The story of my life, by Atiku Abubakar

Oct 9 2018 - 8:56am

Atiku Abubakar

By Atiku Abubakar

JADA

I was born on November 25, 1946 in Jada, Adamawa State, Nigeria. I was named after my paternal grandfather, Atiku Abdulkadir. It was the practice among the Fulani people to name their first sons after their paternal grandfathers.

 

My grandfather, Atiku, came originally from Wurno in Sokoto State. There, he had met and befriended Ardo Usman, a Fulani nobleman from what is now known as Adamawa State. My grandfather decided to accompany his new friend back to his home- town of Adamawa

 

They settled in Kojoli, a small village in Jada Local Government Council of Adamawa State. My grandfather farmed, kept livestock and raised a family. He married a local girl in Kojoli and gave birth to my father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir. He was their only child.

My father was an itinerant trader who traveled from one market to another selling imitation jewelry, caps, needles, potash, kola nuts and other nick-knacks which he ferried around on the back of his donkey. He also kept some livestock and cultivated guinea corn, maize and groundnuts.

 

When it was time for him to marry, my father chose a young girl from nearby Jada town whose parents had migrated from Dutse, now the capital of Jigawa State. My mother, Aisha Kande, was born in Jada.

 

Both my father and paternal grandfather were learned men. They gave free Islamic classes to adults and young people in Kojoli during their spare time.

 

As a young boy growing up in Kojoli, my parents doted on me. They tried their best to provide for me and to ensure that I grew up in a wholesome environment of love and spirituality. My father saw me as a rare gift, a child of destiny.

 

My parents tried unsuccessfully to have more children.

 

GOING TO SCHOOL

My father, Garba Atiku Abdulkadir, was fond of me. He wanted me to become an Islamic scholar, herdsman, farmer and trader – just like him. He was a deeply religious man who was suspicious of Western education which he believed could corrupt the impressionable minds of young people.

 

My father did not want me to go to school. He tried to hide me from the prying eyes of Native Authority officials who had embarked on compulsory mass literacy campaign in the region. My father soon discovered that he could not resist the wind of change that was blowing through the area at the time.

 

My mother’s older brother, Kawu Ali who had received a little education through adult literacy classes, registered me at Jada Primary School in January 1954 as Atiku Kojoli.

For trying to stop me from going to school, my father was arrested, charged to an Alkali court and fined 10 Shillings. He refused to pay the fine. He said he had no money.

 

He spent a few days in jail until my maternal grandmother, who made local soap for sale in the community, raised the money to pay the fine and father was released to her.

 

But my father was not a happy man. He was sad and angry that his only child had been taken away from him to be exposed to a strange world. He saw Western education as a threat to their cherished values and way of life.

 

FATHER’S DEATH

Three years after I started school, tragedy struck in December 1957. I was then11 years old. I was just about to begin the Senior Primary School in Jada as a boarding pupil. My father drowned while trying to cross a small river known as Mayo Choncha on the outskirts of Toungo, a neighbouring town.

 

The river was in high tide following a heavy rainfall. Father’s body was recovered the following day and buried in Toungo according to Islamic rites. He was less than 40 years old when he died. I built an Islamic primary school at his burial site years later to immortalize him. He was a simple, hard working, kind, honest and God-fearing man. I miss him a lot.

 

After my father’s death, the task of raising me fell on my mother, Kande, and her childless sister, Azumi, as well as my father’s extended family members in Kojoli.

 

Although people were generally kind and caring towards me, it was difficult for relatives to fill the vacuum left by my father. As such, I was often sad and lonely. Father’s death pained me greatly.

I resolved to work hard, remain focused and be successful in life to make my father proud. I was sure that he was somewhere watching over me. I did not want to disappoint him. I wish father had lived long enough to see the benefits of Western education in my life.

 

KADUNA, KANO & ZARIA

After completing my primary school in Jada in 1960, I was admitted into Adamawa Provincial Secondary School in Yola. I joined 59 other young boys from Adamawa and beyond in January 1961 to begin a five-year high school journey. The school’s motto is Tiddo Yo Daddo, a Fulani aphorism for “Endurance is Success”.

It reminded us daily that success in life would only come to those who worked hard and persevered. Adamawa Provincial Secondary School, like others in the region, belonged in the second category of post-primary institutions in Northern Nigeria. The most prestigious schools were the Government Colleges in Zaria and Keffi.

