If you Takar me, I Daboh you
He was a boy when he became known. But he was a boy that controlled the men. And no one had seen anything like that in this area. At the height of his fame and glory, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, the charismatic Tiv-born politician, stormy petrel and enfant terrible of the Northern Region opposition in the First Republic, dominated the Middle-belt politics. He had no rivals.
That was in the era of Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, the ebullient royal potentate and grandson of the illustrious Shehu Usumanu Dan Fodio, who then held sway as Premier of the Northern Region under the aegis of the Nigerian People’s Congress (NPC).e was a boy when he became known. But he was a boy that controlled the men. And no one had seen anything like that in this area. At the height of his fame and glory, Joseph Sarwuan Tarka, the charismatic Tiv-born politician, stormy petrel and enfant terrible of the Northern Region opposition in the First Republic, dominated the Middle-belt politics. He had no rivals.
Born in Igbor, Gboko, Benue State, his father was a village teacher and administrator of Tiv origin. After completing his education, Tarka taught for a while at Katsina-Ala Middle-School, before proceeding for further studies at Bauchi Rural Science School.
At a relatively tender age of 22 years, the flamboyant politician had emerged on non-party basis as a member of the Federal House of Representatives. By 1957, he had attained the presidential leadership of the United Middle-Belt Congress, which went into alliance with the Awolowo-led Action Group, which then dominated the politics of the South-West.
In 1959, he was re-elected into the House of Reps on account of his soaring popularity, but his appointment as Commissioner of Communications in the Gowon administration was the event that marked the height of his exploits in the political arena, as his image loomed large across the national space and the entire Middle Belt in particular.
However, the hitherto salutary profile of this impressively soaring meteor as the idol of his Middle-Belt natives, who almost deified him to the giddy point of god-head, was to suffer a devastating blow, as the world woke up one fateful morning of July 13, 1974 to the stupefying revelation of official malpractices alleged against the Gboko-born Commissioner of Communications.
It all started on July 8, when a business executive, Mr. Godwin Daboh, put up a letter to the Communications commissioner, in which he accused him of grievous offences, bordering on abuse of office and corruption.
Two days later, Daboh wrote another letter to him, alleging further corrupt offences. And on July 13, Daboh proceeded to the Lagos High Court, where he swore to an affidavit, upholding all the allegations of wrong doings of Mr. Tarka, in his official capacity as Commissioner of Communications.
The fore-going was to unleash a political tremor of such horrendous dimensions that not only catalysed the exit of the Communications minister, but also provided a significant alibi, which was ominously seminal, for the eventual overthrow of the Yakubu Gowon administration.
The affidavit which unleashed a can of worms read:
“I Godwin Gregory Daboh, a Nigerian and company director of 9, Nnamdi Azikwe Street, Lagos, do make oath and swear as follows:
“That on 8th July, 1974, I wrote a letter to Mr. Joseph Tarka, who is Federal Commissioner for Communications. This letter is attached here to be marked Exhibit “B.”
“That the two letters were written by me in response to recent appeals made by distinguished Nigerian leaders including the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, calling for a cleaning up of public life in Nigeria.
“That in answer to this call, I decided to intimate Mr. J.S. Tarka with his corrupt practice and calling for his resignation within 10 days of his receipt of my letters.
“That I have abundant evidence in my possession, that Mr. J.S. Tarka, who occupies one of the highest public offices in this country, is not worthy of being charged with such a responsibility.
“That sometimes between 1968 and now, Mr. Tarka caused a company to be incorporated known as Nigerian Investment Quest Limited.
“That the managing director of the company, Mr. Simon Ikowe, is a personal secretary of Mr. Tarka.
“That in spite of the fact that Mr. Ikowe is not a civil servant, Mr. Tarka has provided him with an office in the General Post Office, Marina.
“That the said Mr. Ikowe is an ex-convict, having been jailed for defrauding the Tiv Local Authority’s Welfare Department.
“That the Nigerian Investment Quest Limited operates an account with the United Bank for Africa Limited, Yakubu Gowon Street branch, opposite the General Hospital, to which Mr. Ikowe is the sole signatory.
“That since being a federal commissioner, Mr. Tarka has made companies dealing with the Federal Ministry of Communications to enter into consultancy agreements with Nigerian Investment Quest Limited.
“That drafts of these agreements were typed in the office of Mr. Tarka on the Ministry of Communication’s typewriters and that I am in possession of one of such drafts.
“That it was through Mr. Tarka’s greedy drive for money that one Mr. S. Gusah, a highly educated and capable young Nigerian, was dismissed as General Manager of the Benue-Plateau State Marketing Board.
