THIS GOVERNOR MUST GO – APER AKU

THIS GOVERNOR MUST GO

Even primary school pupils of those glorious eras of the 1960s and 1970s would well remember with nostalgic affection, this evocative verse of the first Nigerian national anthem, which was fondly chanted by school boys and generally, the generation of citizens of yesteryears.

And of the year 1974? Yes! 1974 we hail thee too! To be sure, it was a year, which was eminently distinguished for the recurring decimal of oddities that dotted the socio-political landscape.  It was the year of turbulence, the strange and the bizarre.

It was the fateful year of the celebrated Iyabo Olorunkoya episode, which unfolded a big scandal of unprecedented proportion in international hemp trafficking, which did not only land the renowned socialite in jail, but also culminated in the forced retirement of two top military brass, Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle, the dreaded Black Scorpion and hero of the Nigerian civil war and Brigadier Foluso Sotomi. To be sure, the only offence of the two military officers was the misfortune of being associated in one way or the other with Olorunkoya; it wasn’t that they were in any way implicated.

It was also the year, when the Maverick Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, had his first major bash with the police, following a massive raid of his empire, with accusation of hemp charges which was to land him ultimately in the cooling gulag of Alagbon. It still did not end there. It was the year of the Tarka-Daboh debacle, otherwise understood in popular lingo as “You Tarka me, I Daboh you.”

Remember the Tarka-Daboh episode? Hardly had it died down than another self- acclaimed anti-corruption crusader, Aper Aku, went to town with allegations of corrupt practices leveled against the Benue-Plateau State governor, Mr. Joseph Deshi Gomwalk. All in 1974.

The allegations were initially catalogued in a letter which he distributed to every nook and cranny of the state. On August 22, officials of the Benue-Plateau State Ministry of Home Affairs and Information were questioned by the police over the distribution of the letter, alleging wide-spread wrong-doings in the state.

The police believed that the nine civil servants held then could help them in their investigations into those involved in the circulation of copies of the letter to the public.

The nine officials included Innocent Akaaza, Emmanuel Hyonongo, Thomas Igba, Edward Kanshio, Caiphas Dadet, Brendan O. Kasiong, Yahaya Usman, Saudu B. Mohammed and Anthony Adara.

This was followed on Wednesday, August 28, by the invitation of another set of officials from the same ministry by the police for questioning.

Senior officials of the Benue-Plateau Television Station also confirmed in Jos that news items and commentaries were vetted by government before being allowed on.

However, what initially seemed an under-cover affair was eventually blown into popular public domain as Aper Aku, in an ostensible bid to pursue his cause to the hilt, took recourse to the Jos High Court, where he swore to an affidavit alleging large scale corruption against the Military Governor of Benue-Plateau State, Police Commissioner Joseph Deshi Gomwalk.

In the affidavit, Aku alleged that the military governor had improper connection with Voteniski Nigeria Limited, a construction company with headquarters in Jos.

He also alleged that the military governor bought Central Bank treasury bills worth N26,000 and shares valued at N20,000 in the United Africa Company Limited (UAC).

The businessman further alleged that the police commissioner purchased a house on October 20, 1973, with Certificate of Occupancy number 4148, at a cost of N14,000. Other landed properties listed in the affidavit were two buildings housing the Herwa Hotels at Naraguta Avenue, Jos, valued at more than N72,000.

It was also alleged that the governor’s elder brother, Mr. Jonathan Deshi Gomwalk, bought a house at No. 18, Wamba Road, covered by Certificate of Occupancy number 3020 at a cost of N50,000 on April 1, 1974, at 10.30 a.m. The same person, it was alleged, bought the Tin City Pools for N40,000.

Either one of the two brothers, Joseph and Deshi Gomwalk or their relation, the affidavit added, is the owner of the housing estate at St. Patrick’s Avenue, Jos, valued at N80,000.

Besides landed property acquired since he came to office, the affidavit claimed, the military governor used his official position to further the interest of the said Voteniski Nigeria Limited.

Paragraph five in the affidavit stated that road contracts for construction awarded to Voteniski Nigeria Limited were done in an irregular manner, because there had never been tenders or quotations from any other company. It was alleged that the Benue Plateau State Executive Council had never been asked to deliberate over the contracts.

The affidavit claimed that for a single road contract awarded, Voteniski Nigeria Limited was paid N2 million before the contract agreement was signed, against all financial procedure and without the guidance of financial instructions or expert advice.

