How I Stooped The Oil Cabal – Senator Ahamadu Ali

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Senator (Dr) Ahmadu Ali, a trained surgeon was born on March 1, 1936 at Gbobe near Lokoja. .  He was educated at Nigerian College of Arts and Science, Zaria between 1955 and 1957 before moving over to University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan from 1957 to 1963. He was also at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh.
     At one time, he was a Minister of Education, he is the first Director General of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC,  he was a senator for three times, he was a National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he is the Chancellor African Business School. Presently, he is the Chairman Petroleum Products Pricing Agency, PPPRA.  Senator Ahmadu Ali is a distinguished statesman who has served this country well.  In  this interview, Senator  Ali spoke to a team of editors from National  Mail, led by Moses George Editor-in Chief. Excerpts

You graduated as a medical doctor from the University College Hospital, Ibadan in 1963, and then, you went on to enlist into the Nigerian Army. Firstly, what attracted you to study medicine and why did you enlisted into the army as a doctor?
Right from my secondary school days at Barewa College, Zaria, and the flagship profession of students of Barewa College was the military. That is why the first, the second and the third generations of Nigerian army officers were all from Barewa College. The attraction was that right from secondary school class one to three, you only did two lessons. The rest, you went to the army barracks and train with recruits on how to shot, how to take cover and how to blow up bridges and so on. So, we were atuned towards the military. I actually wanted to join the Air force, because the Vice Principal of Barewa College, who was a mathematician was an ex pilot during the Second World War. Eventually, they now enlisted us into British air force and sent letters to our D O’s and so on and they interviewed our parents and my mother being the only living parent rejected my joining the air force. That suppressed my ambition for the air force. My study of medicine came, because  when I completed my secondary school, my result that year was the best in the whole of Barewa College. Another Igala boy, Momoh Sule from Ankpa had the best result ever before me.  One day, the late Northern Premier came to our school and promised that no body from our class of 1954 would be employed by the Northern regional government. He said that we should all go to the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology which was starting at that time. Those to be employed were those who failed their school certificate examinations. In making a choice of wat to study, I remembered that my late father was ill and refused to take western medicine and I said to myself, well, I would rather study medicine.  So I went through the Nigeria College, did advance level London and gained automatic admission to Ibadan to study medicine. In my final year at Ibadan in 1963, there was an advert for recruitment of young people, especially, university graduates into the army. So three of us that were friends, Professor Humphrey Anyawu, late Brigadier General Adelaja and I decided to apply. After the interview, we were taken and commissioned as second Lieutenant on March 14 1963. My final exam at UCH was in October. So I joined the army without a degree actually. What that means is that I graduated from the university as a soldier, because I was already a second Lieutenant. So you can see that it was this old ambition that I now give expression to it again.
What actually led to the ‘Ali Must Go demonstration in 1978 when you were Minister of Education’?
Demonstrations by undergraduates in Nigerian Universities are not new. After the one of 1978, about three ministers who came after me also suffered the same fate. Students carried placards and insisted that they must go. ABU students carried placards against Professor Ango Abdullahi…they said that Ango Must Go. In my own case, I was not part to anything that led to Ali Must Go demostrations. As Minister for Education, I fought for money for education. The money meant for the universities, the treasury handed it over to the National Universities Commission. I recreated the National Universities Commission during my time, just as I produced the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB. I brought in Doctor Angulu who was the Register of ABU to come and be its pioneer Register. Professor Jubril Aminu was lecturing at the Ibadan Teaching Hospital; I also nominated him to become the Register of NUC. Government’s revenue at that time was dwindling due to sharp fall in oil revenue. So one of the measures they took to beef up income was by asking students to pay for the food they eat. I think then, they were already paying twenty five kobo and it was going to be fifty kobo per meal. This was unacceptable to them. But this decision was not taken by the ministry. It was the NUC that took that decision. The NUC did not route that decision through the ministry. They went through General Yar Adua who was then Chief of Staff to Obasanjo and it landed at the Supreme Council which is superior to the Federal Executive Council were I belonged. So the they took that decision and we heard it on radio. So myself and the Permanent Secretary wrote a letter of warning to Professor Jubril Aminu who was the Executive Secretary of the NUC at that time, that they had no right to do a thing like that and that they should pass through the ministry. Well, that was what led to all the meetings that culminated into that demonstration. Before then, I got on well with them as a onetime Secretary General of the National Union of Nigerian Students. I tried to reach out to them. I even flew to Maiduguri to talk to them. It was after the secret meeting they held in Calabar that the whole thing erupted.
