How Abacha Killed NITEL Over David Mark — Ezekiel Fatoye

Chief Fatoye with the GDA at an occassion sometimes ago

Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye, a
telecommunications guru and former Executive Director of NITEL in this INDEPENDENCE DAY Exclusive with your Africa’s number
1 Celebrity encounter blog Asabeafrika
revealed how Nigeria started on a great note but fell apart from handlers of
the second republic down to the era of the military junta. The 77 years old
elder statesman painted a gloomy picture of what transpired in the past and
what obtains now.

Chief Fatoye who have equally played big in the Nigerian telecommunications sector
and one of the Co-Founders of  Multi-links a CDMA telecommunications
concern which appealed to the elites before the arrival of Global System Mobile (GSM) in 2001 gave a detailed history of how one
of Nigeria’s biggest institutions, Nigeria
Telecommunications Limited
which was said to be the richest government agency after NNPC fell and died
under the regime of late military dictator, General Sani Abacha. It is a sad tale told by a man sad enough to
express his sadness. Enjoy the excerpts.
The Chief with one of his awards

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Sir, it appears you have kept to
yourself so much in the last couple of years. Why have you been so quite
despite the transformation going on in the telecommunications industry?
Thank you
very much; I am very grateful that you are here. In response to your question,
I am getting advanced in age and surely, I should at least take it easy. One of
my uncles said, when you are 70, you have the boarding pass. So, as soon as
they call the flight, you are off. If the flight is delayed, then you are
lucky. That is the philosophy of old age, so you need to take your time, get
closer to your God towards the end of your time and I thank God for having
gotten to this age. Regarding to what is happening in the telecommunications
industry, I am so happy with what is happening in the industry. I am monitoring
what is happening in the industry, I am not off the industry at all. It is an
industry I have participated in for over fifty years. So, it is a pleasure to
see what is going on and also be a moderator of sort. I can tell you that I am
very happy with the space the industry has found itself.
The Veteran Telecommunications Guru, Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye

At 77 do you regret anything?
I thank God
for being able to see this day; I think God is the only one to be thanked.
Because I never thought I could reach this age and the reason is simple;
because of the falling quality of life in Nigeria, one will say it is very
difficult to get to this age. The life span count in Nigeria is very low; the
average life span of an adult in Nigeria is forty-something. So, anybody that
could live above forty in this country should thank God. There are lots of
problems which I believe can be solved with good leadership. Nigeria is one of
the best countries in the world with all what God has given us; God has given
this country a lot of things that poverty shouldn’t have been an issue. We have
sea ports, we have virile lands, we have gold, we have diamonds, there is
nothing we don’t have in this country, yet we are one of the poorest in the
world. It shouldn’t be so. There are some European countries where they don’t
have anything yet if you visit their country, you see a different outlook.
Nigeria today, you go and see slumps all over the place, bad roads, everywhere
is flooded yet we are so lucky in this country, we don’t have natural disaster
like many other countries. We don’t have earth quakes, we don’t have tsunami, and
we don’t have typhoon or abnormal downpour. So, we have every course to thank
God. But we are still in trouble. I am so worried; I don’t know what we will
bequeath our children because if things continue to go like this, then we are
in trouble. I look at what life was before independence and now, things were
even better before independence than now. Things were better under the colonial
masters than now. I grew with them and I know exactly what happened then and
the benefits we enjoyed in those days. Today, life is so brutish. People are
getting poorer, there is nothing like the average and the poor man any more.
That gap has been decimated. We only have the very rich and the very poor; and
society seems not to take this into cognizance.
Chief Ezekiel Fatoye to Asabeafrika…’Government milked NITEL unil there was absolutely nothing to milk again’
Sir, at what point did you thing
Nigeria started having leadership problem?
I think the
problem started with exuberant attitude of the people who took over from the
colonial powers. When you look at the beginning, Nigeria was made of people who
are in a hurry; people who are in a hurry to be rich, who are in hurry to be
successful and at all cost. When I look at the first republic, the time of Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi
and the rest, things were better in their time because they
inherited a system that was working. I can’t remember in those days when they
will say NEPA is off. Of course we knew few villages where there was no light
but on a large scale, you can’t be treated with the psychological shock of say
“light is off”. Never!  If I want to
travel from here to Kano, I will go and book train and it will be straight to
Kano. Today, there is no train anymore. Nigeria
in those days you will book your ticket and travel to any part of
the world but today there is nothing like Nigerian
anymore. And the worst of it all is a national parastatal like the National Shipping Line, in my younger days, I travelled from London to Nigeria in National
Shipping Line and it was
comfortable. But today, there is nothing like that anymore, a company like
NITEL is dead completely. So, why should we have this sad episodes in a great
nation like ours? And when you look at it all, it is the same people that
supposed to lead us that are killing these organizations. You set up an
organization and you kill it. It is unthinkable.
“When you go to where they have
retirees meeting, you feel sorry for these people. You start asking if they are
Nigerians? They grow so old, so wretched! Why should it be so? They served this
country for thirty something years and they are left in the doldrums of poverty
and misery”.
The Chief Speaks with the GDA inside his VGC home in Lagos

