From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Former governor of Adamawa State, James Bala Ngilari, has sensationally revealed how his conviction by a High Court in his state was hatched by his political detractors.
Ngilari who spoke exclusively with Sunday Sun in Abuja, said that he was, however, set free by the Appeal Court because there was nothing to hold against him.
While dismissing insinuations that he was set free by the powers that be, Ngilari maintained that even though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) appealed the judgment, he was not losing sleep over the appeal.
Amongst other issues, Ngilari explained why he crossed carpeted from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) recently, giving hard knocks to the Prince Uche Secondus-led leadership of the PDP. Excerpt:
The politics of 2023 has started and the Southeast is saying it is their turn. Don’t you think the Southeast should take a shot at the presidency for the sake of zoning arrangement and equity?
This issue of zoning or no zoning, Southeast or no Southeast, has become a recurring decimal in our political discuss lately. And even before now, it had been. If you ask me whether the Southeast should produce the next president, why not? But the whole thing is not as simple as counting A, B, C or a matter you can do by fiat. The Southeast must go around and convince other zones. They must go round and lobby other zones and say you see, we deserve it; it is not only because we are from the Southeast, but because we merit it, we are people who can do it. I believe that any Nigerian competent to pull this country forward should be entitled to be president of Nigeria. The Southeast has competent persons capable of being president in this country. So, I will support a situation where a South easterner contests on his own merit because he is capable and not because of zoning. Although, you know this issue of zoning or no zoning has been elevated to a level that is in my view, not in the overall interest of Nigeria. Why don’t we again concentrate more on bringing up competent persons? And I tell you, from my knowledge of this country and of competent persons that can vie for the office of the president; the Southeast can bring up a whole lot of people who are competent.
From your submission, I can see that you loath zoning…?
At the 1994 Constitutional Conference where I was an elected member, under the late Yar’Adua and the late Ekwueme, former vice president, and a lot of other Nigerians who have paid their dues in this country, we came up with an arrangement whereby six zones, the presidency will move from one zone to another zone for six years; one term of five or six years by which time after 30 years, the thing would have gone round all the zones and then, we will throw it open to whoever thereafter. We thought that would meet the justice of a peculiar situation we found ourselves. But I think those in authority then felt otherwise.
What disrupted it?
What I am saying is that it was one of the things we submitted. But you know; those who were in authority thought differently. By from 1994 till now, we would have gone the whole hog and then, it will be open to everybody.
Your state is controlled by the PDP and few days ago, we saw you, Senator Abbo, Senator Nyako and others joined other bigwigs who have been cross carpeting to APC. Is the wind going to blow more in Adamawa?
Believe me, the wind will turn into storm in terms of blowing. The wind will metamorphose into storm in terms of those moving from PDP, from other parties to APC. Don’t forget that Rt. Hon. Emmanuel Bello who contested as governorship candidate on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has also moved in. We have men of integrity, a lot of them, former members of House of Representatives. There is one from Jada, Hon. Wangube and Hon. Titsi Ganama and several others. You see, you will need to do a census, local government by local government, to be able to come to terms with the reality of the defections.
Who is moving next?
What happened at the press conference we had was that the COVID-19 thing played out, the restriction that people should not gather beyond 50. As law abiding citizens, we agreed that we shouldn’t joke with the COVID-19 thing and we restrained. If not for the COVID-19 restriction, believe me, the kind of deluge in terms of people that were coming into town, we had to stop them. Regrettably and happily, they had to return back right before coming into town. Otherwise, it would have been a meeting that would be one of its types in Adamawa.
But what accounted for your defection?
That is a big question. But in summary, I will put it this way. And in doing so, let me start with this preamble. A lot of online newspapers and several others had written that I did say that I left PDP because of the corruption and sleaze in the party and that I said that the members of the PDP, we will help them to go and bury themselves in the grave in 2023. That is a fiction. That is from the pit of hell. Those who know me, know me. I am not the type that makes noise. Never, ever! If you get the original tape of what I said, what I said was that PDP was a dying party, was on its way, was a sick baby, and that it will be dead, but we will bury it in 2023. That was what I said. It will be buried in 2023 by the grace of God when election comes. Why did I leave PDP? I will tell you that since I joined PDP in 1999, I never, ever left the party. So, there must be something fundamental.
