March 4, 2018

Nigeria and the curse of Sisyphus (6)

By Douglas Anele

The main issue that has not received adequate attention from Nigerians is the necessity to compel Gen. Babangida and all those who sabotaged his government’s transition programme after an incredible quantum of human resources and billions of naira had been expended on it to give an account of their grave injustice against millions of Nigerian who despite inconveniences and challenges voted in the June 12, 1993 presidential election.

That this has not been done by successive administrations prove beyond any scintilla of doubt that there are sacred cows in Nigeria that can do whatever they please without any accountability, which implies that the country is still very far from what a genuine civil society ought to be. In an earlier essay, I had discussed the main reasons why Gen. Babangida annulled the June 12 election according to late Prof. Omo Omoruyi, as reported by the maverick writer Chinweizu in his little book, Caliphate Colonialism: The Taproot of the Trouble with Nigeria; namely, to placate northern caliphate colonialists who vehemently opposed the possibility of a southern President they cannot control and pay back the existential debt he owed to Gen. Sani Abacha. Therefore, the best description of Babangida’s regime is: a monumental waste.

Chief Ernest Shonekan’s tenure as interim President was so brief and episodic that one can justifiably describe it as a caricature. Karl Maier correctly notes that Abacha, being head of the joint chiefs of staff and defense minister, was the true power in the interim government. Consequently, it was not surprising that within three months, Shonekan was forced out of office and Abacha assumed leadership of the Provisional Ruling Council. Abacha applied the Machiavellian strategy of his predecessors by initially courting the support of some prominent civilians, most of whom were dismissed within a short period. Interestingly, at the initial stage Ken Saro-Wiwa and several pro-democracy campaigners in Lagos misguidedly supported Abacha’s removal of Shonekan, an action that ultimately proved fatal for Saro-Wiwa because he was hanged by the regime alongside eight other Ogoni activists.

It must be admitted that the Abacha years in power were not five long years of unbroken negativity and darkness. For instance, he stabilised the official exchange rate at twenty-two naira per dollar, although the unofficial rate was around eighty naira for one dollar. He increased fuel price only once while in office. The 1995 constitutional conference he set up in 1995 recommended division of the country politically into six-geopolitical zones and thirteen percent derivation for oil-producing states, two important economic and political frameworks still in use till date. Most Nigerians have forgotten that the National Hospital, originally named National Hospital for Women and Children, was upgraded to its present status by Abacha’s government. These and other modest achievements notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Abacha headed one of the most brutal dictatorships in Nigerian history.

He used the instruments of state to crackdown on the media, civil rights groups, pro-democracy campaigners and trade unions. Dependence on importation of refined petroleum products worsened between 1993 and 1998, such that at some point very low grade foul-smelling fuel was imported, which damaged car engines and generators. Abacha cloned Buhari’s WAI campaign by launching an ineffectual anti-corruption programme called War Against Indiscipline and Corruption (WAIC). Not surprisingly, as subsequent revelations have shown, Abacha’s regime was a larcenous dictatorship, never mind Muhammadu Buhari’s misleading and patently false claim that the late dictator did not steal any money. With the benefit of hindsight almost twenty years afterwards, one can confidently affirm that under Abacha, Nigeria took three steps forward and ten backwards.

The controversial (some say providential) deaths of Gen. Abacha and Chief M.K.O. Abiola paved the way for Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar to become head of state. Abubakar’s greatest achievement was handing over power to an elected government in 1999 through a programmed election intended to produce retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo as head of state. But as chief of army staff to Abacha, he held the third most powerful position in Abacha’s government and, therefore, is partly culpable for the brutality of that government. Maier reports that during the brief tenure of Gen. Abubakar, Nigeria’s foreign reserves decreased by not less than three billion dollars in less than six months, a testament to the fact that for our military rulers their major preoccupation in government was to enrich themselves, their families and cronies.

Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the first military leader to return as civilian President in May, 29, 1999. As a former military dictator, he had cognate experience relevant to the challenges of his office, and given that background, his supporters projected him as the leader Nigerians have been waiting for to transform the country. Obasanjo deserves credit for important achievements in the economy, infrastructural development and debt relief. He set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). When Obasanjo was President, several highly placed Nigerians, notably Tafa Balogun (former Inspector General of Police) and Sunday Afolabi (Minister of Interior) among others were prosecuted for corruption. Aside from debt relief, late Prof. Dora Akunyili brought a lot of prestige to the Obasanjo administration through her impressive exploits as director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Nevertheless, Obasanjo’s presidency was marred by several needless conflicts with members of the National Assembly, corrupt and sloppy execution of federal government projects particularly in the power sector, and the infamous third term agenda. When Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was elected president in 2007, it was clear to keen observers of events in Nigeria that he had huge problems that must be tackled with wisdom, sincerity of purpose, and strong political will.

Now, although plagued by ill-health while in office as President, Yar’Adua introduced the concept of “servant-leader” in Nigeria’s political lexicon, announced a seven-point agenda of socio-economic cum political engineering, and managed to achieve some encouraging results. He was the first Nigerian leader to publish details of his assets and liabilities before assuming office as stipulated by the 1999 constitution. He appointed two members of an opposition party as ministers and initiated the amnesty programme which brought relative calm to the restive Niger Delta region.

He also reversed the fraudulent sale of some national assets carried out under the privatisation programme of his predecessor, Obasanjo, and paid the local government funds of Lagos state withheld by the latter for political reasons. Important projects such as the dredging of River Niger, construction of the Abuja metro line, Abuja-Kaduna and Abuja-Kano rail lines were initiated by Yar’Adua’s government. Unfortunately, in spite of the general impression that the late President was a decent urbane gentleman relatively uncontaminated by the virus of malignant corruption, his lacklustre attitude to fighting corruption at the highest level negatively affected the country. Perhaps, Yar’Adua underestimated the negative impact the stresses of the office of President would have on his fragile health which undoubtedly jeopardised his ability to discharge the functions of that office. When he died on May 5, 2010, the baton of leadership was handed to the Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.

Jonathan was the first Nigerian leader to rise from the position of deputy governor and governor of a state, through the vice presidency to become the President. On assumption of office, he promised to continue with the seven-point agenda of his immediate predecessor. Pursuant to that pledge, in August 2, 2010, he launched the roadmap for power sector reforms aimed at achieving stable electricity nationwide. A year later, he introduced the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) to harness the creative energies of young people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years so that they can establish their own businesses. Goodluck Jonathan also continued the infrastructural projects and amnesty programme he inherited from Yar’Adua, converted the seven-point agenda into the transformation agenda, and introduced some important reforms in the public, banking and agricultural sectors to curb corruption. Nigeria got her best rating in the corruption perception index of Transparency International (TI) during Jonathan’s presidency.