Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, in this interview by Deputy Editor, Saturday Tribune, DAPO FALADE, speaks on the allegations levelled against him by his former media aide, Mr Victor Oluwadamilare.
Your former media aide, Mr Victor Oluwadamilare, went on the social media during the week accusing you of failing to pay his accumulated monthly emoluments, about N14 million, due by the end of March 2018. What do you say to this?
First, let me say this: the government does not provide for us to appoint media aides; only the appointment of personal assistant is approved. I went out of my way, perhaps out of enthusiasm for the work, to appoint him as my media aide at that time, even though I knew his background. He had worked with Senator Teslim Folarin before and fought with him. He had worked with Governor Abiola Ajimobi before and fought with him. I thought that I could use the appointment I gave him to rehabilitate him. More so, at the time I appointed him, of all those who applied as media aide, he was the only Christian. I didn’t want a situation where all my aides would be Muslims, so I decided to appoint him. And I thought the appointment would rehabilitate him because I knew he was jobless at that time.
When he came on board, again, I thought there would be a way that some of our agencies would assist in paying his salary. In my letter of appointment to him, no salary was defined because I didn’t have any idea of how we were going to get money. When it became clear that none of our agencies can lawfully pay for any aide not approved by government, it then fell on me to look for resources, independent of government, to be paying his salary.
I then wrote a letter to him and others sometime in 2016 that each special assistant would be paid a monthly stipend of N100,000. He accepted the letter. He acknowledged the letter. He didn’t react negatively. He didn’t reject the letter. He didn’t resign if he was not satisfied. In satisfaction, he stayed on the job on the basis of that N100,000 per month. As a minister, I am earning N800,000. If I have two, three, four aides and each is asking for N500,000… You know, the most realistic thing is for him to look for a job elsewhere. Victor didn’t look for job elsewhere because he was happy and satisfied with what I decided to be giving him.
But there was an earlier letter of appointment written by you in November 2015 in which you stated that his emoluments would be decided in line with the existing practice…
There was no existing practice. I discovered that there was no existing practice, particularly by the President Muhammadu Buhari government, as each government decides what happens. When it became clear that I, as an individual, cannot be made to be paying anything outside of what I can afford, since it is not government who is going to pay, whatever I am able to pay is what I will pay. It is for those engaged to decide to stay on or not to stay on if they are not satisfied with the arrangement.
Victor stayed on and I paid him N500,000 three times to cover five months for each period. In the last two weeks, I discovered that he was blackmailing me all over the place and was also hosting my political enemies from Oyo State in his office, where they were planning all sorts of things against my political ambition. I, therefore, decided that it was time for me to relief him of his appointment and pay him off. So, I did a bank draft of N1.3 million which was to cover the 28 months that he had stayed with me. I gave him a letter terminating his appointment and attached the bank draft to it.
The letter terminating his appointment was written on 14 March, 2018. He then went on to write a letter which he backdated to 12 March, 2018, saying he was disengaging. That letter was delivered on 21 March, 2018, giving the impression that he had disengaged before I terminated his appointment. But I have paid him everything that is due to him. Where he got his N500,000 monthly emoluments from I don’t know. I cannot imagine it. It is a fantasy. It is unreasonable. It is mischievous. It is calculated to blackmail me, particularly in view of the political intonation. What is the relevance of the payment of his salary, which I have satisfied in all conscience, to every other thing that he is doing to smear my reputation? He is being used by my political enemies, all of whom, by the grace of God, will fail.
You issued the letter appointing him as your media aide in your personal capacity. Is it legal to do so as he claimed that he was employed by a public servant?
Is it the Federal Government that appointed him? Is it the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) that appointed him? Is it the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communications that appointed him? Did he apply to any of these people to be appointed? The appointment is a personal one and that is Special Assistant (Media) to me. I appointed him not on behalf of the government. I could not have appointed anybody on behalf of government. Where government wants to appoint, even if the appointment is coming from me, it will be mere nomination to be confirmed by the government. Government had no hand whatsoever in his appointment. It is a personal decision and he was not the only one that was so appointed. So, there is no legal incongruity there.
In the letter he wrote to you, he also alleged that 29 months into your appointment, you have purchased 12 luxury houses in Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan, a N93 million printing press, 25 luxury vehicles for yourself, family members, concubines and other cronies, outside of the eight official vehicles attached to your office. What do you have to say about these allegations?
I want to put you on notice that I am taking him to court over all these allegations to justify himself. In law, he who asserts must prove. If you know him – he is a journalist like you – he is one man always in conflict with himself. He is one man who does not have a modicum of humility, of patience and of good manners. He is always fighting and always very combative and has, therefore, not given value to my job as a minister. It is unfortunate that I had to take that decision to employ him out of humanitarian consideration.