And what must that be?
The point is that look at those who ab initio came together, who meant well for this country, that formed the PDP, where are they today? Where are people like Prof Jerry Gana? Where are people like Audu Ogbeh and a host of them? A lot of those who migrated from PDP found a better haven in APC and in other parties because of the inherent problems of the PDP. But the bottom line is that the PDP we know today is not the PDP we had at the formation because when there is something wrong with the head, other parts of the body…. So, the buck stops on the desk of Secondus, the chairman of the party. He is not giving the party good leadership, he doesn’t recognise, they don’t unfortunately, recognise and accord people their respect and what is duly supposed to be their take in the PDP. So, why should I spend my time in the party that meant well ab initio, but has gradually degenerated?
There have been people who moved to APC and later said there is no difference between the two parties. What is your take on this?
People are entitled to their views. Parties are basically platforms to aggregate interests. What kind of interests? Interests that are nationalistic. What I am saying is that the current PDP leadership, in terms of the headship of the party, in the person of Secondus, is not the person.
In that case, how is the APC different?
What I have observed about APC is that I think they offer a more credible alternative to the PDP. When you talk about party politics today in Nigeria, you are either in PDP or in APC. I don’t know about the future. The future may turn out something else. I heard Senator Okorocha talked about people of like-minds, nationalists, coming together to salvage and move this country forward. Let’s see how this thing will play out. Let me tell you, I have attended a number of meetings where there were people brainstorming, they want to get out of PDP, get out of APC, whatever! There is a lot in the womb of time. But for now, it suffices that if you want to truly move this country forward, you are either in APC or in PDP. For me, APC offers a better platform, but APC that is properly repackaged. That is the emphasis, a repackaged APC.
So, you also agree that APC has its internal problems?
Every party has its problems.
But there are those who believe that the PDP has a better internal mechanism to resolve issues and move forward. What is your take on this?
Not from my experience, not from my experience.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar from Adamawa State has an undying ambition to be president of this country. Do you think his ambition will ever be realised?
I am not God. I am a highly spiritual person. I believe that God gives power to whoever He wills at anytime He wants and Waziri Atiku Abubakar is a Nigerian, we are happy he is from Adamawa State, he has paid his dues in so many ways and I always flow with the majority view on issues like this because the voice of the majority is the voice of God. I am being speculative now. First of all, we should pray to God that all of us will be well, healthy and get to 2023. If it is his destiny to contest, why not? We will be too happy to have him from Adamawa State.
What is your relationship with Atiku?
We recognise him as the godfather of Adamawa politics. He is the godfather of Adamawa politics. There is no way anybody can dispute that. He has touched the lives of people, he is a man that supported me when I contested to go to the Constitutional Conference in 1994; and when I contested to go to the House of Representatives…
Why didn’t you remain in PDP because of Atiku?
You remember that he moved to PDP after he suffered frustration from the PDP that he nurtured to create. He had moved out and later moved in. I was with him; I was in the party up till the last presidential election. But like I said, I found myself in a situation where the problem of the PDP of Adamawa State, vis a vis, the political parties, particularly in PDP, the ruling party in Adamawa State, is purely a local problem.
Do you see Atiku coming out in 2023?
I am not in his mind, these are decisions he will have to make for himself and we watch out what will happen. But all I will say is that 2023 will be a defining moment for this country.
Irrespective of your different political inclinations, will you support him if he decides to throw his hat to the ring in spite of calls by Southerners to have the presidency zoned to the region?
That is where the critical question, who will move us forward comes in. Like I said, the Southeast, Southwest, and every part of the South-south, as well as the North, have competent persons to run this country. Nobody has monopoly of wisdom. God created, brought this country, Nigeria, to take the black man and leverage him and showcase him to the rest of the human race. And people of talents abound and exist everywhere. You cannot rule out the Southeast from contestation from the calculation in the year 2021. But I would say this: Whether it is Southeast, South-south, Southwest, you must first of all put your house in order before you go out. The Southeast, South-south, Southwest, if you come together and you say alright, this is the way, we leave it to a South easterner, probably, that will raise the bar higher in favour of the Southeast man. Put your house in order and then, it will place you in a good position.
Why do you think the PDP lost power in 2019?
