Billiri the second largest town in Gombe State is a quiet, peaceful and unarguably a civilised town, going by the number of its educated sons and daughters scattered within and outside the country. On Friday, February 19, however, the peaceful agrarian community erupted in a violence that claimed four lives and led to loss of properties worth hundreds of millions of naira over the appointment of a new Mai Tangale.
The process for the selection of a new Mai Tangale, the traditional ruler of Billiri, the heart of Tangale/Waja Kingdom, a predominantly Christan community in Gombe State, reached the final stage on Monday, February 15 with the selection of three names by the kingmakers, which were forwarded to Governor Inuwa Yahaya for appointment of one of them as the successor of the late 16th Mai Tangale, Dr. Abdu Buba Maisheru, who was also the Chairman of the Association of Christian Traditional Rulers in the North East.
The Tangales are notably great warriors, fighters and hunters in Gombe South. From 23 candidates, the number was reduced to three by the nine Tangale kingmakers, five of which voted for Dr. Musa Maiyamba while the remaining four shared their votes into two for each of Ahmad Magaji and Danladi Maishanu. The three names were immediately submitted to the Governor on that same Monday night when the voting was concluded.
Prior to that time, however, there had been rumours of government interest in the process, particularly in favour of a candidate with fewer votes from the kingmakers and less popularity. The rumour became stronger on Tuesday, forcing the women in Billiri to block the Yola highway which runs through the town to neighbouring states and outside the country.
It started like a joke, but the women remained on the road for three days, resisting any perceived attempt by the government to foist an unpopular candidate on them. Three government officials, including the Billiri Local Government Chairperson were sent by the state government to pacify the protesters but they were turned back.
By Friday afternoon when we visited the community, the tension had risen to a crescendo. After passing through more than 10 checkpoints mounted by the women, we eventually arrived at the last one with the hope of gaining access to Billiri in order to speak with the kingmakers, but that was how far we could go. The women turned the reporter and others back after granting them interviews. They said that if they allowed us, the truck drivers who had been delayed for more than three days would threaten to run over them.
Mai Tangale crisis
•The carnage after the violence
Our correspondent and others who were with him had barely driven for 500 metres when pickup vans of armed policemen and soldiers deployed in the community arrived. The tension escalated, culminating in the death of four persons, massive destruction and vandalisation of properties with two policemen injured.
Governor Inuwa Yahaya, who was in Abuja, arrived on Saturday and moved straight to Billiri to inspect the extent of the damages. A visibly angry Yahaya described the destruction as an act of uncivilised people. He said there was no reason for the violence because the state government had not made any pronouncement on the matter.
According to him, he had approached the Mai Tangale succession processes with a high sense of responsibility because, as part of Gombe State’s cultural tradition, any decision he takes will have far reaching implications on not only the Tangale chiefdom but the entire Gombe State.
“That is why I undertook widespread consultations, conducted background checks and engaged in personal reflection in order to arrive at a decision that is in the best interest of the people and the state.
“Let it be clear that it is within my powers as governor to appoint any of the three recommended candidates to become the new Mai Tangale. Let it also be clear that no official pronouncement was made about any candidate before, during and after the eruption of violence in Billiri Local Government Area.
“The violence was orchestrated by some unpatriotic individuals who thought they could blackmail the government into announcing their preferred candidate. Let me make it clear that our administration will never fall into any blackmail, threat, intimidation or witch-hunt from any individual or group, no matter how highly placed.”
Governor Yahaya’s power to appoint, depose or remove any traditional ruler is derived from section 8(2) (3) and (4) of Gombe State Chieftaincy Law 2020 which allows the Governor to appoint traditional title holders “taking into account the history, culture and tradition of the people of the Emirate or Chiefdom.
Sub-section (3) says “in making the appointment pursuant to sub-section (2) of this section, the Governor may seek the advice of the relevant Emir or Chief who shall give that advice based on the history, culture and tradition of the people of the Emirate or Chiefdom.
