Legal Nigeria

2023: Year Of The Protester In Nasarawa

The governorship election dispute and alleged poor service delivery pulled citizens onto the streets in Nasarawa State in 2023


Old barely-clad women clutching leaves in an open space is a rarity in many conservative societies. And when youths donning black clothes and bearing placards are in the mix, that is nearly without precedence in a state which has massaged its faut-lines into a near perfect carapace. This spectacle for a protest, confers a new life to the expression of disagreements where dissent had been more muted than loud. Mass actions, where they have occurred, have been short-lived but the politically-motivated protests have endured for nearly an entire year. And an end to the crisis still far from sight.

A new wave of disagreement stemming from political leadership opened new orifice to heckling in the State, thus making the protester the undisputable man-of-the-year in Nasarawa State. As the year 2023 winds down, the result of the ritual Man of the Year award is evident. Were the prize to go to the unnamed mass of denizens and indeed, netizens, it would certainly go to the protester, the heckler and the rebel and the anti-establishment figure who has chosen to brace the streets in Nasarawa State. It is not difficult to understand why street protests, some of which sometimes disrupted socio-economic activities altered the tranquillity that Nasarawa State has enjoyed for a while.

The protester’s journey to hugging the headlines began spontaneously and just days after the general elections, especially the governorship polls held on 18 March. As soon as the result of the bitterly contested election was announced in favour of the incumbent, Governor Sule Abdullahi of the All Progressives Congress, APC, the streets erupted. While the victorious voices celebrated the governor’s triumph in a subdued manner, supporters of David Ombugadu, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, took to the streets of Lafia the capital, Keffi, Karu and other towns, to demand that the result be upturned in favour of their candidate.

David Ombugadu and Gov. Sule
David Ombugadu and Gov. Sule

Protests in Nasarawa have at least dual faces. While politics has been the chief crowd-puller, residents in the State have also been out to demand better service delivery. For instance, on Friday 12 May 2023, residents of Wazobia Community in Karu Local Government Area, congregated at the premises of the AEDC to register their dissatisfaction with the darkness they had been paying for but endured for five years. “We marched to the AEDC Mararaba area office because we are paying for electricity but we don’t get service. Sometimes we get supply for only ten minutes,’ Ifianyi Amaujo who led the angry customers told the News Agency of Nigeria.

On 30 August, some residents of Lafia took their angst to the offices of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, to register their disgust with the poor service delivery. “We cannot be paying 20000, 19,0000,15,000 naira without light.’ Enough is enough AEDC,’ ‘Boys are not smiling’ ‘Bring back our light’ ‘No to corrupt AEDC’ and we are tired of extortion,’ some of the placards they carried, read. “As you can see, the youths came out enmass to express their dissatisfaction over poor power supply in the area. For the past three weeks now, we have not seen light in our area.” Dahiru Angba Abbas told reporters on behalf of the group.

While the failure of power distribution companies drew the anger of the people and put them on the streets temporarily, it is the political battle between the gladiators in the APC and PDP that continue to keep a section of the population in protest mode.

In Karu which is the gateway to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, protesters on March 24, declared a seven-day protests to press on INEC to ‘review’ the results of the election it announced. Speaking at the commencement of the exercise, the leadership of the Party accused INEC of bias in the conduct of the polls in the State.  Chindo Allahyayi, leader of the protesting group announced that “We are embarking on seven days of protest to let the whole State and nation know that our candidate is the winner. Therefore, we are calling on the attention of INEC to immediately reverse its decision, immediately return the mandate to our candidate.”

While the election litigation subsisted at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, GEPT, supporters of the two Parties kept vigil in hope of a favourable verdict. On days when the GEPT resumed sittings, Shendam Road where the Government House, State House of Assembly, Judiciary Headquarters and other key offices are located, brimmed with protesters. During the sittings, our reporter noticed that the interstate road was cordoned and movement restricted to forestall a breakdown of law and order. This was a regular feature until the tribunal delivered its judgment on October 2.

