(Vanguard of Sunday, September 10, 2006)
Someone was telling me at a party the other day that this country must have an invisible hand pulling it out of trouble. When we were at the edge of the precipice with our Third Term adventure, the project collapsed suddenly and we all heaved a sigh of relief. That invisible hand must have done it!
Then from nowhere, a substitute agenda was being pushed, that there would be an interim arrangement. That there was no such thing in the Constitution did not make any impact on those who believed that anything can happen in Nigeria. Names were even being dropped all over the place as to who would head the interim government.
Obasanjo would be there for another two years to ensure that things stabilized, that the country was restructured to be the true federation it was meant to be, and that elections would be conducted by an INEC that would have been fully armed with money and materials to do a good job no one would be unhappy with.
No, it would be Abdulsalaam Abubakar who would head the interim government. He has no ambition. If he had, he would not have left in 1999! So he can be trusted to supervise the transition.
No, it would be the military who would be asked to be there so that the South-South would no longer say they had never had a bite of the national apple when the debate resurfaces as to those who have ruled this country since 1960.
No, we have sworn never to have soldiers coming to interfere in our affairs. So perish the thought of the military coming.
I asked a younger colleague at Thisday what they were doing about this emerging option on governance and he told me the paper had decided never to touch it because as far as they were concerned, it was a non-issue. Come May 29, 2007, they know the President must relocate to his farm.
It was a few days later the President appeared at a forum at Abuja and ruthlessly destroyed the push by the schemers to retain power through the back door. He said his mind was already settling in his farm.
If you catch that, it means he is going to mentally disengage from the routine of governance, progressively, as we move towards the exit date so that he would get back to his farm for a deserved rest that would not witness the rush that had accompanied him from pillar to post.
Another person would have to be the issue, just as Abdulsalaam Abubakar was the issue when he was there; and Abacha was the issue when he was there; and Babangida was the issue when he was there; and Buhari was the issue when he was there; and Shagari was the issue when he was there; and Obasanjo was the issue after the assassination of Murtala Mohammed in February, 1976.
The President’s nail on the coffin of the Interim government push opened up a bright new page of discourse on what Nigeria should be looking forward to as elucidated by the man who is the issue today.
He did not disappoint his audience. There would be elections next year, he said. They would be free and fair, he promised. Those who have robbed the treasury should forget coming to power, he insisted. The leaders of tomorrow, that is the post-2007 leaders, would be a breed that would take Nigeria forward and actualize our dream of a strong, united and viable polity.
It is the FORWARD that we must collectively define, appreciate and approve of. Why? Because this country is one that must take off, grow like other countries and be a pride to its people, and to the people of Africa and the Black Race.
Why must we experiment? Why must every leader bring together people who would advise him on what to do? To be a leader, you must have been groomed on the dream of the polity – political, economic, social, educational, cultural et al.
There is thus a programme you must progress, understandably bringing in some little adjustments here and there to suit your style, even your mood and idiosyncrasies. What such programme have we had? Once upon a time, we had development programmes and rolling plans.
I saw a document which shows that we did not seem to have started planning before 1914, again understandably because our geographical space came into being that year.
But the author of the document described 1914 to 1945 as the pre-planning era of our economic evolution.
The emphasis was on agriculture. For ten years, until 1956, we were being moderated from Britain to help rehabilitate that country that had lost heavily during the Second War. From 1955 to 1960, planning for growth was done to reflect the federal structure we had opted for.
It was after independence we had our first National Plan in which we set targets to be achieved. This 1962 to 68 plan would raise the standard of living of the people. They would also be empowered to take control of the country’s economy.
The 1970 – 74 Second Development Plan was launched after our destructive 30-month civil war, and was aimed at restoring and reconstructing facilities damaged during the war. Achievement of high rate of growth was also envisaged.
Many other plans, culminating in rolling plans, have come our way. Even in 1984, after the military returned to civil life by removing the elected Government in December 1983, ten study groups were set up in a bid to revive the economy.
They were Study Group on Nigeria’s Industrial Policy; Study Group on Gainful Employment; Study Group on Food Production Policy; Study Group on Government Parastatals and State-owned Companies; Study Group on Financial Management in the Public Sector; Study Group on Nigerian Civil Service; Study Group on Maintenance of Public Institutions; Study Group on Customs and Smuggling; Study Group on Law and Order; and Study Group on Funding Education.
The reports were submitted and were supposed to be implemented but rulership changed hands in August, 1985.
Before he was removed, Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari had made it clear in an interview with the Financial Times of London in February, 1985 that he did not want anybody in Nigeria to relax. “The next three years will not be a picnic… what I am trying to put across is to make Nigerians understand how much we are in trouble ECONOMICALLY” (emphasis ours).
So much was the economy in trouble that the cost of servicing the country’s external debt was expected to rise to between 55 and 60 per cent of the nation’s foreign annual revenue in 1987? For 1986, he would spend 50 per cent in servicing debts.
There could be no welfarist policy, Buhari told the Guardian on March 6, 1985, because Nigeria could not continue to live above its means.
When Gen Ibrahim Babangida took over in August, 1985, he authorized his own economic policy plan of action including Economic revival; Restructure of external and domestic borrowing; Streamlining of the Administration; Export promotion; Evaluation of the Naira’s true worth; De-escalation of Government involvement in all aspects of national life; War on crime, especially armed robbery.
During his eight-year stay in power, his execution of the programme profoundly changed the economic face of Nigeria. But the change of government brought about such drastic changes as to have led to the liquidation of the gains of Nigeria on the economic and political fronts, if any, since independence.
Gen Abacha had his own economic dream and agenda but how could anything work without international cooperation? But it was in the time of Abacha that the most profound work was done on the way we must take to achieve growth acceptable to serious-minded people.
The effort emerged in a document we have come to call the Vision 2010 Document.
The achievements of the outgoing president at the macro-level will take time to trickle down, if they do, but they are issues domesticated by his administration obviously with the hope of Vision 2010 in mind that by the year 2010 when we would have been 50 years old, we would have fully appreciated where we had been, where we wanted to be, and how we worked to get there.
The areas to be attended to include education, health, industry, petroleum, solid minerals, agriculture, infrastructures, poverty alleviation, rural and urban development, unemployment, small and medium scale enterprises, women, youth, information systems, industrial relations, reward system, public and private sector partnership, stable policy environment, law and order, anti-corruption, good governance, external image and capital mobilization.
I call on all my colleagues in the media and elsewhere that we set an agenda for the post-2007 leaders of our country. The working document is Vision 2010. We look at it next week.
(Vanguard of Sunday, September 10, 2006, Democracy Watch: A Monitor Diary, Vol. 2, pages 194-197)