BODE GOERGE/NPA SAGA:CURIOUS ANTI-GRAFT WAR
It is no news that the former managing director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Alhaji Aminu Dabo, recently regained his freedom from prison after serving a two-year jail term. But what is news is that the then Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain has passed through a mixed grill of experiences, some sweet, some bitter.
He shared some of these experiences with a select group of journalists at his Giddado Road residence, Kano, Kano State. He insisted he was innocent. Daily Sun's DESMOND MGBOH was there. Excerpts:
I will like to thank Almighty Allah for seeing us through the test He imposed on us. As Muslims, we believe Islam is a total submission to the Will of Allah. That means that whatever comes to you, good or bad, is from God and we believe that there is nothing bad from God. I believe we have gone through this and we have come out much stronger than we were when we started off.
The issue of going to prison, is something that nobody will pray to experience. But certainly, after you have gone through it, it is something that you cannot afford not to have had that opportunity. The experience, the knowledge you will gain is so much and so enormous. In fact, that place is an institution that can give you a complete understanding of what life is all about. It is the institution that will give you the opportunity to understand more about the human nature and the people around you. It will give you a chance to understand your life and to understand yourselves and to be more focused in your life. So, I really thank God for that opportunity.
There are three categories of people in our prison. The first, those who were nuisance and a problem to society- the armed robbers, murderers, killers and their likes. These people ought to be removed from normal society. They are supposed to be duly punished and they are supposed to be there. Even if there is a place more grievous than the prison, yes that category of people ought to be there.
There is the second category of people. These are people that were there through politics or their leadership role in the society. They have found themselves there through one means or the other, either through due process or through foul process or whatever process.
The political group or category is nothing new. In fact, they are the first people to be held in the custody of prisons. You will remember that when emirs conquer a territory, certainly some people have to be constrained, some people have to be kept in custody. For you to be able to rule, you need to cage the enemies or to pursue the enemies.
So, this is historical. They have been there right from time immemorial. It is a common issue and has happened to people all over the world. You can remember Nelson Mandela. Here in Nigeria, our former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was there. He came out and became the president. Mallam Lawan Dambazzau, my father and political mentor, he too was there. Even my grand, grand father, Dabo Dambazzau, was imprisoned. I remember Kano people went and broke the prison and brought him out.
WHAT RIMI TOLD ME
Two week before he died, our leader, the former governor of the old Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, visited me in prison. He told me: 'Look, you young politician as you sit down there in prison, don't worry your self. This is an opportunity for you to remember your God, to study and to be focused. Remove any worry in your life. Don't worry about your condition. I have been to prison 25 times in my life as a result of political victimization and my first entry to prison was when I was 25 years.' He asked 'How old are you?' I told him '54.' And he responded that I was lucky.
VICTIMS OF AWAITING TRIAL
The last group of the people you find in prison are those very unfortunate citizens as awaiting trial. Some of them have minor cases, some their files were lost and some have no little money to be able to give their lawyers to get them out of prison. Some are there on frivolous charges. Some you cannot even understand their cases. They are over 60.
I believe that I fell into the second category. I was sent to the prison simply because I managed the NPA. I went there because I managed the gateway to the economy. That is why I was there. So we thank God, we have gone through it and we have learnt some lessons. One important remark about the prison is that I realized and saw that it is like God has collected a very intelligent class of people in prison.
All in this category, you find a very intelligent group of people, you find people with special thinking, and people with special knowledge. They are very experienced. And that enclosure gave them more opportunities to bring out their talents. Efforts should be made to remove as much of those people in this category. It is very unfortunate because the country is losing from their non- contribution to nation development.
I stand to state that I gave in my best to my party, to my state and to my country and I assure you that I am not going to compromise the value I attach to them. Already, for me, documentations have already gone far. I will go up to the Supreme Court to challenge that judgment. I don't believe in it, I don't accept it and I pray God will help me to show the light and the truth. The whole issue that we were tried upon is not an issue of recovering a kobo from Dabo.
