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Reminiscences With Tam David-West

Source: Al Jazeera.

This material belongs to: Daily Trust.

What specifically was government’s accusation against you?

What he claimed was that a company that was owing Nigeria $157m paid me $100m out of the money and that I forfeited $57m. This is absolutely not true. It is true the company was owing $157m during the Shagari administration and Buhari knew about it. We investigated them and they ran away when we invited them to come to negotiate in Nigeria. Some of the people who knew about the deal are still alive. My Public Relations Officer then, Mr Ikigwe, who is now a king in the Southeast knew about it, as well as many others.

I was able to get $100m from them, which was paid into government’s coffers. Those people were afraid to come to Nigeria believing that if they came, we would arrest them and put them in jail. When I went to Buhari that if we wanted to get anything from them, we would have to promise that we wouldn’t do anything to them, and Buhari agreed. They were to balance us $57m but they never did. We paid the $100m to the  Nigerian government.

The agreement between the company and the federal government was to give them their share of the $157m. Babangida did not know this because the agreement was done during Shagari’s time. They took us to court in New Jersey, USA, and I went there and won the case and they were asked to pay another $10m to Nigeria.

Babangida is a wicked man for sending me to jail despite my sincerity with the federal government. If Babangida was a thorough person, such a thing couldn’t have happened. If he had taken his time to ask Buhari what happened about that money, Buhari could have told him the whole story. The company we are talking about was financing the political party Shagari belonged to then, the National Party of Nigeria. But we could not allow them to be stealing our oil and cheating the system with their dubious company.

What would I do with money? For you to know that I was a selfless Minister, the Concord newspaper wrote an editorial to praise me. My hands are absolutely clean. A general once told me that whenever the issue of the cup of tea and wrist watch comes up, I should reply that it is the most terrible thing anybody could do to a fellow human being. Now, what wrist watch in the world could cost $57m then? Babangida is wicked. I leave him to God.

Do you still have documents to back up your claims?

Yes, I have documents on how the NNPC accounted for money during my time as Minister. It is in my book coming out soon.

For how long were you imprisoned?

He put me in Kirikiri Prison for six days and in Barma Prison for nine months, and I eventually won the case.

How did you win the case?

I won at the Supreme Court, headed by Justice Coker, who said in their judgment, “There is no iota of corruption in this man.” If Babangida hadn’t done that to me, would I have been given such a commendation?

In the immediate past administration, we saw and have been hearing of how the then Oil Minister looted millions of dollars. But me, I challenge every Nigerian today, including Babangida, to come out and prove that Tam David-West was, or even is, corrupt. Obasanjo bought a wrist watch for me, one for the same Babangida and one for the late Sani Abacha. Has Babangida forgotten? So Babangida needs to clear his conscience.

Though I have forgiven him, I will continue to be annoyed with him. My children and friends are also annoyed with Babangida because of what he did to our name. You cannot place a price tag on a name. People that are corrupt use to see others as corrupt. I am not corrupt and I can never be corrupted. Buhari may not be 100 per cent perfect but when it comes to governance, he has my support. He is trustworthy, corruption-free, hardworking and very serious.

Do you still have access to President Buhari?

Yes I do. Whenever we meet in Abuja, we are always alone in the room. We talk in very high confidentiality.

How did you tackle corruption in the ministries you headed?

There was no room for indiscipline and corruption at that time. Except Nigeria tackles corruption, we cannot go forward. I am not being self-righteous but I think any government that fails to fight corruption as we did is a failed government. Any government who cannot manage the oil sector in Nigeria is a failed government. Corruption is not easy to curb in the NNPC because it is a very large sector of the economy.

I was always at my office when I was a Minister. I would go to the office seven times a week. I used to arrive in my office latest 7.20am.

Did you have any issue with Babangida before he overthrew Buhari’s government?

Yes. He might not remember but I keep records. When he deployed me to the Ministry of Steel and Mines, he thought he was punishing me but he was blessing me. I visited Ajaokuta Steel and it was a fantastic place. They wanted to use the project to get more funds from government but I said, ‘no, I cannot be part of it.’

I wrote in their Visitor’s book that I would not ask for more money for Ajaokuta from the government. Babangida had in one of our executive council meetings said that if we had any contract that was up to N20m, we shouldn’t bring it to the council meeting. He said we should discuss it across the table, to which I said, ‘Never, all contracts must be discussed at the council meetings. It is Nigeria’s money not any individual’s’.

He may have other reasons for which he wanted to punish me but these are what I suspected as reasons. I have documented what he did and I don’t want to embarrass him by publishing them, but one day they may find their way into a book. What Babangida did to me is very sad. Barma Prison for nine months? Terrible place! Even Amnesty international said, ‘Nigeria’s Oil Minister has been jailed without doing any evil.’

If you would be an objective analyst rather than a friend of the president, how would you assess the Buhari government?

