THE Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), recently filed a nolle prosecqui in the case involving a former governor of Gombe State, Senator Danjuma Goje, discontinuing with all the charges against him before a Federal High Court sitting in Jos, Plateau State, and headed by Justice Babatunde Quadri. Previously, the court was trying Goje and others in an alleged N5 billion fraud case. The alleged offence was said to have been committed by Goje between September and November 2010, together with a former executive chairman of the Gombe State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Alhaji Aliyu Ubandoma El-Nafaty, and one SM Dokoro. According to the charge sheet, the accused mismanaged money belonging to Gombe State between 2007 and 2011. Justice Quadri had earlier struck out 19 of the 21-count charges levelled against Goje and maintaining that the defence had a case to answer in the remaining charges.
It will be recalled that Goje was in the race to become the Senate President until recently. Reports were to the effect that the former governor, who is now the senator representing Gombe Central senatorial district, had pulled a sizeable crowd of senators and posed a major threat to the anointed candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr. Ahmad Lawan. However, while the contest was ongoing, a meeting was initiated between the presidency and Goje, the details of which were not revealed to the media. President Muhammadu Buhari and Goje were however shown at the Villa in camaraderie. Watchers of politics claimed that the meeting was arranged for Goje to step down for Lawan, something which he (Goje) later announced that he had done in deference to the wishes of the party hierarchy and the presidency.
We are worried by the seeming nexus between the two occurrences of Goje meeting the president and stepping down from the Senate presidency race, and the Attorney General withdrawing the case of fraud levelled against him. While we are not necessarily establishing a causal relationship between the incidents, we are saying emphatically that it suggests a practice that is not palatable for the current administration or the cause of justice, fairness and equity. Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. In this case, while the government might insist that justice has been done as the AGF is constitutionally allowed to discontinue any case in any court of the federation, except in a tribunal, the generality of Nigerians see a
nexus between the occurrences. The people’s conclusion is that the government must have “rubbed Goje’s back” in return for the latter having rubbed its back by stepping down for Lawan.
We submit that this is not good for the cause of justice in Nigeria. It gives the impression that justice is for sale and that anyone can be blackmailed into surrender. More fundamentally, the Goje case strengthens the perception that the current anti-graft war in the country is a ruse and that the Muhammadu Buhari government is merely taking the people for a ride in its mouthy proclamation of the existence of a broom with which it is cleaning the Augean stables. This is a sad narrative for Nigeria and those who once believed that this administration had a response to the corrupt practices that permeated the high and low places in the country.
Indeed, the AGF’s nolle prosequi was too blatant. It is an in-your-face move against the people of Nigeria who are wary of the tag of corruption pinned on the entire country by the international community. We shudder at the fact that the government could sacrifice honour and integrity which are the pillars of a responsible country. It is not even in the interest of the accused because they were not given the opportunity to argue their case. While the government could claim that the unsavoury development was a mere coincidence, we believe that perception is sometimes more important than the substance of a case. In this case, the perception that the government has advertised is that it is not different from the governments before it which were riddled with selfish politicians who placed personal, group and clique interests above those of the nation.