To curtail the spiralling mass action, the State police command banned all forms of protests. A statement signed by Ranham Nansel, a deputy superintendent of police and the Command’s public Relations Officer said “All forms of protests have been banned throughout the State. Therefore, all proposed protests under any guise are hereby prohibited.”  The justification for this action was to “Prevent a breakdown of law and order and to sustain the peace currently being enjoyed in the State; as the intelligence report on security can no longer sustain any form of protest in the state.

While the governorship imbroglio lingered, another crack on the spine of Nasarawa politics emerged in the Hose of Assembly. On Tuesday June 6, the legislative arm was billed to be convoked, signalling the commencement of the 7th Assembly. But the public was shocked when the clerk of the House issued a statement announcing the prorogation of the event. But it didn’t come without drama as two factional speakers – Daniel Ogazi supported by 12 other members and Balareba with 10 others in his corner claimed the speakership of the Assembly. Instantly, the already-tensed streets responded. A group of youths barricaded the Lafia-Makurdi expressway, holding up traffic for hours. Simultaneously, another set of protesters made up of mostly women barricaded the House of Assembly complex, demanding that the candidate chosen the 13 lawmakers be inaugurated. The youths who blocked the Shabu-end of road made their point clear: “we have 24 members in the Nasarawa State House of Assembly out of which 13 lawmakers voted in favour of Daniel Ogazi, member representing Kokona East and 10 lawmakers voted for the immediate past speaker, Hon. Ibrahim Balarabe Abdullahi. Unfortunately, the governor of the Stated displayed undemocratic attitude by recognising 10 members leaving out the 13 lawmakers,” Malam Shuaib Bala Usman who spoke on behalf od the groups reportedly told newsmen. The Assembly has since returned to normalcy as Ogazi forfeited his leadership contest to allow Abdullahi who has also been sacked from the Assembly by the Court of Appeal, to ascend office


The protests intensified after the Court of Appeal ruling which upturned the verdict of the GEPT. For instance, the indigenous People of Nasarawa State, on 25 November protested in the capital. The protest which began at the city gate terminated at the Stadium Junction, had women, youths dressed in dark clothing. Kefas Tuga who convener of the group believed that the Appeal Cour ruling did not reflect the wishes of the people “The new normal established by the Appeal Court has created a dangerous precedence that undermines the fundamental principle of majority rule. The rights of the indigenous people as expressed through their votes must be protected and upheld without any compromise”

Responding to the protest, the State Chairman of the APC accused the PDP of sowing artificial fault lines and attempting to create discord among the various tribes in the State. “in their desire to gain power through the back door, the PDP in the   State are orchestrating an evil propaganda aimed at bringing  disharmony among the people of Nasarawa State, who have been coexisting as one big family, and citizens of Nigeria, from time immemorial.”  He derided the Party for their inability to obtain justice through the spiritual channels “So far, the gods or the deities and the spirits the PDP has been invoking have failed them, and will further fail the again at the supreme court.”

But what does the State government think about occupation of public spaces? Peter Ahember, Senior Special Assistant to the Governor Sule on Public Affairs thinks the protests are unjustifiable. “As far as we are concerned, that protest is unnecessary because first, the Party and its governorship candidate; the PDP and the governorship candidate had approached the Tribunal alleging that there were irregularities in the conduct of the election, that they were the lawful winners of that election. So, they approached the tribunal. One wonders why after approaching the Tribunal, they were still organising protests in some streets of Lafia, the State capital. So, we think that is very unnecessary because you can’t take your matter to court and then at the same time try to get first through other means which are illegal, as far as we are concerned. So, that protest is uncalled for because this is a legal matter,” he told TheNEWS in the interview below.

As the State awaits the Supreme Court to give the final judicial word on the matter, tension though in a leash now, is likely to swell again. The uncertainty hanging on the governorate of the State has unmasked the State’s social differences. It is unknown if the anticipated legal intervention will take the angry voices off the streets. The year indeed has been a busy one for the protester.


Peter Ahember, the Senior Special Assistant to the governor of Nasarawa State on Public Affairs, tells NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI that the election-related protests that have lingered in the State are needless derailment strategies orchestrated by opposition mischief makers

How has the government handled the protests that have taken place in Nasarawa State since the declaration of result of the governorship election of March 18, 2023 by the Independent national Electoral Commission?