“That Mr. Tarka also maintains and operates two accounts with the Swiss Volks Bank Limited, Geneva Branch and, in addition, operates a joint account with the same bank.
“That the account number is CC 88755/0 which Mr. Tarka opened between July and August 1972.
“That Mr. Simeon Ikowe, the personal secretary of Mr. Tarka, operates an account with the United Bank for Africa, the Midland Bank and Barclays Bank, London.
That colossal sums of money have been paid into the accounts, even though Mr. Ikowe has no other means of income apart from being Mr. Tarka’s personal secretary.
“That in spite of the fact that he is not a civil servant, Mr. S. Ikowe occupies government quarters at Lawrence Road, Ikoyi, which is paid for by the Ministry of Communications.
“That Mr. Tarka also has interests in the following companies, apart from the Nigerian Investment Quest Ltd., Thomas Turna and company; Gata and Tagu Nigeria Limited and Kezta International Limited.
“That the European office of these companies is situated at 8, Laburnum Avenue, London; No. 17, Telephone 01-808 3612.
“That the director which Mr. Tarka uses is one Mr. Francis Mordi.
“That the word “Keztar” in relation to Keztar International Limited, is coined from Ikeazor and Tarka.
“That I have documentary evidence, including the tape recorded voice of Mr. Tarka, demanding six per cent commission from a company working for the Ministry of Communications to substantiate my exposure of Mr. Tarka’s clandestine and corrupt activities.
“That since my said two letters, Mr. Tarka has been telephoning me persistently, threatening my life and that of my family.
“That I have also been receiving several anonymous telephone calls which I am inclined to believe are not unconnected with Mr. Tarka’s threat.
“That Mr. Tarka has gone to the extent of giving me an ultimatum to surrender to him, all documentary evidence adverse to him and which are in my possession, otherwise I should be prepared to lose my life.
“That I have made a report to the police, of Mr. Tarka’s threat to my life and have sought police protection.
“That I swear to this affidavit conscientiously believing it to be true and correct.”
However, the self-acclaimed anti-corruption crusader, Dabo, had a bitter pill for his avowed mission. According to him, he had gone with others for a dinner at the Apapa residence of a shipping magnate shortly after he had sworn to an affidavit against Tarka and was attacked at that party.
At the party, it was gathered that a Lagos-based legal practitioner dealt several blows on Mr. Daboh, who was said to have blamed Nigerian police during an argument bordering on corruption in the country.
In the resultant uproar, the party, which had leading business executives and top government officials in presence, eventually ended in confusion.
The lawyer was earlier arrested by the police at Apapa, following a complaint by Mr. Daboh, who was reportedly treated at a private clinic for injuries due to the alleged physical attack.
The case was later taken over by detectives at Alagbon Close, who opened investigations into Mr. Daboh’s allegations against Tarka.
Mr. Daboh later went to see the Commissioner of Police, Force CID, Mr. Sunday Adewusi, at Alagbon close, Ikoyi, where he spent two hours, briefing him on his sworn affidavit against Tarka. Mr. Daboh also complained of the attack allegedly made on him at Apapa, Lagos State, where he had attended a party.
On July 24, Dabo went in for his fourth meeting with the police, where he reportedly dropped documents relevant to police investigations into his allegations against Tarka.
Earlier during one of such meetings, it was gathered that the alleged tape-recorded telephone conversation between Mr. Taka and Daboh, was replayed.
A transcript of the alleged conversation was allegedly made out by the police in line with their probe into the matter. What the police were doing, according to a source, was a general investigation into all aspects of Mr. Daboh’s allegations. A comprehensive report would later be submitted to the Federal Government for further actions, the source said.
However, all hopes that the police were on top of the matter and would soon come out with their findings, which would see the matter to the logical conclusion, was dramatically dashed as Police Commissioner Sunday Adewusi, came out to the public to deny knowledge of any investigation by his men into allegations of wrong doings against the Commissioner for Communications.
What further confounded the teeming mass of the public was that in a letter dated July 18 and addressed to Mr. Daboh, it was indicated that investigation into the allegations against Joseph Tarka “Has been ordered by the Federal Military Government.”
The letter with reference number CR 30000/X/C/1v/516, was signed by the acting Police Commissioner, U.A. Adeyemi, Officer-in-charge of Investigations at the Central CID, Ikoyi, Lagos.
Mr. Adeyemi claimed to have acted for the Central CID Commissioner of Police, Mr. Sunday Adewusi and the inspector-General of Police.
