Why I Fell Out With Rtd Col. Yakubu Bako



For Professor (Sir) Etim N. E. Udoh, OFR, renowned scholar, researcher in Sociology and Foundations of Education, who has taught in universities within and outside Nigeria for over five decades, his integrity supersedes the allure of public offices.
The retired university scholar, a native of Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, has consistently maintained his immaculate posture despite his voyage as Secretary to State Government in Akwa Ibom State; Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); member of the National Council on Education (NCE), and member of the National Consultative Committee on Education (JCC), amongst other positions.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Crystal Express on Monday, November 11, 2019, Prof. Udoh who was styled as “SSG of no nonsense” when he served under Col. Yakubu Bako’s administration in Akwa Ibom, has remained very critical of Nigerian politics.
According to him, he lost interest in participating in voting until Muhammadu Buhari contested the 2015 Presidential elections. It is a-no-holds barred interview. Excepts:

Let us meet, sir

My name is Prof. Sir Etim Nyong E Udoh, OFR, a Nigerian scholar and researcher in sociology and foundations of education. I have taught in several universities within and outside Nigeria for the past 51 years. I was born 14th January, 1935 at Nung Udoe, present headquarters of Ibesikpo Asutan Local Government Area. My father was elder (Chief) Nyong Etim Udoh, usually he was called Chief Nyong Etim Uduakabasi Umoh, that is Nung Udoe Market. They named the market after him because he was the person who in partnership with the then village head, Obong Etokowo really established it. Growing up there was interesting because my father initiated the advent of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria. He played a pivotal role in the establishment of the church. He was the first district secretary of what was known as Ibesikpo and a court clerk as it were of Ibesikpo and the headquarters of Nung Udoe.

I started school in St. Peters Primary school and the secondary school was the Lutheran High School Obot Idim. Thereafter, I left for England just after the country’s political independence in 1960, studied in the University of Hull, England, where I obtained double honours in law and sociology. Thereafter, I went to Holland and got United Nations and UNESCO scholarships to do my master’s and doctorate degrees in the University of Leyden, one of the oldest universities in Europe. When I returned to Nigeria, although, Shell Company offered me a job opportunity, my mother was still alive and so I had to come back to her. My father was killed during the Nigerian Civil War and his name is in the monument at Ibom Hall grounds. My elder brother was also shot along with my father at the Nung Udoe roundabout during the war. However, when I came back, I started work in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. But the Federal Government which knew me then in Holland because I was campaigning for the Nigerian government during the civil war in Holland, got me interviewed by Ishaya Audu, the former Foreign Minister who was then the vice chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, and offered me a job. The then Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon also offered me a job opportunity as a secretary grade one in his office at Dodan Barracks. But I was more interested in teaching in the university because I had been teaching before I left for England and wanted to do research and so on. I took the Ahmadu Bello University teaching job and worked there for 35 years before retirement. Before I returned, I got an appointment as secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government. Later, the federal government appointed me a consultant to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) which lasted for two years. I also served as Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Commissioner. I was the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Nasarawa, Ebonyi, and Rivers States. After I retired from INEC, I was appointed from one board to the other. Prof. Akpan Ekpo, former Vice Chancellor, University of Uyo, appointed me to teach and introduce a new department of foundations of education in the university. Thereafter, the University of Calabar (Unical) invited me to do the same thing. I was there for eight years and built a new department of philosophy and sociology of education. I retired from Unical primarily because roads were very bad in 2014. The second reason I retired was because I was writing a book titled ‘The Nigerian Child and Youth Development”. I wrote that book with some other professors, because you have to consider the discipline under which children developed psychologically, sociologically and in every aspect of youth development, sports and so on. That is why when I hear people talk about drugs and so on, I got disturbed because we have not really done enough research to be able to find appropriate solutions to address these mirage of youth challenges. When I completed that job, the former minister of youth and sports development, Mr. Solomon Dalong sent somebody to make public presentation of the book here in Akwa Ibom State.

What you have said so far appears you had a brief political stint as Secretary to the State Government. Why did you not develop interest to further your political ambition?

No, I never wanted to go further into politics for personal reasons. When I was teaching sociology in the Ahmadu Bello University, I looked at the political setting in Nigeria and was critical. The late Bala Usman with whom I worked in ABU always told me that politics is for him and not for people like me. I didn’t honestly know that I would come into the realm of politics in Nigeria at all, and even to become Secretary to the State Government. Two soldiers I gave admission at Ahmadu Bello University, one from Akwa Ibom and the second from Ondo State, were my students. They were teaching in Zaria Military School and came to ABU for a course. I helped them to secure admission. After about three years, I got a signal from the military government as it were by then that I should come in as secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government without ever applying for it. I later discovered that those two young men were instrumental to my appointment through the then Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, a very good friend of mine who spoke to Gen Oladipo Diya the Chief of Staff in the Abacha Administration. That was how I was appointed SSG. When I came to the State, Military Administrator Yakubu Bako was very upset because he had already submitted the names of two people, one of whom had been with him at Command and Staff College, Kaduna. Bako never really felt comfortable with me.

