Re – On Masari, Shema and Judicial Commission

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Abdu Labaran Malumfashi

“The innocent fear nothing, only the guilty are afraid”.

At the risk of sounding trite, let me start this reaction with the cliche’, ‘facts are sacred, but opinions are free’ to understand why some people rush to commit pen on paper without the benefit of deep reflection on the subject matter of their discourse, and the eventual consequences. And at the end, they invariably expose their stupidity and the indiscretions of their sponsors.

A case in point is the opinion piece, “On Masari, Shema and Commission of Inquiry” by one Umar Abubakar of Kofar Yandaka, Katsina, published in some national newspapers this week.

The write up, disguised as a contribution to the debate on the subject matter, was nothing but a poor defence of the willful indiscretions committed by the immediate past Governor of Katsina State, Barrister Ibrahim Shehu Shema, while in office.

Umar Abubakar’s piece picked up with a reference to an article written two years ago by one Hassan Malumfashi titled, “Where are the Katsina State Elders”, which was published in “selected national newspapers”. That article, as Umar’s, was also a poor defence of Shema but disguised as an impartial intervention in the raging blame game between Governor Aminu Bello Masari and his predecessor over the finances of the state. I strongly believe that Hassan Malumfashi and Umar Abubakar are one and same person, and of debatable identity, too.

Both articles focus on; the alleged indifference of Katsina State elders to the “media war between the camps of Governor Masari and his predecessor Ibrahim Shehu Shema”, Shema’s alleged prudence and accountability as governor and, more importantly, the Katsina State Judicial Commission of inquiry into the Loss of Funds and Properties set up by Governor Masari.

Now, nothing can be further from the truth than the allegation of indifference against Katsina State elders to the war of words between Governor Masari and his predecessor. In fact, if the Katsina State elders have had their way, not one word of misunderstanding between Masari and Shema would have been heard, but for the former governor, who shunned and snubbed several attempts by the elders to broker peace. Even before the exchange of baton of power, the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, Sardaunan Katsina and some prominent elders, including representatives of the two emirates in the state had severally invited the two to a roundtable to ensure a smooth handover, but each attempt was rebuffed by the then governor who refused to honour any of the invitations. Even after the handover, the former Inspector General of Police continued the effort to get the two to sit and iron their differences, but each time, the former governor refused to honour the invitation. In fact, so full of himself had he been that at one point the former governor even dared Governor Masari “to go to court if he feels so strong about his case against me”. And again, he had rhetorically requested the Katsina elders to “please ask Masari to go to court”. The Sardaunan Katsina is a witness to all these failed efforts to broker peace between Governor Masari and Shema.

The repeated claims by sponsored writers, including Hassan and Umar, to Shema’s prudence and accountability are simply nothing but shameless propaganda, juxtaposed with the facts on the ground. Contrary to what these pen-for-sale commentators would want people to believe, the former Governor left Katsina State heavily indebted (from foreign and local debt) and deeply insolvent.

The claim by the former governor that he left N17,743,913,731:00 in the treasury at the time of his departure was not true, as bank records and other documents showed only N4,251,100,820:00 was found in the various government accounts his administration had operated.
Another claim by Shema that he left Katsina State debt free is also false. To be sure, in addition to the over N11billion debt in unpaid pension and gratuity to retirees, the Shema administration bequeathed a debt portfolio, both local and foreign, amounting to N67.9 billion. The external component of the debt, which stood at $78,925,362.43 or N15,469,371,034.00 (@ N196/$) as at 29th May, 2015), include four different loans acquired by the administration of the former governor. These are (1) $1,500,000.00 (US Dollars) loan taken on 1st January, 2009 for the construction and rehabilitation of small earth dam, (2) SDR 3,250,000.00 loan taken on 15th April, 2009 for community and social development projects, (3) SDR 2,585,563.00 loan taken on 17th September, 2009 for the Katsina State Third National Fadama Development Project and, (4) $4,000,000.00 loan taken on 25th February, 2015 as additional facility for Katsina State community and social development project. This last loan was taken after the 2015 gubernatorial election, and only three months before Shema exited from office as governor on 29th May, 2015.

There are documents from the Debt Management Office (DMO) Abuja in support of this claim.
Again, Shema’s supposed prudence is as questionable as his touted accountability is debatable, given his plundering of the treasury to the tune of over Fifty Eight Billion Naira between 2011 to 2015, as established by the Katsina State Judicial Commission of inquiry into the Loss of Funds and Properties. These was money simply carted out of the treasury without trace or evidence of what it was used for. No contract of whatever kind executed by Shema is under investigation.

Recall that in late September 2016, no less than 15 choice properties located in posh addresses in Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Lagos, including the iconoclastic Abuja AP Plaza, allegedly belonging to the immediate past governor of Katsina State, were sealed by the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. This came in the wake of the public declaration of Shema as a wanted person by the anti-graft agency two weeks earlier. EFCC’s wanted notice on the former Katsina State strongman followed a long drawn hide and seek game which started in mid December 2015.

As for the impropriety or otherwise of the Judicial Commission of inquiry, which is the Shema camp’s main grouse, the courts have put the case to rest, as both the Katsina High Court and the Court of Appeal have ruled on the matter.

The former governor had filed a case at the Katsina High Court challenging the legality of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, Governor Masari’s power to set up the Commission, the ability of the Chairman of the Commission, Justice Mohammed Ibrahim Sirajo, to give him a fair hearing, and the competence of the Commission to protect his fundamental human rights. But in its ruling, the Katsina State High Court had refused to grant any of the reliefs sought, declaring that the Judicial Commission was legally constituted, that Governor Masari had the Constitutional power to set up the Commission, that contrary to his assertion, the Commission was set up to give him and any other accused a fair hearing to prove their innocence, and that the former governor did not provide sufficient evidence to prove that he would not get fair hearing from the chairman of the Commission.

However, not satisfied with the lower court’s decision, the former governor had rushed to the Court of Appeal, only for it to uphold all but one of the decisions of the lower court. The Appellate Court ordered for the removal of Justice Sirajo as the Chairman of the Commission, but concurred with the lower court on the other decisions.
For someone who claims to be innocent of the accusation of graft against him, it beats the imagination why the former governor prefers to defend his professed innocence through sponsored propaganda in the media and the court of public opinion, instead of in the nation’s courts of law. Of course, as someone noted, “The innocent fear nothing, only the guilty are afraid”.
––Malumfashi wrote from Katsina