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Beyond the Intels contract termination by Adefolarin Sode

Atiku Abubakar

Since the INTELS contract termination episode, I know a lot of people have been expecting me to say something. Some of them have even reached my inbox, to indirectly ask me what is going on. Because of this, and also for posterity’s sake, I will say the few truths I know about INTELS, the company, the owners and some of the politics surrounding it so it can help commentators and followers of the never-ending Nigerian drama to make informed opinions about the situation.

The 1st Era.
INTELS (known then as NICOTES- {Nigeria Container Services} was founded in the early 80s by an Italian (from Genoa, Italy) , who is now a nationalised Nigerian – Gabrielle Volpi and Atiku Abubakar. When they started, Atiku was still in the Nigerian Customs, so he could not be involved in the day to day activities of the company. While Volpi was the brain and technical partner, Atiku was the financial, political and Nigerian partner. They started its operations from a container office at Apapa Port, Lagos. The company was simply and strictly into oil servicing on a small scale logistics. As fate would have it, the company grew in bounds and finances, especially because it was structured around oil- the gold of the 80s. It is instructive to add that neither Atiku nor Volpi had an oil block, then, now or ever; but rather they offered their services to those who do but who do not have the expertise, finances, and manpower to drill, transport or even manage it. This is exactly what INTELS is about.

In the late 80s (between 1988 and 1989) INTELS, still known as NICOTES had grown so big that Atiku was already tired of being tied down into the Nigerian customs rather than having the freedom to live like a wealthy man that he was and spend his money the way he wanted. This was why, when in 1989, Gen Ibrahim Babangida refused to promote Atiku Abubakar to the post of Controller General (citing the fact that Alhaji Bamanga Tukur cannot head the NPA, Murtala Nyako head the Navy and Atiku Abubakar would head the customs, when all were from one state {Gongola- now Adamawa and Taraba states}), Atiku decided to resign rather than waste his time missing out in Customs and also missing out in expanding his network in Nigeria as a private citizen.

Before Atiku left the Customs, NICOTES- (INTELS) had already become a cash spinning enterprise. It was so big and lucrative that Atiku and Volpi, with an out of this world confidence, were able to take the risk and take a loan of 400M to expand it. This was what prompted Gabrielle Volpi, an Italian who had studied the African situation very well, to suggest that they should invite some big people (in the Nigerian parlance) into the business. He said they would need influential Nigerians on the board so that a Government who did not know when they were growing the business would not just come and take over it as it is usual practice in Africa. Atiku, as the Nigerian partner was the one who had to look for the big Nigerians to be brought in.

The 2nd Era.
The new INTELS (still NICOTES), began after Atiku’s retirement from the Customs. This new one had Gabrielle Volpi, Atiku Abubakar, Gen Shehu Yar’adua( Obasanjo ‘s VP in 1976- 79), HRH Ado Bayero (The late Emir of Kano) and some other notable Nigerians as directors. A first-class General, a first-class King etc were brought in to secure and solidify the company. Volpi believed it would be very difficult for any government to seize any business that belonged to these type of Nigerians.

I must also say it here that the first dividend paid to Gen Shehu Yar’adua (Atiku Abubakar’s political leader and mentor) was so huge that he had to invite Atiku and asked him if they were dealing in drugs. Atiku laughed this off and explained the business to him.

With this, it is clear that Atiku Abubakar is not the only owner of INTELS, in fact, he is not even the major shareholder since most of his original shares were distributed to the newcomers from Nigeria. How anyone would call Atiku a greedy man still beats me. The unprecedented financial strength that Atiku was able to give Shehu Yar’adua was the reason why Atiku rose so fast in Shehu Yar’adua’s movement – Patriotic Front (PF) and later People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), that in 4 years he has already overtaken people he met in politics. If you recall, in 1993, when IBB banned Yar’adua and some first-class politicians from contesting the elections, it was Atiku that Yar’adua presented for the SDP primaries, before Kingibe chose to ignore the party leader’s directives and thus divided the votes which made MKO Abiola, who was also in SDP, but not from PDM to win the primaries.

The Abacha years.
God’s ways are not always our ways. During Abacha’s years, Atiku Abubakar was part of the few rich Nigerians who refused to support Abacha till the very end. He also fought Abacha with his resources. But with all of Gabrielle Volpi’s permutations and plans, Abacha ended up arresting Shehu Yar’adua, our INTELS first-class General. Chased Atiku the young billionaire out of Nigeria, and seized NICOTES. That company that Volpi had given first-class protection. Abacha did the unthinkable. He seized it. He did not only arrest Yar’adua the first class General, he also arrested Obasanjo, a bigger General. NICOTES (INTELS) stopped making profits and almost died. Abacha was never really about the business. He had more money from the Nigerian Government anyway. He only seized it to cripple the politicians and the pro-democracy folks.

The Rebirth.
In 1998, when Abdulsalam Abubakar became the Head of State, after the death of General Sani Abacha, he returned NICOTES back to the original owners, and NICOTES was renamed INTELS. Note. It was returned before Atiku became the VP. In fact, even before he became the Governor-elect of Adamawa state.

The Cancelled NPA Contract.
The contract was signed in 2007 during Yar’adua’s period. There was no way Obasanjo would have signed such contract for Atiku during their turbulent and eventful 2nd term. It is also instructive to know that by 2007, The Shehu Yar’adua’s shares had been transferred to the Yar’adua family, and the family now had Umaru Yar’Adua (Shehu’s younger brother) as the head. Signing the 2007 contract may well not be through the efforts of Atiku Abubakar, but that of any of HRH Ado Bayero, Umaru Yar’Adua or even Volpi.

Ironically, this contract was there all through the Jonathan years, when Atiku faced him in the PDP primaries, and when Atiku and some others left PDP for him. Jonathan never canceled it. You may call it stupidity, weakness, statesmanship or whatever, but the truth remains that Jonathan was good enough to separate politics from business.

Conclusion, even though the NPA contracts have been canceled, I can tell you that the best period for INTELS were not the NPA contract years. I believe INTELS should find their old rhythm and remember how they used to survive. Buhari may have canceled their contract, and he probably did it for political reasons, but he did not seize the company and he didn’t seize their license from operating as a logistics company. If indeed Buhari is targeting Atiku financial base because of 2019, then we need to ask Buhari himself how much he had himself in 2015, before he was able to win against an incumbent President. Atiku has always contested from the position of strength and money and has been failing. Maybe it is now that he would be the underdog that Almighty God will manifest in his life. The long and short of this debacle is that the Buhari camp, just like Lord

Atiku has always contested from the position of strength and money and has been failing. Maybe it is now that he would be the underdog that Almighty God will manifest in his life. The long and short of this debacle is that the Buhari camp, just like Lord Voldemort did in the Harry Potter series, has effectively MARKED Alhaji Atiku Abubakar The Waziri Adamawa as a formidable opponent for President Muhammadu Buhari and potentially the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Written by Adefolarin Sode

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