Frankly, maybe that is how God planned it. If you ask me, I will say ab initio, before the creation of man, God planned that President Buhari will be a two-term president. God knew all that and it played out. There was no way President Buhari would have been president unless it was authored and sanctioned by God. For me, it has worked for me. But subject to this caveat, as a Christian, I believe you have to marry faith with works to walk into your divine destiny as sanctioned and planned by God for you, beginning from creation. So, that is why I find it an aberration when peopl hurt others, they try to cut people down. Have a free mind. Harbour no ill against anybody. I have seen it. I am talking from what has happened to me in life. God will fight your battle and get you into your destiny. We all have our destinies. If somebody gets it and you don’t get it, don’t say, why must it be me? Your turn may come. If at the time you wanted this thing, you get it, something will go wrong with you.
What is your take on the growing insecurity in the North and the calls by Northern elders that the president should quit?
I will go philosophical or spiritual. You see, what my Bible tells me is that you pray at all times for your leaders. The institution of leadership is there in the Scriptures from day one, from Genesis to Revelation. You cannot get anything without God sanctioning it. The constitution provides for a two-term president in Nigeria, maximum of two-terms of eight years. We are enjoined by our Scriptures to pray for our leaders. I feel that asking Mr President to quit, for me, I will be very slow indeed to subscribe to that. Why? We must not say we have exhausted all avenues of communicating with him. We must continue to leverage and pray for him. God can turn his heart and give him greater wisdom to do those things that we mortal people cannot solve by being mortals. We have to pray. But it will only compound the situation. How? Constitutionally, I don’t see that happening and I will not subscribe to it.
The country witnessed the killing of farmers in Borno State late last year, and the abduction of students from a school in Katsina State after the nation had been told that the insurgents have been decimated. What is still happening that they are attacking people?
Well, I am not a military expert. I have my mates, we went to secondary school together who have retired as generals. I don’t have military expertise, so I cannot say what actually happened. But I can say one thing: People tend to look at this issue as if it is something that has just happened under this regime. This is a build-up. We lost track as a country, at least, about 40 years ago. What do you expect to happen when we failed to give education to our young people? And we failed to provide for them as leaders of tomorrow and it has come to manifest in full force.
Where do you situate the blame?
Collectively, we are all guilty. We are all guilty. I mean, when you talk about 40 years, these are gradual built-up. You are talking about almajirai, society abandoned them, never provided for them. See, when I went to primary school, we still had very good system that the white man left for us. We agitated, we got independence. Now, we have been unable to move forward. We have been left to manage ourselves, but unable to move forward. I think the blame is entirely as a result of our actions and inactions. And I think this is the way to go. The way to go is to start all over before it is late.
Do you support the call to use foreign mercenaries to fight Boko Haram?
Again, like I said, the Nigerian military that I know, that fought in the theatres of war all over the world, in the Congo, theatres of conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, did so well. We performed exceedingly well. You see, we must look inward and find solution to our problems before we talk about question of going for mercenaries to come and salvage us. Have we totally lost track that we cannot salvage the situation? My answer is no.
You were thrown into jail and later released. What actually happened?
This kind of discussion can never do justice to my matter. But briefly, I will tell you this. When I became governor and appointed commissioners, there was need to buy vehicles. We got the cheapest vehicles available. A commissioner, ordinarily, should be entitled to a vehicle that has an engine capacity of about 2,000. They settled for engine capacity vehicle of 1.8. When the big companies that import this Corolla were asking us to pay N9.9 million for each vehicle, we got somebody, a dealer who could give us for N6.6. So, we ordered for these vehicles and gave them a down payment of about N132 million. They were to supply these vehicles. And if you look at the charges for which I was arraigned and convicted, there was none that said I, Bala James Ngilari, took one naira or I diverted one naira. That it was a breach of procurement this and procurement that. But the truth of the matter is that you remember, during my time, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa were under state of emergency. And even the law itself, the Procurement Law of Adamawa, provides for a situation where you can hold in abeyance, suspend the operations of the law in an emergency situation. We bought these vehicles in an emergency situation. So, the breach of procurement law as canvassed, look, did not even arise. We were convicted under circumstances that were dubious, that were political. They should ask the Attorney General of Adamawa State at that time, who is my namesake, Bala Sanda, who is working with the EFCC, who he was working for. I didn’t commit any offence that deserved me being charged. But they did what they wanted, they convicted me and sent me to jail, but God Almighty rules in the affairs of men. If you look at the decision of the Court of Appeal when I appealed, it said ‘this appeal succeeds massively’ because there was no case. It was political vendetta. People wanted to settle certain things, scores, but these are things I will capture someday in my book. The graphics of it will appear and people will know that I was an innocent person. But see, the bottom line is that I have forgiven everybody who had anything to do with it.