Sub-section (4) further states that “in the interest of the public, the Governor may:
Dissolve any council; or
Suspend any member of the council; or
Remove any member of the council.
The state Commissioner of Police, Maikudi Shehu, who was part of all the processes leading to the final stage of nominating the trio, also corroborated Governor Yahaya’s position, saying he (governor) was not given a chance at all to even make a pronouncement.
“I was part of all the processes which arrived at the three names. We submitted the three names to the governor on that same Monday night and the protest started on Tuesday.
“As at today, the governor has not made any pronouncement on this matter. We are appealing to the people to allow the governor to play his role in this matter. On our part we have chosen to embrace dialogue but we also have the option to use force and we don’t want to do this,” he said.
On Wednesday, February 24, Governor Yahaya visited Billiri again where he held a meeting with high ranking chiefs and community leaders. The governor also relaxed the 24-hour curfew to 6 am to 2 pm.
Efforts made to get the leaders of Tal Community Development Association (TCDA) to comment on the matter yielded no fruit. Although our correspondent was able to get the contact of one of them, he neither picked the calls nor responded to the SMS and WhatsApp messages sent to him.
A source who sought anonymity said most of the TCDA leaders had gone underground because of the manhunt for them.
He said: “All of them are now endangered species. They are hunting for them everywhere. That is why you cannot talk to them. I believe this matter has gone beyond the state. The TCDA leaders are talking to the press in Abuja almost on a daily basis but they cannot come here. That is how bad the situation is.”
But the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) lay the blame for the violence in Billiri on Governor Yahaya who was accused of trying to impose an unpopular candidate as the new Mai Tangale.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the forum described the state government as “driving the town down the valley of worsening insecurity”.
The statement said: “The attention of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum (SMBLF) has been drawn to the violence and destruction of lives and property that have rocked Biliri, one of the chiefdoms in the Tangale Waja nation in Gombe State over attempts by Governor Yahaya to impose an unpopular candidate as the new Mai Tangale.
“The Forum is also aware that the planned imposition of the new Mai Tangale is in line with a deliberately crafted plot by Hausa-Fulani oligarchy to impose a candidate that is unpopular with the people in order to disturb the peaceful co-existence of the people along the religious divide.
“We are shocked that Governor Yahaya who had vowed to stick to the choice of the Tangale kingmakers is now reneging on his promise.
“Going by the level of destruction unleashed on Biliri by thugs and hired arsonists that are opposed to the popular choice for a new paramount ruler for Biliri, it is clear that the Gombe State Government is driving the town down the valley of worsening insecurity.
“Without any form of doubt, the SMBLF has been convinced beyond all reasonable doubts that Governor Yahaya is behind the orgy of violence and deployment of soldiers responsible for the unprovoked murder of no fewer than four peaceful protesters at the weekend.
“The active participation of thugs, popularly called ‘Kalare’, an equivalent of Boko Haram, who were in Governor Yahaya’s convoy, were sighted destroying a church as the convoy departed Biliri town on Saturday.”
The group further alleged that Yahaya who should be the champion of peace has turned out to be the mastermind of the crisis.
It noted that the governor should have announced Musa Idris Maiyamba as the new Mai Tangale, having polled five votes from a total of nine votes, leaving the two candidates for the exalted position with two votes each.
They stated that Yahaya’s insistence on choosing a Muslim as the next Mai Tangale of Biliri is capable of not only worsening the security condition but could also wreak havoc on the peaceful co-existence among the people.
“For the record, Christians constitute 95 per cent in Biliri that is one of the six chiefdoms in Tangale land. There is no doubt that out of the six chiefdoms in Tangale ethnic nationality, three are ruled by Muslims who constitute less than 10 per cent, with Kaltungo having been turned into an emirate in order to bar Christians from aspiring to the Mai stool.
