(Vanguard of Sunday, February 26, 2006)
Someone called me before noon last Sunday asking how I could be that callous running other heads of state down because of my blind support for President Obasanjo. So blind was I, he said, that I even ignored the work IBB’s government in which I served as Information Minister for four years did.
I told him I was only reporting Mr. President and that I did say the narration would continue this week. But for the avoidance of doubt, I am retaking the last paragraph of last week’s piece which the caller misunderstood. “In 30 years between Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
But from what I watched on television when the period was being focused, it would seem that the good belonged to the Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo era, between 1975 and 1979 when Obasanjo handed over to an elected civilian government. The bad and the ugly took over from 1979 to 1999 when Obasanjo came again. Which means that Shagari did nothing; Buhari did nothing; Babangida did nothing; Abacha did nothing; and Abdulsalami Abubakar did nothing! Or if they did anything at all, it was negative.” I then promised we would continue this week, and hereunder is the continuation.
Baba had facts and figures handy to illustrate the retrogressive impact rulers between 1979 and 1999 had on governance. He told his audience how we were not as poor in 1979 as we had been when he came back in 1999.
With his economic and social rejuvenation of the country, we are improving our prosperity rating and by 2020, we should be number 25 in the world. He believes that if we are consistent, focused and determined to take the correct measures, we should be number 20 on the prosperity list by the year 2020.
The argument goes like this – find out the right things to be done; ensure they are done right, and by the right people. Obasanjo has found out the right things to be done to grow Nigeria; he is around to ensure they are done right; and he has packaged the right people to do them. But there is one thing left to be done.
Time is needed to ensure that they are done right. And Lee Kuan Yew is his witness! But what has our president been learning from Lee Kuan Yew? Lee had a vision of what was needed to make Singapore what it could be. He had colleagues who could download the dream.
They needed time to do so, and he was there from 1959 when he was elected Prime Minister of a poor struggling trading post, and stayed on until 1990 when he stepped aside. The per capita GDP when he took office was $400 and when he left in 1990, it had risen to $12,200. But by 1999, with him out of office, because there were people there to carry on where he stopped, the per capita income had risen to more than $22,000.
People are asking why we should not give our President more time, like Lee Kuan Yew had, so that he can make things work. The truth is that our President is not and cannot be Lee Kuan Yew. They are different people from different backgrounds, and have different challenges.
Yew’s country is not up to 20 per cent of the population of Lagos State. Yew was facing a problem of extinction of his small country which no one thought could sustain as a nation as at the time we had our independence in 1960. Its population is more than 70 per cent Chinese and the big countries surrounding it were not willing to accept a Chinese presence in a union that Singapore would have been part of.
Little wonder then that Singapore’s union with Malaya collapsed within two years. Yew was, at 35 in 1959, a consummate politician, trade unionist, social activist. He won an election to lead his people about the same time Chief Obafemi Awolowo left the Western Region to the Central Government as leader of Opposition.
With the communists and capitalists looking for allies the world over, Yew chose capitalism but he did not break up the family units of his people because he wanted to adopt the ways of the West. Singapore had no natural resources, but those who pioneered its development knew that the only resource is the human resource and that knowledge of this fact made all other things fall in place.
Yew wrote his book, From Third World to First World, for Singaporeans who were not born when the travails began. They inherited stability, growth and prosperity. They inherited public order, personal safety, economic and social progress and prosperity. But these are no natural order of things.
Yew says they depend on ceaseless effort and attention from an honest and effective government that people must elect. Read that sentence one hundred times and tell me what lessons we can learn from Lee Kuan Yew. Can we ever have an honest and effective government that people must elect?
So what is there that our President has to learn from Lee Kuan Yew? We are not a small island struggling to live in the midst of more powerful neighbours. In the ECOWAS sub-region, Nigeria accounts for more than half of the population of the 16-member countries. We do not have one dominant nationality group that is a threat to all others.
We have been independent since 1960, and had been on a path of growth since we had true federalism in 1954. Democratic rule ceased with the coming of the military in 1966 and our President was a product of that period. He ruled this country in maximum capacity, quitting in 1979 with many pluses and minuses.
His return in 1999 has had many pluses but some of the biggest minuses are the misleading impressions that all those governments that came after 1979 did nothing or if they did anything at all, they did not grow the economy.
I looked at Akintola Jimoh & Co’s summary of investment related statutes from volume one of his book, Nigerian Investment Laws and Business Regulations, and wondered how many of them were authored by this administration since 1999. Most of them were promulgated in the times of Babangida, Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Shehu Shagari gave us a stable polity and made Nigerians give the Presidential system a chance because there was more respect for the provisions of the Constitution than we have seen. We had only one President of the Senate for our years and not one day were any impeachment moves mooted because of undue abuses of due process.
I heard Nuhu Ribadu say at the Trust newspaper Anti-corruption outing at Abuja sometime ago that Nigeria’s external debt was $8 billion when Buhari assumed power and that for the period he was there, he repaid $4 billion. If IBB did not take any loan, and Abacha was not even qualified to be considered for any loan and Abdulsalami Abubakar took no loan, then how did we come about the $36 billion we are owing the external creditors, $30 billion of which we have been pushing to buy for $12 billion which would have been used to grow this country and especially the Niger Delta where it all came from? From a jumbo loan in the 70’s to a jumbo pay-off now is not my idea of vision and planning for growth.
The recall of the days of Murtala Muhammed would have been more memorable if in looking back we gave credit to those who have come after. It is mean and un-edifying to give the impression, always, that all previous governments did nothing or did not know what to do.
Our President has been associated with many successes, but where misled people poor into the streets asking for the President to stay to do the right things with the right people he has picked to do them, then history is repeating itself, and those who have memories to remember with cannot forget the predictable outcomes.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 101 -104; Lagos, 2008).