Including those who were behind it politically?
Everybody! Everybody! Can’t you see me? I am at peace with myself and with my God.
Did the judgment come to you as a surprise? Were you thinking that you will never be set free?
No, no. There was no way. Looking at the law and the facts, there was no way I would have lost the appeal because the trial judge; I am somebody who leaves God to do his work. Otherwise, if I were some other persons, there are portions of that judgment, if I petition, the trial judge will be in trouble.
There are those who were insinuating that maybe the powers that be were behind your release. Is it true?
Which powers? I was in PDP. So, which powers? But in all fairness, there are people in power that knew, that know me and know I am not capable of doing the kind of thing they were talking about. They know me personally, family level, they know. But I tell you that I thank God. I have forgiven everybody because as a Christian, if you hold anything to heart, if you don’t forgive, first of all, your prayers cannot be answered. And God has been kind to me. I have moved on.
Tell us more about these vehicles that led to your incarceration?
We ordered 25 vehicles, Corolla 1.8 litres engine capacity, instead of the one that is 2000 because I explained to the commissioners that we don’t have money. We ordered and the dealer that supplied to us, a lady, she had supplied before to Adamawa State House of Assembly while she was working with Honda. So, she had supplied us 25 vehicles at a very good price. She agreed to supply these things to us at N6.6 or N6.7 instead of N9.9, meaning we were going to save about N3.3 million per unit to the state government. And we gave her and said within two weeks or thereabout, she would supply. She did supply 17 out of 25. The whole of this case, taking me to court and convicting me was about the eight vehicles that she didn’t supply.
Why didn’t she supply the eight vehicles?
We tried linking up with her, but we couldn’t find her. We made calls everywhere, it was like she travelled out of the country. So, we were going to handover on the 29th of May and eight vehicles had not been supplied. We decided as a government to say look, write a letter to the EFCC which we did through our lawyer, Keyamo, the Minister of State. He took the letter informing them that look, we ordered for 25 vehicles, the lady has supplied 17, she has not supplied eight and we can’t find her, so this should be on record. We were the ones that reported her that wherever she is, she should be found.
And the same EFCC went ahead to charge you to court?
Later, later. Yes, when the new government came into place. Like I said, that is why I said it was political or whatever happened or whatever that was motivating them. But I knew they had checked our accounts, three, four times and they couldn’t find anything wrong. The only thing that the Attorney General then could lay hands on was that there was a breach of the…. And as I told you, the rest is history.
Would you say that your letter to the EFCC drew the attention of the authorities to the fact that you purchased vehicles?
No. There is continuity in government. There were eight vehicles left undelivered. So, there has to be an action. We tried to get her, but we couldn’t get her. But this is purely contractual.
Was the succeeding government able to recover the vehicles?
I wouldn’t know. It is left for them. I mean, I didn’t bother myself to ask about that. Even the dealer later returned to the country, she was also charged to court, convicted, but she was discharged and acquitted. It was purely contractual. This matter is not criminal. All they can do is to grant an action to recover their money from her. It is a contract that part performance was made. Seventeen vehicles were delivered out of 25, eight were left. It is history now.
From all that you went through, do you regret going into public service?
If all of us abstain, if good people don’t go in, then you have yourself to blame. I didn’t plan to go into politics. I found myself by chance, divinely I supposed. Otherwise, if I had continued, I probably would have ended up, because I was offered the opportunity to go to the bench.
So, in that case, no regret whatsoever going into politics?
I don’t have regret.
Is the case dead because the EFCC said it was going to appeal?
They have appealed. Let’s wait. It was under the former dispensation that people were pushing, pushing, pushing. But the bottom line is that those who will look at this matter, even in the EFCC, if they are to do justice, they will know that this is not a matter that they should even push.
Are you losing sleep over the appeal?
No, not at all!