Cablegate: Gombe State: A Diamond in the Rough

Published: Fri 6 Feb 2004 11:54 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
061154Z Feb 04
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (U) SUMMARY: Gombe State calls itself "the jewel of the
Savannah" and was well known as a commercial and agricultural
center before it was made a state in 1996 by the Abacha
regime. It is quickly becoming a real success story for
development. Agricultural output is growing, especially in
commercial farms, and the state has attracted new businesses
by its crossroads location, agricultural success, and the
efforts of its new governor, Danjuma Goje of the ruling PDP,
to improve the environment for business. Goje has gradually
won widespread support among Gombe's citizens since his
disputed election in 2003, and may be worth watching for
higher office over the next decade. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) PolCouns met with Goje, key political players, civil
society leaders, businessmen and development officials in
Gombe and other cities January 12-13 as part of a trip to the
northeast Nigerian states of Gombe, Taraba (septel) and
Benue. Governor Goje's election last April was marred by
complaints of irregularities. The Election Tribunal threw
out his opponent's complaint on technicalities, but many
claim the election was massively rigged in his favor. His
political opponents point to VP Atiku as the man behind
Goje's election, although Goje has downplayed ties to the VP
since. Upon taking office, Goje has employed a combination
of dexterous political tactics and skillful managerial
policies to concentrate on state issues. He blamed most of
the state's woes on his ANPP predecessor not finishing a raft
of development projects, and Goje even gave an impudent
speech in his opponent's hometown recently pointing out
improvements the audience could see that his predecessor
promised but Goje delivered.
3. (U) Goje made similar points to PolCouns, for example
that roads "neglected by the previous administrations" were
being repaired. Sure enough, PolCouns saw bulldozers and
construction workers busy clearing and expanding all of the
roads for several miles in each direction from the city. The
dust generated by all the construction work, coupled with the
strong Harmattan haze, has temporarily changed the slogan of
Gombe "Jewel of the Savannah" to "Hidden Jewel on the
4. (SBU) Goje was a businessman and former national Minister
of State for Steel and Power before running for Governor.
Like most Nigerian politicians, he was a student activist
during his days at the Ahmadu Bello University. After
graduation in 1980, Goje worked briefly for Bauchi State (now
split into Bauchi and Gombe states) before resigning to win a
seat in the State Assembly in 1983. Goje and the other
elected politicians lost their jobs when Buhari overthrew the
Second Republic in a bloodless military coup in December
1983, and Goje devoted his time thereafter to developing a
Gombe political base as he built his personal business.
5. (SBU) Goje returned to politics, winning a senatorial seat
under the banned United Nigeria's Congress Party (UNCP) in
1997. With the death of Abacha, Goje threw his weight behind
the PDP when legal political parties were formed and became a
federal MinState. He was rewarded with the MinState position
in 1999 for two years, and Goje made the best of it to
promote his political structure at home. His connecting
Gombe State's major towns to the national electric grid, and
facilitating the rise of Gombe natives to Federal
appointments were important political investments in Nigerian
politics. PDP top brass and other party supporters in the
State welcomed his 2003 candidacy, and officially he won a
slim victory against ANPP candidate and incumbent governor
Abubakar Hashidu.
6. (U) Goje appointed good professionals and allowed them a
free hand to run their various departments. Goje gave
considerable time to a one-on-one meeting with PolCouns, but
he also made sure a variety of state government professionals
-- not their politician bosses -- each gave time for separate
meetings. The result of this professionalization has been
great strides in building infrastructure. State agricultural
administrators made much of the success they have had in
attracting banks, now over twenty, to set up in Gombe and
provide loans to commercial farmers.
7. (U) The banks, in turn, came to Gombe because there was
sufficient infrastructure for them to take advantage of the
commercial opportunity. In addition to connecting Gombe
cities to the electric grid and building roads, Goje used his
Abuja connections to improve telecommunications. He invited
mobile phone provider MTN to build in Gombe; "MTN told me I
was the first Nigerian Governor to visit them and made such
an appeal." MTN built and ECONET followed, making Gombe one
of the few rural states to have widespread phone availability.
8. (U) The banks, roads, and efforts to build produce
marketing infrastructure and farm extension education have
made Gombe one of the few states in Nigeria where more people
are starting commercial farms than leaving them. Gombe
officials claimed growth in overall farm employment as well,
and the success of commercial farming was evident as
PolCouns' party crisscrossed the state from one end to the
other by road. Dealers and truckers told PolCouns, during an
unannounced visit to the refurbished central wholesale
market, that Gombe is exporting produce to Niger, Chad,
Burkina Faso and Cameroon, and to most other states in
Nigeria. PolCouns saw six trucks being loaded with large
quantities of beans, sorghum and vegetables for Abia state,
and the turnaround was roughly one eighteen wheeler every 40
9. (U) Goje lamented that after the discovery of oil, past
Nigerian administrations have neglected agriculture and
farmers elsewhere are abandoning farms to chase contracts.
"Farming has checked the rural-urban migration in Gombe State
and created successful middle class," Goje proudly
emphasized. While other states had been unable to pay for
most of the seats allocated to them for this year's Muslim
Pilgrimage, Gombe citizens -- mostly rural farmers -- have
already paid for 1,970 seats out of 2,000 allocated to the
10. (U) Governor Goje has made some other astute political
moves. One was to dismiss the traditional leaders committees
and limit the Local Government Areas' hiring that had soaked
up much of the state government budget for what were
essentially unproductive patronage jobs.
11. (U) He also invested time in healing communal conflict
that had plagued the state in the past, largely by
integrating newcomers instead of allowing the continuance of
"sabon gari" segregated housing districts for them. People
who moved to the state for economic opportunities, whom
Nigerians refer to as "non-indigenes," were seen as a threat
in Gombe as they are in much of Nigeria. But leaders of NGOs
told PolCouns at separate meetings that the now friendly and
accommodating spirit of the citizens provides comfort and
security to non-indigenes. Dr. Alhassan, a medical doctor
and the Rotary Club District Governor, said he was a case in
point and felt quite at home despite being a non-indigene.
Other (assumedly indigene) NGO leaders in the room criticized
him for even using the term.
12. (SBU) Nothing succeeds like success, and Gombe
residents' focus has shifted from the controversy over
Governor Goje's election to acclaim for his administration.
Goje's office is both small and humble, and he told PolCouns
he had no political ambitions past succeeding as a governor.
His age (47), strong local political support base, ties to
the VP, and success in office would allow him to go farther,
and we will keep our eye on him as a future leader. When
asked about the next generation of leaders in Gombe, Goje
said he believes Deputy Governor John Lazarus Yoriyo will
likely succeed him. Goje said the Christian and non-indigene
Yoriyo has been quite popular since he too became a state
assemblyman, and Yoriyo's emerging powerbase in a different
part of Gombe State meshes with Goje's.
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