Text of the letter with the title, “Abuse of Office and Corruption, read: “I am directed to refer to your letter of 8th July, 1974 to the Hon. Commissioner for Communications, Mr. J.S. Tarka and to request that you report at the office of the Commissioner of Police, Force CID, Alagbon Close, Lagos, tomorrow 19th July, 1974 at 10.00 hours with all documents, tapes and other materials relevant to the above allegations, the “Investigation of which has been ordered by the Federal Military Government.”
There was also the issue of armed police guards assigned to 42, Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi residence of Mr., Daboh. This protection was arranged after the first chat he had with the police at Central CID, during which he alleged that he was beaten up at the dinner party he attended at Apapa. All these were evidences that the police were not only privy to the matter officially, but led the world to believe that they were addressing the issue with all the seriousness it deserved. Unfortunately, this was not to be.
Even the news earlier featured in the newspapers of the arrest of three people, which included a shareholder and directors of the companies listed by Daboh as those in which Mr. Tarka had interest, were later denied by the police as false.
But Tarka, the accused, did not help matters. He made it rather worse, as he swore not to quit, threatening rather, that his exit would trigger a chain of reactions, the end of which no one could predict. No sooner had the affidavit been sworn to than torrents of vitriolic criticisms began to flow in such quantum of intimidating proportion from every direction, as Nigerians from virtually every walk or life, called for the immediate suspension of Tarka and to be followed instantly with a public probe. However, the call for his sack became all the more intensified, when he vowed not to quit, but would rather remain in office.
The Students Union of the University of Ibadan cried out that the allegations against Tarka should be viewed with grave concern. It therefore called on the Federal Government to act immediately, by suspending the commissioner and instituting an inquiry, just as in the case of Brigadiers Adekunle and Sotomi.
From the University of Lagos, the Speakers’ Society, publishers of the Lagoon Echo at the university, warned in a three-page statement signed by ten legal practitioners and university lecturers, that “the level the Tarka affair has degenerated into, we say and maintain, amounts to double standards on the part of the government.
“The corruption allegation against Tarka, the contempt and high-handedness with which he is treating the whole matter, the public outcry this brought in its wake and the evasive manner in which the government is handling the issue, all point to the beginning of a crisis of confidence between the governed and the government in this country.
“We call on Tarka to substantiate his claim that the allegations against him are plagued with political under-tones. He has all the chances in this world to prove this charge conclusively to all Nigerians.
“We further challenge Tarka to start with his legal actions in court now, on his avowed intention to redeem his name in the courts of Nigeria.
“If he does otherwise, the people of Nigeria will equate his noise that the whole matter is subjudice as a mere smokescreen and a clever device to coerce the erstwhile Nigerian press into submission.”
A body then known as the All Nigeria United Nations Students Association urged the Federal Government to suspend Joseph Tarka, pending further investigations into the allegations levelled against him by Mr. Daboh.
The union declared: “Tarka is making history in the Nigerian context. But it is definitely a bad history and if this trend is allowed to go on, the nation can be grounded.”
The Offa branch of the Current Affairs Society urged Gowon to remove Tarka from office without further delay.
Also on his own part, the then Principal Inspector of the NYSC in Kwara State, Mallam Habib Sanni, noted that “one of the principal objectives of National Youth Service Corps is to inculcate discipline in the youths.”
Malam Sani went on; “and yet, by either act of omission or commission, some of the leaders themselves are not living as far as the inculcation of discipline is concerned.”
A specific example, he said, was “the sit tight action by Tarka, a leader, who has been accused of gross acts of corruption in high places.”
Mallam Sani dismissed the contention that the allegations were ill-motivated or a North-South confrontation as bogus and unreasonable.
An organisation known as the New Left Movement expressed, in a statement signed by Comrade Ola Oni and Dr. Akin Ojo, Chairman and General Secretary respectively, that its members were disturbed by the attitude of the Federal Government on the allegations against Mr. Tarka.
“As socialists, we must point out also, that any regime that is seriously concerned about dealing a lasting blow on corruption in this country must take active steps to break away from a development policy based on private appropriation of property for selfish ends,” the statement said.
“It is the opportunity open for private accumulation of wealth under capitalism that provides basic motivation for corrupt practices in our society”, it added.
Students of the University of Lagos expressed, in a statement signed by the Secretary-General of the Student’s Union, Wole Olanipekun, that if Tarka failed to quit office within ten days, the Federal Government should suspend him until further notice. They argued further that while Mr. Tarka could be presumed innocent until otherwise proved by the current probe, it would be illogical for government to retain him in office.
While the general public reaction was such that reeked in anger, highly placed public officials were rather pacifist and pro-government. For instance, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, who was returning to Lagos after a trip to Kano, asked that General Yakubu Gowon be left alone to decide what to do about the Tarka-Daboh issue, as Gowon was the only person competent to decide what to do with the federal commissioner.