 

Pupils who excelled in the entrance examination went to the Government Colleges; those who did reasonably well went to the Provincial Secondary Schools; average students were sent to the Craft Schools in the various Divisions; and those who failed the examination were sent to Farm Centres which were established in all the Districts. It was a good system which took care of everyone irrespective of his or her level of intelligence.

When I was 15, I spent my school holiday at home, working as a clerk in Ganye Native Authority. My boss was Adamu Ciroma, the then District Officer. From my holiday job earnings, I bought a house for my mother in Ganye, the headquarters of the local government council. The thatched mud bungalow had two rooms plus a kitchen and bathroom. It cost me about nine Pounds Sterling. My mother was very happy and proud of me. I had saved her from homelessness after her older brother sold the family house in Jada without her knowledge.

 

SERVING IN THE CUSTOMS

Before completing my Diploma in Law programme in June 1969, a team from the Federal Civil Service Commission came on a recruitment drive to the university. By chance one of the interviewers found in my file a report that I had once been found suitable to join the police force and had in fact received some training in 1966. This in- formation was brought to the attention of the chairman of the interview panel who promptly ruled. “O.k., you go to the Department of Customs and Excise”.

 

That was how I joined the Department of Customs and Excise in June 1969. The invisible hand that has always shaped my life had once again steered me towards my destiny.

 

After my training at the Police College in Ikeja, Lagos and at the Customs Training School in Ebute Metta in Lagos, I was posted to Idi Iroko border station. My colleagues and I were tasked with collecting duties on imported and exported goods, stop- ping the entry and exit of banned items, and arresting and prosecuting smugglers.

 

I was posted in 1972 to Ikeja Airport in Lagos and later to Apapa ports in Lagos.

I saw Customs not as a punitive institution but as a way of making money for government. Instead of seizing goods and extorting money from their owners, I made money for government.

 

A lot of people tried unsuccessfully to induce me.

I was posted to Ibadan mid 1975 and promoted Superintendent of Customs. This was during the memorable days of General Murtala Muhammed, the nation’s new military leader who had electrified the nation with his campaign for discipline, probity, hard work, patriotism and dedication to duty.

 

I admired General Muhammed and tried to promote the same values and attitudinal change in our office. I was nick-named “Murtala Muhammed Junior” by my Customs subordinates in Ibadan because they said I was behaving like him. Although I was second-in-command in Ibadan, I used to order late-comers to be locked out of their offices.

 

I was sad to hear about General Muhammed’s assassination on February 13, 1976 during a failed military coup. Some of those who were later implicated in the coup and killed were well known to me. But I did not know they were involved in a coup plot. Shortly after that failed coup, I was transferred to Kano in 1976.

 

MAKING MONEY

I recognized very early in life that I have a good nose for business. In 1974 I applied for and obtained a Federal Staff Housing Loan. The loan, which amounted to 31,000 Naira, was the equivalent of my salary for five years. I was granted a plot of land by the Gongola State Government at Yola Government Reserved Area (GRA).

 

I hired a foreman and began building my first house. With close personal supervision, the bungalow was completed on time and to my taste. I rented it out immediately. The rent I collected in advance on the house was substantial enough for me to purchase a second plot.

 

I built my second house there and rented it out. I continued to plow back the rent into the building of new houses and within a few years I had built eight houses in choice areas of Yola. I also built a new house for my mother and rebuilt the old mud house I bought for her in Ganye when I was a 15-year-old student.

Property investment can be very rewarding. It is safe and the returns are high de- pending on the location. Kaduna, for instance, was a good place to invest in property before the emergence of Abuja. I built my first house in Kaduna with rent from other property. I bought six more plots and built residential houses and rented them out to individuals and institutions.

 

Of all the businesses into which I would venture, the most successful and the most lucrative would be a small oil services company I established with an Italian business man in the early 1980s. I met 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.

Volpi suggested we go into oil and gas logistics. He knew Nigeria’s future was in oil and gas. We registered the Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES), operating from a container office at Apapa Ports. I was not involved in the running of the company.

 

NICOTES relocated later to the Federal Lighter Terminal in Port Harcourt when the business began to grow. The company, now known as INTELS (Integrated and Logistics Services), 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.