You were said to have always held independent views, even from that of the Head of State when you were Minister for Education, especially at Federal Executive Council Meetings. How true is this?
I don’t know about holding independent views. What you saying is that all through my life, I speak my mind. I do not play politics with people’s lives. When discussion are on, what I feel, I say it. I know a Head of State who used to throw his files at me. I collect it and then take it back to him. They know me as someone who would always speak out his mind. That is why General Gowan appointed me a minister on 24th of January 1975. They overthrew him in July of that same year; Murtala came in as Head of State. Murtala and I never agreed, we were always at each other’s throat. He was my junior in Barewa College. Immediately he came in as Head of State, he said he will not have any body in education, except me. When Obasanjo became Head of State after Murtala’s death, he insisted that I should continue to be Minister of Education, even when people like General Danjuma wanted me to go back to medical because that area was suffering as a result of my political appointment. Obasanjo insisted I remain in education.
Considering the vision of the of  founders  of National Youth Service Corps of which you were the pioneer Director General, would you say that the scheme is living up to its objectives or has it outlived its usefulness?
Only short sighted people in our society would say that the NYSC has outlived its usefulness. As far I am concerned, it can never outlive its usefulness. In a society of almost three hundred tribal groups, there is nothing you need more than understanding of one another. That is the key to living together. The scheme helps young people to learn how to live with other people. It helps them appreciate other people. A child from Ogun state goes to serve in Borno, Calabar goes to serve in Sokoto and so on. This will foster unity. That is why we believe that NYSC can never outlive its usefulness.  Apart from the great understanding it forges, inter marriages happen. By accident, these are the most useful people that can make election credible in Nigeria, at least, for the time being.
The Igala/Bassa people of Kogi east elected you into the Senate three times, making you the first Nigerian to be so honoured. What was responsible for this and what have you given back to them in return?
I keep giving back even when I am no longer a Senator. I keep serving Kogi East and the whole of Nigeria in every capacity I find myself. The creation of Kogi State was under my Chairmanship for eleven years. I was the leader of the movement for the creation of Kogi State. I travelled to America and everywhere to see that I could make use of all the levers to create Kogi State. The Igalas made a big mistake when they left Kwara for Benue. I was in government and I had succeeded in convincing the Federal Executive Council that the Igalas should be left to remain in Kwara until such time when states will be created on provincial basis, then, we will have a Kabba province state. That was my position. But some of our boys went and lobbied at the Supreme Military Council, and some emirs and chiefs also lobbied powerful people that they will never belong to a state with the people who are now in that state. So they had to remove them from that province and used the Igalas just to fill the gap. Within a year, those who criticized my position in the Federal Executive Council for wanting Igalas to remain in Kwara summoned me and they were begging me to take a letter to Obasanjo to return them back. So I told them that I was not Obasanjo’s Chief of Protocol, so why should I carry the letter, that they should post the letter. When I told General Obasanjo that this is what my people are saying, Obasanjo said,”but I told you.” Because Obasanjo had told me earlier that my people had gone to lobby some emirs and that they will go to Benue and suffer.  Eventually, It was the Attah of Igala that told me that I have been elected to lead the movement for the creation of Kogi state when the agitation started. My wife, I think must be the first woman to stand on the drum to campaign for the creation of Kogi state. She also made donations ofcourse. General Babangida who created the state, went to the United Nations to speak at the UN as Head of State, so I flew there with my wife. We were in the United Nations floor, in the Ministerial kiosk, because I had told Ambassador Gambari who was Nigeria’s Representative at the UN to reserve a place for me. He booked accommodation and a seat. After Babangida’s speech, we all went to World of Astoria in the evening for cocktail. When Babangida saw me he said, ‘Likita, you came all the way. You are not a business man. It is business men that follow Heads of States around. What have you come to do”? I said well, I came to give you support. So the Inspector General of Police, Gambo Jimeta said to Babangida, ‘So you don’t know why he is here? He is looking for the creation of Kogi State that is why he is following you about.” So Babangida said,”wallahi, by the grace of God I will create Kogi State for you.” So that is the secret.