They spent billions to try us and they did not recover one kobo from it. So, if there is no issue of money, then it is an issue of what? This is an issue that you have to understand. All the noise of hundred millions and all that are certainly covers to cover the main issue. I went to jail not in my capacity as the chief executive of the NPA. I went there as a common board member, charged with others. But anytime, they write about me, it is Aminu Dabo, former NPA managing director. I was jailed with my colleagues as board members and we were charged on policy matters.
We were tried and convicted basically for two issues. Let me add that many people, including the press have not been following the trend. In Nigeria, sometimes whenever you do well, you are most likely the one to suffer. If you manage the ports, if you manage the hundred of billions of dollars and naira at the ports and at the end of it, you are not looking for a kobo from me, I thought that you need to appreciate me.
The two issues that we were charged. One, that we did not follow a lawful order. Second, I was charged of splitting contracts, rather than giving them in bulk. All other ones are in relation to these. They will tell you 68 counts and so forth. They were just counting the contracts that you did not follow order.
This lawful order, to me, the judges did not understand the NPA system. They did not understand the operation. The instruction they said we violated is a ministerial instruction. It is about approval level. The approval level of a managing director of NPA in 1983 was N5 million. In 1999, because of the devaluation of the naira, the approval level was doubled to N10 million officially. In 2001, there was a similar instruction and, the approval level of managing director was reduced to N700,000. Are you taking NPA back to what it was before 1983?
Even in 1999, my port manager approval level was N2 million. If you give the managing director N700, 000, then what will be the approval level of a port manager? And may be, our people do not even understand what a port is? A port is like a state. There is nothing that is not there. You have so many equipment, you are dealing with ships and others like it.
Even a ports manager spends between N15 to N20 million to buy diesel to run the port. You can now know the types of generators that are there. This is because you are dealing with highlevel equipment. This is the so-called lawful order that I broke. But common sense, from these figures, will show you that this order is unrealistic, un-implementable or mischievous. It is not even a law, it is an instruction. This is the first issue that led to my going to jail for two years.
We believe that we were not appointed to destroy the gateway to the economy. The instruction was not implementable, it was not humanly possible. And we as board discussed it and we sent to the minister that this instruction we could not run it. That there were equipment. That we were dealing crude oil, that we were not dealing with an agency for mass education. That we were dealing with the port, the gateway to the economy.
We wrote officially and sent to the minister that it was not realistic. We wrote and the minister then, Ojo Madueke, and he agreed with the decision of the board. He recommended and wrote to the president that this is not possible. He wrote recommending not only the retention of the N10 million but the improvement of the figure to N20 million. Between the times of getting the approval from government, the minister was changed. It took time. On our part as a board, we could not leave the NPA to ground. They said all those projects we gave out within this period were illegal, they were violations of lawful order.
The other charge was about contract splitting. They said that contracts were split at different levels. This issue is just an issue of a conflict between the ministry and the board. The ministry wanted to marginalize the board, so that bigger things would go to the ministry. The ministry wanted us to spend zero kobo, so that everything that is big must pass through them. But the reality was that the NPA is an operational organization. Bureaucracy and so many other things will just ground the system.
It deals with specialized tasks. To buy just a rubber tyre that will keep the ship from the edge of the port, one rubber tyre is more than four million naira. How realistic is it to say that managing director should spend N700,000. That law was lawful- because it has gone through lawful process- but it has no good intentions. The board is a policy body. It did not have professional background or anything like that to split contracts. And there was no contract to be split. Any contract that came to the board was just a prayer.
The board is madeup of two groups, the management and the political appointees. Some of the political appointees did not even understand what you are reading- the equipment, you are dealing with, and so on. The only thing that actually came to the board were the prayers and that is after the professionals have finished their jobs.
It is always that, 'we are praying for you to approve this for this amount and for that amount of money.' So, at that level, there was no way any contract could have been split by the board. The board was just a policy body. They only come in three months time to ratify and to approve those things that were beyond the managing director.