Atiku recounts 53 suitcases saga imported into Nigeria in 1984


By Omotayo Yusuf

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, has revealed what truly happened in 1984 over the importation of 53 suitcases when he was in charge of customs. This Day reports that Atiku made this revelation on Wednesday, May 3 during the inauguration of an education endowment fund in memory of the late former Managing Director of Daily Times, Dr. Onukaba Adinoyi-Ojo, at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja.

Atiku said the importation of the 53 suitcases was done by a first class northern ruler in 1984 which was during the military administration of Muhammadu Buhari and that the saga almost cost him his job as customs officer in charge of Murtala Muhammed Airport.

He said: “I was a young officer in 1984 in charge of Murtala Muhammed Airport while Ojo was a correspondent of The Guardian covering the airport. We got to know each other because apparently, there were some things we both believed in. Ojo was radical and I was radical, he believed in transparency and straight forwardness.

“Then this policy of change of the national currency came into effect by the military government. It was on a weekend when the issue of the 53 suit cases came up. I wasn’t at the airport because it was a weekend and I was the officer in charge of the place and so, there were beat officers conducting the affair.

“The plane landed on the VIP section and the ADC to the Head of the federal military government came in with a military truck and personnel and drove straight to the aircraft and offloaded those suit cases and did not allow the Custom officers to do their work, and drove away.

“All the custom officers could do was to make an entry into what we called station dairy. If you are a policeman, custom or military man, you should know what a station diary means. It is a diary where we record all incidents as they happen.”

Atiku recalled the role that Ojo played, saying “because he was such an investigative journalist, he got the report. He wasn’t there and normally, a station dairy is not a public document, but our own document. Somehow, Ojo, because of his inquisitiveness, came to know of that entry and from the extract of that entry, he told the world about the improper importation of 53 suit cases. “I resumed duty on Monday and was confronted with national headlines about the 53 suit cases and without clearing from my headquarters, I just confirmed that there was such an importation and that investigation was being conducted.

“I was summoned to the headquarters and queried, that why should I confirm the report, and I said I did because it happened, and I met it in the station dairy. I was threatened with expulsion or dismissal from service and I said I was ready if that was an offence.

“The controversy raged on and the bureaucracy insisted that I should be fired and the then Minister of Finance who happened to be Dr. Soleye, said: ‘What is Atiku’s offence that you want him fired?’ As the minister, he over ruled the bureaucracy and I retained my job.”

He said the saga showed the kind of person Ojo was when it came to work. “He was completely dedicated to investigating and writing the truth. No matter what you do or try to do, he will go ahead and write the truth.

“Since that moment, we struck a very close relationship. When I had the opportunity to work with him again, I did not hesitate to give him an appointment as one of my Special Advisers.

“He was one of the seven or eight Ph.D holders in my office and I recall my boss calling me one day and asking me, what is it you are doing with all these Ph.D holders and I said, Mr. President, I like to work with people that I will learn from. If I know that I am not going to learn from you, I will not hire you and work with you.

“Together with the rest, they formed the core of my office and of course, in our administration, he knew the impact of my office on our administration. That is a matter for historians to write.”

The All Progressives Congress chieftain also revealed why the education fund was set up. “Even if Ojo were to be alive today, he will be working for his family and trying to give the best education for his children. That is why I initiated this educational fund for his three kids.

“I want to appeal to all of you to think about these kids. We all knew that Ojo left nothing because he was not the kind of person who enjoyed keeping money or wanting money by all means. No matter how small, please contribute to this educational fund,” Atiku pleaded.

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