He pointed out that Tarka was not voted into office in an election, but was appointed by the Head of State. Nobody should therefore attempt to teach him what to do or pressurise him into making a decision.
The then Lagos State Military governor stated further that Gowon successfully led Nigeria through the period of the civil war and had brought unity and stability to the country and was therefore wise enough to know how to handle the situation.
The Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Commissioner for Establishments, Major-General Hassan Katsina, to whom the question was directed, said he agreed entirely with Brigadier Johnson. General Hassan, Brigadier Johnson and Brigadier Abba Kyari of the North Central State arrived together from Kano; they had attended the Kano Polo tournament which had just ended.
On his own part, the then South-Eastern State Governor, Brigadier U.J. Esuene, enjoined both the Nigerian press and the public to allow the Federal Government and the Supreme Military Council an ample time to study the allegations against Tarka.
“Personally, I feel there is need to look into the matter in a greater detail, with a view to sorting out the issues,” he said.
While the afore-mentioned top military brass had managed, at least, to say something, Chief Tony Enahoro, the then Federal Information Commissioner, declined throughout the entire saga from making any comment. Indeed, on Friday, August 1, a mild drama ensued when press reporters cornered him at the Calabar Airport and shortly after greetings, the chief announced: “Let me tell you the questions I will not answer:
“Don’t ask me any question on Tarka. I will not answer. Don’t ask me any question on the census, revenue allocation, post-1976 Nigeria, I will not answer them.”
Meanwhile, a competent source was said to have revealed in Lagos that a government telephone number, 22140, alleged to have been assigned to a girlfriend of Mr. Tarka, who was neither a civil servant nor otherwise entitled to the privilege of such free use of telephone, had been replaced.
According to the source, a few hours after Daboh filed his affidavit, the change was effected through an advice note number ANL 1042/74. The telephone was removed and replaced with a Lagos number 52279, said to have been removed from 13B, Kingsway Road, Ikoyi, claimed the source.
The Daily Times, miffed by this development, reacted in its editorial featured on page 3 of Saturday, August 3, 1974 edition. In that editorial titled Tarka Vs The People, the newspaper expressed fears that the possibility of necessary documents and papers being tampered with became real.
It recalled that “the fact that the entire switch-over operation took place within a matter of hours on a Saturday, speaks of the tremendous influence he (Tarka) can muster in the Ministry of Communications.
“This is just one of the desperate attempts that have been made to cover up evidence that could be adduced in a probe,” the newspaper further affirmed, just as it reiterated its call for an immediate open, judicial inquiry.
Indeed, earlier before this, in the very wake of the celebrated scandal, immediately after the swearing to an affidavit by Godwin Daboh, the Daily Times did not hesitate to call for a public, high-powered and independent judicial inquiry, while calling on General Gowon to “call for the keys of Mr. Tarka’s office today and suspend him with immediate effect.”
However, on the historic D-Day of Friday, August 2, Tarka’s spirited resistance could hold any longer. He succumbed eventually to the court of public opinion, throwing in the towel of official resignation in a letter addressed to the then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, in which he expressed that “after a long and careful consideration of the current campaign counted against my person by a section of the Nigerian press, following false allegations by one Godwin Daboh, which are still subjudice, I have come to the conclusion that it is in my own interest as well as in the interest of the Federal Military Government and of a peaceful Nigeria, that I withdraw henceforth from your government.”
Also in his valedictory speech, Tarka expressed reservations “at the activities of some sections of the press which had given publicity to grave allegations made against my character by one Godwin Daboh.”
He said, “no attempt was made to ascertain the facts from me or to hear my answer to these allegations before the section of the press concerned launched a campaign against me, calling upon me to resign my public office as a federal commissioner.
“I know that the section of the press concerned and whoever their instigator or instigators may be, control a large sector of the mass media of information and that it would be hopeless for me to attempt to put forward through that media, my own account of the facts which my accusers had, with calculated design, deliberately chosen not to ascertain.”
He stated further: “It is of fundamental importance in our country that nobody should be condemned on the mere fact that someone else has accused him.
“It should be obvious that once a precedent is established that a person holding high public office must resign the moment someone else accuses him of a grave offence, then no one can be safe.
“I had this in mind when I said that such precedent, if established, would lead to a chain of consequences, the end of which no one could foretell. My accusers, in publishing what I said, chose to quote me out of context.”
On a parting note, he said “fellow Nigerians, I do not regard this episode as the end of my public career as my detractors would wish it to be. I regard it only as the end of one chapter in my public and political life, God willing.”
