By Corneleous Achibong
As a true Nigerian and one from a very humble background, my parents raised us with sound awareness of certain characters and attributes that have refused to leave my sub consciousness even forty five years ever after. My father taught the virtues of patriotism and committed service to father land above any personal or individualistic ambition. I watched my poor parent commit all of their useful and active lifetime to the service of Nigeria and her unity. As personnel of the States Security Service, my father committed his all to the defence, protection and sustenance of a united Nigeria. I was also lucky to be brought up by one of the very last set of patriotic Nigerian teachers as a mother. My poor mother combined moral and high level of discipline with her teaching profession just to raise a generation of disciplined and patriotic leaders for her country.
The sound upbringing I received from my parent at childhood gave me an in-depth knowledge of what patriotism and service to fatherland truly mean. An encounter and close observation into the life and active service to fatherland by Air vice Marshal Saliu Atawodi rtd indeed reminds me of the practical meaning of patriotism and service to fatherland as being taught by my poor and patriotic parents. The story of AVM Saliu Atawodi is one that comes with a lot of interesting, educating and exemplary characteristic of selflessness, commitment and national loyalty. His humble background and steady rise to prominence reminds me of the life and time of late Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, Kwame Nkruma of Ghana and Li quan Yu of Singapore. These are great national leaders who through their commitment and patriotism gave their all to their father lands; they lived and died for the course of development of their countries. They were committed to the well-being and growth of the ordinary people of their countries. As much as the similarities between AVM Atawodi and these noble and great people are noticeable and obvious to those that have had close encounter with him, it is rather disheartening and frustrating to see the manner and ways the Nigerian government and indeed anti-graft agencies are discouraging patriotism and promoting disservice through the national embarrassment and very unfortunate way they have repaid this fine gentle man who gave his entire useful life to the service of his fatherland as evident in his soaring achievements in service and as a retired officer.
While I know that the character of AVM Atawodi suggests that he is not distracted or disturbed by what recently happened, it becomes very fundamentally important and necessary to put the records straight in the defence of the humble and upright man in order for the younger generation not to be discouraged in their quest to serve their fatherland. This piece hopes to further inform, educate and intimate Nigerians on what AVM Atawodi stand for, in service and out of service, it is to also put the record straight as regards the phantom allegation, baseless petition and unfortunate invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
It is on record and unarguably true that, AVM Saliu Atawodi has held several positions of trust and responsibility at various points of his meritorious service to his fatherland, during the period, time and age one would expect him to have uncontrollable desire for ill-gotten wealth, but rather than messing up, he distinguished himself and came out blameless without being wanting of any form of fraudulent practice. Among such tempting and juicy assignments he has held are Director, Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DIFFRI) in 1998 under the military administration of Gen Makka in the old Benue state. AVM Saliu Atawodi who was described by the then MILAD as a faithful, honest and hardworking young man combined this onerous task with his flying career. It is on record that within a period of a year, the Benue DFFRI which was earlier berated for poor performance and high degree of corruption before the coming on board of AVM Atawodi , rapidly improved from its 19th position among the states to a 4th position under his competent and incorruptible supervision as the head.
Several people in the old Benue state attests to his humanitarian, disciplinarian and very upright character. A few calls to people who were stakeholders of the old Benue state reveals that, AVM Atawodi is truly an enigma and detribalized honest man. A Tiv old man who was a senior civil servant at that time, Mr Benjamin Aku described AVM Atawodi as a man who touched lives of the people in the rural communities as Director of DFFRI, he recalled that, this very honest man opened up several roads and did electrification of towns and villages across the length and breadth of Benue state which are still the only sources to several communities up till now. Notable among these villages were Ushongo and Achuwa in the Tiv speaking area, Upu-london and Ogoli-Ugboju in the Idoma area and Ogwugu and Ajaka in the Igala speaking area. The news about how one squadron leader Saliu Atawodi revolutionized the old Benue DFFRI is still fresh in the memory of those who did business with the defunct DFRRI at that time. The people of the area can at any time attest to the forthrightness, integrity and sincerity of the then squadron leader Saliu Atawodi .
AVM Atawodi is also a man known to hold the things of God almighty very dearly; he is reputed to be a devoted and responsible Christian with the fear of God. He has assisted several churches and mosques projects across his country home. As a lover of young people which he demonstrated throughout his years of service and even in retirement. He runs a purely private scholarship sponsorship programme with over five hundred beneficiaries so far.