It further stated that one Mrs. Helen Gomwalk, wife of the military governor’s elder brother, Mr. Clement Deshi Gomwalk and permanent secretary in the state’s Ministry of Health, was a paid administrative director of Voteniski Nigeria Limited on a basic salary of N8,000 per annum.

No sooner had he sworn to the affidavit than the police swooped on him, arrested and kept him in detention. This was where the clamour for Gomwalk’s removal began. Why should Aku be arrested if those allegations were not true? While “This governor must go!” rent the air, Aku was living permanently in detention.

As a result of the failure to release him, his wife, Mrs. Fidelia Mbateren Aku, filed a motion of habeas corpus at the Jos High Court for the release of her husband.

In the affidavit supporting the notice of the writ of habeas corpus, Mrs. Aku contended that on Saturday, August 31, 1974,her husband was invited from his hometown in Gboko, for questioning by the police in Jos, adding that ever since, he had been arrested and detained.

She said since there was no detention warrant signed by the Inspector-General of Police, her spirited attempt to see the state’s commissioner of police on the issue proved futile.

Mrs. Aku then prayed the court that her husband should be produced in court for sufficient cause to be shown to justify his detention.

She said she had never been allowed to see her husband in his cell since his detention and was therefore very worried about this, particularly as she did not have the opportunity of giving him the food of his choice.

Indeed, sources close to Aku’s cell disclosed that since his arrest and detention by the police, he had refused to eat.

In another development, the Benue-Plateau State governor, Joseph Gomwalk, came out on Tuesday, September 3, to declare, in his first public reaction, that the allegation of financial wrongdoings preferred against him by Mr. Aper Aku were “a malicious distortion of fact and untrue.”

The statement, issued from the Government House in Jos, read: “The attention of the Governor of Benue-Plateau State has been drawn to a news item published in some of the national dailies and to the text of an affidavit said to have been sworn to by Mr. Aper Aku.

“The allegations contained in these newspaper publications and the affidavit, I am authorised to say, are malicious, a distortion of facts and untrue.”

The governor had at no time improperly associated himself with Voteniski Limited. He had at no time misused his position to amass wealth for himself or for any of his relatives.

“I am further authorised to say that the military governor had not at any time, abused the procedure for award of contracts.

“The governor and his relatives, as any other Nigerians, were entitled to legitimate ownership of property.”

“It is a pity that His Excellency, the Governor, who had worked selflessly to see to the progress of the Benue-Plateau State in particular and the unity of Nigeria as a whole, should now be so portrayed.” The statement expressed that a more detailed answer to the points raised in the affidavit would be given in due course.

Meanwhile, as the police authorities continued to hold on to him indefinitely in detention, legal experts in Jos observed that Mr. Aku had made allegations against the Benue-Plateau State governor and in the process of establishing the fact leading to the allegations, had sworn to an affidavit to back the facts.

They explained that this did not necessarily establish the ground for a court action against the respondent, but where the police were alert to their duties; sufficient prima facie evidence had been produced for them to investigate the matters alleged.

At the conclusion of their investigation, the police, according to the legal experts, may decide, subject to public policy and on the advice of the federal law officers, to prosecute or not to prosecute.

As the controversy raged on, Governor Gomwalk was summoned to Lagos to defend himself of the allegations of wrong doings levelled against him before the Federal Government.

Informed sources had it that government had felt concerned about the allegations made against the governor by Aper Aku.

Consequent upon this, according to the sources, General Yakubu Gowon gave an order that Mr. Gomwalk should come down to Lagos to confirm or deny the allegations.

However, whether by sheer coincidence or a deliberate design to clear the air and make the defence effort of the governor easier when he eventually got to Lagos, the executive chairman of the Benue-Plateau Construction Company (BEPCO), Dr. Alexander Fom, went to the press to deny that his company had ever been awarded any contract by the Benue-Plateau State government without following the proper procedures.

Speaking to reporters at Kaduna Airport, Dr. Fom said any contract his company had undertaken for the government was properly tendered for and was won on a competitive basis.

Fom said he swore to an affidavit in the Jos High Court the previous day and distributed copies of the affidavit to reporters, in which he claimed that he had invited the brother of the Benue-Plateau State governor, Mr. Jonathan Deshi Gomwalk, as a partner in BEPCO because of his experience in business management.

In the affidavit, he gave the names of other shareholders in the company as Jalupon Merchant, Giovani Fillepi, Lino Gianci and Malyen Greig, with whom he formed the company.

Fom claimed in his counter affidavit that Mr. Aper Aku who had accused the Benue-Plateau State governor of grave financial wrong-doing had sworn falsely and that his company had never undertaken any job for the government in the Benue part of the state.

