Posted by By MURPHY GANAGANA and JAMES OJO, Abuja on
After painstaking investigations into some Federal Government-owned blue-chip companies some of which were hurriedly sold in the last lap of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Privatization, Hon. Njidda Ahmed Gella, says his committee has uncovered a chain of monumental fraud in the entire privatization process for which he wants Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, arrested and tried.
After painstaking investigations into some Federal Government-owned blue-chip companies some of which were hurriedly sold in the last lap of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s
administration, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Privatization, Hon. Njidda Ahmed Gella, says his committee has uncovered a chain of monumental fraud in the entire privatization process for which he wants Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, arrested and tried.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday Sun at his Apo residence in Abuja, Gella, representing Mubi North Constituency of Adamawa State in the lower chamber of the National Assembly, described as shocking, his findings during a recent tour of some of the affected companies.
Gella, who was one of the most vocal pro-third term legislators at the peak of the aborted tenure elongation project of the immediate past president, however, says he could not fathom what propelled Obasanjo to soil his fingers through the perpetration of unimaginable illegalities.
His voice rising and falling, an angry Gella accused the past administration of deceit, saying both Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar are guilty of shady deals while they held sway as the nation’s topmost leaders.
Said he: “Really, if you go to Ajaokuta, Itakpe, Aladja, you will be shocked. First and foremost, the materials are obsolete. They told us that they’ve sunk N36billion. There is no single new machinery installed in the entire place. We went round, they are all obsolete. I will unveil the past. I will give you the latest. I want to achieve a lot. I will expose any dirty deal in the privatization exercise”.
Gella, who said his life is already in danger, also spoke on sundry other issues, including his alleged fake educational certificates, why he fell out with Atiku, his grouse with Jibril Aminu, and his turn-coat politicking. Excerpts:
Sir, there is this report that you were arrested by the EFCC on Thursday in connection with some allegations of malpractices and corruption against you. How true is it?
I have not been arrested by anybody. I was in my hometown. I came back not quite long ago. I was in my village where I did Sallah celebration. I prayed with my Chief. We were all seated. You can see me live if it will be telecast in the network. I was near my Chief and the leaders of the three local governments that I represent, which constitute an emirate. There is nothing like an arrest because I was there live and I am back to Abuja.
This rumour where do you think it emanated from?
May be because of the way I am vocal against corruption and I will continue to fight it at whatever level, because we are ready to clip it.
Have you received any invitation from EFCC?
As I am talking to you, nobody has invited me. I have not seen any invitation from EFCC or any agency.
What about this allegation about your educational credentials?
I went through a short-cut of schooling because I started work as a clerk, a copy typist. From there, I sat for civil service exams, I got my certificate in Clerical Officers Course from Kaduna Polytechnic where I sat for the examination. From there, I was elevated as senior clerical officer. Then I left to work with NTA for about eight years. I crossed from the office of the secretary to the military governor’s office from Gongola to Adamawa. Sorry, from Borno North Eastern state to Gongola state to Adamawa. I was a Divisional Clerk. They called us then as Divisional Officers. We are next in rank, I was a Divisional Officer for 2 Divisions, Numan and Kelmi, that was between 1977 and 1978 before I joined NTA in late ‘78, I was there till I left civil service in 1981. I went into politics and business. That is what I am doing till today. When I came in 1999 and in anticipation of something like this, I enrolled for a diploma course with ATBU, where I bagged diploma in Public administration. It is the same diploma in Public Administration that I used for the degree I am pursuing now in University of Abuja. I have one semester left to graduate. They can go and confirm it. My registration number is 207592.
I want you to be specific about the primary and secondary schools you attended. Can you be specific with the name and dates?
I went to Staff Training Centre. I did not go to secondary school. After my primary 7 in 1972, I passed to go to two secondary schools, but I wanted to go to the civil service earlier, so I just went to the Staff Training Centre and then, the civil service. When my colleagues sat for GCE and WASC, I was already enjoying the salary they will receive unless they pass WASC or GCE, which is level 04, and I was already on level 04 before they sat to write WASC.
About this allegation, are you aware that some persons have forwarded a petition against you to the EFCC?
