By Tabia Princewill
LAST week Kadaria Ahmed, host of “The candidates” interviewed PDP Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi with interesting results. Atiku said corruption is “the use of your privileged position to enrich yourself, your relatives or friends”. Interestingly, during a business summit in Lagos recently, he said, on live television: “I am not going to enrich members of my family but my friends.”
Having expressed his thoughts and feelings, it appears the appropriate term to qualify his performance isn’t a “lapse” or a “slip” but rather a radically different conception of governance, it is now up to Nigerians to decide what they believe our country needs at this juncture.Very few working-class Nigerians understand why Nigeria is poor. Neoliberal policies, encouraged by the World Bank and the IMF were the impetus for privatisation which sadly resulted in the sale of critical state assets to politically connected persons who mismanaged and destroyed companies which should have been mass employers of labour.
Crony-capitalism, as practiced in Nigeria, hasn’t enabled development: privatised companies aren’t better run than the corrupt state funded, state backed enterprises they sought to replace. Atiku was the head of the National Council on Privatization and although he admitted “mistakes” were made, he made light of one of the most fundamental issues affecting Nigeria’s economic underdevelopment. He claimed to be the most investigated politician in Nigeria’s history, yet, the privatization exercise remains shrouded in mystery.
Kadaria Ahmed wasn’t shy, she asked what most Nigerians wonder, how a customs officer at the Apapa Ports managed to set up a logistics company servicing the same customs where he was already working: isn’t that “abuse of office?” she asked. She was inching closer to the question about Atiku’s co-ownership of INTELS. Atiku’s answer was “Atikulated” in the sense that it revealed much of his mindset and thought process: “well, it was an issue of share purchase.
At that point, it was very very lawful for any public officer to purchase shares. You must remember – I don’t know how old you were – there was indigenisation decree which was passed by the then military government which allowed public officers to legitimately acquire shares in the attempt to indigenise most of the companies that were operating at that time that were owned by expatriates.”
Nigerian laws, thus taken out of context, are often a catalogue of ambiguous, ready-made excuses for what in any other climes would be easily condemnable. Indigenisation and later, privatization, were used as a pretext to empower those already within the system to further appropriate riches and solidify their access to resources. Indigenization was supposed to empower private citizens, not government officials and civil servants. Attempts to use the law to defend the economic rights of well-connected, privileged Nigerians shows how the system protects itself and benefits only those already within.
Kadaria continued: “this company metamorphosed in 2006, and was given extended 25-year concession in some key ports in this country. But more than that, it was given monopoly for the oil and gas sector, at a time you were the Vice-President of Nigeria. Do you see that this could be a moral problem?” Atiku denied the monopoly but Kadaria insisted: “this information is on your company website” to which Atiku curiously responded “you should have also crosschecked to see whether what the company is saying is correct or not”.
The conversation took a surreal twist when Kadaria said: “your company made a mistake on whether you have a monopoly?” to which Atiku replied: “it is possible” which doesn’t quite deny the monopoly nor does it explain how the company could have made such a mistake. Which is worse, that the company possibly lied about the monopoly to seem bigger than it is or that someone in the company believes the monopoly is “normal”? Or that Atiku himself couldn’t categorically deny it?
Politicians obtain business opportunities due to their proximity to government, corner entire industries and boast about it through PR firms and media houses who give them “man of the year” or “business man of the year” awards, a veneer of respectability to cover actions which in the US, would demand anti-trust lawsuits. Antitrust laws regulate businesses to promote competition and fight monopolies for the benefit of customers/consumers, and protect them from predatory business practices.
Kadaria asked Obi to explain why he invested $30 million of Anambra State funds in a company belonging to his family. If this is true, it’s no wonder he insists the Buhari administration mustn’t focus on corruption. He said the company belonged to his parents, to which many social media users responded: “No denial? And what sort of excuse is that?” This same mind-set allows a chief justice of the federation to say he simply “forgot” huge sums in foreign currency were in his accounts.
Asked if he would prosecute his friends, Atiku described corruption in the judiciary while ironically ignoring the Onnoghen issue. How does one fight corruption, if the head of the judiciary is himself accused of corruption and won’t step aside to allow a full investigation? Perhaps the most thrilling moment came when a young man listed Atiku’s “sins” as noted by his former boss, former President Obasanjo.
Neither Atiku nor Obi denied the charges or the points Obasanjo raised, preferring to insist Obasanjo had changed his mind. Peter Obi used the curious analogy of a referee who goes back to watch the match replay, forgetting the match is public and if the referee changes his mind, it’s based on verifiable evidence. Public finances in Nigeria are opaque (again, the privatization process remains a mystery), the public has only Obasanjo’s “word” to go by (and he seems to frequently change his opinion on matters depending on political realities and options available) and anyway, if Atiku “repented”, doesn’t that mean he sinned?
And if all one needs to do, to be absolved of a crime is to be sorry, then why do we bother having a legal system? Such a discussion is possible only in Nigeria where self-interest is preferred to the truth about corruption and how it stalls national development.
THE spokesman of President Buhari’s Campaign Organisation, isn’t impressed by different socio-cultural groups’ endorsements of Atiku. Everyone has a right to support whoever they please but he does have a point when he points out that Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Northern Elders Forum, the Pan-Niger Delta forum, the Middle Belt Forum, have always leaned towards the PDP.
To quote Mr. Keyamo “these groups supported PDP and lost the election along with PDP. In the past, it used to be that some of these individuals used the names of these groups and platforms to purport to represent their people and as such enjoyed huge government patronage.
“The proceeds of this patronage have never trickled down to their people but ended up in their pockets and benefitted only their immediate families. This is in perfect tune with the campaign promise of Atiku Abubakar to enrich only his friends. Therefore, like bees and honey, these people and Atiku Abubakar are attracted to themselves”.
Is it impossible to ask for our national politics not to be conducted within the framework of ethno-religious support? In Nigeria, the practice has been to form groups to “advocate” for a certain region or ethnic group which often amounts to serving narrow class interests with no end in sight.
Big Brother Naija
THE TV show held auditions in different states last week and hundreds of thousands of young people showed up for a chance at stardom. The BBN prize is $100,000. There is currently no national prize in Nigeria to recompense intellectual endeavour which pays that amount. Our youth see reality TV as their only chance at success: superficiality, like corruption will kill us all.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.