By CHUKWUOKE EZENWA
Chief Gabriel Yakubu Aduku is a former Minister of State for Health in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. His tenure as a minister was abruptly brought to an end by allegations of corruption.
Aduku, a past president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects as well as a past president of the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, speaks on the allegations and other issues.
You have been largely quiet since you left office. Why?
To a large extent, your observation is correct. My political activities in the past three years or so have been at very low ebb. The reason for this is what the whole world was made to believe or feel about me in March 2008.
The episode in the Federal Ministry of Health where I was falsely and embarrassingly libelled as a corrupt public officer, when I served as Minister of State for Health, and charged and arraigned by the EFCC before the High Court of Justice in Abuja along with eleven others – including the Minister of Health at the time.
Over the period, my focus was more on fighting for the preservation and restoration of my integrity through the law courts for an accusation and charges I was wrongly and heinously pushed into. The courts needed my full time and I gave it full priority over any other challenges of life, in order to salvage my hard earned name and character and preserve my integrity.
Can you share with us your experience as a former Minister for State for Health?
I served for seven months only in the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration. In the course of gathering momentum from the first week in office as a Minister of State for Health, I got introduced to a scientific committee established in the ministry under the chairmanship of the late Professor Pedro of the University of Lagos.
This committee worked extensively on vector control method of combating the menace of malaria in the country, in fact in the sub-region integrating the Roll-Back programme. Their study and recommendations were positive and only required political will to push for implementation. I promptly promised to offer the best I could to get all the political will needed.
I also recall that around December 20 – 22 2008 at the 51st National Council of Health meeting in Lagos, Professor Pedro made a presentation that instantly generated a standing ovation for the total elimination of malaria by the year 2015 in Nigeria and the sub-region.
Naturally, I latched onto that presentation and ignited my passion for the elimination of malaria, and began working assiduously towards the implementation of Professor Pedro’s Scientific Committee’s ‘’Integrated Roll-Back Vector Control’’ programme of malaria elimination.
Every attempt to present the programme to the Federal Executive Council suffered set back and frustration until we left the cabinet in March 2008. The challenge is still very much on today.
I also remember that on 6 August, 2007, within my second week in office, Mr. President (late Umaru Yar’Adua) gave me a four-week assignment as chairman of a Presidential Task Force to evaluate the works done on the contract between ALGON and Messrs Nathan Nigeria Ltd for the construction and equipping of a comprehensive health care centre in each of the 774 local government areas across the country. I submitted my report to Mr. President on 13 September, 2007. The concept of Primary Health
Care Centres was good. The contract arrangement where contract funds were deducted at source was the big issue. I reasoned that each local government area should be encouraged to complete the project in their areas instead of deducting the contract funds from source.
We put in place an effective mechanism for co-ordination of all Federal Medical Centres and other parastatals under my schedule. My tenure as a Minister of State for Health was short but positively eventful in the sense that I made an impact within the very short period.
What were the circumstances surrounding your exit from the ministerial position?
There were surely plots by unfriendly politicians and civil servants to edge me out of the Ministry on Health. Some of these included blackmailing me through the false allegation that I authorized and partook in the illegal siphoning of end-of-year welfare funds from public funds under my care amounting to N300m in December 2007. These were funds that the president had directed must be returned to the treasury as unspent.
To this end, the EFCC was instructed to investigate a petition emanating from a civil servant in the Ministry of Health with the aim of implicating me Frivolous allegations were brought against me, which made me to leave office abruptly to enable EFCC investigators have unfettered access for further investigations.
No sooner than I submitted my resignation as a minister and member of the Federal Executive Council that the EFCC arrested and kept me in their custody for days before arraigning me before an FCT High Court in March 2008 on a 14-count charge of criminal offence.
What was your experience in the hands of the EFCC?
My experience in the hands of the EFCC was certainly not pleasant. It was like a dream, losing my freedom from pinnacle of power to almost nothingness in the hands of the EFCC. The humiliation was unspeakable, particularly because of the background of my complete innocence in the matter and the extent to which some people can go in their deliberate effort to deprive me of the opportunity of serving my country meritoriously. It was indeed a very sad experience for me.
It was reported in the newspapers that your case went from the High Court of the Federal Capital territory to the Appeal Court and then the Supreme Court and that the courts decided in your favour. Why then would the EFCC include your name on their advisory list which was released some months back?
The media reported virtually all that happened between the courts from March 2008 to November 2009. The Supreme Court which is the highest court in our country validated my innocence by discharging me from the charges.
On the issue of my name remaining on the advisory list of the EFCC, all I will say is that, it is the brainchild of those at the helm of handling affairs at the commission.
We understand that the office of the president has apologized to you for the wrongful charges leveled against you.
Yes, my lawyers and I did bring to the notice of the administration the outcome of my problems in the courts and the reasons to do the needy for an eminent, innocent citizen that was maliciously made to face the rigours of due process and rule of law for three years. The government of President Goodluck Jonathan has by a December 2010 letter truly confirmed my innocence and acquittal from the courts on all the charges, and indeed regrets all that happened to me. I thank Mr. President for having the courage to acknowledge that I was innocent.
How do you feel now that the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has exonerated and vindicated you?
I certainly feel relieved over the president’s acknowledgment; though I still believe he can do much more to restore my heavily damaged image and integrity which I built over the years.
Would you be seeking any form of compensation from government in that regard, especially given the material and reputational losses you have suffered as a result of the case?
My lawyers had in a letter to the president through the attorney general and minister of justice advised government to express reparation in all these areas. The president has demonstrated that he is committed to justice and I have no doubt in my mind that he will do something positive to ensure the full restoration of my reputation and integrity.
Given the experience you have passed through, why do you still remain a strong member of the Peoples Democratic Party?
I believe parties are normally formed by people of like minds, this was so when PDP was truly put together by us. I still feel strongly belonging to the party because we will eventually get back to the original ideas that formed the basis for the formation of the party and get much better.
Would you say the PDP has really recognised your contributions as one of the conveners of the party in Kogi State and as a founding member of the party in the country?
The party has not recognised my contributions. But, when I see people like Dr. Alex Ekwueme, co-founder/chairman of PDP still remaining in the party despite all the humiliation even in Anambra – his home state, I am consoled.
Why did the elders of the PDP in Kogi State allow the emergence of several gubernatorial aspirants on the platform of the party? They could have persuaded some aspirants to step down, just like it happened when you aspired to run for the governorship position in the state?
PDP is considered a winning party already, thus a lucrative platform to be. Inordinate ambition would not allow young ones to respect the views of elders. Indiscipline abounds as long as people place greater premium on money as the sole vehicle to drive political ambition. Elders of the party like us will continue to offer advice and point the way forward, not just in Kogi politics but, also in national politics.
Given your experience in government, would you still be willing to offer your services to the country again when called upon?
I have painfully acquired some very useful experience that will surely make me do better if given another chance. It was a very serious learning curve for me. For me, politics is all about service to the people. People who have interacted with me will readily tell you that I am a very selfless person when it comes to service to community.