When you aspired to become the governor of Kogi state under the platform of NRC, lots of your admirers were excited at the prospect of having you as their governor. What truncated your ambition?
I did not succeed in standing for any primary election. After the creation of the state in 1991, everybody said, well you brought the state, so come and be our governor. My old teacher, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Okene summoned me and told me to take a shot at it since the elders have decided. So I was preparing myself for primaries when Babangida made a law banning any Chairman of any committee of the National Assembly or State Assemblies from standing for elections. So, that cancelled me out.
As national Chairman of PDP, what were your achievements?
What would be the achievement of a National Chairman of a party more than how well you ran the party? We instilled discipline into the party and put it back in its frontline position. We made it a party that you can reckon with at all angles. We went to the general elections and captured twenty eight states out of thirty six; I transited the federal government from civilian to civilian without any hitch in 2007.     You must remember that my predecessors in office were sacked because they fiddled with the finances of the party. Before I left office, I gave one billion naira for the building of a permanent secnetariat of the PDP. I then created a committee that will handle the project under Goodluck Jonathan, the Vice President, who later turned out to be our President. This committee had to go round raising funds so that when I leave office the project would go on. I even got the C of O of the land for them. At our secretariat, we owed fourty five million when I got there, I paid off the debt and it became our own. I met no Kobo when I came, so I was carrying bowl in hand to be able to pay staff. After the nomination for the election, the party came into plenty of money. I didn’t believe that my predecessors stole any more initially….but I eventually realized that there was money. Ten people will pay the party to buy forms for one post…. Over to billion naira came in as result of that process. When I realized this, I was shocked. One day I called the Director of Finance and asked whether all the money people are paying for forms across the country was going into a particular account. He said yes sir. He brought the statement and there was N1.5 billion in Zenith Bank, half a billion with Standard Chartered or so. I told myself that this money will not disappear like the last one. So I decided to do something reasonable with the funds.
You have been Chairman of Petroleum Products Pricing Agency since December 2009. The agency is being accused of negligent in its operations by allowing unscrupulous companies and government officials to defraud the country in the name of subsidy. What is your response to this allegation?
They are talking bunkums. Rubbish… They don’t have any vague idea of  how PPRA operates. This agency is the body that is supposed to regulate petroleum products and pricing. The consumption of fuel every three months is determined. So the PPRA gives the PPMC over sixty percent of that quantity. To import. So PPRA itself imports only one third or there about of this quantity. PPRA processes the application of those marketers who have got the ability to bring in products. We have no power over the sixty percent that is given to PPMC. So the agency does not know how they administer it or who they give to, but the PPRA knows those that have satisfied all the conditions that are required for the license to import.  One day, the late President Yar Adua asked me to assist him because all the petrol stations in Nigeria had long queues, but no fuel and that it was an embarrassment for him. I obliged him and plunged into the job with all my energy. The first thing I found was that it was just a group of major marketers that were getting most of the licenses to bring in the product. And these major marketers complained to me that government owed them over six months of their subsidy claims. So I had to approach Doctor Rilwan Lukeman, the Minister, and begged him to process their payment because they don’t get paid then, they won’t bring in products and there will be scarcity. I also found out that these major marketers, most of them big name,…you give them 300,000 metric tons of PMS, they need one quarter of a billion dollars, none of them would want to invest that kind of money into an investment only to be pursuing papers from one office to another. So when they are allocated this quantity, if you are lucky, they bring in only 90, so there is already a shortfall of 210,000 metric tons. By the time this happens in 2 or 3 companies, there will be scarcity.  