- As embattled deputy threatens legal action against Gov Bello
The feud between Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and his Deputy, Elder Simon Achuba, took a new dimension recently with a seven-day ultimatum issued by the deputy governor to Bello to settle his unpaid entitlements or face legal action.
Besides, the deputy governor has also alleged that governor Yahaya Bello plans to attack him, an allegation the governor has denied.
Achuba had particularly threatened to seek a legal redress at the National Industrial Court if Governor Bello fails to release the statutory allocations allegedly due to his office after the expiration of the ultimatum.
A demand notice to the governor, signed by Femi Falana (SAN) on the instructions of the deputy governor, called for the release of all statutory allocations due to the office of the deputy governor for 2017, 2018 and 2019 amounting to over N819million.
The letter addressed to Governor Yahaya Bello and dated July 17, read: “As you are no doubt aware, our client’s office is a creation of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended). Accordingly, the office is statutorily entitled to the prompt release of all allocations due to it as appropriated by the Kogi State House of Assembly and signed into law as the budget by your Excellency.
“Our client has informed us that your Excellency’s administration has consistently refused to give approval for the release of funds for the smooth running of the office of the Deputy Governor even after memos to that effect have been approved for the office. In particular, the statutory allocations approved for the office of the Deputy Governor have been withheld by the state government since 2017.
“The accumulated statutory allocations as withheld is N819, 709,980.00 which includes travel allowances, hotel bills, pledges and outstanding monthly impress and salaries due to our client as the Deputy Governor of Kogi State.
“This said statutory allocations are duly captured in the Kogi State appropriation laws of 2017, 2018, and 2019 supported by various memos sent to your office since 2017 which were duly approved without cash backing till date.
“Notwithstanding the fact that the statutory allocations have been illegally withheld, our client has continued to carry out his functions as the Deputy Governor of Kogi State.
“In as much as our client is prepared to continue to discharge the enormous responsibilities of his office, he is currently hampered by lack of funds which has wide ranging implications for the state even as it prepares for the forthcoming gubernatorial election.
“In view of the foregoing, we have our client’s instructions to request your Excellency to use your good offices to ensure the immediate payment of the withheld statutory allocations legitimately appropriated for the office of the Deputy Governor of Kogi state since 2017.
“Take notice that if our client’s request is not granted within seven days of the receipt of this letter, we have our client’s instructions to seek redress in the National Industrial Court.”
Few days after Achuba issued an ultimatum to the governor over his unpaid entitlements, he (Achuba) was sighted at the Presidential Villa where he was said to have met with Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
The deputy governor, did not reveal details of the deliberation when asked by State House correspondents.
He, however, revealed that discussions were ongoing to resolve the “problems” between him and the state governor who, he said, was responsible for the stoppage of his allowances for the past two years.
“Well, it is a private discussion in relation to my office. From my discussions with him, there is hope that all the issues will be resolved. With God, all things are possible,’’ he said.
On how he has been “coping” as deputy governor without allowances and impress in the past two years, Mr Achuba said: “Well, you know in life, what sustains a man is God. So if your hope is in God, you will be very much alive.
“If you have money and don’t have God, you will be living like a dead person. But if you have God you can live; He is the one who provides to man. So, if one source closes, God opens another source for you to live. Supposing I was not a Deputy Governor, won’t I be alive?”
On whether he will support or contest against Governor Bello, who has since indicated interest in the governorship election slated for November 16, the deputy governor ruled out the possibility of doing that because of what he described as “unfair treatment” being meted against him by his boss.
Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello in his reaction said the salaries of his deputy, Simon Achuba, were not stopped at any point since he became deputy governor.
Bello, in a statement by his spokesman, Kingsley Fanwo, was responding to a demand notice and ultimatum by Achuba over alleged non-payment of his entitlements of over N800 million.
He said Achuba’s salaries had been paid up to the same date as that of Bello and other political office holders in the state.
Fanwo, while describing the claims contained in the deputy governor’s demand notice as “bogus”, expressed the readiness of the state government to meet him in court should he proceed there to ventilate his alleged grievances.
“It is our belief that the claim for salaries at paragraph 4 of the letter of demand was done to generate sensational headlines in the news as there is no stated salary arrears in the prepared breakdown of claimed entitlements attached to the letter of demand.
“The sum of N786, 427,480 of the outrageous N819, 709,980 claimed by the Deputy Governor have not been approved let alone processed for payment by the government.
“The deputy governor is aware that by virtue of extant financial regulations, even where expenditures are provided for in the budget, they are still subject to approvals based on an estimation that funds to defray will be available; and where they are approved, the release of such funds still depends on the availability of funds.
“While we are certain that the Deputy Governor’s claims are frivolous, bogus and borne out of mischief and an attempt to embarrass the Kogi State Government where he currently serves and draws immense benefits; we reiterate our readiness should he be ready to proceed to court to meet him in court for the ventilation of his alleged grievances”, Fanwo said.
There has been a strained relationship between the governor and his deputy for quite some time, and perhaps, the latest development might be the climax in the lingering feud.
Achuba was sworn in as deputy governor on February 10, 2016, following the refusal of James Faleke, the then running mate to the late Prince Abubakar Audu to deputize for Bello.
However, not too long into the “political honeymoon”, some cracks and cold war began to manifest between the governor and his deputy. It all started with reports of alleged sidelining of Achuba in the running of affairs of the state.
Political watchers are of the view that the deputy governor’s office has been less active or largely “redundant” for a greater part of the administration.
Perhaps, one of the earliest signs of the existence of a crack between the governor and his deputy was when the former travelled out of the country for about two weeks to seek medical attention sometime in November, 2016.
There were indications that the governor did not hand over power to his deputy before travelling out, thus sparking concerns of existence of a crack in their relationship.
Another scenario was when the governor went on a trip to Poland in December, 2018, alongside President Muhammadu Buhari, for the United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change.
The governor handed over power to the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Matthew Kolawole, to hold forte as acting governor.
The development created an uproar from some stakeholders, but within 24 hours, a circular granting the deputy governor a two-month leave was released.
Dramatic enough, the deputy governor was said to have applied for and was granted a two-month annual leave almost the same period the governor was away from the country.
Analysts, however, observed that the development was an indication that all might not be well between the governor and his deputy. They said it was unusual for a deputy governor to have proceeded on leave at the same time as the governor.
Achuba’s ordeal, it was learnt, must have heightened following his alleged secret hobnobbing with the opposition PDP. The face-off became public after Achuba addressed a press conference sometimes in February this year, where he opened up on some of the predicaments he was battling.
Achuba, at the press conference, raised alarm that his life and those of his family members were in danger following the withdrawal of his security details allegedly on the orders of the ADC to the governor.
According to him, he was set to go to his village at Iyano in Ibaji for the “postponed” elections when all his security aides were withdrawn.
He alleged that the ADC to the governor had summoned all his security details to the Government House on February 15, 2019, for a briefing and kept them in detention without any explanation.
Although the security details of the deputy governor were eventually restored, there are still indications that the feud is far from being over.
One of the implications of the feud between the governor and his deputy is that the likelihood of Achuba being fielded as running mate to governor Bello in an event he picks the party’s ticket is very doubtful.
There are indications that the governor would most likely pick his Chief of Staff, Edward Onoja, as his running mate in the forthcoming election.