However, rather than Tarka defending himself or suing his accuser (Daboh) to court, he resorted to the rather unseemly option of suing the Daily Times on which it instituted a N1 million libel charge.
The highly publicised suit, filed at the Lagos High Court on behalf of Tarka by Chief Rotimi Williams, was served on the company in the afternoon of Wednesday, afternoon of July 31, 1974, 12 days after it was said to have been issued.
In the writ of summons, Tarka claimed the amount for the alleged “words falsely and maliciously published in the Daily Times issue of Friday, July 19, 1974, by the defendants and concerning the plaintiff and also of him in his office as a federal commissioner and a public man.”
In addition, he sought an injunction restraining the defendants and their agents or servants from further printing, circulating and distribution or otherwise publishing any copies of the newspaper containing the alleged libel.
But interestingly enough, no sooner had news of the libel suit been made public than readers rose in support of the newspaper. Even though Daily Times did not launch a defence fund, yet that did not deter a good number of the public who sent in personal contributions for the defence of the N1 million libel suit.
They included the well known Egba High Chief, Harold Shodipo, who sent a cheque for N1,000. It was quite a fantastic amount at the time in question. In a covering note, he said: “I hereby affirm my profound appreciation of the laudable stand taken by your paper on the allegations of abuse of office against Tarka. I am therefore enclosing a cheque for N1,000 towards the Tarka versus Daily Times defence fund.”
Alhaji J. Tokuta of 1A, Sylvia Crescent, Anthony Village, Ikorodu Road, Yaba, also sent a cheque for N20 towards the fund. In a covering letter, he said: “To save the soul of this country, corruption and other abuses of office in high or low places, must be checked no matter whose ox is gored. To this end, I enclose here a cheque for N20 as my first installment to open the fund.”
Another reader, who described himself as a quasi government employee but did not want his name disclosed, sent a cheque for N2. The sender, who lived at Olanibi Street, Mushin, said in his letter dated August 2, that “the purpose of my letter is to launch a Daily Times Defence Fund, if no one has preceded me, with my widow’s mite.”
An Akure-based lawyer, Mr. Jaiyeola Faloye of Fagade Chambers, also promised to offer free legal advice to the Daily Times. In a telegram, Mr. Faloye said: “Please accept my heart-felt congratulations from Nigerian youths for your ever upright crusade against those cancerous deals of the Nigerian community. Also, be sure that the ordinary Nigerian citizen sympathises with you whole heartedly. I hereby offer my completely free legal service and advice for your defence in the N1 million libel suit.”
The Akure Divisional Students Union also condemned, in strong terms, corruption at high quarters in the country and expressed strong concern at the present case of alleged corruption and wrongdoings against Mr. Tarka. The president of the union, Mr. Patrick Buraimoh, declared that the Federal Government should institute a high powered public commission of inquiry into Mr. Tarka’s alleged wrong doings.
In Ilorin, the former opposition leader in the old Northern Region, Chief Josiah Olawoyin, described the resignation of Joseph Tarka as a singular victory for the Nigerian press and articulate public opinion in the country.
While it was logically expected that Daboh, his accuser and main antagonist, should have been his main object of contention, it was rather Daboh, who threatened to institute a private prosecution if the former Commissioner for Communications failed to pay back the N18,138.38k bills allegedly incurred on government telephone by his girlfriend. Daboh, who was addressing a press conference in Lagos on August 4, was insistent that the former commissioner must pay back the money to government treasury within seven days, otherwise, he would seek private prosecution through the Federal Attorney-General.
Mr. Daboh also demanded that Mr. Tarka must pay back to his company, Lagoon Ltd., the N40,000 allegedly paid to Tarka’s consultancy firm as gratification for the three contracts awarded the company.
He declared categorically that any inquiry that would be instituted by the Federal Government on his allegations against Tarka should be made public. “I will not take part in any secret inquiry,” he reaffirmed.
Daboh further revealed that three days after his allegations against Tarka were made public, the former commissioner allegedly made desperate efforts to induce him to withdraw his action.
A rendezvous was set at a petrol station in Victoria Island where Tarka and himself were to meet and, according to him, informed the police. But the delay of the police in sending in a team led by an assistant commissioner to the scene, made him miss Tarka, who had been waiting there for 20 minutes, he said.
Refuting suggestions that his action against Tarka had a political undertone, Mr. Daboh explained that he was a well paid businessman and had no political ambition.
The 33-year old business executive pointed out that he had a long standing social connection with Tarka, but was greatly irritated by the former commissioner’s corrupt practices.
