Daniel Saroh,Walter Ofonagoro: Where are they?

Long after their service to the country, their whereabouts are not easy to ascertain; ELEOJO IDACHABA writes.

Daniel Saroh

Professor Daniel Saroh is the 7th vice-chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. A trained veterinary surgeon, he is also a politician who once represented Benue-east senatorial district at the upper legislative chambers in 1999 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but later crossed over to the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in 2003, because of the differences he had with party leaders from the state.

As senator in 1999, Saroh was appointed to the committees on solid minerals, science & technology, agriculture, finance and appropriation, water resources and education. It was under him as chairman of the communication committee that GSM was introduced in Nigeria which his committee helped to midwife into reality. After his re-election in 2003, he was appointed deputy minority leader of the Senate. In the senator, he once complained about the presence of secret monitoring devices planted in the Senate by unknown persons for which he raised the alarm.

While speaking to the press in 2003, he said, “Sometimes last year, we discovered a State Security Services (SSS) monitoring camera and we resolved to dismantle it; fortunately, it was dismantled then. Now, I can see four new cameras. Whether they are listening devices or not is immaterial, but we do not know their uses. This is supposed to be a hallowed chamber where we conduct our businesses without any interference. What are the cameras doing here? I believe this is an infringement on our privacy. They should not be here.”

His journey into politics, according to him, was an accident. He once said, “When I left the ABU at the end of 1995, I took up an appointment on sabbatical at the Benue State University Makurdi where I taught Microbiology and Immunology. I was qualified to teach that because at my PhD level in the US, I had taken Microbiology and Chemistry as my minor. I am a veterinarian, but had enough qualifications to teach undergraduates in Biochemistry or Microbiology.

“At the end of that sabbatical in 1997, I was prepared to go back to ABU because that was the rule but my elders at home, including my uncle who had succeeded my father as the village head, said I should not go back to Zaria because I had too many enemies there. That was when I went to Benjamin Chaha, former speaker of the House of Representatives and asked if he could introduce me to politics.

“I would, therefore, say I entered politics at his instance. Even though he had his own candidate, Professor Hagher, the people supported me. The students of ABU in particular came in their numbers to support me at their own expense. So, I was able to win the election very easily in 1998. However, that election was abrogated when Sani Abacha died.”

He is someone who has never hidden his disgust for the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo whom he said should be tried by the International Court of Justice for genocide against his Sankera people, especially the army invasion of 2001 in which an Enugu High Court awarded compensation for the victims, but the government refused to carry it out.

He believed that Nigeria must exploit its diversity to fast-track the social and economic development of all sections of the country.

“No one stands to gain by instability. We do not know where destabilisation will lead us; let us allow our diversity to strengthen our unity and be our brother’s keeper,” he said.

In the recent past, not much has been heard about him.

Walter Ofonagoro

Except for those born in the late 80s and mature enough in the 90s to recall incidents, no one would remember that once upon a time, there was a moment in the political history of Nigeria that there was someone who goes by that name.

Ofonagoro, who is the former minister of information, came fully into limelight in 1995, when the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, appointed him into the cabinet to manage the information bureau of that government. He was, however, in the public service before then.

His appointment was said to be a move by the then government to ensure that it got the right person for the position owing to the credibility problem of that regime. Ofonagoro who was before then a former director-general of the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), appeared suitable for the job and he played the role well. From his background of journalism and broadcasting, it was not difficult for him to rally support for the administration which was almost in a state of pariah.

In those days, the daily evening network news of NTA and MINAJ Broadcasting Service which were the prominent broadcasting houses then could not be complete without a statement from the desk of Ofonagoro. The daily tabloids were awash with screaming headlines and press statements from the minister’s office. In fact, he was more visible than the Head of State. While as minister, he signed on behalf of Nigeria several bilateral agreements with about 20 countries and organisations in the hope of facilitating a robust and meaningful relationship with the countries concerned. Such was the man, Walter Ofonagoro in that regime.

As DG of NTA, he ensured the development of the Television College in Jos in the form of commissioning the engineering and journalism facilities. It was also during his tenure that the National Films Institute, National Films Archives and the National Films Processing Laboratory were established in Jos, respectively.

However, following the death of Gen. Sani Abacha in 1998, he has been away from all public offices, especially since the return of democracy where everyone has been jostling to join politics. It seems he has rather chosen to remain quiet doing his private business and also maintaining a position as member of Imo state Elders Council, among other local positions.

He was reported to have given a public speech on restructuring at a private university in Awka recently when he said, “President Buhari came to power on the mantra of change and he should be amenable to change. We have to negotiate how to run a post-colonial government different from what our colonial masters left behind. They are opposed to restructuring and they feel they must keep it the way they inherited it so that their children can also inherit in the same way.”

It’s not clear where exactly this former vibrant minister is at the moment.

Samuel Atukum

Rear Admiral Samuel Bitrus Atukum (retd.) is the former military administrator of old Plateau state between 1984 and 1985 under the administration of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari as head of state.

To date, he is someone who is said to be close to now President Buhari because of the relationship they had shared from the past, but since the present administration came to office in 2015, he has not been visible at any moment. As military governor of Plateau state, he was confronted with many challenges, especially of the lean resources prevalent in the country then. That was not a surprise because the period was when Nigeria went through what was called Structural Adjustment Programme leading to the take-over of power by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in August 1985. To cushion the effect while as governor of Plateau, he introduced community and cattle tax in order to augment the finances of the state. He also sold off all Mercedes-Benz and Peugeot 505 official cars in the government fleet and replaced them with less expensive Peugeot 504 cars.

That was not all; he went ahead and banned after-hours use of government vehicles by civil servants in order to save fuel. Furthermore, in August 1985, he proposed that the labour unions should accept a 20% cut in salary in view of the state’s financial difficulties. Finally, he went ahead and merged Plateau Television (PTV) and Plateau Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) into the Plateau Radio Television Corporation.

Atukum expressed concerns over what he called the use of non-indigenes and indigenes, saying it causes disharmony among people in the state. In 1985, he declared that anybody who harboured illegal immigrants after the May 10 departure deadline set aside by the military government would be treated as a saboteur.

Analysts say that was when the War against Indiscipline was not a mere slogan under him. While launching a state-wide tree-planting campaign in 1984, he noted that 70,000 hectares of valuable farmland were lost to illegal mining activities in the state and, therefore, called on the federal government for assistance in the conservation and reclamation of eroded lands.

For a long time now, not much has been heard about this man again.