He said the house at 18, Wamba Road, Jos, was built for Mr. Jonathan Deshi Gomwalk with a loan obtained from a bank and not bought by him on April 1, 1974 as claimed by Mr. Aku in his affidavit, but was completed and handed over to him in May, 1973.

He claimed further that it was untrue that his company built four blocks of senior staff quarters for the government at the cost of N120, 000 each.

Fom did not, however, declare the initial capital of the company nor did he state the salary of Mr. Jonathan Deshi Gomwalk, whom he agreed was one of the directors of BEPCO.

He challenged Mr. Aku to prove within seven days, that what he (Dr. Fom) swore to was false and to produce documentary evidence that the whole contract for the Federal Government Low Cost Housing Scheme was awarded to his firm and that it built all government senior staff quarters at N120,000 each.

Fom pledged his unshaken faith and confidence in the governor of the state as a man of integrity and that Mr. Aku’s aim in levelling accusations against him was a deliberate attempt to tarnish his good name.

It was against this background of a good laundry job already done for the image of the governor that he set forth to Lagos the following day, as the nation eagerly awaited his defense.

Meanwhile, at the Jos Airport before flying to Lagos amidst massive police presence mounting guard all over the city, immediately after the arrest and detention of Aper Aku, Gomwalk warned people in the Benue-Plateau State to stop writing letters and spreading rumours that could cause disaffection among the people, warning that anybody caught in the act of writing fictitious letters or spreading unfounded rumours would be dealt with by the law enforcement agencies.

The governor, who was answering reporters’ questions on certain rumours circulating that the state’s Commissioner for information, Mr. Chia Surma, had been ordered to go on compulsory leave, said there was no truth in it, adding that Mr. Surma and the Commissioner for Trade and Industry, Mr. Daniel Humbe, were on their normal annual leave.

He said that the two commissioners started vacation according to the leave roster prepared for all the commissioners and permanent secretaries in the state.

At exactly 1.50 p.m. on Thursday, a F.27 Nigerian Air Force plane landed at the military base of Ikeja Airport, as Gomwalk and another police officer believed to be his aide-de-camp, emerged from the plane into the waiting hands of anxious reporters.

The governor, who told reporters that he was in Lagos “to talk with the Head of State on state matters,” however, “no comment” reply to many of the questions put to him.

He hinted that he would remain in Lagos until General Gowon left for China.

Also, whether by coincidence or design, barely a day after Gomwalk’s arrival in Lagos, an Executive Director of Benue-Plateau Construction Company Limited (BEPCO), Mr. Jonathan Dechi Gomwalk, declared that all property in his possession were acquired through hard work and, over the years, prudent business management.

In a counter-affidavit he swore to at a Jos High Court, Mr. Jonathan Gomwalk, a brother to the Benue-Plateau State governor, maintained that “I have at no time misused the position of my brother as a military governor to wield unhealthy influence in the society.”

He also insisted that he had never used his position as a privilege for unjustly enriching himself in government or even in private circles, against other peoples’ interest.

In his nine-page counter affidavit, he said that while he believed that it was no offence to hold legitimate private property “in this country,” he also believed that it was not a crime in Nigeria to have a brother as governor of a state.

In his defence on the award of contracts to BEPCO, he said that after considering the merits of the tenders forwarded for the construction of the secretariat in Jos, his company, which tendered for N5 million, was awarded one contract.

He swore that the property at 18, Wamba Road, Jos, was built with the loan he received from the Bank of the North Limited, Jos, which still retained in its possession a copy of the plan, the Certificate of Occupancy and the insurance certificate covering the said property.

Two days after, on Monday September 9, 1974, Votenisky Nigeria Limited admitted in an affidavit that Mrs. Helen Gomwalk was the Chief Administrative Officer of the company.

Helen was the wife of the elder brother of the Benue Plateau State governor, Mr. Clement Deshi Gomwalk, who was also the permanent secretary in the state’s Ministry of Health.

In the affidavit sworn to at the Jos High Court, the company’s secretary, Mr. Efiom Ita Efiom, however explained that her salary was N6,000 a year and not N8,000 as alleged by Mr. Aper Aku.

Although, the affidavit did not state the qualification of Mrs. Gomwalk to enable her make N6,000 a year, it pointed out that the company had other departmental heads earning between N8,000 and N10,000 a year.

Effiom also stated in the affidavit that only N790,602 was paid to his company and not N2 million as alleged by Mr. Aku.

