(Vanguard of Sunday, April 20, 2008)
I am on my knees, begging those who now believe that bashing Obasanjo is a task that must be done. And also that doing so is proof of work done. I am ready to be part of the bashing. He asked for it by accepting to be president when he would have just cooled it off at his farm after he had been released from jail for being part of a coup he was said to have known nothing about. Yes, he took over bashing from Abdulsalaam Abubakar who had taken over bashing from Abacha who had taken over bashing from Babangida.
I was in the IBB team and we are still being bashed. But the bashing of Obasanjo, though has more merit and substance than the bashing of any other head of state before him, is degenerating into a destination. Bashing is no destination. It is part of smoothening the road taken. You go for the jugular of the one you are after, but this going for the jugular is not a wrestling match which ends with a pin fall. We are as at now grappling with the energy sector and the shouting and yelling and drama on television is day after day becoming the issue, not the fact that we have no light, and that we want to have light.
That is why I am on my knees begging those who believe that bashing is the thing that must have credit points for the Yar’Adua administration. No, the scores must be light in our homes, in our offices, in our factories. The score must come from the answer as to when we are going to have light, and how? The score is not that between 1999 and 2007, we spent so much on seeking light and all we have to show for our effort is darkness. I spend more than N5,000 for diesel to run my genset in the office every day, and when I get home, we start burning diesel.
Yes, light comes on and off so often that Rasheed, my son told me to put a smile on my face because those who are being trained in PHCN to take over the operations of NEPA may be overdoing their training practice of switching on and off! But I can’t force that smile on my face to make my son or any other person happy. When the nail digs into your foot, you cannot put a smile on your face. No, you can’t. Suffering and Smiling is a song, Fela’s song, but you can only smile when you are told that the smile is a cure for the suffering.
The darkness that is increasingly taking over from the darkness of the past is no pointer to any light. It is a sad commentary on the failure of government to put its acts together. And I am bold enough to say that people are taking advantage of President Yar’Adua’s undeniable limitations. He was governor of Katsina State. He seemed to have been the least exposed governor in the country. I did not see him being featured as one of those governors who visited their colleagues. I am not aware he went to any other state of the federation to commission projects as other colleagues of his did.
May be those colleagues were going round to be noticed because they were thinking of moving out of their states to the national level to seek the highest office in the land which Yar’Adua is now custodian of, without a fight. So, moving into Aso Rock without preparation, it is only to be expected that he would have to settle down to learn to tackle the mountainous problems that being there impose. And because those who should anchor the so-called reform programme of Obasanjo were all swept away by a strange wind of an origin which is now being seen in what is going on in the polity, the metamorphosis from the insularity of a state to a vast, massive and intimidating national terrain has become more difficult.
The case is not helped by the many wrong things that were done in the past, the questionable decisions that were taken, the boldness with which rules and procedures were not just evaded, but deliberately subverted. With Yar’Adua being drawn into righting the wrongs of governance, he is being sucked into a messy situation which will turn out to be a shadow and no more. Due process cannot be the heritage Yar’Auda wants to leave us with. He is no court. Due process is an administrative chore that must be performed pre or post event.
That is that it is done before the event or done after the event. In other words, if it was not followed before the event took place, you pursue the administrative option of curing the procedural ailment. You do not throw away the baby with the bathwater. And that is what is being inadvertently done now, to the joy of the masses who will soon see the mirage that the exercise is.
The baby is energy for Nigeria. We are all shouting that $16billion had been sunk into that sector without anything being shown for it. I sang this song, too but I begin to see that I was being swept off by the gale of Obasanjo bashing, which I still insist I am not quarreling with. What I am unhappy about is that the bashing has become the end, not the means. The means is that the bashing drew attention to the issues.