I was called then “no nonsense SSG” because I just don’t believe in dishonesty. If you have to be at work at 8 o’clock, no compromise and so on. And that was the reasons some of the commissioners didn’t like me either.


How was your working relationship with Governor Bako then?

You know the thing with military politics. Bako was an Igbo man by birth, and he was one of the 144 children abandoned during the civil war and were taken to the palace of the uncle of the late Bayero and the Elder sister of Alhaji Bayero was the one who took care of all the children while waiting for their relatives to come and pick them. However, Bako lost his parents and he grew up there until he was sent to the Staff School by Bayero. At that age, he was able to speak Hausa fluently. When he came here, he contacted an Imam, one Mohammed to be teaching him Islam because he wanted to be really converted to Islam. He was a Christian young man. Years after I left as SSG, both of us met again at some ceremonies where he apologized over what happened about our relationship, because he was not very comfortable with me. Let me give you one example. Oron Road by Uruan Street has always been flooded near the Mobil Filling Station and was usually joked about as ‘Bako River’. When I drew his attention to the flood condition he said go and do something about the situation. So, I called the then commissioner for Works, and they went and examined the place. When they saw what to do, they wrote a report. I instructed the commissioner as a layman to construct a culvert and connect it to the drainages along Uruan Street, clean out the already blocked gutters along Uruan Street and channel the flood waters into the ravine across Nwaniba Road. He sent some engineers to do some visibility study to ascertain how much it will cost the government to handle the flood situation. They came back and said the job will cost N4.5million then. I said to him okay, add one million naira to the total cost and make it N5.5million because the contractors may make alterations and variation and so on. So, we agreed on N5.5 million. The commissioner wrote a memo on that job to the State Executive Council and when they brought it, I discovered that the works commissioner did not reflect N5.5million that was earlier agreed. Rather I saw N22million captured in the memo as total cost for the job. When I asked him why, he replied that His Excellency, the Administrator will answer that question. Since I always sat close to Bako as the SSG during state executive council meetings, I got all the files with the commissioner’s report; and passed them one after the other and so on. When it came to the works report, I passed on the file and Bako realised that I did not sign the memo. He looked at me and said, Prof. you didn’t sign this memo and I replied that I left that to you sir because you have altered the amount of money to be spent on that job. Somebody is coming tomorrow to seat in my place and will see that to remove a flood in one location alone will cost the state government N22 million and my signature is there. He said he was the military administrator and I said that was why I left it for him to sign. That explained to you our relationship.
I will go to his office to tell him that the contractor had come to complain but the military administrator always called him stupid person and that the contractor should have reported to him instead of to me. But I replied that I as the SSG was the right person the contractor should have reported to. We had a case of a widow who lost her permanent secretary husband and was not paid gratuity for four years before my appointment. One day I saw a woman crying and I sought to know her problem and the then director general told me she was the widow who came for her husband’s gratuity. Moreover the woman had also lost her home to a fire outbreak and had four children with three in secondary schools. After narrating her ordeal, I gave her N50,000, my personal money, to go home while I wrote a memo to Bako. I calculated the widow’s late husband’s gratuity and pleaded with Bako to pay just half at least. The same thing I did for NEPA and NITEL which I also recommended 50%. He asked me if the woman was the only widow. I said no, but that she was the only widow whose husband was a permanent secretary and she is entitled to his gratuity that had been pending for four years and I believe that he Bako as the military administrator can salvage the situation. Bako simply waved it aside and that was his attitude sometime. I hated such an attitude. As his elder, age wise, I always told him my mind and he hated me for that. . I was 55 years and Bako was 42years. Fortunately in the habit of the Hausas, he couldn’t insult me, he couldn’t do anything, he just accepted me because the military gave me to him. I was in the office one day when I was summoned to Abuja and I inquired if I should come with any documents; they simply asked me to come alone. There were two major issues at that time, one was an election for the constituent Assembly in Itu/Ikot Ekpene axis and the nurses/midwives threat to embark on strike which I stopped through persuasion and pleaded for time to settle down since I was only six months in office. On arrival in Abuja, two very senior military officers’ one Mohammed and one Ali received me and Bako was there also. Mohammed said Prof. we know you for a long time but it appears, you and Bako cannot work together. There is a report here that you run a separate government in the state. They alleged that I connive with judges to rule cases against government which I described as laughable. When I was appointed, I found out the then Acting Chief Judge, Robert Nkop was still in his acting capacity for the fifth year and I called for his file and discovered that somebody accused Nkop of taking bribes without any evidence. So I took up the matter, did a report and send it to Mohammed Bello, the then Chief Justice of Nigeria. In all this I didn’t give a copy to Bako because he has close friends who were struggling to outwit Robert Nkop and when Bello replied and sent the list of confirmed judges which had Nkop as one of them, Bako was shocked. All I am telling you is well documented in my diary of 67 years now. I keep records in my diary every day and year till today. After marking my 85th birthday next year by God’s grace, I will start writing my autobiography. So Bako sent for judges to come for the meeting and bluntly told me that I will see what will happen. Nkop came to me that judges are complaining that they have heard rumors that Bako was complaining that three or four of the judges ruled against government through garnishee orders. Contractors, of course government owed them, and they went to court to seek redress. Some owed for 14 years, some 10 years and 8 years and they ruled against the government. So when the then Chief Judge sought my advice on Bako’s invitation of judges to Government House, I advised him to ignore the meeting. I went to Bako and told him that the reason I earlier sought to know why he was calling the judges is because I observed he was angry. I informed him that I have told Nkop to forget about calling the judges to the meeting because I know they will only come to insult him, and when they insult him he would not detain them or accuse them of bribery and how about them turning to accuse you of bribery?. Bako looked at me and simply said thank you and continued working on his desk. That was the kind of relationship I shared with Bako. After the Abuja meeting three months passed and I guessed he reminded them again that he couldn’t work with me. So Abuja sent a letter withdrawing me from Government House and sent me to NYSC as a consultant in Abuja where I spent two years and that marked the end of my tenure as SSG. But we still greet each other any time we see. My experience with Bako was God sent because most of the things I saw Bako do is what I saw politicians do in Nigeria. I hate politics; I cannot compromise and perhaps can’t do what they do because my conscience will not allow me to do so. I have my reputation internationally and cannot surrender it before those who have none to tarnish it. I never had political ambition. Two parties came to me in 2011 before elections to solicit my membership but I was never interested.

