Garba Shehu: Vindicated At Last By Vincent Obia Head, Cover and Investigation
The name of Mallam Garba Shehu rings a bell with many Nigerians. He is media consultant and spokesman of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
Shehu hogged the limelight in the last days of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration as feuds between him and his deputy, Atiku, reached fever pitch. Then, Atiku was the target, the 2007 presidential election was the issue, and Shehu was the focus of attention, especially in media circles. He managed his boss's public relations so well that he changed the tone of the political war, considerably and persistently putting attackers of the former vice- president on the defensive.
But Shehu also had his own public image to manage after the federal government preferred a criminal charge against him. He was sued at an Abuja High Court in connection with the 1996 bombing of Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, in which Bagauda Kaltho, senior correspondent of The News and TEMPO magazines, was killed. His offence, according to the charges, was alleged possession of classified materials relating to the bombing.
Shehu pleaded not guilty when the charges were read out to him on February 26 this year. The legal tussle continued until last Thursday when the court quashed the three counts charge against him and discharged him accordingly.
"This is clearly a vindication of the just," he says of the legal victory.
It is not clear if the President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua government would appeal the Abuja High Court ruling, but for those who believe the case brought by the Obasanjo government against Atiku's aide was simply trying to give him a bad name, the judiciary has yet again asserted it is here to help the weak in the time of trouble.
Noris Quekers, lawyer with Agbakoba and Associates, Lagos, says the court verdict on Shehu, "Evidences the new posture of the federal government".
Yar'Adua has pledged to respect the rule of law, and many Nigerians are happy with what they have seen so far. They are particularly pleased with the judiciary for foiling an attempt by the Obasanjo government to link Shehu with the death of Kaltho, a case that has remained shrouded in mystery since life was bombed out of the Kaduna State senior correspondent of Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL), publishers of The News and TEMPO (now defunct) magazines and PM News newspaper, on January 18, 1996.
When the Durbar Hotel bomb blast occurred on Thursday, January 18, 1996, the police immediately moved in to investigate. Newspaper accounts of the blast indicated that the entire vicinity of the blast was terribly shattered, and that the alleged bomb carrier was burnt beyond recognition.
Then acting Police Commissioner of Kaduna State, Umaru Suleiman, was quoted as saying, "What we know so far as we in this command are concerned is that the management of Durbar could not identify the person. If somebody tells you this is the name of the person, that person must be a liar…
"We did not see anything, any exhibit along with him that can identify the dead man. The only thing we recovered is a book, which he had just bought from the Durbar Hotel and the title of the book is The Man Died, written by Wole Soyinka."
Following the death of Head of State Sani Abacha, General, Abdulsalami Abubakar, General, took over and ordered release of all detainees held by the Abacha junta. Kaltho was not found among those detained.
Curiously, on August 18,1998, Alhaji Zakari Biu, then Assistant Commissioner of Police and head of the Task Force on Terrorist Activities, addressed a press conference in Lagos on behalf of the police and claimed that the alleged bomb carrier, whom the police said was burnt beyond recognition, was Kaltho. Biu declared that Kaltho, who had been declared missing since February 1996, died in a bomb blast that occurred at the Durbar Hotel, Kaduna, on January 18, 1996. He also alleged that publishers of The News and TEMPO magazines were connected with the bombing.
The management of ICNL swiftly denied the allegations in a press conference held on August 19, 1998, describing them as spurious.
To many Nigerians, the death of Kaltho remains a sad reminder of the dark days of military dictatorship. Obasanjo has been widely accused of running a civilian version of that autocratic era during his eight years presidency.
Quekers believes, "The discharge of Shehu is another in a catalogue of events that signify our emergence from the dark period of impunity and dictatorship."
Shehu, a members of the Atiku Campaign Organisation, is a former president of Nigerian Guild of Editors and former editor of New Nigerian newspaper. He was journalism teacher at Bayero University, Kano.
For working with Atiku, Shehu has been hounded and detained severally by the law enforcement agents. Though, the law, like in the latest case, has always vindicated him and his boss, the journalist-turned-public relations guru acknowledges the ever-present threat of adversaries. "Enemies abound everywhere and may want to strike at anytime. But I strongly believe that God is the one who gives life and God takes away life. I don't believe that my life is in the hand of anybody," he says. http://www.independentngonline.com/?c=137&a=6557