By Dele Sobowale
“Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.”
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 25).
I once wrote an article in defence of Attah during his first term when he came under attack for two decisions that were destined to have lasting impact on the economic and social lives of the people of Akwa Ibom State. The first was his decision to invest in ECONET Wireless shares and the second was the construction of Ibom Plaza.
It will be difficult to imagine two decisions made by any other governor, save Audu Bako’s determination to turn Kano State into a major agricultural producer and Lateef Jakande’s housing programme, which demonstrated such immense insight as those two.
Yet, no leader has suffered as much grief over being right as Attah did when he went ahead stubbornly to implement them. Rebels and real social transformers are also by nature bull-headed. Attah probably ignored the warning contained in that article. He held all the power of the state. And, as Trevor Roper observed, “In times of triumph, prophets are unnecessary distractions”. (BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 204). The calumny came as predicted.
When Attah’s trials and tribulations came, it started with his strident call for Resource control and ended with a petition accusing him of money-laundering by the same ECONET director, name withheld, who had come, cap-in-hand, begging the Governor of Akwa Ibom to invest in ECONET.
The same fellow also went begging governors Bola Tinubu and James Ibori to provide the funds without which ECONET might not have been able to roll out 10 years ago. I will not comment on how Ibori handled Delta State shares.
But, I can defend anywhere how Tinubu and Attah handled theirs. Of course, like most cowards, who insult formerly powerful people, the scoundrel waited until Attah and Tinubu were out of office before striking. But the first blow against Akwa Ibom was struck by Obasanjo/Ige with the suit filed at the Supreme Court asking the court to determine the outward boundary of littoral states.
In plain language, the court was asked to determine how much of the off-shore oil a coastal state could claim as its own. Permit me to skip the details which will call for six articles all by themselves. The Supreme Court judgment resulted in what at the time was called the “On-shore-Off-shore dichotomy.” Its impact on Akwa Ibom State was devastating.
Akwa Ibom’s federally-generated revenue plummeted from approximately N4 billion per month (which is small change compared to the almost N30 billion the state currently collects) to about N160 million because once judgment was, inexplicably, delivered in the Federal Government’s favour, Obasanjo moved immediately to seize 172 oil wells from which Akwa Ibom was deriving revenue. Till today, the injustice involved is still with us as will be demonstrated shortly.
Suddenly, the state found itself collecting enough money just to buy every worker a loaf of bread everyday and nothing more. That was the punishment Attah received for daring to ask for a fairer deal for his people. A perceptive reader would notice that it never occurred to Obasanjo that by withholding funds from Attah and Bola Tinubu, he was actually punishing the innocent people in those states. But, then, nobody has ever accused Obasanjo of being a deep thinker.
In desperation, Attah took two steps. The first, just as Fela released his famous tract — ZOMBIE – when under assault by Obasanjo’s military government, resulting in the death of his mother, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, by “unknown soldiers”, Attah took the battle to Obasanjo and at the same time began the search for ways to keep the state afloat financially.
The measures Attah took were also similar to the steps Tinubu also took to confront a dictatorial President. At least the two former governors had two things in common. One, they had enough guts to call Obasnjo’s bluff and they proceeded to sell the states’ shares in ECONET Wireless in order to keep their states, which Obasanjo wanted crippled, afloat. For this they were vilified and became subjects of rumoured defamation. They were accused of money laundering along with Ibori on account of the disposal of ECONET shares. Tinubu and Attah were unjustifiably maligned as it turned out. But, Attah’s deliverance from mental torture took longer.
He persevered in the desperate fight to get the state’s revenue restored to its original level. Instead of going on his hands and knees begging OBJ, Attah did what only a thorough-bred rebel, with a just cause, would have done. He wrote a letter, saucy or/and defiant, asking the President to take over the administration of Akwa Ibom State as well as the federation because it was impossible to do so on allocation of N160 million per month. Verbal hints were also dropped about seeking an Isaac Boro or Ojukwu solution to the conflict since the Supreme Court decision had left the state to suffer the environmental damages resulting from exploration while receiving peanuts in return.
Perhaps, because the memories of genocide by Federal troops at Odi and Zaki- Biam were still fresh in people’s mind, or because he already formulated in his mind the third term agenda, the last thing Obasanjo wanted was another confrontation which could result in Nigerian troops shooting civilians.
A political solution was hammered out resulting in mineral, not just oil, producing areas receiving 13 per cent derivation as of right. The bumper revenue allocations all the oil-producing states enjoy today had been won through the determination of one man not to surrender to a dictator. In fact, every mineral producing state owes Attah a monument for the partial deliverance from an avaricious Federal Government.
To be concluded.
OBJ VERSUS IBB: READ THE BOOK
“Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy, rather than anger and condemnation because the old saying says a fool at 40 is a fool for ever and I would say a regret at 70 is a regret to the grave.” Former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
“Calling IBB “ a fool at 70” especially by a man accused by his own son of incest, is at best a compliment. Nigerians know who is truly a fool or the greatest fool of this century,” IBB’s spokesman.
Area boys love nothing more than a brawl – especially between two super-heavyweights. And, in Nigeria today, they don’t come bigger than OBJ vs IBB. Long before this first round started, your presido has already compiled a book, a collectors’ item, which foretold it. Book your copy now – only 200 copies available at N5,000 each; postage excluded.