How I was Persecuted Over Creation Of Nasarawa State- Ambassador Azores

An elder statesman, former Secretary to the Government of Nasarawa State, Ambassador Umaru Azores Suleiman goes into memory lane in an exclusive interview with Nasarawa Eye at his residence in Lafia the Nasarawa State capital on his contribution to the creation of Nasarawa State twenty-three years ago. The interviewer was our Managing Editor, Ibrahim Habu Suleiman. Below is the full text of the interview.
Question: Sir, You were a member of the Presidential Committee for the Creation of States, Local Government Councils and Boundary Adjustments set up by late General Sani Abacha. How did you come to be in the committee?
Answer: It was actually in 1980 that we started the move for the Creation of another state out of former Plateau State. Chief Solomon Lar was the Governor at that time. Now, the former Lafia Division, Akwanga and Nasarawa Divisions were termed Lower Plateau at that time. And everybody felt it was just clear the government of Solomon Lar was unfair to us. So really, we felt we should have our state, because there was serious discrimination against us – whether it is appointment, other opportunities and so on. Now a committee was set up for the creation of Middle Belt State under the chairmanship of the late Alhaji Adamu Musa from Nasarawa Eggon. At that time the moving force behind that committee was just the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Chief Solomon Lar, the Governor of Plateau State at the time did not want a state to be created out of Plateau. Secondly, most of the leading persons in the committee were committed to the NPN. So Governor Lar and the ruling NPP didn’t like it. But then the state was popular with the people in this area. And even those who were in NPP were telling the Governor they were also interested in the creation of the new state.
So the ruling NPP was loosing sympathy in this area. You know l had to leave the civil service earlier in 1980 when I secured appointment in Kaduna because of my involvement in politics and also because I was targeted for being vocal about the creation of the state. And in 1982 Chief Solomon Lar and the NPP also agreed for the creation of another state out of Plateau and they named the state Nasarawa State with headquarters in Lafia. Our movement was for Middle Belt State with headquarters in Akwanga. Both sides sent their memos to Lagos, the federal capital. The National Assembly in Lagos set up a committee of its own for the Creation of States and it embarked on nationwide tour. Our own movement met them in Jos. At about that time I became the running mate of the NPN gubernatorial candidate, Mr John Kadia. Afte the election of 1983 we went to Court to challenge the result. But with the military coup of 1983 we all left.
Question: What happened afterwards to your movement for state creation?
Answer: During the military all our movements for state creation were also temporarily abandoned. I told you everybody left. It was later in 1994 when late General Sani Abacha wanted to establish a Constitutional Conference that I used the need for the creation of Nasarawa State in my campaign. By then the two groups had settled on the name Nasarawa State and no more Middle Belt. The reason was, during the colonial era there was Nasarawa Province and that province encompassed Nasarawa Division, Lafia Division (with headquarters in Keffi) and Akwanga Division as well as Jema’a Federation – they were all part of Nasarawa Province. Around 1932 Benue Province was formed along with Plateau Province. Since then Akwanga Division became part of Plateau while Nasarawa Division and Lafia Division stayed with Benue Province. So the main force behind the movement was Nasarawa Division and Lafia Division. So we argued that we have not been part of Plateau Province and it was when Plateau State was to be created that we were merged with Plateau instead of going to Benue State. And nobody consulted us for the merger. Then we brought in Akwanga Division because of the proximity.
So my ambition was to go to the Constitutional Conference to campaign for the creation of Nasarawa State.
Question: What would you say has been your own motivation for going all the way from the very beginning?
Answer: You know I said I started the movement when I was still in the civil service. Although civil servants are not politicians, but politics actually starts from there. So really we could see the discrimination against the people of Lower Plateau and we felt there was the need to try and have a system whereby we can have either liberation or fulfilment of the aspirations of our people and to also have some development of our area. This is because even in terms of development, they were not taking good care of us, even in terms of capacity building, appointment and so and so forth there was always discrimination. So it was because of discrimination and the need to have a sense of fulfilment that we felt there is need for us to have our own state.
Question: Sir, now 23 years afterwards have your efforts paid off..?