He said he had made several attempts privately in the past to get Mr. Tarka change his ways, but these were ignored. Mr. Daboh said he had as far back as July, 1973, written a letter to Mr. Tarka warning him to change his ways. A copy of the letter, he said, was sent to a top military officer.
He declared: “My successful exposition of Mr. Tarka which led to his capitulation on Friday has made a shattering blow to corrupt officers.
His capitulation, after an adamant and arrogant attitude, has shown that Nigerian leaders are primarily human.”
A tape recording of the conversation between him and Mr. Tarka was played to members of the press. Pointing out that the war against corruption had just begun, Mr. Daboh declared that the country could no longer afford to allow corrupt people to remain in the corridors of power.
Riding on the crest wave of the new found popularity, the self-acclaimed anti-corruption crusader urged honest Nigerians to come out openly to expose all the corrupt people they knew and hand them over to the police.
He stressed that the long tradition of compromise and of sweeping matters of national importance under the carpet in the country will not survive in the crusade against corruption. He said Nigerians should take inspiration from the “courageous and persistent” people who were mainly responsible for exposing the chain of evil acts of Richard Nixon’s regime.
The Daily Times of August 23, 1974, in another editorial titled “A new standard of public morality,” cited the compulsory retirement of Brigadiers Benjamin Adekunle, the dreaded “Black Scorpion,” who led the famous Third Marine Commando during the civil war and Brigadier Foluso Sotomi, over the Iyabo Olorunkoya hemp charges in London.
It noted that there was no prima facie evidence that the two brigadiers were dealing in Indian hemp, although they had close relationship with Iyabo Olorunkoya.
“The issue, however, is that with the Federal Military Government’s action on these two military men, a new standard which has hitherto never been applied in this country, has now been introduced.
“And it is a standard which the Daily Times upholds. It is that these two high ranking military officers are not expected, in the first place, to associate with people of shady character.
“We strongly suggest that the yard stick used in measuring the probity of Brigadiers Adekunle and Sotomi should be applied to similar cases now and in future. To do otherwise would be tantamount to setting up a precedent without follow-up,” asserted the newspaper.
All these were neither appealing enough as to persuade the powers that be to probe Tarka who, in a show of bravado, boasted: “I will wait and see who would come to probe me. I have done nothing they could probe.”
“Since my resignation from the Federal Executive Council, some members of the public have been expecting me to mention names of corrupt people, but I will never do so,” he declared.
“Nigeria is the showpiece of Africa and I will never do anything that could bring it into public ridicule as some people expected,” he went on to say, adding that he was not taking seriously the brains behind what he called “the campaign of calumny” against him, because some of them were people probed by judicial committees and found guilty at certain times in this country.
Appealing to ethnic sentiment, he commended the Fulani “for their openness and plain heartedness in all matters of national interest.” He said further that before his resignation few days ago, he had toured parts of the Northern, Eastern, Western and Mid-Western states and was convinced that what happened to him did not please the people.
“From this observation, he added: “I know I have the people’s support and this would be known when the ban on politics is lifted in the country.
“Now that I am settling to a new chapter in my political life,” the ex-commissioner said, “I am looking for a university job and if I cannot get one, I will employ myself.”
He explained that the qualifications he got in the teaching profession were the equivalent of Nigeria Certificate in Education and not the grade two certificate as “the Daily Times, wanted people to believe.”
On this, the consummate satirist, Aba Saheed, had earlier remarked in a stingingly witty satire in one of his weekly columns in the Daily Times, that Tarka’s educational qualifications, “a Teacher’s Grade III or II, should find him a cool position in the proposed UPE scheme, while his wide range of administrative capacity should stand him in a good stead as a village headmaster.”
“As for his other choices, writing and lectureship, I think one might advise the flamboyant ex-shadow minister and ex-commissioner, that writing as an art is not as easy as it appears. Maybe, however, the ex-parliamentarian and ex-teacher wants to write his biography which I’m sure would sell faster than the recently published book titled Watergate,” Aba Saheed again lashed out in a fit of sadistic humour.
And coincidentally, about ten days after the comical satiric piece, a book titled “Tarka, victim of sectional press and political blackmail” had been published. The North Central State Police Command, however stopped the launching of the book written by Malam Sidi Ali, which was to have been performed by the North Central State Commissioner for Social and Community Development, Alhaji Aminu Tijani, at the Banquet Hall of Hamdala Hotel, Kaduna.
The hall was packed full of newsmen and important dignitaries from various parts of the Northern states, when Malam Sidi Ali announced the cancellation of the event. He told the people who had gathered to watch the ceremony that police in the state had seized the books. He said he was sorry to have bothered the people to come in vain and thanked them for their interest. Malam Ali regretted that he did not make a single copy of the book available to anybody in anticipation that all will receive their copies at the launch.
