By Ojo Maduekwe
In all the time that Nigeria’s former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has attempted to become president, the campaign which has been effectively used to shoot down his presidential ambition is the allegation that he’s corrupt.
For some electorate, the name Atiku Abubakar is synonymous with corruption. This labeling began when in the buildup to the 2007 election he showed interest to succeed his boss at the time, former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
To weaken his chances, Obasanjo took every opportunity to accuse him of being corrupt. Over the years, and even with no conviction by the court, the success of this campaign against Atiku is such that it’s been hard ever since to defend or present him as a better choice to those he’s had to contest with.
Aside gossips, what many Nigerians read of Atiku in the media; the story of how he built his business and made his fortune are sponsored. Also, the perception of corruption against Atiku is hinged to his being a politician, and the skepticism with which almost every Nigerian view the entire political class.
It did not help that before joining politics, Atiku had worked with the Nigerian customs. Second only to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the customs is believed to be involved in large-scale corruption.
Many people assume that since there is unchecked corruption in the customs and because Atiku is a politician, then he must be corrupt; they argue that he must have been involved in some form of corrupt dealings while at either of the customs or during his time at the presidency, or both.
One way custom agents enrich themselves is through bribe from smugglers and people looking to bypass laid down rules of doing business; the other is for the customs heads to appropriate the agency’s operational funds.
The question is did Atiku make his money while IN the customs? Yes. But there is no evidence to suggest that he made his money FROM the customs.
No one has ever accused Atiku of taking bribe while an agent of the customs, or appropriating the agency’s operational funds. So until there’s a contrary opinion, accusation that he was a corrupt customs agent is speculative.
It has been narrated how in the service of the customs Atiku together with an Italian, Mr. Gabrielle Volpi started the company Nigeria Container Services, NICOTES, which later became Integrated Services Limited, INTELS. This was how Atiku made his money in the customs.
Though many people dislike how INTELS became and sustained monopoly in its sector, greed and not corruption would come close in characterizing the agreements INTELS legally signed with Nigeria’s port authorities.
What many don’t know is that as a monopoly in its sector, INTELS was a money spinner for Atiku and its shareholders. Legend has it that so successful was INTELS that the first profit given to one of its shareholders and Atiku’s political godfather, the late Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was so much that a surprised Yar’Adua was said to have jokingly asked if INTELS was into drugs. Atiku himself has said of how INTELS was his most successful business.
Until the present government decided to end the company’s operations, Atiku had over the years multiplied the profit from INTELS by diversifying into other equally profitable business interests.
During his time as Obasanjo’s deputy, INTELS remained operational. People close to Obasanjo say he’s vindictive and dislikes opposition. They reason that if indeed he had proof of corruption against Atiku, he wouldn’t have settled for merely calling him out as corrupt, but would have made public the evidence.
In an interview last week, Atiku challenged “anyone, anywhere who has any evidence of corruption against me to come forward.” Perhaps as we enter the 2019 election campaign season the ruling All Progressives Congress would take up the challenge and put this accusation to rest once and for all.
PHOTO: Nigerians queue to vote during the 2015 national election.