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Historic perspective on Alli, Enahoro’s pardon

 

 

The presidential pardon granted by President Muhammadu Buhari to former Nationalist and Minister, Chief Anthony Enahoro (1923-2010) and also to Prof. Ambrose Folorunsho Alli (1929-1989), former Governor of the defunct Bendel state and endorsed by the National Council of State is most welcome.

 

I hope the pardon will be extended to others including Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju, former Minister of Transportation and others whose cases are being reviewed in the Presidency. Let us discuss that of Prof. Alli first. On December 31, 1983, President Shehu Shagari’s elected government was dethroned by a military coup headed by Major General Muhammadu Buhari.

 

Also dethroned and detained were elected governors that served between 1979 and 1983.

 

In overthrowing President Shagari’s government, Brigadier Sani Abacha told the nation in a broadcast on December 31, 1983 that: “You are living witnesses to the great economic predicament and uncertainty, which an inept and corrupt leadership has imposed on our beloved nation for the past four years. I am referring to the harsh, intolerable conditions under which we are now living. Our economy has been hopelessly mismanaged. We have become a debtor and beggar nation.

 

There is inadequacy of food at reasonable prices for our people who are now fed up with endless announcements of importation of foodstuffs. Health services are in shambles as our hospitals are reduced to mere consulting clinics without drugs, water, and equipment.

 

Our educational system is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Unemployment figures including the undergraduates have reached embarrassing and unacceptable proportions. In some states, workers are being owed salary arrears of eight to 12 months and in others there are threats of salary cuts. Yet our leaders revel in squandermania, corruption and indiscipline, and continue to proliferate public appointments in complete disregard of our stark economic realities.

 

After due consultation over these deplorable conditions, I and my colleagues in the armed forces have in the discharge of our national role as a promoter and protector of national interest decided to effect a change in the leadership of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and form a Federal Military Government.

 

This task has just been completed.”

 

Shortly after, the Supreme Military Council was constituted and the following were appointed as members. Major General Muhammadu Buhari, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces (Kaduna State); Brigadier Babatunde Idiagbon, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters (Kwara State), Major- General Domkat Bali, Defence Secretary (Plateau state), Major General Ibrahim Babangida, Chief of Army Staff (Niger State), Commodore August Aikhomu, Chief of Naval Staff (Bendel State), Air Vice-Marshal Ibrahim Mahmud Alfa, Chief of Air Staff (Gongola State), and others.

 

On April 5, 1984, General Buhari promulgated decree Number 3 and decree Number 8. Decree No. 8 states that THE FEDERAL MILITARY GOVERNMENT hereby decrees as follows:

 

  1. Immediately after subsection (1) of section 1 of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Military Tribunals) Decree 1984, there shall be inserted the following new subsection (1A), that is — “(1A) Any public officer who – (a) has engaged in corrupt practices or has corruptly enriched himself or any other person; or (b) has by virtue of abuse of his office contributed to the economic  adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; or has in any way been in breach of the Code of Conduct, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree and upon conviction shall, apart from any other penalty prescribed by or pursuant to any other provision of this Decree, forfeit the assets, whether movable or immovable property, connected with the commission of the offence, to the Federal Military Government.”

 

General Buhari later constituted five military tribunals to try the detained governors. It was the Kaduna zone headed by Navy Captain Muftau Adegoke Babatunde Elegbede (1939-1994) that jailed the former Kano State governor, Alhaji Sabo Bakin Zuwo (1934-1989).

 

He was tried and sentenced to 23 years in prison on charges of corruption by the Kaduna Zone. Bakin Zuwo was released from jail in January 1988. He died on 16 February, 1989 in a German hospital, where he had been taken after being involved in a fall. Sadly, Captain Elegbede was assassinated by gunmen on 19 June 1994 along the Gbagada/ Oworonsoki expressway in Lagos. It was the Ibadan Zone that jailed Prof. Alli. The zone was headed by Major General Charles Bebeye Ndiomu (1934-2002).

 

Alli from Ekpoma in the then Bendel State was educated at the Immaculate Conception College in Benin City before going to St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, and to the School of Agriculture in Ibadan. He trained as a medical laboratory technologist at the University College, Medical Laboratory, Ibadan, from 1950-1953, and studied Medicine at the University College of Ibadan from 1953 to 1960.

 

Alli did further Medical studies in Britain after that and worked in hospitals there and in Zimbabwe (1960-1962). Prof. Alli returned to Nigeria in 1966 to begin a distinguished academic career. He was a Professor of Morbid Anatomy at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria from 1969 to 1971, and at the University of Ibadan from 1971 to 1974. From 1974 to 1979, he was Head of the Department of Pathology, University of Benin.