“This initial payment was to cover all survey work, designing of both the road and bridges together with final technical drawing, provision of soil testing laboratory equipment, which the contractor was also required to provide and treated as part of the main road construction contract,” he explained.

The anxiously awaited moment of decision was, however, to unfold, following Gowon’s announcement which absolved Gomwalk of the charges of wrong-doings levelled against him.

He warned both the press and the judiciary not to allow themselves to be used as instruments of blackmail against highly placed public officials aimed solely at tarnishing their image.

An obviously triumphant Gomwalk, smarting from the uplifting vote of confidence passed on him by the Head of State, thanked his boss, saying that the declaration had given him added courage to continue to work very hard in the interest of peace, progress and unity in his state in particular and the country in general.

Speaking at a press conference in Jos, he gave thanks to God for directing the Federal Government aright and giving it courage to take a decision on its findings promptly.

Barely two days after Gowon’s warning to the press and judiciary, the Advisory Judicial Committee immediately went to the press to announce thus:

“The Advisory Judicial Committee wishes to make the following statement, regarding circumstances under which affidavits may be sworn whether in court or out of court.

“Every citizen has a right to lodge a complaint concerning a criminal offence against a wrongdoer or a suspected wrongdoer by-

EITHER reporting the matter to the police who, by law, have well-established procedures to which the complainant must conform OR

Reporting the matter to the director of public prosecutions, whether orally or in writing; for necessary action; OR

Commencing subject to the constitution of the federation,  a private prosecution of the alleged offender.

No affidavit should be allowed to be sworn to before a Commissioner for Oaths, a Notary Public, a magistrate, or a Justice of the Peace, unless the same is in respect of any proceedings in court:

Affidavits required in connection with a judicial proceeding should not be confused with the statutory declarations as to age, etc. or the filing of information for the commencement of a criminal prosecution before a justice of the peace: and

It is not generally realized that sworn affidavits do not by themselves confer any privilege or immunity on their deponents.”

Also in his own comments, Governor of the North Western State, Alhaji Usman Farouk, remarked that the current wave of affidavit swearing alleging wrong doings against some public office holders could not solve the problem of corruption in the country.

The governor, who was answering reporters’ questions during a stop-over in Ilorin, Kwara State, on his way to Sokoto, the state capital, described the present wave of affidavits as mischievous act capable of throwing the nation into chaos. He said the eradication of corruption was a gradual process, which was being carried out by the country’s law enforcement agencies and the law courts.

Echoing the same sentiment, Governor of the North Central State, Brigadier Aba Kyari, called on the judiciary not to allow law courts to be turned into a political platform.

The governor, who made the call at Kaduna Airport before leaving for Lagos, said there were political undertones in affidavits being sworn to against individuals in responsible positions in the country.

While Governors Usman Faruk and Abba Kyari sounded clearly and understandably pro-establishment, Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye, Adjutant General of the Nigerian Army, exuded a manifestly non-conformist stance in his remark that the court had a duty to safeguard the right of every citizen.

Against this background, the court, according to him, should therefore be allowed free hand to hear any complaints brought by a citizen against anybody, no matter his status in the society.

Abisoye, who was addressing newsmen at Sokoto Airport at the end of his inspection tour of all military installations in the country, said he believed that there were often elements of truth in complaints of corrupt practices against public officers.

He urged that the court should therefore be allowed to hear such cases and prove the truth fullness or otherwise, of such complaints.

The top military brass and distinguished hero of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war stunned the entire nation when he called for a decree which would provide death by firing squad, for public officers found guilty of official corruption.

He declared that corrupt public officers were more dangerous than armed robbers in any society, adding that whereas armed robbers posed threat to sections of the society, however, official corruption was a threat which could cripple the nation’s economy.

Also in his article titled Golden Age of Affidavits, Tola Adeniyi, the renowned writer and satirist, wrote: “It is my belief that however frivolous an affidavit might be seen, it will be foolish to dismiss it as arrant nonsense for, in the first place, a person who swore to an affidavit knows full well the repercussions awaiting him should his affidavit be proved false.”

A former opposition leader in the old Northern House of Assembly, Mr. J.S Olawoyin, called for the release of Mr. Aper Aku in order not to discourage or frighten other Nigerians from courageously and patriotically coming out into the open, to assist the Federal Government in its determined efforts to eradicate corruption in our public life.

“It will be impossible for General Gowon, Police Inspector-General Kam Salem and Police Commissioner Sunday Adewusi alone to successfully wage effective war against corruption in Nigeria without the readily support of the Nigerian public and the press,” Olawoyin said.