Answer: Let me conclude. You know in 1994 when Abacha constituted the Constitutional Conference, the main job was to draft the Constitution. So we drafted a new Constitution for Nigeria. But then we met with other interested groups from other parts of Nigeria who also wanted States and LGAs to be created. So, at the Constitutional Conference we recommended that there should be more states and LGAs in Nigeria and we submitted our report in 1995. Then towards the end of the year Abacha set up the committee to be known as Committee for the Creation of States, LGAs and Boundary Adjustments consisting 13 people across the country, with two persons from each of the six geopolitical zones and one chairman. So I was lucky to be nominated into that 13-member committee under the chairmanship of Chief Arthur Mbanefo.
The Mbanefo committee toured the whole country and we decided that we would create six states ie. one from each geopolitical zone. And as God would have it Nasarawa State was among the six states created. And on October, 1st 1996 the late General Abacha announced the creation of the six states in a nationwide broadcast, including Nasarawa State with headquarters in Lafia.
Question: Do you think that the creation of Nasarawa State is worth celebrating?
Answer: Definitely, it is worth celebrating, because in terms of capacity building, in terms of political aspirations and in terms of ambition, you would know that we have moved forward. We have governors, deputy governors, so many commissioners, permanent secretaries and so on. And we have also produced several traditional rulers, although personally I am not supporting the ongoing proliferation of traditional rulers. I believe the institution has been bastardised. Even though I feel it is necessary to create some key chiefdoms but the politicians have their ulterior motives.
And in terms of physical development, before the creation of the state in 1996, Lafia, for example was a local government headquarters. Now, you can see the development that has taken place in Lafia. And if you go to all the other local government council headquarters definitely there have been development in terms of physical infrastructure.
I also want to emphasize that, whether we like it or not, the eight years of former Governor Almakura really portrayed Nasarawa State in greater light in terms of physical infrastructure. The former governor has really done a lot especially in the state capital and other urban centres. The previous two civilian governors have also done their best, but the eight years of Almakura were really superb.
Question: Do you have any regrets looking back at all your efforts towards the creation of the state?
Answer: No. You see, at that time we wanted for our people a sense of fulfilment and liberation because we were considered as second class citizens when we were under Plateau. So there is that fulfilment. Now, you cannot say that everything has to go the way you like it. If you look at the 20-year period since the coming of democratic rule in the state from 1999 to date, you can find the eight years of Almakura administration have overweighed the twelve years of the past two governors in terms of physical infrastructure. So that’s the way life is. Really there is no regret.
Question: Would you say today the state is in the right track based on your dreams for the creation of the state?
Answer: Yes. So far, because with the coming of Engr Abdullahi A. Sule after former Governor Almakura, attention is now focused on infrastructural and industrial development. We have had our challenges during Almakura and the others generally, in particular the unfortunate incidences of communal clashes. And I believe, God willing all those would be a thing of the past. Hopefully, the state can now concentrate on real development. Again, the philosophy of Engr Abdullahi Sule in terms of trying to industrialise the state and also continue with the infrastructural development started by his predecessor I think we are on the right track. One good thing Governor A. A. Sule has introduced so far is the Stakeholders Meetings used to interact so as to come up with meaningful ideas to move the state forward.
Question: Sir, there were people from the former lower Plateau that did not want the idea of state creation. How was your experience like with such people?
Answer: Those people were in the minority. But certainly we came across some resistance particularly at the beginning of our movement. I can remember some occasion when we were on a tour particularly in Doma we were stoned and had to run. (Laughter)
Question: So finally sir, can you expatiate further on how the 13-member presidential committee set up by Abacha rounded up its activities?
Answer: The committee was set up as I said after the Constitutional Conference in early 1995. And we submitted our report in May, 1996. Then Abacha announced the creation of states on October 1, 1996. You see, in the whole of North Central there were many agitations for the creation of states. There was Kwararafa State, the Idoma people also wanted there own state, Niger State, they also wanted another state, but as God would have it, with my experience in the movement since 1980 coupled with the fact that I was also a member of that presidential.committee, it was easier to push for Nasarawa State as the only state chosen from the whole of North Central zone.
Thank you sir. That’s about all for now.