And being issues, we must look them straight in the face. Ask any civil servant and he will tell you that government money can never be missing. They do not spend any kobo without documenting it. Yes, they swear to keep their secrets secret. But the money voted for a project is traceable. If there was no appropriation by the National Assembly to spend whatever on the energy sector, it is bad enough and can be part of a misdemeanor to take up for impeachment. But you cannot impeach Obasanjo now.
He has no immunity to protect him from investigation, arrest, prosecution and service of process of whatever definition. Even while there in office he could be investigated, and I have said that he could also be disciplined if he was associated with all the dirty things they are raking up now. But all that is that. The provision of light is the issue now, and I say if $16billion was taken from our treasury, it is proof that money withdrawn from the treasury can never be missing.
But we are not in doubt that the money was for the energy sector and that to tackle the problem frontally, our bold man may have handpicked those who should do the work, decided where the projects must be located, paid money to those he wanted to pay to et al. All these can be traced. The point is that we are not being called upon to be patient to know how the money moved, and to where and for what purpose.
My change of mood came when I read what some magazines have published about the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP). The details of what they say happened may have been twisted to draw sympathy for them, but I have no doubt in my mind that the relationship between the contractors and the government was strictly defined by the terms of the contract. I know this because it can never be otherwise in practice.
No one will release money to you from government coffers without a documents authorizing it. So, media men who have been covering the very commendable investigation by the House Committee on Energy must sit back a bit and give us the facts. I am not happy with what I see on television. A house member asks a question at the site of a project and because there are no installations, he shouts for the whole world to hear that nothing had been done, that the contractor had stolen government money and he must return it immediately!
What if something had been done? What if the equipment is being produced to specification in China or Japan or Germany or the United States? And how can such production be made or initiated without payment of money? I do hope we are not thinking that the world had changed its mind about our total lack of respect for contractual agreements.
Have we forgotten the cement armada of the 70s when we had to pay for what we could not bring in, but had committed others to produce for us? If a turbine takes three years to produce, why should it be on site if it has not been cleared from the ports? And if part of the contract agreement is that duty would be waved, is anyone in doubt that where government stops the waver, then there is a breach of the terms of the contract and government must produce the resulting variation?
The truth is that Nigerians should not be pushed into believing that fighting in the papers, on television or committee rooms of the lawmakers will do more than such tantrums can do. The media’s duty ends at reporting what is going on. It cannot take over contracts and execute them. In spite of what anyone may think, the findings of the law-makers will end with their reports. To reduce it to the ridiculous level, and please bear with me, what they end up with may carry no more weight than a letter to the editor expressing an opinion on a particular issue.
If you doubt me, let us be level-headed enough to look back at what happened to earth-shaking investigations. They go somewhere for execution. The House Committee reports may well be sent to EFCC or the Attorney-General’s office for action. The route to court is thereby open and those affected will table their case with relevant documents in court. At the end of the day, the courts will decide one way or the other.
Meanwhile, the material that would have been brought out from the ports to be part of providing light will remain there, rotting. For if you cancel the contracts because you refuse to take the minor step of regularizing procedures to satisfy due process demands, then you cannot touch the equipment produced and imported by one whose contract you have terminated and who now has gone to court.
Politicking is not food for the hungry. Someone who said that a hungry man cannot sing hallelujah may have been speaking from experience. As I worked on this piece, someone drew my attention to a report by the United States that Nigerians may riot because of food; yet in churning aid to indigent countries, Nigeria was not mentioned.
I would have personally felt insulted if we had been listed for aid. We have an abundance that no other people in the world can routinely preside over and divert into their private pockets. In other words, there is no other country on planet earth where there is massive official collusion to deprive a people of the common wealth. It is the anger building up that may explode on us.
Not that there will be no food, but that the means to access food of whatever description – material, intellectual, even spiritual – had been deliberately denied. The President should gather an honest team and find out what is there on the ground in the power sector and smartly and quickly mobilize resources to have them installed so that there may be light.
(Published in Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 56 – 61; Lagos, 2011).