 

MOTHER’S DEATH

My mother, Aisha Kande, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1984. I was in Lagos where I had been posted as the Customs Area Administrator in charge of Murtala Muhammed Airport in Ikeja. Lamido Aliyu Musdafa summoned me home and broke the sad news to me in his palace. I wept like a child. She was hale and hearty when we last saw a week earlier.

 

A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE

A few months before my mother’s death, soldiers had overthrown the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari on December 31, 1983. Major-General Muhammadu Buhari became the new Head of State. As part of its monetary policies, the Buhari government had introduced new Naira notes in April 1984.

 

The policy was aimed at halting the illegal speculative trading of the Naira outside the shores of Nigeria. A time limit was imposed within which old notes could be turned in for new ones. Government agencies at the nation’s borders, sea and air ports were instructed to screen all bags and containers entering the country to ensure old Naira notes were not being smuggled into the country.

 

A first class traditional ruler and a returning Nigeria diplomat had arrived from Saudi Arabia with several bags. My officers at the airport in Lagos were not allowed to search the bags. The duty officers reported the incident in writing. I did not know how a newspaper got wind of it. The Guardian, a Lagos-based newspaper, reported on its front page on June 10, 1984 that “Passenger with 53 suitcases leaves airport unchecked”.

The incident became a scandal and government was forced to set up an administrative panel of inquiry to determine why due process was not followed. The government was clearly embarrassed by the incident and rather than punish those who flouted its directive that all baggage be searched, it began to look for scapegoats. They mounted pressure on me to deny that the incident ever happened. I was threatened and intimidated. I vowed to surrender my uniform and quit the Customs rather than lie.

 

The Federal Government would later declare that the controversial 53 suitcases contained the personal effects of the traditional ruler, the returning ambassador and members of their families. The government added that those who intimidated and threatened the Customs officers on duty on that day at the airport had been reprimanded.

 

Some government officials wanted me sacked for not covering up their mess. But Finance Minister Onaolapo Soleye, who supervised the Department of Customs and Excise, said I should be left alone.

 

Soleye did not know me. He acted on the basis of the facts before him. He said it would be unfair to punish me for doing my job and for standing by my officers. He was also swayed by my impeccable service record. No queries. No sanctions. My file was filled with commendations for meeting and exceeding revenue targets at the different posts I had headed.

 

A PASSION FOR LEARNING

I have always had a passion for education. In 1988, my second wife, Ladi and I registered a limited liability company called ABTI-ZARHAM (formed from the first letters of the names of our children: Abba and Atiku Jnr = ABTI and Zainab, Rukaiya, Hauwa and Maryam = ZARHAM). We established ABTI Nursery and Primary School in Yola in 1992.

 

We later set up ABTI Academy, an elite high school with boarding facilities modeled after the British public school. It was followed by ABTI-American University (now American University of Nigeria, Yola). It provides American-style university education to students. Nothing gives me more joy and fulfillment in life than my modest contributions to the improvement of education in Nigeria.

 

POLITICAL LIFE

Meeting Yar’Adua

 

While in my office one day, I was informed that Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, the retired Major-General and former deputy to Obasanjo, was waiting to see me. Yar’Adua wanted a license to import beans from Niger Republic for sale in Nigeria. I told him that he would have to write an application to President Ibrahim Babangida for the license. Yar’Adua thanked me and left.

 

Babangida approved his application. Yar’Adua imported the beans from Niger Republic, sold them and made good money. He felt he needed to show appreciation to me for assisting him. I was happy to see him again when he visited me and happier still to know that his business had gone well.

 

He offered me a token of appreciation, but I declined, saying it was unnecessary. I was just doing my job. Yar’Adua was highly impressed. In an organization known for its endemic corruption and unethical deals, he was happy to find one decent officer. From that day, a friendship developed between us.

 

Going into politics

When I joined the Customs 20 years earlier, I had drawn a graph anticipating my career progression from Cadet to Director of Customs by age 40. I told myself that if by the time I was 40 years old I did not head the organization, I would quit.

 

I retired at 43 as a Deputy Director on April 30, 1989. I paid the mandatory three months salary in lieu of notice to government.

 

A year before my retirement, I had started attending political meetings at Shehu Yar’Adua’s house in Ikoyi, Lagos.

