Ahmadu Ali, former national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), says but for the “negligence and gross misconduct” of a protocol officer, he would have been involved in a plane crash in 1974.
He said while on an official assignment to the US in his days as the executive director of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), he was supposed to join an ill-fated aircraft to Los Angeles from New York but providence made him miss that flight.
Ali said Nigeria had sent a delegation to America to understudy the workings of the US Peace Corps as a template for the NYSC scheme that had just commenced in Nigeria.
The former PDP chairman said after meeting with members of the Nigerian community on the agenda for the NYSC scheme, the delegation prepared for the next trip to Los Angeles, with the task for preparation given to one James Oche, who was the chief information officer.
But Oche was nowhere to be found at the time the Nigerian delegation ought to leave New York.
The three-time senator made the revelation in ‘The many colours of a rainbow’, his biography – which was launched in Abuja last week.
“The itinerary of the delegation was that they would fly to New York and then to Los Angeles and finally to Boston. They arrived at La Guardia airport in New York and were met by the Nigerian consul-general to New York,” he said.
“At 6am on 16 January 1974, the delegation arrived at the airport through the assistance of the consulate, expecting that their travel documents had been processed by Mr. Oche and they were ready to be checked in.
“But Mr. Oche was nowhere to be found. They looked all over for him; they even got the public address system of the airport to announce his name – all to no avail. The plane left without them. Without their passports and luggage, they could not board the plane; they could not even arrange to fly on the next available plane.”
Ali said that when the team left for a nearby cafe, Oche was found fast asleep – holding their passports and tickets; reeking of alcohol.
He said one Adedeji who was then the minister of education, angrily retrieved the travel documents and announced to a now-awake Oche: “When we get back to Nigeria, Mr. Oche, consider yourself dismissed! Sacked without benefit! You are a disgrace!”
The former PDP helmsman said the delegation eventually got to Los Angeles at 11pm that day. After settling down to an evening meal at the Hilton hotel, Ali said Adedeji bumped into his room.
“Put on your television!” he ordered.
“The newsflash was that the plane, Boeing 707-131B, which they could not board because Mr. Oche could not be found, had crashed in Los Angeles on arrival but fortunately all the 63 passengers and 7 crew onboard had survived! Professor Adedeji promptly returned all their travel documents and arrangements to Mr. Oche once more!”
Ali said the Los Angeles crash was the third instance of his close shave with death, a fact made more evident as he celebrated his 38th birthday in Lagos three weeks later; with the thought of the near-miss still etched in his memory.
Ali’s biography –The many colours of a rainbow, is a 423-paged book that chronicles his military career, his stint as minister of education during the famous “Ali must go” era, his family life, and his foray into local and national politics, particularly his stewardship of the then ruling PDP both as chairman and a key power broker between 2005 and 2015.