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Goje arrives his hated station

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Garba Shehu


On Monday October 17th, 2011, the former Governor of Gombe state, Dr. Muhammad Danjuma Goje was prosecuted at a Federal High Court in Gombe for, among other things, corruption and diversion of public funds. It was a sensational event for two reasons.



One, Goje made the fatal mistake of not presenting himself upon initial invitation by the EFCC, leading to his declaration as a wanted person. Naturally, this gave the overly sensational media, which are becoming expert in trial and conviction on their pages, to feast on his reputation.

Two, and more importantly, this was clearly something Goje had wanted to avoid in all his political life. It is one that no one should be proud of. Nobody wants to go to jail. But far more than most people, Goje has shown a horrifying disdain for trial, and for that reason, there was nothing he could not do to avert such a calamitous and humiliating situation.

He is a ruthlessly brave politician who had shown a rare capacity to tear down opponents' walls of resistance to make way for himself. That was how, at a relatively young age, he became a federal legislator in the Second Republic. He and his former political master and associate, Atiku Abubakar, did the unthinkable in 2003 when they chased the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP and its Governor, Abubakar Hashidu, out of Gombe. When he became governor, he did not rest on his oars until he had vanquished the last vestiges of ANPP, and Hashidu in the state. He grew their party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, into a strong and dependable political machine without a parallel in that state. It was under this situation that he joined Atiku and other governors to confront the then imperial President Olusegun Obasanjo who wanted to extend his tenure for a third term or, as some strongly believe, life-long tenure. This was before Obasanjo himself discovered that he could use the EFCC to bring governors on their knees. Things changed when he began to wield it like a machete over their heads.

This particular strategy was reinforced by the dissolution of the PDP membership, unilaterally by the President who instituted a re-registration of all members beginning with himself. The overall purpose was to deny party membership to anyone who he could not bend. This was how in 2007, Goje and other "Generals" of the opposition within the PDP succumbed to Obasanjo to impose a dying Yar'adua on a luckless nation.

The atmospherics of the presidential election this year were no less different to that of 2007. The President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan who ran for the PDP ticket against the norms of his party, soon realised that to keep everyone in line, he had to act like a good progeny of Obasanjo. The EFCC was brought on board. It was clear to governors that whoever did not fall in line should know what to expect - a selective criminal prosecution for offences that are commonplace in this country. Behind the scare-crow, was Chief Tony Anenih, a man with a well-established reputation for intimidation politics. Prior to the high-profile EFCC scare, Goje had wormed his way back into his old political nest. From his boss and mentor Atiku, he asked for forgiveness and got it. In a television footage aired on Channels TV, Goje enthusiastically told Atiku who was a contender for the PDP ticket at that time that I am your man in the North-East. "You don't owe to me. I owe to you," he told the former Vice-President. He said he had appointed himself as "Commander" of the campaign in the North-East, which he promised to deliver. For this, he fixed a date on which to unfurl the regional campaign upon his return from pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. This of course, as the reader knows, did not happen. One thing after the other happened and again, Goje capitulated. Gombe as did most of the states stood behind the President, Dr. Jonathan for "peace to reign in Nigeria."

Now, all that I have said is history. The eight years term of a governor which many mistook for eternity has suddenly reached its end. This day that Goje and his co-travelers, fortified and protected by constitutional immunity, dreaded is here. After all the hide and seek, there he was, at last in the Dock. EFCC said he turned himself in early on Monday the 17th. In this country, nobody wants to fall into detention at weekends. It gives the police detaining authority their wish to keep people well beyond the 48 hours allowed by the Constitution before they are charged to court. Goje's disappearance may have been because he wanted to avoid this inconvenience induced by the wickedness of our security agencies. The Desert Herald, which many fear for its type of opposition journalism, published the news that Goje was caught in a hide-out in Potiskum. Be that at it may, Goje's mistake, as I said from the beginning, gave the media what they wanted - a chance to feast on man's valued reputation. Whether guilty or not, Goje in terms of his personal reputation will never be the same man again.

But Goje became prey to the sensational appetite of the media because the EFCC, it seems to many, has come to terms with its failure to make a headway with the courts and appears resolved to achieving this on the pages of the media. In this country, high profile corruption cases begin and end with publications in the media. The big men are taken to court and charges are read. They are kept in detention outside the prison walls for less than a week, then they get bail. A few weeks thereafter, they come to court with claims of medical emergencies abroad and they get their travel passports back. From that time, it is adjournment after adjournment with some accusing the EFCC of lacking in diligence, and the EFCC in turn accusing the judges of stalling those cases.

The odd point about trial by media is that it is in breach of a victim's rights under the Constitution. The benefits of such trial for the country are that it serves as deterrent to many who fear this type of exposure from committing crimes. In a country where there is such a deadlock in the prosecution of fat cat criminals, the media role in trial and conviction via public opinion therefore becomes salutary and therefore not to be condemned.

As for Goje, Akala, Doma and Daniel, I can almost say with certainty that the worst is over. If precedent is anything to go by, the whole charge-and-bail bail scheme  doesn't get beyond this point. This is their good luck. Unless something happens that will break the gridlock within and in-between the EFCC and the courts.


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