Do you think the problem is related
to attitude of the black man or pure witchcraft?
I think we
have one of the best set of people in the world. Let me tell you, if you are
travelling from London to Nigeria, direct or via other routes. When you are in
London, you see everybody on queue. There is no big man, there is no small man.
Everybody is the same, you take your queue. You pay your ticket and you board
the plane. But the same group of people, on landing at Nigeria airport, they
are disorderly. They are disorganized; everybody wants to go before the other.
You will struggle to go and clear yourself from immigration but you don’t
realize that when you get out of the immigration shed, you have to wait for
another hour to get your boxes and luggage. 
But that is what we are; when we are over there, if somebody is behind you,
you will just stay cool there. But here, they will struggle and cause trouble.
Our major problem is indiscipline. Indiscipline is the number one problem we
have in this country. And indiscipline has created corruption; it has created
lot of things that has set us back.
Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye to Asabeafrika…’The way NITEL pensioneers keep dying like chicken baffles me’
Do you think the political class has
failed us in the real sense of it?
political class believes that to rule a country is like a war. I remember Jomo Kenyata said once, that there is no African language for
opposition. That the word opposition means enemy and what you do is to fight
your enemy. You see the reflection of that philosophy in our political life
here. When there is an election, it is all cutlasses, guns and all sorts of
ammunition. You get all the area boys and thugs and give them all sort of
weapons to fight and kill your own brothers. 
That is our own definition of opposition; in Yoruba you call them “Alatako”, if somebody is your “Alatako”
that means that person can’t be your friend but a foe an enemy and you treat
him like one. So, you can say that is the attitudinal problem that is killing
our political leadership. My fear is that our generation might not witness the
political reform we diligently desire.  Maybe the next generation after ours will
have a better life because we have been going through the same thing for
decades over. Yesterday I was listening to some interviews of past leaders like
Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi
Awolowo, Ladoke
Akintola, Chief Okpara, Zik and all the rest, I
was going through their archives on the internet and I was listening to some of
the issues they were raising in those days, and quite funny, the same issues
are still the ones we talk about till this moment I am with you which is rather
unfortunate because we are talking of issues of fifty years apart. We are just
moving in the same circle of viciousness, we take two steps forward and take
three steps backwards. Perambulating! We are always on one stop, no movement, nothing.  It is a sad thing. And I am very disturbed
with what is happening to us now.
Chief Fatoye to Asabeafrika…’CDMA is the best technology in the world’
How Government killed NITEL
Sir, one big issue that is agitating
the mind of people in your sector is the issue of the sale of Nigeria
Telecommunications Ltd. What is your opinion on this organization as one of its
founding fathers?
You see,
anytime I pass by any NiTEL exchange, I normally feel like shedding tears. It
was government itself that destroyed NITEL; like they destroyed all the other
organizations. They destroyed NITEL completely; before we were forced to leave
NITEL, a lot of things happened because Abacha
threw us out. They made an enquiry and they said we are not guilty but they
still said we have to go. We left. It was from there NITEL started dying, because
before we left, we left behind huge sum of money in the coffers and we planned
for the retirement of staff. We had a good package for staff and everybody that
worked in NITEL would have been happy, they had no cause to regret but
Government destroyed not just NITEL but even the retirement benefit scheme.
They took the money and spend it; they spent it for their own benefit. They
destroyed everything. They destroyed the whole company. Every one of them was
just milking NITEL.  They milked and
bilked the organization until there was nothing to milk again. And it died. It
is the biggest fall of all national economic ventures. In fact of all the
parastatals minus NNPC in those days, NITEL was next. Even the report from late
Dr. Hamzat Ziad of the Commercialization
and Privatization Committee
confirmed our healthiness. The report said
after NNPC, NITEL was the most buoyant of all government agencies then. It was
a cash cow but I wouldn’t know why they killed it.
Chief Fatoye to Asabeafrika.. ‘Nigeria was destoyed by leaders who were in a hurry to make wealth’
