The All Progressives Congress (APC) in Gombe State has been enmeshed in crisis as the feud between Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya and his erstwhile godfather, Senator Muhammad Danjuma Goje, a former governor of the state, fester.
Political observers say though the feud started in 2019 during the buildup to the general elections, it recently widened the crack in the ruling party in the state.
While the governor’s camp is claiming that Goje worked against their principal during the party’s primaries in 2019, those with the former governor are of the view that Governor Yahaya rode on the strength of their leader to grab the number one seat in the state.
Before the governorship primary election of the APC in 2019, there were allegations that Goje, who was the party leader, secretly supported Muhammad Jibril Barde and Umar Farouk Bamusa against Yahaya.
However, Yahaya, who was his commissioner for finance for seven years and the party’s flag-bearer in the 2015 governorship election, maneuvered his way to victory.
Following Yahaya’s victory at the primaries, Goje, alongside other party chieftains, rallied all the other eight aspirants that lost the ticket to support him, a development pundits said did magic for the APC in the state, which ended the 16-year rule of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.
The APC also won all the three senatorial seats, six House of Representatives seats and 19 of the 24 seats in the state House of Assembly.
When Governor Yahaya was forming his cabinet, he ‘rewarded’ Goje by appointing five of his loyalists as commissioners and several special advisers, including his daughter, Dr Hussaina Goje and son-in-law, Ibrahim Dasuki Jalo Waziri, who were posted to juicy ministries – Environment and Forest Resources, and Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, respectively.
However, in December 2019, about seven months after Yahaya’s assumption of office, Senator Goje, who represents Gombe Central Senatorial District, called for a mega rally and announced his decision not to contest for election again.
He cited old age and to give younger generation the opportunity to also grow and showcase their God-given talents.
“Having contested and won all seven elections, in addition being a minister, I strongly believe that the Almighty Allah has been extremely kind to me. I also believe that not many Nigerians are so lucky and blessed.
“It is in this light and having reached an advanced age, I wish to formally inform you that I have decided not to contest any election again. For the avoidance of doubt, in 2023 and beyond, I will not contest any election at all levels,” he told a crowd at Pantami Stadium. He, however, said he would continue to support the administration of Governor Yahaya and activities of the APC.
Not long after the event, his erstwhile godson, Usman Bello Kumo, member representing Akko Federal Constituency, and Senator Idris Umar Abdullahi, a onetime senator and former minister of transport, started scheming to dislodge Goje as a political leader in the Gombe Central Senatorial District.
Kumo, who has been nursing grudges against Goje for supporting Dattuwa Ali Kumo during the primary election in 2019, also feared that the former governor would scheme him out and support another person in 2023. On his part, Senator Idris, who vacated the senatorial district for Goje in 2011, is scheming to return to the Senate.
According to political observers, when Goje’s ‘boys’ realised that he was being pushed out even before he would vacate office, they moved to convince him to have a rethink.
The loyalists, including some commissioners and other aides of Governor Yahaya, organised a mega rally in Kumo town and called on Goje to rescind his earlier decision not to contest. They felt that in the event that Goje is out of the system, their seats and careers in politics would be truncated.
While the scheming was ongoing, the party called for a stakeholders’ meeting in preparation for the election of new party executives at the ward level. All the elected members of the party attended the meeting at the Government House and unanimously agreed for consensus in getting the new executives.
However, shortly after the meeting, some aides of Governor Yahaya hinted him that Goje was trying to hijack the party structure and deny him the opportunity to pick candidates for different elective positions in 2023, or even the ticket for a second term.
Political observers said the governor saw reason with them and started scheming to get back at the senator and take full control of the party.
But the last straw that broke the camel’s back and brought to limelight, the long-concealed feud between Yahaya and Goje, was a statement by the governor when he hosted the people of Akko Local Government Area who paid him a solidarity visit.
The visit coincided with the alleged clash between Goje and Bello Kumo’s supporters during the last Eid-el-Kabir, a clash that led to the death of at least two persons.
During the solidarity visit, a party chieftain from Akko, Abubakar Mu’azu Hassan and Bello Kumo notified Governor Yahaya on the unfortunate incident “and excesses of Goje’s boys,” urging him to intervene before it would escalate to major crisis.
In his response, the governor made a strongly worded speech, warning politicians to stop instigating violence in the state, saying his administration would not tolerate political thuggery. He said the state government would not allow politicians to connive with criminals to disrupt the relative peace being enjoyed in the state.
“I won’t tolerate this. It will be the last time such kind of things will happen under my watch as governor of this state. A senator is not bigger than the governor in terms of power and authority.
“When that person had an opportunity to be in power (as governor), he sponsored political thugs (Kalare) to unleash violence on opponents and other people of the state, which then served his selfish political interest.
“But I will not allow such acts of lawlessness under my watch. If you allowed Kalare (thugs) to roam free during your time, this is my time and I will not allow that,” the governor said.
Goje’s camp saw the governor’s statement as insulting, while the governor’s camp swore to deal with the senator for “all his previous sin.”
During the ward congresses, it was believed that about 80 per cent of Goje’s loyalists in his stronghold, Gombe central and other parts of the state were replaced with those loyal to Governor Yahaya.
Goje was said to have seen this as confrontation by the governor and therefore, asked chairmen of the party loyal to him at the local government level to resign in protest.
Also, last weekend, APC stakeholders in the Gombe central organised a meeting and denounced Goje as leader of the party. The meeting was attended by all political officeholders and government appointees from the zone. At the end of the meeting, they affirmed their loyalty to Governor Yahaya as the “authentic leader” of the party in the state.
In his speech, Habu Mu’azu chronicled how the former governor allegedly betrayed all the people that helped him politically in the past.
Usman Kumo, on his part, accused Goje of envy, saying, “Apart from him and his family he doesn’t want any other person to excel in the state. He always wants to dominate everybody. He calls the shot”.
Meanwhile, a political associate of the senator who did not want to be named said their principal had not spoken yet, adding “It is not the right time to speak, but I can tell you that things will eventually take care of themselves”.
According to a source in the party, now that it is obvious a political battle line has been drawn between Senator Goje and Governor Yahaya, the odds may be against the governor, “considering the influence of Goje at the national level”.
“In the event that he decides to contest for the senatorial seat again, he may secure the ticket from Abuja. You know he was powerful and played a role in the emergence of Senate President Ahmad Lawan after he tactically withdrew his ambition.
“Also, Goje has a ‘well oiled’ political structure in the state because he virtually had a hand in the progression of all the present political officeholders, starting from the governor, who he initiated into politics when he appointed him as finance commissioner in 2003,” the source added.
But it is believed that aside the power of incumbency, various critical road projects across the state, as well as renovation of hospitals and schools would work in favour of the governor come 2023.
When contacted on efforts by the party to reconcile the two leaders, the chairman of the caretaker committee in the state, Mr Nitte Amangal, said he was in a meeting and would get back to our correspondent.
Efforts to reconcile the two political gladiators by top shots of the party at the national level have not yielded the desired results.