Behold, Goje State


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Behold, Goje State!




Kyallu M. Ashafa



May 31, 2005


Common democratic practice the world over is to separate as much as possible public and private life. The state is not treated as if it were a personal property. Unfortunately in Nigeria, public officers hardly distinguish between public and private pockets. That is why we have reprehensible things like the launching of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s library project, which elicited so much deserved criticism. Here we are with public officers behaving as if they were synonymous with the state.

The situation is more pathetic in the states, where wanton disregard of ethics and values of democracy is perpetrated. How I wish a fraction of the media search light beamed on Obasanjo will come to Gombe state! The president’s sin regarding the library would be dwarfed compared to the recent wedding ceremony of Governor Danjuma Goje’s two daughters. It was an opprobrious squander of public funds on a purely personal project, an event that literally brought the business of governance to a complete halt for several days. It was, to use Soyinka’s words, an executive extortion of the first order.

For weeks running, the machinery of governance was deployed to executing projects relating to the wedding ceremony. Every other thing was at a complete halt. The state ministry of works was said to have built a brand new residence for one of the grooms. The eleven local governments were bled through a deduction at source from the state joint local government account. Government contractors also had to contribute. They were said to have donated generously to the wedding fund. To make a private function more official, part of the activities of the wedding was a two-day working visit by the vice president. The event culminated with Atiku laying the foundation stone for the white elephant airport project. Is it not curious that in a state where people are desperately trying to keep the wolf from the door government is busy spen ding stupendous amounts on what is purely personal affair?

But the media decided to look the other way. It is only when Obasanjo is at fault that the press wildly shouts, as if he controls all the nation’s resources. We seem to forget that the federal government merely controls just over half of the federation account. The state governors spend the other half, comprising state and local government allocations, and of course, their internally generated revenue. But I digress.

The flamboyant wedding event was held in the government house, not in Goje’s private residence where he is living for the past two years. Though it is a norm for governors to stay in the government house, my own governor wants to be different. He rented his private home to the government and continued to live there. In a furious reaction to criticisms that trailed his decision to lease his residence to the government, Goje told the BBC Hausa that the government house was too small for a family man like him to move in. He would stay put in his house despite the criticism. But, of course, he denied collecting any money from the government for that. That was in December 2003. Till date the governor is living in his private residence in Bolari area of the state capital, at an expense to the state coffers.  Whether it is morally right or wrong to live in your house and collect rent for it is a matter for the public to judge.

But one and a half years after the justification for the stay of the first family in private residence, the wedding ceremony of Goje’s two daughters in the same government house that has never been extended, with thousands including Vice President Atiku Abubakar in attendance. One wonders what kind of extended family Goje has, that cannot be accommodated in the government house though the house can contain such a crowd.

Back in 2002, the Tell magazine’s famous graffiti featured a caricature of then governor of Kogi state, Prince Abubakar Audu busy naming public institutions after himself and his father. In the illustration, Audu was featured, after exhausting all institutions, painting a billboard bearing ‘Audu State’. It looks like Gombe will soon have a new name, but in a different manner. Unlike Audu, whose personalization of the state may have stopped at naming institutions after himself and his father, Goje’s antics portray a man who wants to be and remain the most powerful individual in the state for life. Where else, besides Gombe, are people banned from pasting posters other than those of the governor or Atiku? Huge billboards with Goje’s portraits adorn the border posts leading into the state through the highways, in all instances dwarfing the usual ‘welcome to Gombe’ billboards. We are yet to hear the naming of public institutions, but it is doubtful if they come without the Abubakar Audu-style.

The crescendo of terrorism in the state is still rising. The sordid experience of the state NAPEP coordinator Hajiya Bibiye Sadiq is still fresh in people’s minds. Thugs were sent after her because she was perceived as potential political threat to the powers that be. Before Gombawas recover from the shock of that attack, the new Accountant General of the Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo was similarly attacked by political thugs believed to be state-sponsored. Though the state government recently disowned all thugs terrorizing the people, its difficult to believe that thugs who are known to be bankrolled and protected by government cronies and officials can thrive with so much impunity without the complicity of the state government.

 The message in the Bibiye Sadiq and Dankwambo episodes is that no new star is welcome in Gombe state. With the level of political intimidation increasing, the state resources cornered to run private projects; Gombe may soon have a new name—Goje state.



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