Abacha Killed NITEL Because of David
I think it was during General
Babangida’s era NITEL went down?
did great under General Babangida’s
regime. We had a free hand to operate under IBB’s regime. There was no problem
under IBB but when Abacha came in we
started having problem. I don’t know how to put it and I wouldn’t know why it
happened that way. I think it was partly political and partly egocentric
because David Mark was Minister of
Communication during the Babangida
regime. And he was out of the system at the time Abacha took over and I don’t know weather it was something meant to
punish David Mark or punish the system;
Abacha just took on NITEL and killed
So, you feel it was a hang-over of
the Abacha-IBB power rivalry?
That is the
way many of us saw it. That is the way we saw it. Unfortunately they destroyed
the organization, they destroyed the people. Today, if you see people who have
put much of their lives; who have put so much effort to get the system going,
they are dying like chicken because they are not getting anything any more.
Even when the worker’s union took government to court and won the case; and the
law said government should continue to pay them their pension, government
refused and people are just dying; they are dying especially people who have no
other means of livelihood. It is an unfortunate thing to pay people in such
way. These pensioners cried to government, there was nobody to assist them,
they went to court and won. Government didn’t appeal in time, okay start paying
us. Suddenly, they stopped; now they say they want to go back to court. They
want to appeal against the law court. They want to go to court of appeal
against NITEL pensioners. The Attorney General will get his way, they will go
to court and maybe they will open the case again but the pensioners have to
look for money to pay lawyers and get a good court. It is not free; somebody
who has no money to eat, where will he get the money to pay a lawyer? And some
of these people delaying the money get double pension. When they were ministers
or whatever, they get pension. When they were head of state, they get
pension.  If they are army officer or
General, they get pension. These are the problems we face in this country.
Man’s inhumanity to man.
Chief Ezekiel Fatoye to Asabeafrika…’I saw the crash of the CDMA sector coming early and that was why we sold Multilinks early enough’
What was your last rank in NITEL?
I resigned
as Executive Director.
That makes you a pensioner too?
Yes, I am
So, are they paying you, sir?
Well, I am
like any other person. I am like any other retiree. I think I am a bit lucky in
the sense that I engaged myself in doing some other things. But what of those
people who were thrown out without any other means of survival? They are jobless;
they don’t have money to pay for their house rent. Some of them don’t even have
a house to call their own. They don’t even have money to pay for health care;
they are just dying. I know many people that died last year who are either
colleagues or subordinates. When you go to where they have retirees meeting,
you feel sorry for these people. You start asking if they are Nigerians? They
grow so old, so wretched! Why should it be so? They served this country for
thirty something years and they are left in the doldrums of poverty and misery.
So, we can call you a retiree with a
good head?
It was just
luck and the God factor. It was God’s favor. I think at the time I left (NITEL)
I believed that I still had some energy in me to do something new. It was a
very sad memory but God lifted me and I return all glory to Him.
Chief Ezekiel Fatoye to Asabeafrika…’Government milked NITEL unil there was absolutely nothing to milk again’
If you have the chance to advise
Government on the NITEL what will be your concise suggestion?
all the equipments that NITEL had are all gone. 
The equipments there are now obsolete. No power, nothing. Anybody that
buys those equipments now is buying empty carcass. What would have even given
them money are the landed properties of NITEL but again they have sold them to
private people. They have commissioned the tax man, Adekanola to sell these properties. It is already a public
knowledge that the Netcom House in
Lagos has been sold to the father of a former speaker of the house. Look at
their properties in Lagos, majority of them have been sold off. The initial
plan on those properties was to sell those houses and put the money in a fixed
deposit and use the difference to pay retirees. But right now, we don’t even
know where the money is. The money has gone into the bottomless pit.
So, you think Government should look
into it?
Well, it is
causing problem, there is nothing to it. It is their problem, if they really
want to solve the problem they can still look at it. Face the problem and solve