatened because of my loud voice on this ugly situation. Why was the governor defending the group as a cultural group?
As the 2015 elections approached, it was rumoured that the alleged agreement between Al-Makura and the group broke down and we began to see all sorts of mercenaries coming into Nasarawa State. Suddenly, a big crisis began between Ombatse and the mercenaries and this distorted the structure of peace and harmony in the state.
Do you harbour any suspicion regarding the timing of this allegation about your association with the new militia group?
It is all part of a divide and rule ploy to set Nasarawa people against each other so that there would be opportunities for political manipulations and exploitation to maintain power by the ruling clique. All these allegations started in the last four weeks and it is all aimed at causing disaffection so that people would see me as a sponsor of violence and, to the thinking of the authors of the mischief, bring me to disrepute politically. The Ombatse crisis ebbed out about two years now and since then we have not heard anything about Ombatse again. It is our prayer that they would never come back again in Jesus’ Name! We want peace and development and violence has never been part of the Eggon culture or any other nationality in the state. As they are talking about this fabrication, communities are being sacked by herdsmen. This New Ombatse is a ploy to give me a bad name before Nasarawa people and Nigerians.
In fact, the widespread rumour in town is that the state government is so desperate to criminalise my good name that moves are still being made to get some Eggon boys to make wild allegations against me as sponsor of new Ombatse to enable security agencies arrest me in order to destroy my reputation by all means as a political imperative before 2019. There is so much rumour of evil in the air in my state, all aimed at maintaining the status quo in 2019.
The mischievous allegation is driven by the fact that, suddenly, Maku has become the opposition leader in the state and their calculation is: let’s destroy him before 2019. They desperately want to present me as sponsor of violence because they fear that I may re-contest election in 2019; the intention is to whip up sentiments against me among the various ethnic communities as an alleged sponsor of a new Ombatse group. Since I’m Eggon by nationality, the idea is to stir hatred by other ethnic groups against the Eggon and ahead of 2019. And let me remind you that the Eggon people voted Al-Makura into Government House in 2011 because of the pact he had with Senator Solomon Ewuga.
The idea now is to scandalise me, scandalise my ethnic group ahead of 2019 so that they would have the chance to plant a puppet who they would easily manipulate. The attack on me is politically motivated and this is seen through their unwillingness to mention just Ombatse because it was their creation, so they have to rename it new Ombatse so it can be attached to me since everyone knows I was never part of the cult they set up for their politics in 2011. The idea of new’Ombatse is to detach it from the earlier one created for Al-Makura to get power.
As a matter of conscience, I can never support violence, as this has never been my approach since my university days of activism, all through to my development work with USAID and my journalism career. It is on record that I mobilised well-meaning sons and daughters of Nasarawa State to engender peace and harmony among our people, which ended in a blueprint for peace which I forwarded to Governor Almakura to help end violence in my state. So to put it clearly, I can never be part of any group, new or old, to promote violence or evil against any human being. It is a matter of conscience here.
Recently, you called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of economic emergency in Nasarawa State. Why did you make this call? What is your grouse against Al-Makura?
My case against Al-Makura is his continual misrule of Nasarawa State. Since he assumed office, Nasarawa State has never known peace or any positive development again. Workers have been on strike for more than three months in Nasarawa State and they even accused the workers of being sponsored by me. They wrote all manner of things against me in the social media but I refused to react because I would not want to distract the public from the real issues. But months into the situation, it got worse. As the opposition party in the state, we in APGA felt we should fulfil our obligations and air our views so that the public would be properly enlightened on the issues on ground. The entire state was shut down and even six members of the House of Assembly were suspended from the Assembly for opposing the governor.
The economic and social situation became so tense and pressure mounted on us to intervene. The governor received N18 billion as bailout fund from CBN which we understood that N8 billion was for salaries. When nothing was done to alleviate the plight of the workers in a civil service-based economy, we felt it was time to review the situation and I addressed the press to demand for a state of economic emergency in the state. Despite all these antics by Al-Makura, I cannot be daunted in calling attention to how he continues to short-change the state.
What would you tell your supporters in the light of the recent allegations against you?
I urge the good people of Nasarawa State and my numerous supporters not to give in to Al-Makura’s divide-and-rule tactics again. Let us not be distracted as a people from the pursuit of the common good for Nasarawa State. I have been committed to peace and development all my life and I encourage every Nasarawa person to remain resolute in peaceful coexistence and watch out for the antics of our distractors. Ours is a state where everyone must coexist peacefully and the current disorder being orchestrated by Al-Makura will eventually give way to a new dawn of peace, good governance and rapid development to ensure a prosperous future for our children.