Thank you.n elder statesman, former Secretary to the Government of Nasarawa State, Ambassador Umaru Azores Suleiman goes into memory lane in an exclusive interview with Nasarawa Eye at his residence in Lafia the Nasarawa State capital on his contribution to the creation of Nasarawa State twenty-three years ago. The interviewer was our Managing Editor, Ibrahim Habu Suleiman. Below is the full text of the interview.
Question: Sir, You were a member of the Presidential Committee for the Creation of States, Local Government Councils and Boundary Adjustments set up by late General Sani Abacha. How did you come to be in the committee?
Answer: It was actually in 1980 that we started the move for the Creation of another state out of former Plateau State. Chief Solomon Lar was the Governor at that time. Now, the former Lafia Division, Akwanga and Nasarawa Divisions were termed Lower Plateau at that time. And everybody felt it was just clear the government of Solomon Lar was unfair to us. So really, we felt we should have our state, because there was serious discrimination against us – whether it is appointment, other opportunities and so on. Now a committee was set up for the creation of Middle Belt State under the chairmanship of the late Alhaji Adamu Musa from Nasarawa Eggon. At that time the moving force behind that committee was just the National Party of Nigeria, NPN. Chief Solomon Lar, the Governor of Plateau State at the time did not want a state to be created out of Plateau. Secondly, most of the leading persons in the committee were committed to the NPN. So Governor Lar and the ruling NPP didn’t like it. But then the state was popular with the people in this area. And even those who were in NPP were telling the Governor they were also interested in the creation of the new state.
So the ruling NPP was loosing sympathy in this area. You know l had to leave the civil service earlier in 1980 when I secured appointment in Kaduna because of my involvement in politics and also because I was targeted for being vocal about the creation of the state. And in 1982 Chief Solomon Lar and the NPP also agreed for the creation of another state out of Plateau and they named the state Nasarawa State with headquarters in Lafia. Our movement was for Middle Belt State with headquarters in Akwanga. Both sides sent their memos to Lagos, the federal capital. The National Assembly in Lagos set up a committee of its own for the Creation of States and it embarked on nationwide tour. Our own movement met them in Jos. At about that time I became the running mate of the NPN gubernatorial candidate, Mr John Kadia. Afte the election of 1983 we went to Court to challenge the result. But with the military coup of 1983 we all left.
Question: What happened afterwards to your movement for state creation?
Answer: During the military all our movements for state creation were also temporarily abandoned. I told you everybody left. It was later in 1994 when late General Sani Abacha wanted to establish a Constitutional Conference that I used the need for the creation of Nasarawa State in my campaign. By then the two groups had settled on the name Nasarawa State and no more Middle Belt. The reason was, during the colonial era there was Nasarawa Province and that province encompassed Nasarawa Division, Lafia Division (with headquarters in Keffi) and Akwanga Division as well as Jema’a Federation – they were all part of Nasarawa Province. Around 1932 Benue Province was formed along with Plateau Province. Since then Akwanga Division became part of Plateau while Nasarawa Division and Lafia Division stayed with Benue Province. So the main force behind the movement was Nasarawa Division and Lafia Division. So we argued that we have not been part of Plateau Province and it was when Plateau State was to be created that we were merged with Plateau instead of going to Benue State. And nobody consulted us for the merger. Then we brought in Akwanga Division because of the proximity.
So my ambition was to go to the Constitutional Conference to campaign for the creation of Nasarawa State.
Question: What would you say has been your own motivation for going all the way from the very beginning?
Answer: You know I said I started the movement when I was still in the civil service. Although civil servants are not politicians, but politics actually starts from there. So really we could see the discrimination against the people of Lower Plateau and we felt there was the need to try and have a system whereby we can have either liberation or fulfilment of the aspirations of our people and to also have some development of our area. This is because even in terms of development, they were not taking good care of us, even in terms of capacity building, appointment and so and so forth there was always discrimination. So it was because of discrimination and the need to have a sense of fulfilment that we felt there is need for us to have our own state.
Question: Sir, now 23 years afterwards have your efforts paid off..?
