When Senator (Dr) Uba Ahmed died last week, I did not expect the almost total blackout that followed except for the news of his death carried in some Abuja/Northern based newspapers. As the ruling party, NPN’s secretary and later senator, he was a political colossus of his time and when I had the chance to interview him almost two years ago for The Sun, the reasons for his popularity and relevance downed on me. The past was really glorious, and Uba Ahmed was one of those that marked that era. He talked of the level of political maturity and integration that was on before the military interregnum. And for a good measure, on that day of the interview, Uba Ahmed wore his trade mark cap and a pair of glasses. I was overawed by his knowledge of issues. Surely Uba ahmed belonged to an era, long gone. Here are some snippets from that interaction:
On the supremacy of the party over the power of the president he said: “As the secretary of the party, I did not sign anybody’s nomination papers for any elective position, until and unless he had given me with one hand his undated letter of resignation, and with the other hand, I would give him his nomination paper. The condition of my signature was that resignation letter.
“To show you the humility of Shehu Shagari, he signed his resignation letter before he gave us his nomination paper, so did Alex Ekwueme, so did every governor of the NPN, so did every senator, so did every member of the House of Representatives. So did the members of the State Assembly, in fact we went as far as to local government chairmen and councilors. So you can see why since I had to supervise the implementation of whatever was the party’s decision, everybody seemed to think we were dictating the terms of government, and that’s how it should be, anyway, because the voter elected for the party’s promises, not for the individual promises of those that were contesting election”.
Party supremacy and financial autonomy:
Unlike now that the ruling PDP seeks for dole-outs and donations from the presidency and governors, thereby limiting its powers over its own elected officials, the NPN according Uba Ahmed had financial autonomy. “We were financially as independent as possible,… We created a limited liability company of our own. We were doing business like anybody else; we had good bank accounts. We bought properties in Lagos which the military took over after our overthrow. So when the party needed money for any operation, we didn’t need to ask any executive to give it to us, and like I have told you earlier, when you don’t have financial independence, you cannot possibly have any other independence…”
On the acclaimed corruption of the NPN stalwarts, for which their government was sacked by the military, he said: “You should ask those who overthrew us on the basis of corruption how much they got in our bank accounts. How many NPN leaders were sent to prison for corruption? I was investigated at nine levels, as a national officer of the party, also as a senator of the party, after our overthrow. We were investigated by the military, were investigated by the CID of the police, we were investigated also by a new organization called SIP. And I used to live in Jos, (I still live in Jos), the structures of government in the state also did, and all of them were federal agencies. They insisted that since I lived in Jos, they would also investigate me. The structures of government in Bauchi state then, I was a senator for Bauchi state, insisted that having been their senator, they also needed to investigate me, and they investigated me at three levels. And they went and packed my properties and everything, but when they finished their investigation, our bank accounts, my properties, they could not trace anything that was obtained illegally, and everything was returned to me.
“And I remember very clearly when I was being interrogated by a security agent, when he looked at my bank account and found out that my total balance was N117,000, he said to me, “Sir, with due respect to you, you must have been a fool. How can you hold such important and big office, and your balance at today is N117, 000?” And I burst into laughter, and he was shocked that I was laughing. I said: you see, if you had found out that I had N117 million in my account, you probably would have said to me, “sir, with due respect to you, you must have been a thief.” And I said that is the nature of political offence, you never win.”
On fairness to all and why he never developed his plot in Abuja even when he was a minister:
“…Secondly, it was our policy when we were allocating plots here in Abuja – we started allocation of plots – and we distributed the allocations on the basis of existing parties and on the basis of states. That’s why until today, you see all the C-of-Os given from Abuja bear state initials where the allottees come from. And it is so because we distributed plots not on the basis of party loyalty, but rather on the basis of federal character. Every state got the same allocation, even import licences, were also on the basis of federal character.
… I got the plot in 1981, and until today I have only been able to build the boys’ quarters; look at the boy who lives in it (pointing to a man sitting on the floor), at Area 2.
How do you expect me to raise money to build a house? I can’t tell my perm sec to go and bring money for me. I couldn’t. In fact, for five years as minister of labour, I never knew who the contractors of the ministry were; because as soon as I came into office, my perm sec said he would introduce me to the contractors. I said, for what? All that I wanted was for him to write memoranda and convinced me on whatever project he thought we should embark upon, that it is viable, and in public interest. I did not want to know the contractors, and I never knew them formally or informally until I left the ministry. There is Labour House here in Abuja near the church, I built it. And I can swear by the Holy Quran that I don’t know the contractor who built it, I never met him.”
On the relationship between the president and the National Assembly: “I can tell you during our financial crisis when the West decided not to buy Nigeria’s oil— Shagari is alive, you can ask him; Wayas is alive, you can ask him— we asked Shagari to come and stay in the Senate to bring what we then called Stabilization Bill for us to address the imminent collapse of our economy. The President left all his engagements of the day to come and sit in the office of the Senate President. We went through the bill, first reading, second reading and third reading. We got the House of Representatives to do the same. We did a joint conference to narrow down our differences. We went upstairs to the office of the President of the Senate, and to the president with the bill passed by the two houses. And we made him to sign that bill. Do we have a Senate that will call the President of Nigeria to come and sit down and wait for them in the Senate while they work? That is where we should go.”