Honestly, I am not aware of any petition but I have been receiving threat calls, text messages that they have petitions against me, that they are going to EFCC, that they’ve gone to INEC to photocopy my papers. If they could access my papers in INEC, it means, there is a syndicate being sponsored against me, whom I don’t know, and I have no powers whereby I can step on anybody’s toes to warrant that kind of intention against my person, smearing my name.
Have you been able to put a face to those that are doing this to you?
I saw only one person who came to me. He brought a photocopy of my INEC papers. He said I had better come and negotiate with him, and I asked for what. I told him off, but he has been threatening me. They called me several times. I have such threat messages in my phone. I can show you some of such texts, that they have succeeded in indicting Etteh, and that I am the next. That what I did to Etteh, they will do it to me. That is what they said.
Are you saying you can’t trace the source of the text messages since you have their GSM numbers?
Honestly, I think it is of no need. I think it is useless. It doesn’t bother me much, because I don’t see it as anything. As far as I am concerned, I have nothing to hide. That is why you see me sitting outside, enjoying fresh air. I am waiting here outside to see who will come and arrest me.
Were you at any time very close to former vice president Atiku Abubakar?
Yes, we were very close at a time.
Were you working closely with him?
What about now?
No, that was before.
Was there a time you shifted your allegiance to Senator Jibril Aminu?
I am now with Jibril Aminu, because we used the same Jibril Aminu to disengage Turaki in Adamawa. And he was used by the President to make sure we removed him, because I stood for the third term project. I was the only vocal Northerner who stood for third term. With that situation, Mr. VP said that he was disappointed in Mubi North/ Mubi South constituency which I represented. That I went there and started doing things that the people who sent me there were not expecting.
Your change of camp, was it based on principle or what?
It was based on principle when I discovered that I had nobody to hold on to. I have been left alone because my master is Marwa, and I will die with him, no matter the level of frustration I am receiving. I know I am receiving frustration because of Marwa and I will remain with him.
Is it proper to say that your travail is tied to the Adamawa politics?
There is this belief that as a pro- third term legislator, you benefited immensely from the largesse or what transpired at that time?
Cuts in…What benefit are you talking about?
That you are one of the beneficiaries, but now you have switched support to the present administration and you are working in league with Yar’Adua to rubbish what Obasanjo did, using your position as Chairman of the Privatization Committee, it is like these people have a dossier on you…
If it is true that they have a dossier on me, let them go ahead and use it. But I know if such dossier existed anywhere, it will be a fake dossier that they are using. They should go out and authenticate it. Will they discover that I am a killer or what? or a bribe taker? Let them establish that.
There is this allegation that you pocketed some money during the third term saga.
I don’t know about any money. Whatever happened has happened, and that is it.
As Chairman of Privatization Committee, what are the rotten deals you have uncovered?
The entire privatization exercise was shabbily done. Because it involved Atiku, it involved Baba himself. All of them are guilty of the same offence and all of them are from my party. I am going against the laws of my party, don’t you think that our law is something. But whatever is illegally done, I can’t accept it.
Did you uncover some fraud in some of these privatization deals?
Ha! so many. One, somebody who has never bidded was asked to come and take over. This is public property. This is a national endowment. It is for you and I. Should we allow somebody to come and dictate that this is who I will give a national monument to. It is unfair. You invited investors to come and invest. Let it to the public, advertise it, let due process be followed. This is what we are talking about.
Some people are of the view that ordinarily, you did not have the courage to do what you are doing now, if not because you fell out with Atiku, and Atiku as VP was Chairman of the National Privatization Committee.
If I fell out with Atiku, I would not have listened to the AP petrol petition which we did a public hearing recently.
What do you mean by that?
AP petroleum is a friend to Atiku. A very close friend to Atiku. Yet, I gave it a fair hearing. Everybody came and testified. We are looking into the submissions and other petitions.
How many petitions on the privatization exercise has your committee received so far?
We have more than 15 petitions on steel alone. We have petitions on some of the hotels, houses, Transcorp, Nicon Insurance, so many.
How do you rationalize the probe you are conducting, more so, since most of these companies and concerns were privatized when Atiku was the Chairman of NCP?