As you mentioned, the election was conducted by the Independent national Electoral Commission, INEC., where His Excellency Engineer Abdullahi Sule, the Executive governor of Nasarawa State was declared the winner, having polled the highest number of votes cast in that election. Since then, there have been some protests by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in Nasarawa State. But as far as we are concerned, that protest is unnecessary, because first the Party and its governorship candidate; the PDP and the governorship candidate had approached the tribunal alleging that there were irregularities in the conduct of the election, that they were the lawful winners of that election. So, they approached the tribunal. so, one wonders why after approachi8ng the tribunal, they were still organising protests in some streets of Lafia, the State capital. So, we think that is very unnecessary because you can’t take your matter to court and then at the same time try to get first through other means which are illegal, as far as we are concerned. So, that protest is uncalled for because this is a legal matter. The election was conducted, you were not satisfied with the outcome of the election, you approached the tribunal which is what every responsible citizen would do according to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives right to whoever is not satisfied with the outcome of an election to approach the court, which they did. But to our greatest surprise, they were also organising protests, some women coming out to protest nude. This is very unfortunate. But the government of His Excellency Engineer A.A Sule follows the rule of law and believes in the rights of the citizens to protest, whatever kind of protest they want, provided it is peaceful, provided the protest does not seek to undermine the security of lives. But what we have seen so far in the protest is that it is the kind that undermines the security of people. That is why the security agencies at some point, have tried to ask the leadership of the Party to limit such protests to within the confines of their Party secretariat.

You said it was threatening the peace of the State. Was that why the police decided to ban all forms of protests in the State?

You know the police and other security agencies have the right, the constitutional responsibility to maintain law and order. So, if the police felt that the protest was going out of hand and was capable of undermining the security of the State, and decided to take action, I think that was their constitutional right as law enforcement agencies who are saddled with the responsibility of protecting the lives and property and ensuring law and order in our society.  So, perhaps, that was the basis on which the police had to talk to the leadership of the Party to limit their protests to the secretariat so that it does not escalate and get out of hand.

So, the government had no hand in that decision?

The government had no hand in it at all. The government cannot give the security agencies order. Of course, the governor is the chief security officer of the State by the provision of the constitution. But the police, the military and other security agencies do not take orders from the governor. They take orders from the Presidency, the Fedederal government. You know they are under the federal government. They have been doing their legitimate duties as security agencies. The State government under Engineer A.A. Sule has been keeping to his constitutional responsibility of ensuring that lives and properties of the citizens are protected through effective partnership with the security agencies by supporting them in terms of logistics and other means necessary that enables the security agencies to discharge their constitutional responsibilities. So, this is what really happened.

Can we say this protest has come as a result of the people losing faith in the judiciary, so they want to take destiny into their hands?

No, no. that is not the issue. The issue is that some individuals, some leaders of the opposition Party try to make it look as if all is not well in Nasarawa State. The judiciary has done its best. Why were they celebrating when the Tribunal ruled in their favour? The Tribunal is part of the judiciary, so, if at the Appeal Court level [because that judgment by the Tribunal as far as we are concerned, was actually a miscarriage of justice, so to say] they have decided to correct the wrong that was done by the Tribunal then you are now protesting. Why were you not protesting when the Tribunal ruled? That is the issue. When the Tribunal ruled in favour of the PDP, nobody from the government or APC came out to protest because we believe that there is rule of law – because the governor has the right to appeal. The Tribunal had said its own but the constitution also gives the governor the right to appeal. This is why the governor had to appeal the tribunal judgment. Nobody protested. You journalists are witnesses, you are working in the State. Nobody protested, nobody from the APC came out on the streets to protest. Rather, they were the ones celebrating violently and saying all sorts of things like ‘we will send so so group out of the State, we will do this whenever we takeover the mantle of leadership of the State.’ But the Pac and the government, as responsible government and Party did not protest in any way rather, they took the matter to the Appeal court which eventually was done by the Appeal Court. So, we are happy, we are believing that the judiciary will continue to do the right thing even as the PDP has taken the matter to the supreme court.