Answer: Let me conclude. You know in 1994 when Abacha constituted the Constitutional Conference, the main job was to draft the Constitution. So we drafted a new Constitution for Nigeria. But then we met with other interested groups from other parts of Nigeria who also wanted States and LGAs to be created. So, at the Constitutional Conference we recommended that there should be more states and LGAs in Nigeria and we submitted our report in 1995. Then towards the end of the year Abacha set up the committee to be known as Committee for the Creation of States, LGAs and Boundary Adjustments consisting 13 people across the country, with two persons from each of the six geopolitical zones and one chairman. So I was lucky to be nominated into that 13-member committee under the chairmanship of Chief Arthur Mbanefo.
The Mbanefo committee toured the whole country and we decided that we would create six states ie. one from each geopolitical zone. And as God would have it Nasarawa State was among the six states created. And on October, 1st 1996 the late General Abacha announced the creation of the six states in a nationwide broadcast, including Nasarawa State with headquarters in Lafia.
Question: Do you think that the creation of Nasarawa State is worth celebrating?
Answer: Definitely, it is worth celebrating, because in terms of capacity building, in terms of political aspirations and in terms of ambition, you would know that we have moved forward. We have governors, deputy governors, so many commissioners, permanent secretaries and so on. And we have also produced several traditional rulers, although personally I am not supporting the ongoing proliferation of traditional rulers. I believe the institution has been bastardised. Even though I feel it is necessary to create some key chiefdoms but the politicians have their ulterior motives.
And in terms of physical development, before the creation of the state in 1996, Lafia, for example was a local government headquarters. Now, you can see the development that has taken place in Lafia. And if you go to all the other local government council headquarters definitely there have been development in terms of physical infrastructure.
I also want to emphasize that, whether we like it or not, the eight years of former Governor Almakura really portrayed Nasarawa State in greater light in terms of physical infrastructure. The former governor has really done a lot especially in the state capital and other urban centres. The previous two civilian governors have also done their best, but the eight years of Almakura were really superb.
Question: Do you have any regrets looking back at all your efforts towards the creation of the state?
Answer: No. You see, at that time we wanted for our people a sense of fulfilment and liberation because we were considered as second class citizens when we were under Plateau. So there is that fulfilment. Now, you cannot say that everything has to go the way you like it. If you look at the 20-year period since the coming of democratic rule in the state from 1999 to date, you can find the eight years of Almakura administration have overweighed the twelve years of the past two governors in terms of physical infrastructure. So that’s the way life is. Really there is no regret.
Question: Would you say today the state is in the right track based on your dreams for the creation of the state?
Answer: Yes. So far, because with the coming of Engr Abdullahi A. Sule after former Governor Almakura, attention is now focused on infrastructural and industrial development. We have had our challenges during Almakura and the others generally, in particular the unfortunate incidences of communal clashes. And I believe, God willing all those would be a thing of the past. Hopefully, the state can now concentrate on real development. Again, the philosophy of Engr Abdullahi Sule in terms of trying to industrialise the state and also continue with the infrastructural development started by his predecessor I think we are on the right track. One good thing Governor A. A. Sule has introduced so far is the Stakeholders Meetings used to interact so as to come up with meaningful ideas to move the state forward.
Question: Sir, there were people from the former lower Plateau that did not want the idea of state creation. How was your experience like with such people?
Answer: Those people were in the minority. But certainly we came across some resistance particularly at the beginning of our movement. I can remember some occasion when we were on a tour particularly in Doma we were stoned and had to run. (Laughter)
Question: So finally sir, can you expatiate further on how the 13-member presidential committee set up by Abacha rounded up its activities?
Answer: The committee was set up as I said after the Constitutional Conference in early 1995. And we submitted our report in May, 1996. Then Abacha announced the creation of states on October 1, 1996. You see, in the whole of North Central there were many agitations for the creation of states. There was Kwararafa State, the Idoma people also wanted there own state, Niger State, they also wanted another state, but as God would have it, with my experience in the movement since 1980 coupled with the fact that I was also a member of that presidential.committee, it was easier to push for Nasarawa State as the only state chosen from the whole of North Central zone.
Thank you sir. That’s about all for now.
Thank you.

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