 

He was tried on corruption charges and sentenced to a total of 66 years’ imprisonment. The sentence was later reviewed and reduced to seven years. His health deteriorated while in jail. Alli was released on 13 February, 1988 only after the payment of N983,000 raised by his friends into the government chest. He died on 22 September, 1989 (his 60th birthday) at the Lagos State Teaching Hospital.

 

It was Governor Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State who renamed Bendel State University to Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma. It was during    that period that the Ogbe stadium in Benin was renamed Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium following a motion passed by the Edo House of Assembly.

 

To his credit, the university has produced notable Nigerians like Tony Elumelu, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, Don Jazzy, Peter Godsday Orubebe, Alibaba Akpobome, Omawunmi, Benedict Ayade, Aisha Buhari, Festus Keyamo, etc.

 

On February 3, 1976, that is 10 days before he was assassinated, General Murtala Mohammed (1938-1976) made a broadcast to the nation in which he declared on that day, “The Assets Investigation Panel – This panel has examined the assets of all the former Military Governors, the former Administrator, East-Central state and some former Federal Commissioners.

 

All the ex-Military Governors and the former Administrator of East-Central State with the exception of two were found to have grossly abused their office and guilty of several irregular practices….”

 

It was in the same broadcast that General Murtala Mohammed created seven additional states thereby increasing the states in Nigeria from 12 to 19. The panel he was referring to was headed by Justice Samuel Olu Okunribido. Justice Okunribido’s panel submitted its 298-page report to General Mohammed five days before the broadcast.

 

The government white paper on the report was not released until after the death of General Mohammed. In the report two Ministers, Alahji Shehu Shagari and Shettima Ali Monguno were cleared of corrupt practices. Also cleared were two governors – Brigadier General Christopher Oluwole Rotimi of Western state and Brigadier Mobolaji Olufunsho Johnson (1936-2019) of Lagos State.

 

All the 10 other governors and the Ministers were found guilty of corruption and some of their properties were confiscated. In addition, another committee was set up by the Federal Government under the headship of Chief A.G.K. Onikoyi to probe the farms of two former Governors – Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia (Bendel State) and Alhaji Audu Bako (Kano State).

 

Some of the former ministers and former governors protested the government’s actions at that time. They claimed that the panel was unfair to them since they were not given the right to give evidence. They alleged that the panel based its judgements on innuendos and rumours peddled by their enemies bent on destroying them.

 

A few weeks before stepping aside, General Ibrahim Babangida in 1993 promulgated the Forfeiture of Assets Decree No. 54 of 1993. The Decree returned the properties seized by the Justice Okunribido’s panel of 1976 to some former governors and former Ministers.

 

Most Nigerians were alarmed by the action of General Babangida because he was part of the Supreme Military Council headed General Mohammed that seized those properties in 1976. Decree 54 was highly selective in that the decree only named certain recipients and not all found guilty by Justice Okunribido’s panel. On July 3, 1996, General Sani Abacha also promulgated the Forfeiture of Assets (Release of Certain Forfeited Properties etc.) Amendment Decree No. 21 of 1996.

 

Regrettably names of former ministers and former governors were again not mentioned. Among names not mentioned in the two decrees were that of Chief Anthony Enahoro and Mr. J.O. Adeyemi-Bero, the former Chief of Staff to the first Military Governor of Lagos State, late Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, who claimed that he was the owner of Plot 177 known as Eko Courts Towers, Victoria Island, Lagos and 25, Cooper Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

 

While Mr. Adeyemi-Bero went to court through his counsel, Prof. A.B. Kasumu and lost later at the Supreme Court, Chief Enahoro did not go to court. Instead his family made an appeal to the government for leniency and pardon so that his properties which he built in Lagos even before 1960, and were confiscated by the Justice Okunribido panel could be returned to him.

 

The exercise for pardon I am told started during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan. With the recent pardon by President Buhari, the expectation now is that the properties will finally be returned to the Enahoro family. As they say all is well that ends well. In spite of this, the contribution of Chief Enahoro to this country is always appreciated.

 

 

A Nationalist per excellence, he moved the motion on Nigeria’s Independence, he led the Mid-West delegation to the ad-hoc Constitutional Conference in 1967, he became Nigeria’s Minister, led Nigeria’s delegation during the civil war to the Peace Conferences, he fought for democracy during Abacha’s tenure at the risk of his personal safety. He did more for this country that we can ever be grateful for. Teniola, a former director at the presidency, writes from Lagos

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