How Zamfara Deputy Governor Played the Game of Thrones and Lost

March 1, 2022

Zamfara state deputy governor, Mahdi Aliyu, secured a court order on July 19, 2021 that protected him from removal from office. But he was removed on February 23, 2022.

Mahdi Aliyu couldn't be saved by the court

Officially, the reasons for Aliyu’s impeachement are abuse of office, criminal self-enrichment and failure to discharge official duties. But the real reason for why he got booted out is a simple tale of power struggle.

This is the story of how he ended up here.

Genesis

Aliyu and Governor Bello Matawalle were candidates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2019 Zamfara governorship election.

It wasn’t much of a secret that Matawalle chose Aliyu as his running mate because of the political influence of Aliyu’s father, the retired General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau.

The two lost the governorship election to the All Progressives Congress (APC). But it turned out the winners didn’t conduct valid primary elections, so the Supreme Court handed Matawalle and Aliyu the keys to the kingdom.

Mahdi Aliyu was Nigeria's youngest serving deputy governor

And they lived happily ever after. Until they didn’t.

Trouble in paradise

As many Nigerian politicians tend to do at some point, Matawalle decided in June 2021 to jump from PDP to APC. The governor dragged many federal and state legislators with him to hand back to the APC all the seats they lost in the Supreme Court.

Sidebar: Can he even do that?

Because candidates can only be sponsored by political parties for elections in Nigeria, votes actually go to parties, not the candidates. This means that if an elected candidate is holding an office but leaves their party before their tenure is over, they should not retain that office. 

The constitution states clearly that lawmakers that change parties must lose their seats, except for specific circumstances. However, this is hardly ever enforced. And the recommendation of such punishment doesn’t exist for other public office holders like governors who do the same.

So the answer to “Can he even do that?” is Yes. I guess?

Back to the troubled paradise

As the son of an influential PDP member, Aliyu refused to defect to the APC with Matawalle. State lawmakers who dumped the PDP suddenly found him in violation of a bunch of things to get him removed from office.

One of the first things Aliyu did was to request and get that July 2021 restraining order by the court to block the attempt. And then like any self-respecting politician, he went on the offensive.

Despite the law not being clear on removing a defecting governor, Aliyu and the PDP wanted the courts to step in once again and remove the traitors that joined the APC. They asked the court to order Matawalle’s resignation, and give free rein for PDP to conduct a fresh election within three months to replace him.

Aliyu was well placed, no doubt, to become the beneficiary of that election since he took over the party’s structure following Matawalle’s exit. It was the perfect play, but only if everyone agreed to play by the rules.

Zamfara lawmakers said:

Mahdi Aliyu played against people who played around the rules

Breakfast is served

The Zamfara House of Assembly announced on February 7, 2022 that it had served Aliyu an impeachment notice for abuse of office, among other things. The lawmakers claimed that they didn’t really intend to impeach him when he got his court order in July 2021. They explained that they actually invited him for a separate issue at the time, and that the court order only allowed him to escape that invitation.

Aliyu ran back to the Federal High Court in Abuja on February 14, 2022 to ask that the restraining order be reactivated. The court said:

The court did not grant the requested restraining order, but promised to hear the case on March 10, 2022 instead.

Around the same time, the Zamfara state Chief Judge, Kulu Aliyu, moved at the speed of light to set up a panel to determine the merit of the allegations against Aliyu. The deputy governor went on to call the Chief Judge an idiot. Not directly, but he did say that she was allowing herself to be used by illiterates in the House of Assembly, which is basically the same thing.

On February 23, 2022, a majority of the House voted to impeach Aliyu, and his fate was sealed. A serving senator, Hassan Nasiha, was nominated to replace him, and he was screened and confirmed by lawmakers on the same day. The impeachment of the old and confirmation of the new took the same amount of time you’d need to cook noodles.

The PDP is still talking tough about violation of court processes something something, but it appears to be the end of Aliyu’s time as deputy governor.

That does not mean that this is the end of his story. He’s already committed to shooting for the throne in the 2023 Zamfara governorship election.

His watch is not over by any stretch of the imagination.

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