 

“Look, you are good, you relate well with people. I think you will make a good politician. Why don’t you join me in politics”, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua said to me one day.

 

That was how it all started. The Yar’Adua Group, as we came to be known, wanted to build a bridge across the old fault lines of ethnicity, religion and region.

 

In May 1989, the Babangida administration finally lifted the ban on party politics. The Yar’Adua group immediately unveiled its political association, the People’s Front of Nigeria (PFN), which had “the pursuit of justice, peace, and service” as its motto and “People First” as its slogan.

 

At its first national convention in June 1989, Farouk Abdul Azeez, a medical doctor from the then Kwara State, was elected Chairman while a woman, Titi Ajanaku, was elected National Secretary.

Six of us represented the then Gongola State at the convention. I was elected one of the National Vice Chairmen of the party. I was also in charge of setting up party structures in the South-East where I already had a network of friends and business associates. Yar’Adua and I paid the initial expenses of the PFN.

 

I took PFN to Gongola State. It was the first political association to be launched in the state when the ban on party politics was lifted. I was the party’s sole financier in the state. My contributions to my immediate community had earned me a lot of good- will and support.

 

Of the 13 political associations formed at the time, the PFN was the most organized and disciplined. Yet, on October 7, 1989, President Babangida announced that his Armed Forces Ruling Council had decided not to register any of the associations be- cause, as he put it, “the associations were set up by the same old discredited politicians who must never be allowed back in power”.

 

He disbanded the 13 associations and created and funded two new parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC).

The SDP, he said, was a little to the left in terms of its ideological orientation while the NRC was a little to the right. He asked politicians to join either of the two.

 

We in the Yar’Adua group decided to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the party considered closer to the PFN in ideological orientation.

The parties were formally launched in Abuja on October 7, 1989. I was one of the delegates from Gongola State. I was elected to the 1989 Constituent Assembly.

To be Governor

 

On August 27, 1991, the Babangida administration created nine new states. Gongola State was broken into Adamawa and Taraba States.

 

The SDP governorship primary in Adamawa State was held in November 1991. Six people contested with me, including Bala Takaya, a former political science lecturer at the University of Jos.

 

The primary took place amidst allegations that the state party executives were solidly behind Bala Takaya. Voting was relatively peaceful and orderly. The result was however disputed. I was declared winner but Bala Takaya and his supporters protested.

 

It was amidst this chaos that in December 1991, the Babangida administration announced the cancellation of nine state primary election results, including that of Adamawa. Takaya and I were also disqualified from contesting the upcoming governorship election.

 

The former state Chairman of the party, Boss Mustapha, emerged the winner of a fresh governorship primary. He had just two weeks to convince the people of Adamawa State to vote for him.

 

Apart from the short time available for campaign, Mustapha’s chances were also weakened by the unresolved internal bickering in the party. So it was not surprising that the candidate of the rival NRC, Saleh Michika, won the December 14, 1991 governorship election.

 

To be President

Yar’Adua and 12 other so-called banned politicians were arrested and detained on December 2, 1991 for participating in politics despite having been banned. He was released on December 20, 1991 after 17 days in detention. He was free to participate in politics again, the government said.

 

We, his associates, persuaded him to join the race for the presidency. He declared his interest on February 25, 1992 at City Hall, Lagos. He was one of the 50 presidential aspirants of the two parties that participated in the six-zone presidential primaries from May 2 to June 20, 1992. I was Yar’Adua’s campaign coordinator.

 

I had no doubt in my mind that he would have made a good President. He had a vision and he knew how to bring good people together to achieve his goals.

 

A three-stage party primary was introduced, beginning in September 1992. By the end of the first round, Yar’Adua had emerged the front-runner, beating prominent politicians in their strongholds. The Babangida administration cashed in on the unfounded allegations of rigging, thuggery and bribery and cancelled the primary results on November 17, 1992.

All 23 presidential aspirants were also banned. The executives of the two parties were dissolved. A new system of presidential primary was announced. The handover date from military to civilian rule was extended to August 17, 1993.

 

With Yar’Adua banned, the group needed someone that its members could rally round. My influence, hard work and selfless contributions to the Yar’Adua group as well as my loyalty to Yar’Adua and my youthfulness (I was then 46 years old) counted in my favour.

