By Dele Sobowale
“Every country has the government it deserves”, Joseph de Maistre, August 15, 1811.
The PUNCH of Wednesday October 23, 2013 was for me particularly remarkable. Its reports – regular columns and opinions – summarized all Nigerians need to know about the government they overwhelmingly elected in 2011. Many long term readers of this column would recall my strident calls for Nigerians to massively reject the PDP, including Jonathan, at the polls. My reason was simple. Based on information at my command, some of which was published in my book, PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, Nigeria could never get out of the mess in which we are stuck as long as the PDP, as presently constituted, is in power at the centre. And, by power, I mean the legislature as well as the Presidency.
I continue to recollect how even highly intelligent persons, the professors of ASUU, and others, just as intelligent but not wise, allowed themselves to be persuaded that Jonathan could head a political party remarkably different in style from the one Obasanjo headed. And, let me hasten to add that, Obasanjo headed what some believe to be the most corrupt government in Nigeria from 1999 to 2007. Some of the evidence is there in that book.
Even as the votes for the 1999 elections, which brought Obasanjo to power for the second time were still to be ratified by INEC, the President-elect granted an interview to CNN – because for OBJ, charity begins abroad, not at home. Asked what would be his top priorities, he declared, with feigned sincerity, that he would reduce poverty and fight corruption to a standstill. Instead, he left more Nigerian living in poverty than he met in 1999 and headed what is believed to be the most corrupt government in history. He has since April 2010, when Jonathan became President, emerged as President-Emeritus giving advice, even when not asked and often the wrong ones when asked. If a man is known by the company he keeps, a President can also be judged by the type of advisers he chooses. Judged strictly on his own two top priorities – poverty alleviation and corruption eradication – Obasanjo was a failure. And he failed because instead of eradicating corruption he fostered it.
Fish rots from the head; as most people who grew up along the waterways know. The PDP has been led by people who “don’t give a damn”, about Nigerians, to use the words of the current President – Goodluck Jonathan. They have also appointed into top office, mostly people who are clones of themselves. The truth is; bad leaders cannot be comfortable with selfless public servants. Incidentally, when I read in the papers, criticism of Jonathan’s administration by the likes of Fani-Kayode and Dr Ezekwesili, what passes through my mind is that this is a case of the kettle calling the pot black. Fani-Kayode, like his predecessor in the office of the Ministry of Aviation, is still facing corruption charges. Until exonerated, he should be the last person to cast aspersions at Princess Oduah. Where, at any rate, were they when Petroleum Development Trust Fund, PDTF, money was used to purchase a Peugeot 607, for a woman of easy virtue contrary to the provisions of the Decree which established the Fund?
It is in my book. What is the difference between that and “Oduahgate”?
Prominent among the stories in the PUNCH of that day was one titled:
PRESIDENTIAL FLEET LARGER THAN THREE DOMESTIC AIRLINES. It then went on to inform us that the Nigerian presidential fleet had more planes than those of Germany, Britain, Netherlands, and other larger economies of the world. If that was supposed to be a reflection on President Jonathan, the author of that and the writer of another piece titled A PRESIDENT’S FLEETING FANCY were telling us stale stories and they were putting the blame only on Jonathan when the origin remains untouched. Like a doctor, treating symptoms instead of the causes of diseases, they would not go very far.
To start with Jonathan was not the originator of large presidential fleets. One commentator said to me that he did not expect a man who confessed to going to school shoeless to engage in such profligacy. I had to remind him that Obasanjo, who was the originator of large presidential fleets, which did not disturb Fani-Kayode or Dr Oby, was also born poor, and he left prison almost destitute in 1998. That did not stop him from sending a request to the National Assembly in 1999 for a jet which was superior to what the Queen of England, not born shoeless, uses. That also did not stop him from giving N10 billion for Poverty Alleviation Programme, PAP, for which there has been no account till today. From the same PDTF account Obasanjo paid N300 million for the registration of a company in Nigeria; a task which could have been undertaken by any “Charge and Bail” for two million and he would consider himself overpaid. I cannot recollect Fani-Kayode or anyone else in his cabinet raising objections and going to the press to denounce it. Apparently something is either good or bad depending on whether you serve in the government involved or not. We are sick and tired of the self-righteousness of OBJ’s people.
The truth is Obasanjo designed the template for the waste and fraud and it was supported and funded by the PDP-controlled National Assembly; partly because all the Senate Presidents, the party’s National Chairmen and other officials, close to the corridors of power, also use the planes for vainglorious reasons. The crash of a presidential helicopter, which took the lives of the former National Security Adviser and a Governor, while running kabukabu errand for Jonathan’s Senior Special Adviser, is a clear testimony to uses for which this mammoth fleet has been established and retained. A President of Nigeria can only use one aircraft at a time and not everyday; so why have ten? Don’t ask Jonathan alone that question, ask Obasanjo as well. He started it.
That N9.2 billion per annum is spent on running costs of the PRESIDENTIAL AIRLINE is also stale news. What Nigerians need to know are the opportunity costs of the N9.2 billion, to which the “don’t give a damn” PDP presidents have subjected Nigerians. They were, of course, ably supported by David Mark as two-time Senate President and his predecessors in office. To the best of my knowledge, no single Senate President or Speaker of the House had ever objected to the maintenance of a large fleet. They had faithfully budgeted for them – as members of a cabal are supposed to do for OGA.
Why stop at planes alone, if we want to root out official waste and corruption completely. We should also ask how many cars are in the Presidential fleet, the models and costs. Nigerians will again be astonished by how much gap there is between their President, leader of one of the poorest nations on earth and those of the USA, Germany, China, Japan, Brazil and even South Africa. Aso Rock is like the parking lot of a luxury car dealer. Out of our three civilian Presidents since 1999, the most prudent, Yar’Adua, was ironically the only one of noble birth. The other two, born poor, had not spared a thought for how many poor people can be helped by their prodigal spending on frivolities.
The day before Wednesday’s stories, which includes comments about Madam Aviation’s cars, procured at outrageous prices, PUNCH had informed us about N3 billion being spent by the Federal Capital Authority, FCA, to build houses for National Assembly leaders whose remunerations had been monetized after Obasanjo (again, you say!), unilaterally sold off the houses that were provided for them to the occupants. Tucked in that story was another scandal authored by OBJ.
The former Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, was allowed to go away with his own palatial residence for a paltry N45 million. He now lets it out for N40 million per annum. Perhaps, it was another coincidence that Bankole and Obasanjo are both PDP members from Abeokuta. Perhaps! But, where else does a patriotic President sell off his country’s property at less than the market price and where else does a patriotic Speaker buy the same knowing that the nation is being cheated out of funds needed for the seventy per cent poor? Where else?
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