The then North Central State Police Command, however, insisted they would not release copies of the book until instruction to do so was received from Lagos. “I will reserve my comment or my impression on its contents for the time being, but I will release the book to the author, only if I receive instructions from my headquarters in Lagos,” said the Police Commissioner, Mr. Joseph Adeola.
He rejected the argument from certain quarters that since Niyi Oniororo was allowed to launch his own book titled Tarka must be probed in Ibadan some few days earlier, there was no reason why Sidi Ali should not be allowed to launch his on the same subject.
The police boss explained that the book launched in Ibadan, according to its title, was mainly on Joseph Tarka and that no other personalities were brought into it and that the wordings of Sidi Ali’s own book was inciting, because he brought in other personalities in an explosive issue.
It was in the midst of these arguments that what seemed to be a ray of hope filtered in the then Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Kam Salem, who told newsmen in answer to their questions at a news conference, that the Nigeria Police had submitted to the Federal Government an interim report on the probe it conducted into allegations of wrong doings against Tarka.
The case, according to him, should not be regarded as closed yet and the top police boss remarked that no one could say what the government’s next line of action on the matter would be. He stated further that as a matter of official procedure, the findings of probe into the affairs of highly-placed public figures could only be made public on the directions of the appropriate authorities.
Kam Salem’s earlier assurance eventually turned out a tantalizing mirage of dashed hope as the world yearned day by day for the rightful treat of justice which was anything but forthcoming, until the Gowon’s regime hit the rock.
But the point that need here be stressed is: Was Daboh’s action actually motivated by purely patriotic motive of riding the socio-political Augean stable of corruption as he had often made people to believe at that time?
A writer, Iyoruwese Hagher, attempted to proffer an answer in a tribute which was reproduced as a chapter in a short biography of J.S. Tarka titled J.S. Tarka: Tribute to a great leader, written by Simon Shango, a protege of Tarka and National Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Party of Nigeria.
In that sub-topic titled: The political legacy of J.S. Tarka to Nigeria, Hagher attempted to analyse the fundamental cause of the episode and laid all blames on the doorsteps of Awo, a great political leader and statesman.
In a build up preamble, he remarked: “Had the military handed power to the civilian before 1974, J.S. Tarka would have emerged the undisputed president of Nigeria. The blow came in the summer of 1974. A fellow Tiv, whom Tarka had raised from hunger, poverty and squalor, Godwin Daboh, like Judas, shocked the nation by accusing J.S. Tarka of a very serious charge of corruption.”
He went on further: “How much of Daboh’s allegations were true or were fabricated is still to be proved. Nevertheless, the Daboh affair marked the irrevocable end of the road between J.S. Tarka and his colleague, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s alliance. Tarka, seeing Awo as his only political threat, naturally attributed Daboh’s allegation as a grand plan by the chief to discredit him.
“This suspicion was not without substance, for indeed, on seeing Tarka’s ambition, Awo was most determined not to lose the Tiv factor in his support. This gave rise to Awo wooing Mr. Paul Unongo, then a lecturer at the University of Lagos. Paul Unongo was Tarka’s protégé and his former personal secretary, whom, on arrival from his studies abroad, was introduced to the crème de la crème of Nigerian society and politics by J.S. Tarka.
“Tarka learnt of this flirtation of Paul Unongo with Awo, which drove him away from Lagos, to set up a financial empire in Jos. Thus, when the Daboh affair came, J.S. Tarka saw himself as a victim of a campaign of slander waged by his former comrade-in-arms, whom Tarka saw as intolerant of opposition, incapable of playing the neater game of national unity and only capable of the politics of ethnicity and disunity.”
But in the counteractive dismissal of the allegation against him, Chief Bola Ige, former governor of Oyo State and protégé of Awo, who was also a very close friend of Tarka, recounted that ten days before the story of the wrongdoings was broken by Godwin Daboh over the head of J.S., “I was in his house and I discussed many of the allegations I had heard about him with him. I warned him against certain persons who he thought were his friends, but who were merely urging him on, because they would benefit from what he was doing for them.
“I was unable to persuade him about the need to be more careful about his dealings with certain friends whom he relied upon and who were based in London. When a telephone call came from one of his associates based in London, he spoke very friendly and in my view, rather indirectly. When I asked him whether he did not think that his telephone could be tapped, he merely shrugged it off.”
