• Ex-president on the defensive over persecution of Globacom boss by EFCC
Sheriff Balogun in Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona, have gone at each other’s throats over the travails of the Chairman of Globacom, Chief Mike Adenuga, when the latter was investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2006 over allegations that Obasajo’s deputy, Atiku Abubakar, had used funds of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to acquire shares in Globacom.
Also, Mohammed Babangida, son of Nigeria’s former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, was arrested by the EFCC at the time, over allegations that he was fronting for his father in the telecoms firm established by Adenuga.
The investigation and threat of arrest by EFCC, headed at the time by its pioneer chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, forced Adenuga to flee the country, first to the United Kingdom and later to Ghana.
He did not return to Nigeria until late 2007 when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was in office and Ribadu’s days as EFCC chairman were already numbered.
The war of words was sparked by excerpts from Awujale’s autobiography titled, “Awujale: The Autobiography of Alaiyeluwa Oba S.K. Adetona, Ogbagba II,” in which the traditional ruler accused Obasanjo of deliberately unleashing the EFCC after Adenuga, because the Globacom boss failed to donate to Obasanjo’s Bells University when he was still president.
The Ijebu ruler also alleged that the EFCC became Obasanjo’s attack dog that was used against those who opposed his third term agenda.
According to the Awujake, these actions by the former president had robbed him of influence and negatively affected his reputation.
But reacting in a defensive letter dated December 30, 2016 to the Awujale, Obasanjo advised the monarch to stop peddling “half-truths and falsehood”.
The former president also negated and described as untrue the Oba’s claims that he hated Adenuga, alleging that the Awujale’s assertions in his book were a “tissue of lies and untruths”.
Obasanjo said he had nothing against the telecommunications business mogul and billionaire, and that he only performed his duty as president without fear or favour.
He maintained that wild rumours should not be perpetrated by an Oba of the Awujale’s calibre, adding that if he had anything against Adenuga, he would not have taken photographs with him (Adenuga) when he was under investigation.
He said in the letter: “Kabiyesi, do you think I would set the press up to capture me and Mike in a photograph for the newspapers? That would be puerile of me as president.
“Of course, I could not say that Mike could not do that. That you think that I, as President of Nigeria, would descend to such depravity makes me think of you much less than I thought of you, until now.”
Obasanjo noted that the total sum of what the Awujale wrote down in the pages of his book was that he disliked Mike, saying, “Maybe I need to remind you that if there was any iota of truth in such a position or mindset, Mike would not have been granted the mobile telephone licence which made him a billionaire.”
He added: “It was my prerogative as the president so to do. You may also be reminded that in the first round of the auction which Mike did not make, the country earned US$285 million for each licence.
“The country earned only US$200 million from the licence transaction with Mike and in the subsequent transaction with Etisalat, the country earned US$400 million.
“It was a deliberate action on my part that a Nigerian should own one of the licences. Anybody else but Mike could have been that Nigerian.”
On the charge that the former president used the EFCC against Adenuga, he said under his watch, the commission was free to do its job as it saw fit.
He claimed that he never dabbled in the affairs of the commission and queried if the Oba’s cousin, Adenuga, ever told him that his (Obasanjo’s) then Chief of Staff, Abdul Mohammed, put his reputation on the line by assuring the EFCC that Mike would not be a flight risk and could be trusted if his travel passport was released to him.
“I did not even know that Abdul had done that until the chairman of EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, reported the case of my chief of staff seemingly colluding with Mike to run out of the country. But I had implicit confidence in my chief of staff and I was to resolve the issue.
“Should your cousin not have mentioned to Abdul who guaranteed the release of his passport his fears and intention to go on exile? On several occasions, Nuhu Ribadu has asserted that, under my watch, he was a free agent to do his work as he deemed fit.
“Where it was necessary, he reported the outcome of his work to me and the subsequent or follow up actions he intended to take. On no occasion did I guide, lead or direct him on what to do,” he said.
He added that he did not consider it right for him as the President of Nigeria to undermine the EFCC by hobnobbing with Adenuga when he tried to see him in Abuja before he fled Nigeria, saying, “Mike did not need to send anything to me to satisfy me, he needed to satisfy EFCC and so your sending any documents to me was insinuating that I was the one to be satisfied rather than the EFCC.”
He added: “So, such documents were not paid any attention by me. You, as the cousin and part beneficiary from Mike, as you have told me in the past, would not be able to see the tree from the forest as far as the mode of operation of Nuhu Ribadu was concerned vis-a-vis Mike.
“If he was my child, the best I could do, would be to secure a good lawyer to handle the matter before the EFCC.”
On the Awujale’s reference in his book to Adenuga’s invitation to contribute to the building of the library block of Bells University, the former president said the invitation was issued to the Globacom chairman by the then vice-chancellor of the university, Professor Julius Okogie, who never told him about inviting Mike to do so until Mike pulled out.
“That I had no idea and I did not talk to Mike about it should convince you that I know nothing about its genesis,” he said.
The former president declared that he owed nobody an apology in the course of doing his work, as he believed in what he did in the course of defending the interest of Nigeria and defending his integrity.
“All that you wanted me to do in respect of Mike was improper, whether when I was president or when I was out of office. I must not be seen to be in the way of allowing the law to take its natural course. All I should do is to help the course of the law and help secure a good lawyer to help the process,” he said.
Also responding to another excerpt in the Awajale’s book in which the Oba said he informed the former president of his rumoured part ownership of the Obajana cement factory built by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Obasanjo said: “It is not only in the case of Obajana Cement that you were rumour-mongering about me. You have done that repeatedly on many occasions.
“The latest one you did in 2016 was you telling me that you heard that I had gone to Rasak Okoya to seek to marry her (sic) daughter, Abiola, when it was the girl that came to appeal to me to intervene to placate and appeal to her father to forgive her for all her misbehaviour to her father.
“I did and the father and daughter were reconciled. I told you even then that it was unbecoming of an Oba. Of course, I am used to such rumours, slandering and insinuations since my days as a Unit Commander in the Army and I have developed thick skin.
“If ten per cent of the rumours ascribing businesses and properties I know nothing about were true, I would be the richest man on earth.
“But recently, when Aliko, yourself and myself were together, Aliko assured you that I never ever had a single share in any of Aliko’s business interests but whenever he has called on me to help within and without to promote his business interest, I have always helped and I will always do because that is part of my job as a Nigerian leader – to help Nigerians grow their businesses or interests – and I have done that for other Nigerians and indeed for non-Nigerians, Africans and non-Africans who have requested me for help.
“It was revealing to me on that occasion when Aliko made the point that one of the directors of his cement company is somebody very close to you.”
On his reputation, Obasanjo queried: “Kabiyesi if I have squandered all the goodwill I had, you would not have contacted me on behalf of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to receive them in 2014 and you would not have been personally present when I received them as I demanded.
“I probably have greater goodwill today internally and externally than I had in office.”
In concluding, Obasanjo informed the Awujale that the type of “hate propaganda” he had tried to project in the book against him (Obasanjo) was “grossly unbecoming of an Oba let alone an Oba of your status and stature”.
“However, I still accord you the respect which I believe an Oba should be accorded and one for that matter who I presume to be a friend. In spite of your unfortunate projection, my position remains the same – respect for you as an Oba and a friend.
“Kabiyesi, I believe that I should set the record straight for posterity and to caution you from engaging in unedifying rumour-mongering and untruth(s),” he said.