 

My closeness to Tafida (as I used to call him) also meant that I would inherit both his goodwill and his ill-will. I knew that those who did not want Yar’Adua to become President could also stop me. But I was not deterred. I decided to run on the same ideas and vision that Yar’Adua had espoused during his candidacy – a strong, united, democratic and prosperous Nigeria.

Babagana Kingibe, a former member of the Yar’Adua group who became SDP Chairman because of the group’s support, was also vying for the party’s presidential ticket. So was newcomer Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, a wealthy businessman and newspaper publisher.

I contested and won the SDP presidential primary in Adamawa State in March 1993. Moshood Abiola, 55 years old, and Babagana Kingibe, 48, had also won in their respective states. Altogether, 27 of us from various states converged in Jos in March 1993 to contest the SDP presidential ticket at the national convention of the party.

 

To stop Kingibe, whom we all believed had betrayed our group, the Yar’Adua group resolved to negotiate with Abiola. We would support Abiola’s candidacy for the presidency in return for making me his running mate.

 

We met Abiola and his key advisers and agreed to go to the Jos convention to push for an Abiola-Atiku ticket.

Thereafter, we would harmonize our campaign structures and finances. At the end of the first ballot, Abiola came first with 3,617 votes. Kingibe came a close second with 3,225 votes. I came third with 2,066 votes.

We met again with Abiola. We agreed that I should step down for Abiola in the final round of voting. I agreed to subordinate my personal ambition for the sake of democracy. I was ready for any personal sacrifice that could end military rule in Nigeria.

 

In the two-way race between Abiola and Kingibe, Abiola triumphed with 2,683 votes to Kingibe’s 2,456 votes.

 

However, Abiola refused to honour the agreement to make me his running mate. He picked Babagana Kingibe.

 

Yar’Adua was angry over Abiola’s betrayal. I knew it would be difficult to persuade him to support Abiola again. I was concerned about our party. Without the support of the Yar’Adua group, the SDP could lose the presidential election to the NRC whose Bashir Tofa, then 46, was generally thought to be inexperienced.

Knowing that Shehu Yar’Adua’s father and former military ruler Olusegun Obasanjo were the two people in the world that Yar’Adua could not refuse, I went to see Obasanjo at his Ota farm to ask him to convince Yar’Adua not to withdraw his support for Abiola. I said the Yar’Adua group needed to work closely with Abiola to defeat the reactionary forces in the upcoming election and to get Babangida out of office.

 

Obasanjo promised to talk to his former deputy. He did. And the Yar’Adua group went on to support Abiola who won the June 12 election. But the Babangida administration annulled the election midway into the vote count.

 

We were all sad and angry about the annulment. We were tired of the endless transition. But we could not leave the ship of state adrift. We began consulting other political groups. In the end, a compromise was reached to form an Interim National Government (ING) with corporate chieftain Ernest Shonekan as Head. The ING was sacked three months later by General Sani Abacha, the Defence Minister. Nigeria once again returned to full military rule.

 

POLITICAL CRISIS

A little over six months into his administration, Abacha gathered politicians in Abuja to fashion yet another Constitution. I was elected by my people to represent them at the Constituent Assembly. Shehu Yar’Adua was also an elected delegate from Katsina State.

 

The conference began in June 1994 with 273 delegates, including 96 appointees of government. In the middle of its proceedings, I was informed that Abacha wanted to see me. When I met him, Abacha told me he would like to work with me. He said I should support his political programme and advised me to dump Yar’Adua.

I

I said Yar’Adua was my friend and that he should not try to tear us apart. I said I was my own man and that I could take decisions of my own. Abacha was not impressed. He asked me to go and think about it.

By March 1995 Abacha began to move against opponents of his government. Yar’Adua was the first on his list. He was arrested and detained on March 9, 1995 for daring to recommend a terminal date for the Abacha government. General Obasanjo was also arrested.

 

Days after their arrest, Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief of the Defence Staff, addressed a press conference in Lagos during which he disclosed that 29 officers and civilians had been arrested in connection with a coup plot.

 

Suspects were tortured and forced to confess their role in the coup and to implicate innocent men such as Obasanjo and Yar’Adua. A sham trial was staged. Yar’Adua was sentenced to death and Obasanjo to life imprisonment.

