By Odoh Michael
During a recent facility tour of the new ultra-modern Yaliam Press Limited in Jabi area of Abuja, former vice president of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar, in response to allegations of corruption, said some Nigerians believed that he was corrupt because they “always assume that a man cannot build himself without stealing”.
I have decided to write on this issue because I know what it means to be on the wrong side of history. When I was writing my first book in 2013, I came across many books written by different authors about Nigeria’s first coup of January 15, 1966. Most of these books were memoirs of the coup plotters and works of political commentators. These authors disagreed on many things, but one thing that caught my attention was what they all wrote about Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, the former minister of finance who was killed during the coup.
These authors all claimed that the former minister was very corrupt and up till this very moment that notion of corruption still fills the air whenever Okotie-Eboh is mentioned. If I have learnt anything in my short stay on earth, it is never to believe the crowd. So, with this notion, I carried out a study on the life of Festus Okotie-Eboh and my findings made me come with the title of this writeup, “You are on the wrong side of history”.
If Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh was on the right side of history, he would have been called Nigeria’s best finance minister, a pan-Africanist and one of Nigeria’s biggest business persons. Okotie Eboh was born Festus Samuel Edah in Benin River, old Warri division. From 1932 to 1936, he attended Sapele Baptist School. After his secondary education, he worked for a year as a junior assessment clerk in the Local District Office and thereafter went to work at his alma mater as a teacher. In 1937, he was employed by Bata Shoe Company as an accounting clerk. While working as a clerk, he also took his time to study bookkeeping and accounting. In 1944, Bata transferred him to Lagos as a Chief Clerk and the West Coast Accountant.
He was in Lagos for a year before returning to Sapele to become Deputy Manager of Sapele branch of the shoe company. In 1947, he was sent to Prague, Czechoslovakia, for further training where he obtained a diploma in business administration and chiropody. He left Bata Shoe to establish a timber and rubber business. He was involved in a rubber exporting business trading under the company name of Afro-Nigerian Export and Import Company. The firm exported ribbed smoked sheet rubber to Europe and North America. In 1958, he opened a rubber-creping factory and later in 1963, he started Omimi Rubber and Canvas Shoe factory. He also started a few ventures with two foreign partners: Dizengoff and Coutinho Caro, the partners promoted Mid-West Cement Co, a cement clinker plant in Koko and Unameji Cabinet Works.
Okotie-Eboh as finance Minister was responsible for the formation of the Central Bank of Nigeria so that Nigeria can issue her own currency, the Security Exchange commission among other financial institutions in Nigeria today. His reform programme in the Ministry of Finance gave a new lease to the Nigerian Customs. He delegated responsibilities to the unit, instead of asking the ports to collect duties. He established the Preventive Services Unit to confront, combat and prevent smuggling and to protect local industries. The introduction of the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system of taxation during his tenure was a novel idea. It increased the revenue base of the government.
As a diplomat, his passionate appeal made the German government to pay Julius Berger for the construction of the Eko Bridge. He was one of Nigeria’s richest business men during his time and had made money before coming into politics. His only crime was showing off his wealth and living flamboyantly which he had the right to do because he worked for the money. His history was written by those who killed him and that is why he is today remembered on the wrong side of history.
A response to Atiku Abubakar
In answering the question posed by the Atiku Abubakar, my answer to the former vice president is simple, “Nigerians do not see all wealthy people as thieves. Your case is different sir, Nigerians see you as corrupt because just like Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, your history was written by those who defeated you but unlike the former minister, you are still alive and can make things right. In 2006-07, you won the battle against Third Term, but you lost the presidential election. Those who “defeated” you wrote your present history”.
Many Nigerians see Atiku Abubakar as corrupt but not many know about the history of one of Nigeria’s biggest businessmen, politician and a democracy activist. Just like Okotie-Eboh, Atiku Abubakar was a very wealthy man before he came into politics. At the age of 30, Atiku was the youngest area administrator in customs. Before the age of 40, Atiku was already the owner of Nigeria’s biggest maize farm. As a customs officer, before the age of 40, he was already in charge of the North-East region affairs. With a loan of N31,000 in 1974 which was the equivalent of his five years’ salary as a customs officer, Atiku went into property development and he was successful.
In 1982, Atiku founded the Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES) now known as INTELS (Integrated and Logistics Services) together with an Italian business man, Gabriel Volpi, when he was working at Apapa Ports in 1982. The Genoa, Italy-born Volpi was a director in MED Africa, a shipping company. Today, the company has grown into a multi-billion Naira business providing over 15,000 jobs in Nigeria and other African countries and paying hefty dividends to its shareholders.
In politics, Atiku is a former president of the School of Hygiene Kano SUG. He was also the Assistant General Secretary and later Deputy Speaker of the Students’ Union Parliament in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Atiku Abubakar ran for the office of President under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) but lost the party’s primaries in 1993. This was when Atiku started to make a case for true federalism, for a restructured Nigeria. Atiku has been campaigning for a restructured Nigeria even since.
Atiku together with the late Shehu Yar’Adua campaigned for Nigeria’s democracy during the Abacha era. Atiku was forced into exile by the late military dictator. Atiku’s journey in politics has seen him rise to the position of vice president. Well, this article is not a biography of the former vice president, but I had to detail some of his achievements to change a few notions about him. Even former minister of finance, Okonjo Iweala, in her book, Reforming the Unreformable, noted the role of Atiku in reforming Nigeria in the current 4th Republic. Many do not know that the APC adopted Atiku’s manifesto in 2015 which gave them victory.
Atiku’s crime was to fight the Third Term bid of his boss and the rest now is history. My advice to the former VP is thus, you must rewrite your own history. If not, Nigerians will never know the truth about you just as is the case with Okotie-Eboh. Rewriting your history will give answers to your question and this is your final lap, it is your make or break period.
I decided to carry out a study on Atiku because with all the talk about corruption, no case has been brought against him and proven to be true by the EFCC. Atiku is suffering from a media campaign that is placing him on the wrong side of history and until he rewrites his own history, Nigerians will continue to look at him as that corrupt vice president who had nothing before coming into politics.
Finally, on a lighter note, as I always like to conclude most of my write ups, I hope Atiku Abubakar reads this article because I have some very important questions to ask him. Sir, these are my questions, how did a young Muslim Fulani man from Adamawa (far north) fall in love and got married to a young beautiful Christian girl in Lagos State (far south) named Titilayo Albert? How was this possible at a time when Nigeria was heavily divided along ethnic lines? How did Love win?
Odoh Michael is a youth activist. He writes writes from Abuja, Nigeria, and can reached through Odohmike2000@yahoo.com
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