The protesters make the point about results from Ciroma, Gayam that did not appear to be decent enough to them. What could have happened that people are accepting results from some places but others are contentious?

I don’t know what you mean by decent. What I know is that elections were conducted by INEC. Remember the governor does not conduct elections. Remember the that the governor was also a candidate in the election that was conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission. So, all the processes of the election were duly followed, all Party having their agents were represented at the polling units, the ward, local, senatorial collation centres and finally at the State INEC office. All Parties were represented. the governor was never there because he was a candidate just like the other opposition candidates. So, the governor is not in position to tell whether votes were decent or not decent in certain places. All we know is that INEC as the electoral umpire of this nation, conducted elections where his Excellency the governor also participated as the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress. So, if there is anything, that is why the opposition Party has taken the matter to court and the judiciary is the final say to decide whether elections were conducted decently or not decently in certain places. But so far, the judiciary has spoken, the Appeal Court has spoken that yes, election was conducted in substantial compliance with the electoral laws and that INEC was right to have declared His Excellency the governor, Engineer A. A. Sule as the duly elected governor of the State. So, I cannot know where else anything can come that can discredit or credit the election because the electoral process is very clear – if any candidate is not satisfied should go to the court, the court will no decide. But in this case, the court both at the Tribunal and the Appeal Court, the Tribunal said no, the governor did not win. The Appeal Court being a higher arbiter said no, the governor won his election. So we are waiting for the final one, which is the supreme court.

How have these protests impacted the economy of the state, considering that Nasarawa is a young State that is still struggling and then you have this mass of people who are not going to work

Every citizen has the right to do something. Whether he or she wants to be productive or unproductive. In this case, some individuals who are members of the opposition party, some of them have decided to stay off business that would help them and their families. And have decided to take to politics – don’t forget that is also a means of business. We have it on authority that they are paid each time they come and protest, they are paid a certain amount of money each. So, to them, this is also business provided that is not stopping anybody from conducting his or legitimate business in the State. But it is unfortunate that they have actually been misled by the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party because from these protests, if you observe, none of the governorship candidate’s daughter or wife has come to join. Neither the daughter nor the wife of the PDP chairman has come out to join. So, the people you see protesting, the women you see protesting are those innocent village women who do not know what is going on. So, they just go and hire them and then tell them to begin to protest. And then because of the harsh economic situation the country has found itself, some of them are paid N500 or N1000. Some of them even go to the extent of protesting nude which is very unfortunate. It is unfortunate that our mothers are being misled by the opposition because of the desperation for power. PDP is desperate to have the power at all cost but this power cannot be acquired by other means. Power cannot be acquired through protests. Political power is acquired through the ballot. His Excellency Engineer A. A. Sule has acquired his own power through electorate of Nasarawa. So, if you want the State, maybe when the time comes, you have to convince the people to vote for you.

Politics appears to be unclothing what has been an underlaying issues, I mean the polarized nature of the State along ethnic and religious line. Now, politics has become the third leg.

That is where the opposition Party has dragged us to. Before now, if you looked at the state, you see that in one family you have Muslims, Christians, you see tribes co-existing without any problem. But unfortunately, this time around, PDP because of the desperation for power has decided to device several means, most of which are very negative and detrimental to our peaceful coexistence and peace of the State. And that is the issue of religion and ethnic politics. For them, they think that PDP should be for a certain religion or a certain tribe, a so-called majority tribe. In Nasarawa, no single tribe can say it all and no single tribe can produce a governor nor can any single religion produce a governor. It has to be through collective efforts. It has to be trough religions coming together. It has to be through the efforts of the ethnic nationalities in Nasarawa State coming together to produce the governor and government of Nasarawa State. But some people believe that they are powerful enough, they are very capable and they alone can just stand produce a governor or form a government for this State. There are certain people who think they are very powerful. But this is not the issue because Nasarawa is a heterogenous State, comprising of more than twenty-seven tribes. There are several religions, you have the Christian religion, Islam and even the traditional worshippers ho are also participating in the election. So, how can one religion or one tribe come out to say they want to produce the governor. I think they have to get this thing to their heads that Nasarawa belongs to all of us.

credit; PM NEWS