 

In an Independence Day broadcast on October 1, 1995, Abacha announced the commutal of 13 of the death sentences to various terms of imprisonment. Obasanjo’s life sentence was reduced to 15 years while Yar’Adua’s death sentence was reduced to 25 years. This was in response to pressure from to a coalition of journalists, human rights activists, pro-democracy campaigners and the international community, including the Pope.

 

I visited Kirikiri as often as I could to see Yar’Adua with Inua Baba, the Plateau State-born personal assistant to Yar’Adua. In detention, Yar’Adua was more concerned about the future of the country than about his own life. He feared that Abacha would throw the country into chaos. He was later transferred to Port Harcourt and Abakaliki Prisons.

Abacha was not satisfied keeping Yar’Adua in jail and intimidating me. He was determined to cripple our businesses as well. He seized our most lucrative business, NICOTES, and renamed it INTELS (Integrated and Logistics Services). Yar’Adua and I were removed from the company as shareholders.

 

My residence in Kaduna was attacked by unknown gunmen in May 1995. Six policemen and one guard died in that attack. It is still a miracle to me how my wife, Titi, our son, Adamu, and I escaped unhurt.

 

Going into exile

Following the bloody attack in Kaduna, family and friends persuaded me to leave the country for a while. Abacha’s security agents trailed me everywhere in their unmarked cars and trademark dark sunglasses. My telephone lines were bugged. I had to sneak out at night to meet people. My life under Abacha was horrible.

 

The State Security Service (SSS) seized my international passport just as I was making plans to travel outside the country to cool off and to seek the support of some political and business leaders in Europe and the United States for the democratic struggle in Nigeria.

 

I obtained another passport in the name of Atiku Kojoli. With the assistance of friends within the security forces at the airport, I was smuggled into a London-bound flight directly from the tarmac.

 

I arrived London late 1995. I made several unsuccessful efforts to reach the British Foreign Office. The government of Prime Minister John Major was, as usual with the British, a bit too cautious in its dealings with the Nigerian opposition.

From London, I linked up with Jackie Farris who had worked as a consultant on polling and political strategy with the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua presidential campaign in 1992. Through her I was able to re-establish contacts with former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. He promised to talk to his contacts at the State Department in Washing- ton, DC to get me an appointment.

While in the United States, I also re-established contact with Jennifer Iwenjiora, the television journalist I had known as a friend in Lagos since 1982. She was then liv- ing in Maryland. Jennifer and I later married and had Abdulmalik, Zahra and Faisal.

Jennifer took me to some of the contacts Young and Farris had arranged for me in Washington, D.C. USA.

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Susan Rice, received me warmly in her office. I briefed her on the political situation in Nigeria and commended the Clinton Administration for supporting the democratic struggle in Nigeria.

I pleaded with the Administration to press Abacha to free political prisoners, such as Yar’Adua and Obasanjo, and restore democratic rule. Rice expressed delight in seeing me and promised the Clinton Administration’s commitment to the restoration of democracy in Nigeria.

 

Yar’Adua’s death

I wept like a baby on December 8, 1997 when I was informed that Shehu Musa Yar’Adua had died in Abakaliki prison. He was just 54 years old.

 

Yar’Adua had transformed Nigerian politics with his organizational skill, analytical mind and his uncommon gift as a strategist. I lost a brother, a mentor, a confidant and a friend in Yar’Adua.

 

Death of Abacha & Abiola

Then, on June 8, 1998 Abacha died suddenly of a heart attack in Abuja at the age of 54. Chief of the Defence Staff, Abdulsalami Abubakar, became the new Head of State. One month after Abach’s death, Moshood Abiola also died suddenly in detention.

 

General Abdulsalami Abubakar read the national mood well. He released political detainees and announced a short transition to civil rule programme. He also began to look into previous rights violations. I petitioned him about the seizure of INTELS from Yar’Adua and I. He set up a committee to look into it and the committee promptly recommended that the company be returned to us as the rightful owners.

From Governor to Vice Presidency

As soon as the military government announced its transition programme, the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), as the Yar’Adua group came to be known, immediately reconvened in Lagos.

We resolved to liaise with other political associations with the hope of setting up a strong national party that would promote unity and stability and serve as a bulwark against military incursion into politics.

 

On August 19, 1998, the PDM and other groups came together to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as “a credible, nationwide, people-oriented and principled political party, enjoying the widest support throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.

