I have read many articles and newspaper reports that President Olusegun Obasanjo's Security men pushed the late Ahmadu Bello University History lecturer, Dr. Bala Usman out of a Seminar hall following a sharp disagreement between them on national issues.
To the best of my knowledge, Dr. Bala Usman was not pushed out of the hall, neither was he arrested after the opening ceremony.
I attended the workshop as a correspondent for Voice of Nigeria and participant. To the best of my knowledge, let me recount by chronicling what I know happened.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission organized the 4th National. Seminar on Economic Crime from August 6th to 9th 2005 at the EFCC Training and Research Institute at Karu in Abuja.
President Obasanjo presented the lead paper on governance and corruption in Nigeria.
As soon as the President ended his presentation, then followed discussions, questions and comments. There were specific people listed to do this.
First was Mr. J.S Warioba, former Prime Minister of Tanzania. Next was Professor Peter Eigen, President of Transparency International based in Germany; the Secretary General of Interpol based in France, Mr. Ronald Noble was on the floor. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Lawal Uwais then followed and the last was the Senate president, Ken Nnamani.
While they were discussing the president's paper, Dr. Bala Usman's hand was intermittently up and the President noticed it. He then brought it to the notice of the MC, Chief Ikenna Ndaguba that there was someone on the floor who wanted to make a comment.
Dr. Bala Usman sat directly in front of me as I was on the back row behind him. To his left were two gentlemen and the third person being Hauwa Shuaibu Galma of the EFCC formerly Hauwa Baba Ahmed of NT A. While the president was still presenting his paper, I was fortunate to have two copies of the president's paper. I held one and passed the other to Dr. Bala Usman. As the historian's hand was up, President Obasanjo recognized the tall man who was already on his feet. This dialogue then followed:
Obasanjo: "That looks like Bala. Ah! It's Bala Usman. Please give him the mic", President Obasanjo ordered. (There was applause from Audience).
Bala: Thank you Mr. President. Clearly, you are moving toward being more democratic I knew you. (laughter/applause from audience).
Obasanjo: Bala you are coming more capitalistic than I knew you (laughter and applause from the audience).
Bala Usman: I will like to start by saying that there is no doubt about it. The duties of the EFCC since it was established have given bite to the campaign against corruption: arrested a former Inspector General of Police, former ministers and leading figures, like that has helped to give Nigerians the idea that this is more serious than rhetoric. There is no doubt about it. More than the other bodies set up under this administration like the ICPC, the EFCC have performed (applause from the audience).
This may be due to the younger generation. You appointed an, I think, a septuagenarian in ICPC (laughter from the audience) In EFCC, you appointed a person under fifty and his team. And may be we should learn from this. That the people of our generation and older generation like yours will give way to the younger generation (laughter and applause from the audience). You, yourself recognize that we have to give them a chance. This is also what is happening in the universities. They, the younger ones take up the challenge, take up the posts while we do our work at the background.
I think it is high time we learnt that this idea that only people who are 60 and above can do anything is wrong. In most countries in the world the younger generation is in charge (APPLAUSE laughter).
I will like to address the issue of corruption and economic crimes. I think these two are not the same. We have to be clear about the concepts. Corruption is a larger notion of undermining the achievement, the objectives of any process or any phenomena. Economic crime is a legal thing. It is a smaller part of corruption. It is very good Nigerians are addressing this and I am glad about the contribution of the International community. But the problem we have is that this is the first time we are addressing corruption. It was attempted under the administration which you led with General Murtala Mohammed in 1975 to 1979 in particular, 75 to 77. It was attempted under the administration led by General Muhammad Buhari. But after you left office when the NPN took over, that is why you said under military regime, under civilian dictatorship we saw it in our very faces how the NPN and its administration introduced corruption.
Obasanjo: You were in opposition (interrupted and there was laughter from the audience).
Bala Usman: I was and I am still there. (Applause and laughter). So, what went wrong? We simply can't assume that there is a campaign and so continue. Similarly, with the WAI campaign. So what is wrong? What are the root causes of this corruption? The root causes go beyond simply office operations effective as they may be, you tackle some of them. But crucial to it is its culture and I think one thing, which you have not done, which you are encouraging is the notion that government funds belong to the government only and not to the public. The Action Group started this obnoxious thing of free education. I have always fought this. It was public education. You are also spending money with your world bank allies and other allied programme with a notion that if you give people healthcare it is free health. It is not free water. Subsidies are not subsidies.You are not subsidizing anything to me if you give me clean water because it is my money. (Murmuring among the audience) there is the need to be clear about it. The moment you give the public officers the idea that this money is their own or somehow its not public's then you are building the base of corruption. Number two. There is the problem of the whole political system...
Obasanjo: (interrupt) Bala! Bala! I will stop you here
Bala Usman: WellŠ Thank you Sir. No thank you sir. I have made my point, I am going to write down my comments on a paper...
Obasanjo: Bala I will walk out on you. (applause and laughter) as the President started fidgeting at the high table and the microphone was snatched from Dr. Bala Usman.
Ikenna Ndaguba (MC): Thank you very much Bala has an opportunity, later today in being a discussant on one of the sessions in the plenary. Thank you very much. Ahm ... I wonder whether I should be here at my age.(laugher from the audience, actually the MC had just celebrated his 70th birthday).
Obasanjo: As far as Bala is concerned, you should be in the grave (laughter as President Obasanjo interjects).
MC: I shall see Bala at the end of this.
Obasanjo: Let me tell you one thing... we are here to stay until God takes our lives. (Laughter and applause)
MC: I want to say, to echo amen to that. At this point, Mallam Nasir EI - Rufai was called to give a vote of thanks and closing prayer. Having ended and was leaving the podium, this dialogue ensued between Obasanjo and EI - Rufai.
Obasanjo: Are you also thinking like Bala that I should go for people like you?
EI - Rufai: No, Your Excellency! (Laughter and applause followed.)
Shemang is of Voice of Nigeria (VON)