What was your experience at INEC like?

It was a good one. I started in Nasarawa State. When political parties came for a meeting in my office, I told them categorically that I never wanted anybody to come to my house for anything as all meetings should hold in the office. Abdullahi Adamu wanted to visit me and I informed other members of political parties to join so that nobody will blackmail me that he left some amount of money behind in my office. So my life has been like that even in Ebonyi State. I had a good working relationship with Sam Egwu in Ebonyi and Peter Odili in Rivers State including my friend Obong Victor Attah. In Ebonyi State I was very strict but Sam Egwu who was reasonably educated never troubled me at all.

I successfully conducted seven bye elections in Ebonyi State. In Rivers State, I stayed for six months without meeting Peter Odili and after that I called to thank him for support to INEC and that I will pay him a courtesy call. He expressed surprise and when I got to him after few days, he asked me not to introduce myself as my reputation predates my coming. I also enjoy good working relationship there. These are reasons I am living in peace because my heart is pure and my hands clean and I am at peace with everybody. In all the states I served, I still maintain cordial relationship with all the former governors.

With your experience in public service, do you see any hope of development in Nigeria?

We are talking about human beings and when you talk about hope, you are talking about the core inspiration of human lives. There is hope because there is life but life in Nigeria is short, brutish and corrupt. We need to pray to God for generational change. It was Nigerians that ran the country into recession. We have lawmakers who made so much money and claimed to be making laws. What kind of laws? Look at petroleum industry bill which has lingered for 14 years. That bill would have regulated the activities of the oil industry especially the multi-national companies. After all the meetings and wasted resources, the bill is still pending, I am not happy with Nigeria politics and politicians. I never voted in any election until Muhammadu Buhari came. I knew Buhari when I was in ABU and have discussed with him. He was quite a quit young man then, when Buhari was sacked by Babangida and his life was spared. I knew he will one day bounce back and I was personally praying for him. I don’t mind if Buhari is conservative, he can remain so as long as he is honest and not corrupt and able to return the country to the good governance and progress, especially international recognition.
Nigerians became suspects anytime they travelled aboard mostly the youths. With Buhari on the saddle, there is hope for Nigeria now. We should fear God in Nigeria. It is unimaginable to end recession within one and half years. In Nigeria before now, we had monies of government in over 700 different accounts but were brought together into a single treasury account. Only NNPC alone had about 30 accounts then, but the introduction of treasury single account (TSA) helps government stand strong today otherwise it would have been difficult to come out of that recession. I believe we are witnessing a different era under Buhari, no matter his weaknesses and limitations. God is with Nigeria and if we honestly build the country, it will turn into a place people will gladly go into politics for service. Most politicians we have today in Nigeria are not there for service.

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