As a committed, experienced, blameless and forthright officer, he held a lot of other offices where he was also noted for his clean track record and discipline. He was commanding officer operations of conversion unit Air force defence group Makurdi, Commander Air weapons school, Kainji, Director of Operations, NAF Headquarters Lagos (1999-2000), Senior Air Staff Office, NAF Training Command, Makurdi (2000-2001), Air Officer Commanding, tactical Air command, Makurdi (2001-2004), Air officer inspection, NAF Headquarters, Abuja (2004-2006) and Chief of policy and plans, Defence Headquarters (2006-2008), this highly experienced and well-travelled officer retired meritoriously with untainted track record, he was also honoured a t retirement with the prestigious Officer of Federal Republic (OFR). While in retirement he was also called in view of his high professional and educational attainment to serve as the Chairman of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Marine Security (PICOMS), in all of these services, he was never at any point in time found guilty of any wrongdoing of whatsoever kind. One would therefore imagine that, if this very upright man could serve in all of these offices and come out blameless, how could the phantom and baseless petition be taken serious, there is therefore the need to critically appraise the alleged involvement or complicity in the scandal he has been wrongfully accused of. But the unfortunate aspect of this is, the degree of damage and devastation this unsubstantiated allegation has caused the integrity and reputation of the very reverend AVM Atawodi can only be imagined. Ever since the dramatic reportage the media gave to the news of his invitation by the EFCC, SEVERAL PROMINENT Nigerians have expressed concern, disbelief and displeasure to the allegation against this humble and fine gentle man.
This piece will lack the necessary substance and required ingredients without a closer look on the reason for his unfortunate invitation by the anti-graft body and the deliberate media hype the issue generated. Although one wouldn’t be surprised because the baseless petition purportedly written by one Alh Rabiu, Managing Director of Hypertec Nigeria Ltd was originally conscripted and put together with a deliberate and sloe intention to soil the hard earned integrity of AVM Saliu Atawodi in view of his rising political profile in Kogi state. Since the petition now received the attention of the anti-graft agency after over five (50 years when it was originally written, the surprising part of the issue is the unwarranted attention it received in the media even linking him to the on going Col Dasuki’s arms deal which is a major reason why we belief very strongly that some powerful forced has an axe to grind with the innocent AVM thereby using this frivolous petition as a bait for his arrest. It is upon this background that we owe it a duty as public affairs analysts to critically appraise the content of the petition with a view to unravelling the substance and strength of the allegation and further inform the unsuspecting public.
The loose and self-indicting petition claimed that the petitioner who is also the beneficiary of the contract award for procurement of military boats to the tune of six hundred million naira. The petitioner who claimed he was awarded which process he claimed violated the procurement acts yet admitted he received the sum of six hundred and twenty nine million naira for the said contract paid to the account of Hyperteck Nig Ltd for the said supply but in a very funny scenario accused AVM Atawodi of collecting the same money from him in cash after the money was changed to US dollars. The first question to ask is, if it is possible for a contractor to be paid money for a contract in his company account and he will deliver same in cash to another person at the instruction of anybody whatsoever? I believe my guess is same as that of any sane human being, is it not very funny for a managing director of a company to claim to have delivered money to AVM Atawodi in cash without any documentary evidence to back such a huge claim? it is more so laughable and intriguing at the same time to hear a full grown man to name his friend and driver as witnesses he has to support his wild claim. It further calls for serious question on who to be arrested between the managing director of Hyperteck who claimed to have handed over the sum of $1.3 million cash to a third party at a car park on behalf of AVM Atawodi .
Another part of the matter that appeared interesting is the fact that he confessed in his petition that he is not a saint on the matter, which he made away with $400,000 himself yet the anti-graft agency decided to look elsewhere rather than arrest the real culprit who made self-confession of stealing such an amount of money. He also mentioned names of individuals’ that partook in the sharing of our commonwealth in his petition. But in all of these, one is still worried and very disturbed that the EFCC could rely on a petition that is self-explanatory and indicting on how the petitioner/culprit made away with our commonwealth and still have to go ahead to arrest innocent AVM Atawodi. The unfortunate arrest of AVM Atawodi has further put to question, the sincerity of the EFCC’s anticorruption war. In the light of this, is it wrong to assume this is the way and manner at which the anti-graft body make illegal arrest of innocent Nigerians? Only God knows how many innocent people like AVM Atawodi that has been equally arrested for reasons that are more political, selfish and vindictive. It is very obvious that the arrest of this upright and incorruptible man has dealt a big blow on patriotism and service to fatherland.
Corneleous Achibong is a public affairs analyst and alumni of Nigeria Institute of Journalism.