If he is accusing me of having houses in Lagos, Abuja and Ibadan, he should have the courage to state the locations. I will not assist him in his job. He has the herculean task of proving that in the court. I can give you the list of the houses that I have. I don’t have any house in Lagos. I have one house in Abuja, which I bought on mortgage from Jaiz Bank. I have two houses in Ibadan. So, those extra houses in Lagos, Abuja and Ibadan, he will have to justify them in court.
Where will I, Adebayo Shittu, with my anti-corruption posture, with my very modest lifestyle all through and with my religious inclination, get the money for all of those vehicles? Does it make sense that somebody with socialist orientation will have that number of vehicles? Since I came on board as minister, two people donated two cars to me. Seyi Makinde donated one of the jeeps that I have and a former Accountant General of the Federation, Mr Jonah Otunla, donated one and I bought one for myself. So, Victor Oluwadamilare will have to explain where the other vehicles are.
With all the negativities you claimed to know about him, why did you state in the letter of appointment that you were appointing him based on the trust you had in him?
Yes, I thought I could trust him because he came in a beggarly manner. He had been sent packing by two important people – Senator Folarin and Governor Ajimobi. I thought I could trust but I didn’t know that he is so greedy that he cannot be complacent with his status in life. I mean, how can I be giving somebody N500,000 from my salary? Does it make sense and is he not building castles in the sky? Is he not overrating himself? You all know what happened to him in the recent past. I just lately discovered that he has been using this office and my name to collect money from people. All of these will be brought to the fore in the litigations that will come up. I will meet him in court.
He also claimed that you have expended money far above your legitimate earnings on your governorship ambition. Is there any truth in the allegation?
He will be in court to also prove that. But you can see that that is their target because they know that in Oyo State, I am the front-liner in the governorship race. They also know that on merit, nobody can defeat me in the governorship contest. So, they must engage in this smear campaign and he has most uncharitably agreed to spearhead this campaign. I am a veteran in politics. I am a veteran in battles. I don’t start battles but I don’t run away from them when they come. I will meet them in court and I will meet them on the political stage.
Is it true that you sponsored no fewer than 22 people, including under-age persons, on pilgrimage to Mecca?
Again, he will have to come and prove that. You see, the late Chief MKO Abiola used to sing a song. When people were accusing him of spending money which was his legitimate money, he said ‘eni owo e ba sonu, ko lo pe ejo’ (he who ever lost his money should go to court). I am a moralist, I am incorruptible and I try to take after my leader, my mentor, President Muhammadu Buhari and I do not do anything that I cannot justify. So, we will meet in court, by the grace of God.
He accused you of insensitivity and meanness while ‘living in sudden and extremely outrageous opulence as a public servant…’
He must justify that allegation. I go on economy class whenever I am flying, whether within or outside the country. So, I don’t know what type of luxury life he claims I am living. A lot of people will take pictures with me in the economy class and they do pray for me. There is this adage that you give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Because they have a target, they want to stop me, but I will not allow them to succeed. The work of my hand will see me through, by the grace of God.
He also described you as an ‘Estacode Minister’, saying you have collected over $800,000 as estacodes and got over N50 million as salary. How will you react to this?
As a minister, I have a boss. I cannot have a vote without the president approving it. If the president approves my vote and by law, I am entitled to estacode, is it illegal or unlawful for me to take that estacode when I am going to represent Nigeria at conferences overseas? That is the question that you should ask him.
Let me also say that as the Minister of Communications, ICT is the new way to go for the development of countries globally. It is an international subject matter and it has interconnectivity with all other countries. For instance, NIPOST cannot operate within Nigeria alone because letters will necessarily go overseas and NIPOST has to ensure that there are collaborations and partnerships with all other countries. If you take telecommunications as another, it cannot be a Nigeria-alone affair because you phone overseas and there are rules and regulations at the universal level, the commonwealth level and at the African level. As the minister presiding over all the activities in ICT, there are conferences that I must attend to represent Nigeria’s interest. So, do I have an apology for taking estacode to do that? If I have the opportunity of estacode, would that not be extra money on the salary that I take? These are logical things.
But is it true that you have collected estacode in excess of $800,000?
Is it possible under TSA? Is it possible under the Buhari regime that somebody will collect money and will not attend a conference? How much is $800,000? That will be in hundreds of millions of naira. Look, he will have to be in court to prove and defend all the stupid allegations he has levelled against me.
He said ‘it will be in your best interest not to play to the gallery and listen to the counsel of your spin doctors to either ignore me or take me on’. Are you contemplating any peace meeting with him in view of what he said?
What does he want actually by that statement? What line of peace? Do I have to pay him extraordinarily? I am ready for the battle and he will certainly get destroyed in the process because he has bitten the fingers that fed him. He was living in a free house in Abuja and he has taken so much, apart from the other monies that I have given him. He has also had several opportunities. He called me Estacode Minister and by my grace, he has also had the privilege of attending conferences and collected estacodes. He didn’t reject these estacodes because they were not unlawful. So, why should I not take estacode if I have to travel and the travel is approved?