(Vanguard of Sunday, February 11, 2007)
We were telling how bold the president has been in taking decisions. We also told of his overbearing self-confidence, and how age and experience and opportunity he has had in his second coming (1999 -2007) have had a part in strengthening his hand in acting on behalf of everybody. But he does not seem to ascertain the impact such decisions would have on those coming after him so that he would agonize over the decision to take decisions.
Very, very unfortunately he is one man who, in spite of his undeniable and undoubted stubbornness, is enamoured and uplifted by praise from within and without and extremely unsettled by disapprovals from without. That is that he is happy with praise from praise-singers and unhappy with blame from the external community. As to internally-generated blame, people believe he has a ready answer.
It is people’s views about this ready answer that we must examine today. I know many will fry me for coming out this frontally as I did that day I told the president he was paid to be patriotic. But I do what I am doing here in good faith, and for posterity so that when those who come after the president begin to look back into the past and cite precedents for what they are doing, those who can recall today will say “oh yes, one disgruntled prince told us and we wrote him off.”
In 1979, our president left behind external reserves for the incoming administration, but these reserves were built up at a prize. Many imports were placed on the ban list. We had no substitutes at home, but we banned their importation. The administration that came could not sustain them.
They removed the ban and the economy collapsed. Before he left in 1979, our president accepted to take a loan from our western friends. Those who know more about these things said the loan was not necessary but that those external friends wanted our taking that loan to prove our goodwill.
Remember that you were either for the West or the East then, for the capitalist west or the socialist east. With the removal of the ban on more than five dozen items, and the rush for external loans by state governments to prove that they had regained freedom after 14 years of continuous military rule (1966 -1979), Nigeria’s commitment to international credit manipulators had begun. Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s warning that we were going under economically was dismissed by the NPN government as the ranting of a political ant.
By 1982, President Shehu Shagari had to come out clean to the National Assembly that we were in trouble, big trouble. We earned less but ate more, guzzling rice we bought on credit from Asia. The military returned on December 31, 1983 after the elections that would bring in a new government in October, 1983 were mindlessly manipulated.
They did not leave the scene fully until May 29, 1999 when President Obasanjo came back, obviously earnestly wanted by Nigerians who badly needed a break from open abuse of due process and unhidden assassinations organised and executed in broad daylight by security agents. In fact the president himself had been a victim of treason done up to silence those who were bold enough to draw attention to monumental indiscretions which the international community did not hesitate to rate as below the dignity of man.
The coming of our president and his elaborate consultations and visits to groups abroad brought smiles to our faces. We were back in reckoning at international fora. But as the president prepares to quit, we are dropping from the top of the ladder of honour to floor level where Baba scooped us from. Men of conscience wonder what is happening, and when they tell us what they see us doing wrong, we have attack dogs who tell them to mind their business, that they have nothing to teach us.
Surf the net and you will be shocked at what is there in black and white about our country. In the name of fighting corruption, we have turned and twisted to present pictures to the world that what is happening does not seem to reflect. As I write this, it is all over the place that those politicians who want protection from the EFCC must quit their parties and opt for the umbrella of the PDP.
Why? They need cover from arrest and prosecution! But if that is the case, why would the EFCC list of those against whom wrongdoing is established include a large number of PDP members and aspirants to various political offices? I believe that anyone who has committed an offence should be moved against, whether he is the president’s minister or the governor of a state.
But people believe the security agencies move against those the President endorses and points to. This impression is sustained by the president himself who in his boldness and insensitiveness to what people will say and think of the structures he has set up, would tell a political rally in Ondo State that Mimiko was corrupt and that EFCC would soon reach out for him! Mimiko was a member of the PDP and a minister in the President’s government. He was not thrown out.
He resigned to pursue his ambition to rule Ondo State as governor. Because he could not secure the ticket of his party, he moved over to the Labour Party, and automatically qualified for the attention of EFCC! No, this is not good for Nuhu Ribadu whose yelling about his independence is being undermined by what people say they now see. Baba is leaving behind a rapid response agency tackling corruption, but with the image of a remote control from Aso Rock.
I have zero tolerance for corruption and I do know the way government agencies operate. They will pounce on those in whose direction fingers point, saying they are acting on orders from above. But less than 48 hours after you have left, they come round to you asking you questions that set you thinking if those before you know that you had been calling the shots. Yes, they know.
You have been calling the shots. Another is now calling the shots! If police constables can run a car over Tafa Balogun’s legs less than five months after he had been stripped of his position of police chief, you can know how faithful those who outstay political officeholders can be to the brief at hand.
So, those who are complaining about the heritage Baba would be leaving behind say he wants to extend his stay through Umar Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, the Presidential two of the PDP. I watched Yar’Adua speak at the dinner arranged for him when the PDP launched its campaign in Lagos. I was impressed by his grasp of the points he raised on the economy and his belief in Baba’s programme of reforms.
But the President took over deliberations there as elsewhere where they have appeared and sang all the songs, even directing the orchestra himself. If I were his adviser, I would tell him that those two should not be presented as an extension of himself, as mere mindless puppets that would consult him at breakfast, at lunch and at dinner when batons change hands and they happen to have been elected.
Baba should pretend that they are not his agents; that they are grown up, have records in their states that should speak for them, and that these records of service they now want to expand to the national level. Umar and Jonathan are not boys. Baba is giving the impression that they are his clones.
The danger is that Baba may blow the chances of his choice where people believe that his over-aching presence is the last card he is playing to restore the third term project. And like President Bush whose programmes irked the American, those who wanted to win in his party prayed that he did not show up to campaign for them. He showed up in many places, and those he fought for lost on that account.
The debt problem has become more problematic for many. The President took us into big-time borrowing before he left in 1979. He came back and was no doubt shocked that what we took at two dollars to the naira had moved from the size of a hill to the size of a mountain, and that we needed more than a hundred naira to the dollar to meet our debt burden.
Not that we borrowed all the money we had to repay. Those who know said we borrowed a total of $17 billion; we paid $22 billion, and they said we were still owing $35 billion. Well, the President took us out of this debt trap. And then, and then, just two weeks ago, a government official was saying that we were owing $5 billion! Who to? To China and the World Bank.
They called them soft loans. Don’t we have more than $40 billion in external reserves? But for the fact that our president knows all and is praised by those hanging around him for whatever action he takes, someone ought to be bold enough to tell him that the many contracts being awarded and the many commitments being entered into and which will outlive this administration are heavy loads for those coming.
They may well look at what happened to the diplomats Abdulsalaam sent out and who had spent less than three months abroad before they were recalled on the arrival of our president in 1999. They may look at institutions like the PTF that were liquidated without due process. They may look at the Kolade review of contracts entered into by previous administrations and say yes we can do the same.
They may learn the short lessons on how to remove a governor without following the strict provisions of section 188 of the Constitution. They may improve on the way to suspend an elected government by declaring a state of emergency in open defiance of the procedure so clearly institutionalised in our Road Map. They may even make their own billionaires, a very disturbing area which we may look at next week.
(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 275 – 279; Lagos, 2008).