Barring unforeseen circumstances, the radical Second Republic governor of Nigeria’s Northeast Borno State is scheduled to be buried tomorrow, April 30th, 2020. He died between 8.30 – 9 pm on the evening of April 29th, 2020. He was as prominent as the PRP governors of the two states of Kano and Kaduna in the Second Republic, most known for appointing non-indigenes as Secretary to the State Government in the person of Mr. Michael Orowaye and the State Chief Judge, Justice Kalu Anya.
Alhaji Goni was drafted from the National Supply Company to contest the governorship of Borno State. Prior to the shipping line job, he was General Manager of Northeast Line, the public service transport company ran by the regional government.
Alhaji Goni attended Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from where he obtained a degree in Public Administration. There, he was together with Mr. Dauda Birma, Bala Usman and Professor Kyari Tijani who became the Permanent Secretary, (Political) when Goni became the governor. Kyari Tijani who rose to become a professor of Political Science at the University of Maiduguri and a long time member of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, (Nigeria) remained Goni’s intellectual and political soul mate, along with Dr Yusuf Bala Usman, a celebrant of Goni Speaks, the collection of speeches by the late governor. Along with these soulmates did Goni win as president of the Student Union Government in Kongo Campus of ABU, Zaria in 1966. A video of his appearance at the last National Conference below shows the activist trait in his articulation of his standpoint.
As governor of Borno State from 1979 to the December 1983 coup, he was credited with doing more works than the resources he received by no less a person than the late General Tunde Idiagbon who handed over power as Military Administrator of the State to Goni in October 1979. It is said that except the university teaching hospital in Gombe State now, every other health establishment in both Borno and Yobe states today was what Goni built under his government’s ‘Comprehensive Health Centre’ programme in the old Borno State. Dapchi from where Boko Haram took away school girls two years back is a product of Goni’s educational expansion program too. Similarly, Borno State which had no eye clinic before that leadership emerged built one.
His first controversy was the opposition by the defunct National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) to his appointment of his former teacher and a top civil servant but a non-indigene as the Borno Secretary to the State Government in October 1979. Understandably as opposition, NPN was uncomfortable with two non-indigenes holding the position of Secretary to State Government and Chief Judge. Playing up the sentiments mainly in the defunct New Nigerian and the FRCN, Kaduna, the party succeeded in making Borno as much an epicenter of politics in the same league of the epic battle in Kano and Kaduna controlled by the PRP.
Alhaji Goni’s argument was that Mr. Michael Orowaye, the SSG in question was deployed during the time of the Northern region and had remained in the Northeast, rising to a prominent Permanent Secretary in Borno State before he became governor. And that he had the qualification, having attended the University of Lagos.
Although the December 1983 coup caught Goni outside the country and friends advised him against returning, he made his way back into the country. But, arriving at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport decked in suit instead of Babanriga, the then NSO did not recognise him and he went to town to dress up and report himself. If he expected to be given a clean card, he was mistaken. He was detained in Kirikiri and hauled before the segment of the Military Tribunal headed by then General Peter Adomokhai who sat in Jos.
An acolyte of Goni who attended the tribunal sitting from the first to the last day claimed to Intervention that he was discharged three times but directive came insisting on conduct of “further and better investigation”. Alhaji Goni himself had confirmed this claim when he told someone in 2011 that Gen Adomokhai wrote a recommendation arguing for his release. Similarly, his commissioner for Works as well as Finance who were freed in July 1984 were not released until October that year.
The main allegation against him was building a house in Maiduguri, a charge he countered by saying he obtained a loan and a claim a bank Advance Officer came to the tribunal to corroborate with the ledger. The second charge against him was spending N300, 000 for Security Vote in the four years he was governor. Apart from challenging anyone to show that he signed any expenditure to that effect, (meaning that the appropriate security and bureaucratic offices did the spending), his former teacher and the SSG brought receipts to the tribunal that showed that Goni, an elected governor, spent less than the Military Administrator he took over from. It wasn’t that General Idiagbon, the Military Administrator in question, was corrupt but that Borno State is a security nightmare for any governor long before Boko Haram.
For these and other reasons, General Adomokhai who didn’t understand the class and identity issues in the 1983 coup recommended Goni’s release. It didn’t happen.
The story is told of a discussion between the late Bala Usman and Tijani Kyari, both late now whether Nigeria will be adding value or subtracting to the quality of politics in 1979 – 1983. The observer who told the duo that politics in Nigeria will progressively be degenerating reports today that the two were never conclusive on the poser. While Bala Usman, according to the source, moved from optimism and pessimism about the future of politics, Kyari Tijani believed anything could happen. In 2010, Prof Kyari Tijani wondered aloud how a particular person ever became a governor of Borno State in his life time.
Alhaji Goni was 78 at death! Borno State might be lucky as the popular rating for the incumbent governor appears high.