Sunday Trust online

A response to Abati’s attack on “yesterday’s men”

I read Dr. Reuben Abati’s article titled ‘The Hypocrisy of Yesterday’s Men’’ (3rd Feb.2013) which was published in virtually every newspaper in the country with amusement. He sought to ridicule and demean those of us that served President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and that are not very impressed with the performance of his boss. The fact that we asked President Goodluck Jonathan to account for the 67 billion USD that he squandered from our foreign reserves has clearly upset him. We dared to ask about the money and so we were singled out and targetted for a tongue-lashing and a long lecture from the Presidency. Yet we remain undeterred.

In his response, instead of answering our questions, addressing the issues or making any pertinent and sensible points about the numerous allegations against his principal, Abati chose to go on a delusional and self-serving joy ride. He simply refused to address any of our numerous concerns but instead indulged vainly in what can only be described as an utterly vulgar and distasteful form of intellectual, spiritual and psychological masturbation by telling us that he and his master were ‘’today’s men’’ who needed no lessons from the ‘’men of yesterday’’. I will not dignify most of the insulting and childish submissions that Abati indulged in with a response other than to say that he told a shameless and pernicious lie when he wrote that as Minister of Aviation I ‘’shut down Port Harcourt Airport for two years’’ and ‘’allowed grass to grow all over it’’. This is false. The facts are as follows.

Port Harcourt International Airport was closed on Dececmber10 2005 after the Sosoliso air crash in which 100 people were killed. The crash affected the runway of the airport very badly and consequently the then Minister of Aviation, Professor Babalola Borishade, closed it. I was redeployed from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Ministry of Aviation in November 2006. This was 11 months after the Sosoliso crash took place and that Port Harcourt airport had been closed. It is clear from the foregoing that I was not the one that shut down Port Harcourt Airport. When I took over at Aviation my priority was to carry out all the necessary repairs at Port Harcourt Airport and to open it as quickly as possible. I was saddened to discover that in the previous 11 months before I got there nothing had been done and the contract to repair the runway had not even been awarded.

Consequently within a month of my being appointed Minister of Aviation we set to work and awarded the contract to Julius Berger at the cost of N3 billion. Fifty per cent of the money was paid upfront and Julius Berger set to work immediately. The runway was fully completed and the airport in pristine condition before I left office on May 29th 2007, just 6 months after I awarded the contract.

However, despite this the airport could not be opened before we left because the runway lighting system was still in the process of being installed. The Yar’adua government went ahead and opened the airport a few months after we left office, though the runway lights had still not been installed. The record shows that from the day that I was appointed Minister of Aviation and the time that our mandate ran out seven months later my staff at the Ministry and Julius Berger worked night and day on the runway project at Port Harcourt International Airport in order to ensure that we finished it in record time. And this we managed to do. It was my project.

I sourced the money for it, I paid for it, I forced the contractor to move fast on it and I finished it. The fact that the Yar’adua administration did not complete the lighting system and opened the airport for another few months after we left office, even though the runway was ready, is for them to explain and not for me. Even though nothing was done at that airport for 11 months before I got to aviation, once I was appointed we swung into action immediately. Given these facts how Abati can peddle the lie that I was the one that not only closed the airport but that I also kept it shut for two years, did nothing there, caused it to remain idle and allowed ‘’grass to grow all over it’’ honestly baffles me.

Abati also so asserted that I closed down ‘’other major airports’’ whilst I was Minister of Aviation ‘’for the purposes of renovation’’. Again, this is not true. Not one of the four major airports in the country was closed down for renovation works or any other reason whilst I was Minister of Aviation. And neither, to the best of my recollection, did I close or suspend the operations of any of the smaller airports except, perhaps, for safety reasons.

As a matter of fact the opposite was the case. I actually installed and completed the sophisticated Safe Tower Project in three of the four major airports in the country, resurrected and funded the Tracon Radar System which is operational in our country today and which gives us full radar coverage in our airspace, upgraded the facilities in many of the old smaller airports and granted permission for the establishment of new airports in places like Gombe.

Quite apart from that we not only stopped the terrible cycle of plane crashes that was prevalent at that time but there was not one aircraft that crashed under my watch and no loss of life from the air under my tenure. I am the only Minister of Aviation in the last 10 years of our country that can boast of that and yet Abati seeks to tarnish my name, stain my record and rubbish my efforts with his lies. All this and far more and Abati accuses me of ‘’running the aviation sector down to a state of near collapse’’. For that I commit him to God’s judgement. It is obvious that he is just being malicious and dishonest.

Let me end this contribution by pointing out the fact that being ‘’yesterday’s men’’ does not mean that some of us cannot be ‘’tomorrows men’’ as well. Only God knows what lies ahead for each and every one of us.  Finally I have a few questions for President Jonathan and his ‘’todays men’’. When will they take President Obasanjo’s advice and finally do something concrete about Boko Haram and our security situation?

Does the fact that at least 4,000 Nigerians have been killed by these terrorists in the last two years under their watch not bother them? Moving to the issue of corruption and the economy when will our President and ‘’today’s men’’ answer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron’s question and tell him what they did with the $100 billion that they made from oil sales in the last two years?

Fani-Kayode is a former Minister of Aviation.

(C) Media Trust Ltd. 1998 - 2013. All rights reserved.