“The other two chiefdoms with Muslim monarchs are Waja and Tula. In total, Muslims constitute less than 15 per cent of the entire six chiefdoms. It is clear from the foregoing that the current attempt at imposing a Muslim on Biliri is aimed at entrenching a plot that is outside the Tangale ethnic nationality.”
The SMBLF also stated that Yahaya has proved to be a hater of Christianity and is deploying religious discrimination for political objectives.
“He is engaged in fanning the embers of religious discord with the sole aim of throwing not only Gombe State into firestorms of religious acrimony but the North and the entire country.
“Just recently, Governor Yahaya refused to appoint the state senior judge, Justice Beatrice Iliya, as the State Chief Judge on account of her faith.
“He refused to appoint a legal luminary, Barr. Mela Nunghe (SAN) as Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General on the simple reason of not sharing the same faith with the governor.
“To suppress the people and bring them under Islamic dominance, he appointed a district head of Muslim faith to rule over Tudu Kwaya, an area comprising 75 per cent Christians.”
They described Yahaya as a present and future danger to the peaceful coexistence of the different religious adherents who is determined to impose Muslims over people of other faiths.
However in a quick reaction, the Director General Press Affairs to the Governor, Malam Ismaila Uba Misilli, described the SMBLF statement as a campaign of calumny against Governor Yahaya.
He said although the Gombe State Government does not wish to join issues with any individual or group of individuals on the matter, it is necessary to set the records straight – without going into frivolous and laughable issues raised by the forum.
Misilli said; “After the death of the late Mai Tangle, Dr Abdu Buba Maisharu II, on Sunday, January 10, 2021, the Gombe State Government allowed the traditional kingmakers to select and forward the names of nominated candidates to replace the late monarch. “That process has been concluded, and the Gombe State Government is in receipt of the list containing the names of three nominated persons for the stool.
“At first, 23 eligible persons from the Tangale land indicated interest, and the number was later pruned to 18. In their wisdom, the kingmakers arrived at the three names required by law, which were forwarded to the state government for necessary action. Suffice it to say that the three names submitted by the kingmakers are all qualified for the stool.
“It is rather unfortunate that what should be an otherwise peaceful and seamless process has generated issues that should not have arisen in the first place as the kingmakers did their work diligently and patriotically,” he said.
Misilli added that it is regrettable that a body such as the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum would resort to blackmailing the Gombe State Governor on a matter that he has no hand in.
He said where the governor comes in, is in the approval and announcement of the next Mai Tangle from the list of the three persons nominated by the Kingmakers according to the law.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Governor of Gombe State has assented to the Gombe State Chieftaincy Law, 2020. The relevant provision of the law as to the appointment of an Emir or chief is that the Council of Traditional Kingmakers of an Emirate or chiefdom shall nominate to the governor three candidates for the vacant stool from among eligible members of the royal family. The governor, after due deliberation, will then choose one of the candidates for appointment as an Emir or Chief. Appointment of an Emir or Chief is therefore the prerogative of the Governor.
“Section 9 sub section (a-b) under their functions, the traditional Kingmakers shall: (a)Upon the death, resignation, removal or deposition of an Emir or Chief, to screen and decide on persons suitably qualified to be appointed Emir or Chief in accordance with custom and tradition of the emirate or chiefdom; (b) to recommend to the Governor the names of THREE suitably qualified persons for appointment as the Emir or the Chief.
“Based on the above law, the Gombe State Government wishes to make it abundantly clear that Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya cannot be blackmailed or arm-twisted into doing what is outside the law. Let it be known that consultations are ongoing among the relevant stakeholders on who becomes the next Mai Tangle from the three nominees. The Governor will NOT go outside the three nominated names submitted to him by the Tangale Kingmakers,” he said.
Misilli said the three names submitted by the kingmakers are the choice of the Tangale people, and any one among them can ascend the throne.
“Thus, against the baseless allegation by the forum, there is no room for imposition of “an unpopular candidate as the new Mai Tangle” as the governor will not go outside the names submitted to him by the Tangale traditional kingmakers.”