I will be talking about Nigeria and not as his friend. I am not happy about the economic situation in the country. There is a lot of suffering in the land. The sufferings are not caused by Buhari; it is as a result of bad management before he assumed office as President. Now that he has come to power, he needs to change the abnormality because government is a continuous business.

We have to tell our leaders when they are doing wrong things. Many state governors cannot pay salaries now and this is because there were free hand-outs to everybody during Jonathan Goodluck’s time. We have heard the story of a former Group Managing Director of the NNPC who buried hundreds of dollars in his compound. Nobody can try that with Buhari. People in government take advantage when they see that the leadership is weak. If they know that the leadership is the serious type, they won’t try such nonsense. Those that worked with Babangida and Jonathan can get away with corruption. They knew that their leaders were also corrupt.

Buhari needs to work more to ensure that the economy improves. I am not happy with the economic situation. How can I be happy when many states cannot pay the salaries of their workers? The governors also need to check themselves. How did they use the bailout money that was given to them?

What do you see as the greatest impediments to a successful Buhari administration?

Even before his wife cried out, I had already cried out that some of the people working with him would ruin him. That some of his aides are corrupt does not mean that Buhari is corrupt, but I want to advise him again that when corrupt people have been identified, they must be punished. He should kick such persons out completely.

How can the government stop ethnic agitation in the country?

To me, the way to stop it is not by resorting to arms. We should find a forum for dialogue. The agitators cannot all be mad. They must have reasons for their agitations. Government shouldn’t see them as enemies. It should call them together and dialogue with them. It should call their elders in different communities, with their boys, and talk to them. What we have at stake is Nigeria, which we don’t have to allow our personal agitation to destroy.

When I was Minister of Petroleum, I told the Niger Delta militants that I knew what their problems were and I felt the pain with them. But I also cautioned them that we cannot resolve it by blowing up oil installations, because once they blow up the oil installations, there won’t be money again. So, the only way to deal with agitation is through dialogue and sincerity of purpose. Unfortunately some leaders are fuelling the agitation because they are gaining from it.

What do you think government should do with the 2014 confab report? 

They are making too much noise about it; there is nothing particular about that document, nothing in that document that has not been said before now. We don’t need any confab again. All the President has to do is to set up a committee of trusted people. Let them go to the archives and bring all the recommendations that have been made for Nigeria to move forward and work on them.

My grouse about the last confab they are talking about is the huge resources that were wasted on it. How can you say you want to do something for Nigeria and you are collecting millions of naira? That alone disqualified them all in that confab. I was among the 50 people that drafted the 1979 Constitution and we were not paid a kobo. In fact, the people at that last confab should be ashamed of themselves. How can you be paid millions to talk about your country? We even heard they grumbled about the food they were served, saying it was not big enough.

So, there is nothing special about that document that had not been said before now. We like glamorisation in Nigeria. They are talking about implementation of that report as if it is enough to solve our problems in Nigeria. Our problems can only be solved when we are serious. We are not serious yet.

As a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, what is your opinion on the Petroleum Industry Bill?

If they pass it, most of the oil companies will leave Nigeria. The first time they introduced that bill, a friend send a draft to me. The first heading had 40 words as title and it was rambling all over. I said a bill that has 40 words cannot be a serious bill. I was actually doing a write-up on it before I put it aside.

If you look at it carefully, there are certain policies that are directed to favour certain individuals. The bill gives the Minister of Petroleum so many powers.

The oil companies will need to pay more taxes. We have the Petroleum Institute in Efunrum in Delta State which has not been properly funded and the bill is proposing another one in Kaduna. This is not good for us as a nation.

What are your thoughts on restructuring?

That is another thing Nigerians has blown out of proportion. If you ask 10 Nigerians about restructuring, they will give you different definitions. Some people are confused on the issue of restructuring and devolution of power.

I believe in restructuring because what you have today may change in the next 10 years, and that means you need to look for a way to adjust it again. Even God restructured. The theory of organic evolution by Darwin is a good example of God restructuring. God created certain animals in a particular time on earth and when the climate changed, they could not survive again and He then chased them away and brought other animals that can survive. That is restructuring by God. God who created us restructured, so who are we not to restructure?

But my grouse with restructuring is that most of the advocates are dishonest. We need to see unity in diversity, as propounded by Tafawa Balewa. Nigeria is a great nation. God has a reason for bringing us together. Let us sit together and channel a way out of our current situation. Of course, there are some selfish politicians who hide under advocacy for separation and for their evil gains. Some people are even of the opinion that certain parts of the country are a parasite. But, in truth, no part of the country is a parasite.

Is there hope for Nigeria? 

There is hope for Nigeria. But hope never comes by accident; we will have to work towards it. If we are expecting hope to fall like manna, we are wasting our time. We must identify what we want, agree on it and work towards it as a nation.