That is why we are going into it because people were not satisfied. Those who won the bid as the highest bidders were not given the opportunity.
Some people are saying that you are doing what you are doing now because you are in Jibril Aminu’s camp.
As I am talking to you now, I don’t talk with Aminu.
Well, something happened recently. He worked against me when I showed interest in the position of Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives which was zoned to us. No member qualified more than me as a third timer in the House. I would have been endorsed as the Deputy Speaker, but I was refused because Aminu said they don’t want it in Adamawa State. He said this is a Buba Marwa person. You know if I get the position, you know what it is. If I can win three times in my constituency, you can see that if I am given a mandate as a Deputy Speaker, you know what am talking about, you know whom I am.
Are you saying that the little power you have now as Chairman of Privatisation Committee, you will use it judiciously or arbitrarily?
I will unveil the past. I will give you the latest. I want to achieve a lot. I will expose any dirty deal in the privatization exercise
Given all that you have seen in the privatization, how will you assess the whole exercise? How will you sum up the Obasanjo administration?
It is a good intention, but the way it was done, it was hurriedly done. Look at the issue of quotations, nobody was invited. Look, if you want to privatize an organization, first of all, ask those people whom you are trying to woo to come and buy, check what is their track record, their antecedents. Have they managed an already existing refinery, compared to what is happening? This is a country we have to salvage together, because we can’t be perpetually sitting down. We expect that you must come up with fresh ideas to move the nation forward, like the present President who came up to fight corruption. And he has a seven-point agenda which I fall within. I totally subscribe to it, I support it.
What do you think must have pushed the former president to have hurriedly sold the refineries?
I don’t know. I was shocked.
Will your committee take a second look at the Pentascope /NITEL issue?
I have not gone through the report of the committee that investigated the sale. I am aware that many irregularities happened. We know NITEL was grossly under-priced. These are the complaints.
How are you carrying along members of your committee in your assignment? Some say you are running a one-man show
Whether I run a one-man show or not, before I open my mouth to say anything, I get clearance from my Speaker, I get his blessing, then come to my colleagues, sit down with them and table everything before them. But the issue of the press release I did recently, I confessed to them. I said look, it was a one-man show, but it was because I was aggrieved with what we saw on ground. If we have gone out with the journalists covering the House, they would have felt the same way. Really, if you go to Ajaokuta, Itakpe, Aladja, you will be shocked. First and foremost, the materials are obsolete, they told us that they’ve sunk N38billion, but there is no single new machinery installed in the entire place. We went round. They are all obsolete.
Didn’t your committee members ask questions?
We did, nobody wanted to give us answers. They said their accountant is not around, their MD is not around. Nobody could talk. They were just perambulating. Nobody could give me even tentative answers.
Where do we go from here? The House will receive your report soon and a decision will be taken. But what happens next in view of past experiences when decisions are taken and nothing happened thereafter?
This new man, I mean the President, he believes in the rule of law. There is no way the House will pass a resolution and he will not obey. He respects the legislature. I want to give you instances where he showed respect for the legislature. What happened on the Etteh issue, he would have intervened, but he left us alone to do what we wanted.
What do you think should be done to those that perpetrated fraud in the course of the privatization exercise?
Honestly, they should face the music, and the music is justice. First, they should be arrested, thoroughly searched, confiscate what they have acquired. Something equivalent to what they have taken so far before they are even released.
If it includes ex-president Obasanjo, what do you say should happen?
If you are talking of justice, nobody should be above the law
Should he be arrested and prosecuted?
No, I am not saying so. What I am saying really is that justice must prevail.
With this your crusade, how do you manage pressures from left, right and centre?
There is pressure, but I will never come down because I have been cheated. I have been mostly cheated.
Who cheated you and how?
Across the Niger river today, apart from this Ajaokuta industry, what do we have. It is unfair to me. We don’t have a single thing to claim as a Nigerian apart from this Ajaokuta. Yet, it is not functional. It has become a ghost place, crowded with weeds all over. Nigeria belongs to all of us. Everybody contributed to the corporate existence of Nigeria. We brought cows, we supply proteins, you people supply oil; other people supply canals for ships to berth. So everybody has one contribution to make, but some have stepped on others. Justice must prevail.
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