Ahmed Sani Yerima who before joining politics in 1988, had a successful career in both Sokoto and Zanfara states civil service where he rose to become the Director of Budget in the Ministry of Finance, and Director-General of Lands and Housing and later Permanent Secretary at different times has been at the receiving end of all types of diatribes especially in the social media since he successfully launched Sharia courts as a governor in 2002. He is derisively referred to by his political detractors as ‘Sharia advocate’, ‘child abuser’ and an ‘extremist who uses religion to serve his own purpose”. He has denied all the charges insisting he is a moderate.
There can be no greater evidence that his people have no problem with him and his ‘sharia’ than the fact that they did not only reelect him governor in 2003, but went on to elect him senator representing the Zamfara West Senatorial seat in 2007 and 2011 on the platform of ANPP and in 2015 on the platform of APC.
But critics who weep louder than the bereaved hardly see anything good in Senator Yerima. When his son got married few months back, the focus of the media was on the shoe worn by the bride which they claimed was sourced from ‘Ralph Russo’ at a cost of $2,150 (N784, 750). Yet leading members of ruling APC have been arranging intra-cultural and cross-cultural marriages for their siblings within and outside the country without any one telling us the cost of the shoe worn by their brides.
Yerima’s recent declaration of his readiness to fly the APC presidential flag in 2019 is going to be another source of nightmare for his political detractors. After seconding the failed motion by the National Executive Committee (NEC) of APC for the president to run for the 2019 election, he has declared that while he “will support the President if he decides to run in 2019, nobody will blame him if he decides to come out if the president does not contest”. His decision not to contest against the president however cannot be a sign of weakness as Yerima trounced President Buhari when they both contested in the ANPP presidential primaries in 2007 before deciding to step down.
Yerima however has no regret for his sharia advocacy. In an interview with the BBC at the height of the sharia controversy, he had insisted that because “Islam is a faith, no non-Muslim had the right to determine sharia’s legitimacy and punishments which included stoning, amputation and flogging which were legal under the constitution”. Since Zamfara people have no problem with sharia as indicated above, if there were social dislocation elsewhere among the 12 other Sunni-dominant Islam northern states including Kano where over a hundred people lost their lives to anti-sharia protests and Kaduna where scores also died, Yerima cannot be sanctioned for the inadequacies of governors who jumped into the ‘Sharia band-wagon’ when it was obvious they were not in total control of their states.
Besides the support of his own people, an important variable in participatory democracy, Yerima also had the constitutional backing. His critics who challenged him in court, all lost. All that the Justice Minister, Kanu Agabi could do was to send an appeal letter to northern states pleading that Muslims should not be subjected to more severe punishments than other Nigerians. As for President Obasanjo, his hands were tied not just by Yerima’s judicial victory but by his lack of political base having been rejected by his Yoruba people where he lost even in his ward’s election but overwhelmingly voted into power by the 12 northern states. His tame response even as Nigeria became a centre of world attention following Safiya Husseini’s conviction for adultery and sentenced to death by stoning by an Islamic court for being impregnated by a man who she said promised to marry her but later changed his mind was ‘Yerima’s political sharia will soon fizzle away’.
Unfortunately, Ahmed Sani Yerima is currently standing trial for allegedly mismanaging N464, 820,189.24 out of N1billion loan meant for the repair of Gusau Dam in 2006. The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has already tendered 25 exhibits and called six witnesses against him for charges which among others, include giving N20m to INEC; sponsorship of government officials to Hajj; donations on behalf of his state; Ramadan feeding; school feeding; purchase of 200 motorcycles; purchase of four Peugeot vehicles and settlement of leave grants to teachers.
But Yerima’s supporters who are ready to openly identify with his advocacy of a gender discriminatory judicial system that punishes women victims of predatory males are nonetheless asking to be shown one ex-governor who has not at one time or the other tried to influence INEC officials through what ex-governor Donald Duke of Cross Rivers described as logistics to help INEC officials who often had their allocation slashed or confiscated by government officials and party stalwarts. They also want to know if there is anyone in Nigeria who does not know that state pilgrim boards did not survive Awo, its initiator. Governors, both military and civilians have come to regard them as source of patronage to party officials, relatives and girlfriends. It is on record that Saudi Arabia not too long ago came up with a policy that forecloses entry of unaccompanied underage Nigerian girls into Saudi Arabia.
They also want to know when donations to all sorts of causes ranging from marriage of celebrities, setting up of newspapers and television stations by buddies which became a fad widely criticized by the London Economist magazine during Babangida era have become a crime. Yerima is by no means the most generous giver among his fellow former governors-turned senators.
They are also wondering why anyone would expect Yerima to dig his political grave by deviating from a long entrenched practice of feeding government children during Ramadan with government funds. They have also reminded those who pretend not to remember that it was not too long ago that procuring second-hand motorcycles in their hundreds and ferrying same along with jobless northern youths to Lagos became northern governors’ answer to PDP mass unemployment policy.
And how can diversion of money by governor to pay civil servants and teachers’ allowances become a crime? Could they have suddenly forgotten that the late Admiral Augustus Aikhomu as Babangida’s deputy settled that issue a long time ago when he chastised journalists for misleading the public by referring to what their government regarded as misapplication of government funds as misappropriation of government funds?
Finally let me reassure Senator Yerima that not all of us suffer from collective amnesia. If he by chance emerges as his party’s presidential flag bearer in 2019, we will, God willing, call attention of voters to some of his northern ex-governors who sponsored some of their youths to acquire training and receive indoctrination under Bin Laden while taking political refuge in Sudan.