He then called on Governor Gomwalk to defend himself publicly in clear and unambiguous language, against all specific allegations of abuse of office made against him or in the alternative, resign his office as state governor and his commission with the Nigerian Police.

It was, indeed, imperative that Gomwalk would articulate his reply, following a directive to that effect by the Head of State, General Gowon.

However, as Gomwalk prepared to reply to Aku’s allegations, a drama ensued as the Daily Times reported an undercover maneuver of transfer ownership of certain landed property mentioned in the affidavit of wrongdoings against the Benue-Plateau State’s governor going on in the state capital, Jos.

“A competent source close to the ministry hinted that so far, the transfer of ownership of about five houses from one prominent person in the state to others had been completed. It was gathered that the documents so far affected were related to the landed property in the file numbers ROFO BP 191 dated January 8, 1969; ROFO BP 2367  and ROFO BP 2368, both dated June 5, 1974 and ROFO BP, 292 and ROFO BP 384, dated June 3, 1969 and September 4, 1969 respectively.

When contacted on the telephone, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Mr. A.O. Onazi, said the matter was above him to comment in.

“He directed that all enquiries pertaining training to the allegation should be directed to the state’s Commissioner for Lands and Survey who also happened to be the state’s governor, Police Commissioner Gomwalk.”

However, Tuesday September 10, 1974 eventually came the big defense articulated in a 17-page letter to the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, which was also released to the media.

In the defense, Gomwalk declared that all road contracts carried out in the Benue-Plateau State were done at “rock bottom prices” as the state had many roads to construct and very limited funds with which to carry them out.

“If I had wanted to amass wealth improperly, I would not bother to negotiate so hard to bring down costs to rock bottom and save the tax payers’ every penny under my government’s care

“I would have, if I were corrupt, allowed the inflation of costs in order to have my cuts from the contractors,” said Gomwalk.

On the allegations that he caused contracts to be awarded to the Benue-Plateau Construction Company (BEPCO), the governor explained that he had never directed the state’s Tenders Board to award contracts to any particular company.

He stated that the state secretariat was tendered for by many contractors, but the job was awarded to BEPCO at N5.02 million instead of the Plateau Construction Company which tendered for N6.12 million, because BEPCO had better executive capacity.

The governor denied that his wife, Mrs. Azubah Gomwalk, was a director of Votenisky Nigeria Limited as alleged by Mr. Aku or had anything to do with the company.

Reacting to the articulated defense of Governor Gomwalk, the Daily Times, in its characteristic dispassionate objectivity, observed in its front page comment titled “Unanswered Questions”, that many of the allegations made by Aper Aku were left hanging.

“It may well be a corroboration of the fact that Gowon, in reposing a vote of confidence in Gomwalk, was after all doing so from a dispassionately objective stand point devoid of any sentiment. However, the major error committed by him was to have personally arrogated to himself the judicial power to discharge and acquit, when in actual fact, the judicial organ which were best suited to handle such function were by-passed from doing their work.

“In the alternative, he could have constituted an independent judicial panel with military, police and civilian representation, to preside, while Gomwalk temporarily relinquished office. A third party ought to have declared Gomwalk innocent if indeed he was and not Gowon.”

This was why there was a lot of noise in the land what everybody was saying was that “This governor must go!” “Gomwalk must go!” But Gowon remained his godfather, his chief protector.

He said he was ready to go to war and urged the press to support him to ensure that the nation was not torn into pieces. “Nigerians should learn to build, rather than destroy,” he said, adding, “Only God can save us at the rate we are going.” He believed it was the people who wanted to ruin his government that were behind the wave of affidavits, most especially since Gomwalk was the governor of his home state.

This was reportedly among the factors that informed his outbursts immediately on arrival from China. It was also for this reason that he organized an unprecedentedly tight security across the wide Lagos landscape on his journey back from China.

But this, indeed, could not help his ouster in a bloodless coup that took place on July 31, 1975, while attending an OAU confab at Kampala, the capital of Uganda, during the Idi Amin era.

A probe panel set up by Gowon’s successor, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed headed by Justice Alfa Belgore however, contradicted Gowon, when he declared:

“We have come to the conclusion that the records of Mr. Dechi Gomwalk as military governor involved great corruption and ignoble arrangements to waste government money and therefore gain from such waste for himself, his cronies and his families.”

Aper Aku was vindicated at last after a harrowing spell of indefinite detention.

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