Former Vice President, Alahji Atiku Abubakar,
wednesday revealed how he was booted out of his
job at the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) over the
controversial importation of 53 suit cases into the
country in 1984 by a first class traditional ruler in
Atiku, who was the Customs Officer in Charge of the
Murtala Muhammed Airport when the suit cases
were imported into the country, spoke on
his ordeal during the incident, saying the matter
almost cost him his job in Customs.
According to Atiku, the Customs bureaucracy then
wanted him fired for confirming a newspaper report
about the importation of the suit cases, but that the
then Minister of Finance, Dr. Onaolapo Soleye,
saved his job.
Speaking at a night of tributes and 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, the former vice president and chieftain of
the All Progressives Congress (APC) said the then
military government prevented the Customs
operatives from detaining the suitcases and drove it
away in a military truck.
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 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,” he
Atiku recalled the role of the late Ojo 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
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
“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.”
The former vice president said the Ojo’s handling of
the matter clearly showed the type of person that
he was when it came to his 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 PhD 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 PhD 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 form 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.”
Speaking on the reason for the endowment fund, he
said: “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.”
Acording to him, “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,” he said.