So I decided to look into the law establishing the PPRA, which says that the agency must provide a level playing field for all marketers. That is why I made two statements on the television…I said the cartel that is holding this country to ransom, I will break it. I then told the Executive Secretary of the PPRA, that the number of marketers you are giving licenses is too small…. Allocate more licenses to more companies so far they can satisfy your conditions. Don’t restrict it to these people alone. Many companies started applying.. Some for 45,000, 30,000 metric tons and so on depending on their abilities. At the end of the day, they may bring in only 15,000 etc. But because they are more, more fuel is coming. That was how I created the glut in the PMS market that eventually broke the monopoly of the cartel. Even the Shehu of Borno came here and said, all his life, fuel had never sold at the same price as it sold anywhere in Nigeria. Everywhere, it was selling at 65 naira. Again, the PPRA does not give the license. It is given by DPR. Our own is to process the application and DPR will still conduct their own evaluations. So from 16, the number of marketers rose steadily 51. The number that PPMC deals with, we don’t know. They are dealing with bigger groups that we never know. The PPMC fuel is actually for strategic reserve….most people don’t know this. There is no nation that can run without a strategic reserve of fuel for a certain period in case of an emergency, like war and so on. They have their own tank farm like Atlacove and so on. When it is full, they go and hire other people’s tank farms to store products.  Then ofcourse, there was a time I called all marketers when they accused me of promoting portfolio carrying marketers, so I told them that all of you carried portfolios before you were able to build tank farms, give others a chance. These small marketers actually came to save the nation. They may not be big names, but their effort created the glut we had. And that was my initiative. But what we could not guarantee, is whether the liter you got is exactly one liter. That is the work of DPR. So all the noise about fraud in PPRA is absolutely trash. But if anything is happening in that wise, then there must be a massive collusion, because there are checks and balances mechanisms.
There are rumours in certain quarters that your relationship with former President Obasanjo has not been very cordial lately. What actually happens?
I don’t comment on rumours. Please go on to the next question.
What is your appraisal of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, especially, considering the high rate of unemployment, dwindling economy and high level of insecurity in the country?
The administration of Goodluck Jonathan is battling with a lot of problems. That is not unheard of in other administrations. Boko Haram was there before Jonathan came. Before then there was MEND and these Niger Delta Militants blowing up oil installations, kidnapping people and asking for ransom. All these have been going on. But the magnitudes seem to have exploded in recent times. But we have to ask ourselves; if fire for fire does not solve the problem, perhaps jaw to jaw will.  But President Jonathan is trying his best. We have to give him a chance before we can make a honest and critical assessment.
What is the prospect of this country staying together in view of the recent challenges confronting it?
Moses George, I will like to tell you categorically just as Babangida said. I am ready to carry arms against anybody that want to break Nigeria up or to tear it apart. So if there are people nursing such intention, they jolly well be ready for an unprecedented resistance from those of us who do not want to break Nigeria. Having said that, we should all be careful not to make pronouncements that will cause friction and heat up the polity.
Thank you for finding time to talk with us,
It’s my pleasure. Thank you Moses George.

I said the cartel that is holding this country to ransom, I will break it. I then told the Executive Secretary of the PPRA, that the number of marketers you are giving licenses is too small…. Allocate more licenses to more companies so far they can satisfy your conditions. Don’t restrict it to these people alone.

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About newsmailonline
Moses George is a versatile journalist/prolific writer.His career as a journalist dates back to over 10 years. During this period, he has worked for several media organizations across the country. His reports and writings serve as references to credible newspapers, magazines and web sites. His passion for investigative journalism has revealed dark secrets involving high level corruption in both the private and public sectors.He covers high profile events for corporate organizations and individuals. Moses George is the Editor-in Chief of National Mail, a general interest magazine that circulates across Nigeria. He is also the Editor of News Mail, an online publication that features people, events and issues. George can be reached on 234 080 6672 2600 or at nationalmailonline @yahoo.com

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