 

I led a small group to identify a presidential candidate from the South-west that we could support. The Abubakar government sent an emissary to inform us that they wanted Olusegun Obasanjo.

In the end, our group agreed to support Obasanjo’s candidacy. A contact team was set up with Lawal Kaita, Sunday Afolabi, Ango Abdullahi, Titi Ajanaku and I as members.

 

We were convinced that Obasanjo would make a good President.

 

After Obasanjo agreed to contest the PDP presidential primary, I went back to Adamawa to realize my long-time dream of governing my state. I was unanimously picked as the PDP governorship candidate for Adamawa State. Boni Haruna was my running mate.

 

I won the January 9, 1999 governorship election, defeating my perennial rival, Bala Takaya of the All Nigeria People’s Party.

 

The PDP held its national convention in Jos in January 1999 and Obasanjo defeated former Vice President Alex Ekwueme to become the party’s candidate. He chose me as his Vice Presidential candidate. I was quite surprised as I had not shown any interest in the position. I wanted to govern my state but that was not God’s will.

Our ticket was sold to the electorate as a team of two great personalities, the convergence of two generations and the bridging of the South/Christian and North/ Muslim gulf.

 

Obasanjo went on to win the February 27, 1999 presidential election, defeating former Secretary to the Government, Olu Falae, who ran on the AD/ANPP joint ticket.

Obasanjo and I were sworn into office as President and Vice President, respectively at a colourful ceremony in Abuja on May 29, 1999.

 

RE-INVENTING NIGERIA

For eight years, our administration worked assiduously to deepen our young democracy, unite our diverse people, professionalize the armed forces, re-establish our country as a great and respected member of the international community, and reform our economy to become more productive, diverse and globally competitive.

 

Our reform package included fuel price deregulation, low and stable interest and inflation rates, privatization of inefficient government-owned enterprises, enthroning a culture of transparency and accountability, monetization of the benefits and entitlements of public sector workers, setting up a new pension scheme and growing the revenue base of the government through a fair and equitable, more efficient and easier-to- comply tax system.

In 2001, our administration successfully auctioned mobile phone licenses and by the time we left office in 2007, more than 70 million Nigerians had phones compared to the 400,000 landlines that the state-owned Nigerian Telecommunication Company Limited (NITEL) paraded throughout its existence.

In one of the most courageous and ambitious privatization programmes ever embarked upon in recent times, we sold off scores of unprofitable and inefficient public enterprises, such as banks, insurance companies, hotels, newspapers, cement, oil and petrol chemical and fertilizer companies. Thus, we relieved the federal government of the unnecessary burden of running businesses. We then refocused government’s attention on making laws and good policies and creating a conducive atmosphere for businesses to flourish.

 

Most of the privatized firms are today being run profitably and efficiently by their new owners, creating more jobs and delivering quality products and services.

 

One important achievement of our administration was the banking sector re-form. In 2005, we raised the minimum capital base of banks from N2 billion to N25 billion in order to make the Nigerian banks stronger, healthier and globally competitive. The policy saw the number of banks operating in the country drop from 89 to 25.

Also, our administration cleaned up Abuja, restored its Master Plan, computerized the land registry and halted uncontrolled developments in the federal capital territory. By the time we left office in 2007, Abuja had become the pride of the nation as a beautiful, clean, safe and efficient world class city.

 

To ensure that the increased revenue accruing to the government benefitted the greatest number of people, the Obasanjo administration set up the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) the Economic and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Both the ICPC and EFCC waged a vigorous and sustained war against corruption, money laundering, advanced fee fraud and other economic and financial crimes.

 

In a related development, our administration also introduced new procurement system with emphasis on due process, open and transparent conduct of government business as well as adherence to public service rules and financial regulations.

 

In October 2005, our administration successfully negotiated a deal with our external creditors that saw Nigeria pay off a total of $14.48 billion in return for the cancellation of our remaining $18 billion debt. Also, we set up the Debt Management Office (DMO) to review and restructure Nigeria’s debt.

Our economic reforms led to massive growth in both the formal and informal economy. By the time we left office in 2007, our economy was ranked 31st in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which was estimated to be about $500 billion (estimate included both formal and informal economy). It became the second biggest economy in Africa.

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