I had an unusual experience in the mid eighties with my friend and colleague, Ide Eguabor. The two of us and a police officer were taking good care of the liquid contents of some green bottles at the Police Officers Mess in Kaduna when our all round discussion took us to the alleged theft of N2.8 billion from the coffers of the NNPC.
It was a monumental scandal in those days when the Nigerian Naira was stronger than the British Pound and the American Dollar. In any case, even if the Naira was a weak currency, abundant stealing of public funds was yet to be accepted as an important ingredient of public life in Nigeria.
President Shehu Shagari had just come into office when a leaked audit report appeared in the Punch newspaper, alleging that the money had developed wings from the NNPC kitty. The new President, a man who acted with extreme caution on all issues was put under severe pressure to probe the hefty theft. He ordered an investigation into the allegation which announced that no such theft ever took place. Even then, the Nigerian public remained in the main suspicious and there were stories everywhere of how the money was flown out of Nigeria only to be intercepted at the famous Entebbe Airport in Uganda. It was then cornered by Africa’s most notorious tyrant and murderer, Idi Amin Dada who allegedly put the money in his oversized pocket.
At our drinking spree that day, our police friend who was not drunk but as sane and sober as the Pope confirmed the heist to us. He went ahead to add apologetically that he took part in giving the money security escort out of the country.
According to him, he was a Divisional Police Officer, DPO in the late seventies in Zaria when he was given orders from the top to provide security at the Nigerian Civil Aviation School located on the way to Samaru quarters of Zaria. On getting there with his troops, he provided cover for the traveler’s chests – many, many of them – that were loaded unto the aircraft.
Out of curiosity, he asked the crew what the hell was going on. They in turn confirmed to him that the traveler’s chests contained money and they were taking off from Zaria to foreign lands! When the newspapers started reporting that huge funds were missing at NNPC and rumours started flying all over Nigeria that Idi Amin had snatched our money after pocketing all Ugandan shillings, he concluded that the strange flight from Zaria was it!
Compared to what is happening today, Nigeria under Shagari was a virgin country. Today, rapists are in control here, doing their own thing with frightening impunity. It has been officially certified that at least N20 billion Naira – not the 2.8 billion we cried loudly over in those days – cannot be accounted for at the NNPC. President Shagari was alarmed enough about the N2.8 billion scandal and set up a public inquiry. What is the presidential response today with N20 billion missing?
Today we have a case where $9.3 million was flown out of Nigerian in a flagrant abuse of Nigerian and international laws. Thank God the contraband and it’s smugglers were caught in a country where there is some fresh air and real transformation going on.
Amazingly, our government instead of putting the criminals involved in this illegal transaction in the dock is offering some clumsy explanations. I have often had the impossible task of explaining to foreigners, sometimes ambassadors why things go wrong in Nigeria. But the way things are now, I am beginning to find it difficult to explain to myself the true meaning of Nigeria.
MaduSoroma is alive but Remi Oyo is dead
In my column of 4th August this year I blundered. Writing about the friends I made from Borno State during our service year in Ondo State in the late seventies, I reported that one of them MaduSoroma is late.
I have since discovered that good old Madu is alive and kicking. I even spoke to him on phone even though we are yet to meet, I am sure he is alive. It was the same old voice. I don’t know how he looks like now, but people who knew me then say I look old and ugly.
So of the four of us who made friends then, yours sincerely is alive, Ambassador Baba Wakili is there and MaduSoroma is also alive. I wish the story of Ibrahim Chibok’s death is false and he turns up one day. When I meet Madu, we shall try to do the things we used to do in our younger, carefree days. That will be just betwen me and him and not for this page.
Sadly Remi Oyo whom I met shortly after our NYSC service year is dead and this is official. We joined Nigeria’s lone news agency NAN at the same time. She came from the Federal Radio Corporation where she had spent some years as a reporter. I was a fresher in reporting and over the years when we met, I reminded her that she was my mother in journalism. True, she taught me the rudiments of news reporting.
Remi was an extraordinary woman who fought against poverty and rose to the enviable heights of our profession. She always reminded me, proudly that was her father was a poor carpenter. It reminded me of my father’s background as a poor school teacher.
Remi excelled in news reporting and became an editor. She made history as the first female President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. Later still, she made history as the first spokeswoman of a Nigerian President. We maintained a cordial relationship except for an angry speech I delivered at a meeting of the Guild in Bauchi in 2007. She confronted me with equal anger after the speech, reminding me that a senior editor like me should not descend so low as to deliver a speech in such inelegant tone.
That was Remi and me. She was my guarding angel, always protective of me. Now that she has gone to the world beyond, I hope she will protect me better as she takes her place among the saints