Delving now into the nitty gritty: “Of course, when those allegations started pouring in, I felt that I had a duty, as a friend, to stand by him, even if both of us knew that some of the allegations were not unfounded.” Chipping in the Awo factor, he remarked: “What we disagreed on was his view that Chief Awolowo was behind Godwin Daboh’s allegations. I told him that it was not true and warned him against leaving the substance for the shadow. Sometimes, up till the time he died, I could never convince him.
“J.S. allowed the Daboh affair and the flirtation of Paul Unongo with Chief Awolowo for a short time to becloud his judgment about the political relationship with Chief Awolowo. He himself would admit that he did not belong to the NPN by antecedents and by political savvy. But because of his unsubstantiated hurt that Chief Awolowo was behind Daboh’s allegations, he said he was not ready to join the UPN.”
However, a school of thought was very quick in laying the blame on the doorsteps of the then Benue-Plateau State Governor Gomwalk. A proponent of this school of thought was Nowa Omoigui, a popular writer, who in an article, corroborated this theory, when he remarked: “Even more important for Gowon’s image, however, was what took place in July 1974. One Mr. Godwin Daboh-allegedly instigated by Paul Unongo and the then Benue-Plateau State Governor, Joseph Gomwalk, wrote an open letter to Federal Communications Commissioner Joseph Tarka… He followed the open letters with an affidavit in court, alleging corruption.”
On the reasons for the mutual rivalry and antagonism between Tarka on one hand, and Gomwalk on the other, Shango wrote: “One of the issues on which the dispute between Tarka and Gomwalk centred was the delicate one of Gomwalk’s plan (supported by Paul Unongo, Tarka’s former assistant, who had turned against him and sought to replace him) to divide Tiv Division into three.”
Writing further, he recounted that J.S. saw the change as more than just an administrative change. “He suspected (and with some justification), that part of the motive was political – the desire to undermine his base in Tiv Division.”
What might perharps serve to corroborate this theory could well be gleaned from the comment of Chia Surma, who insisted that Gowon must probe Tarka.
Surma, who was also the state’s Commissioner for Internal Affairs under the Gomwalk administration, also urged that “Mr. Tarka be challenged to reveal all those of his colleagues he knew were corrupt, so that they could also be probed.”
Addressing a crowded news conference in Lagos, Mr. Surma recalled “that Mr. Godwin Daboh brought up specific allegations of corruption against Mr. Tarka. The occasion, according to him, was a unique opportunity given the Federal Government to prove to Nigerians that the government is really serious in its promise to wipe out corruption in the country.”
He declared that “the Federal Government can only do this by giving Mr. Tarka the opportunity to refute these allegations made by Mr. Daboh at a public judicial inquiry.” After referring to attempts by Mr. Tarka “and his section of the press to introduce sectionalism and other irrelevant issues, such as the census and the creation of more states” into allegations against him to confuse the issue, Mr. Surma said no one could confuse this clear and straight forward issue.
He contended that Tarka’s recent statement that he would not reveal his mates “has cast a very dark shadow on his colleagues,” adding, “if it became necessary, all commissioners, permanent secretaries and chairmen of public corporations should be probed.”
This school of thought deposed that it was in the vindictive move to take a pound of the flesh for his master that months later, specifically August 31, 1974, a protégé of Tarka, Mr. Aper Aku, accused Gomwalk of corruption in an affidavit filed at the Jos High Court. It was also believed that before that time, he had written several letters to Gomwalk and Gowon, alleging corruption against Gomwalk.
Regrettably, however, Gowon personally cleared Gomwalk of all wrong doings, rather than ensuring that the case was presided over through an independent judicial committee. This action attracted a massive wave of criticisms from the press, which was further accentuated by Gowon’s refusal to put a stop to the increasing spate of affidavit swearing against perceived corrupt civil servants as announced through the then Attorney General of the Federation, Dr. Teslim Olawale Elias. This action by Gowon, according to reliable authority, was based on the suspicion that there were sinister forces behind the rash of affidavit swearing.
When Gowon returned from China, he made a public statement that if the aim of the campaign of affidavits was to get at the man at the top, he was ready to go to battle for the country’s survival.
On the day in question, he also ordered massive security precautions in Lagos as the entire route from Ikeja Airport through Ikorodu Road, all the way through Herbert Macaulay Way across Carter Bridge into Idumota and Ikoyi, were closed.
But these were not enough to save the military Head of State, who was overthrown by Major-General Murtala Muhammed, the very man, Gowon, chose to replace Tarka. What a prophetic fulfillment by Tarka, that his exit would create a chain of reactions the end of which no one could foretell. It was a chain of corruption in government, which remained with us since then.
And what was more in this connection was that Murtala immediately instituted a commission of inquiry which found Gomwalk guilty of gross acts of corruption.