By Dele Sobowale
In every community, there is a class of people profoundly more dangerous to the rest. I don’t mean the criminals. For them we have punitive sanctions. I mean the leaders. Invariably, the most dangerous people seek power— Saul Bellow
THREE Nigerian presidents, named above, their ministers of justice, as well as ministers of finance, have finally landed 190 million fellow citizens in boiling water financially from which only God can deliver us. This predicament readily brings to mind that observation by Honore De Balzac, 1799-1850 in Lost Illusions: “I am beginning to wonder how many fools it takes to make the term “My Fellow Citizens”.
Since January 2010, our three leaders had kept hidden from us an unpleasant truth which would deepen our poverty and make any strong economic recovery totally impossible for years to come. Typical African leaders, they collectively forgot that statement about truth carved on stone by Emile Zola, 1840-1902: “If you shut up truth and bury it underground, it will but grow and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through, it will blow up everything in its way.”
The truth that the Federal Government of Nigeria entered into an agreement in the last days of Yar’Adua, which was hidden from “fellow citizens” since 2010, has finally burst through and is now threatening to blow up everything (mostly the Nigerian economy) in its way.
To begin with, the $9.6 billion judgment against Nigeria represents about 40 per cent of our 2019 Budget and more money we are scheduled to borrow to fund the year’s deficit. To make matters worse, the new Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, has just repeated a half truth which she had been doing since assuming the office. According to her, “I want to restate that our debt is not too high, what we have is a revenue problem.” Economists and experts in public finance will readily inform the Nigerian finance minister that inability to raise the funds to pay your bills constitutes a central part of a debt problem. But, this is not the forum to give tutorials in public (and for that matter private) finance to ministers. From their utterances you know their quality. Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, where are you? Nigeria needs you urgently.
The $9.6billion judgment was the sort of self-inflicted injury which incompetent leadership brings on the people of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular. We should never have been in this predicament if we had real leaders in Abuja. The disaster started during the Yar’Adua administration. As everybody would recollect, the late President was secretly flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment in late 2009. From then and until his death, he was a captive of a kitchen cabinet that held sway until his death.
Calls by patriotic Nigerians – Prof. Wole Soyinka, Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, etc. – for information about his location were resisted by the cabal holding him. They were ably supported by leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as well as the presidential adviser on media until April when Jonathan was allowed to take charge. The contract in question was probably a scam put together by those holding Yar’Adua because there is every reason to believe that the man was in a bad state for months before he was hurriedly discharged by the Saudi hospital to come and die at home instead of a foreign country.
Jonathan and his minister of justice, although not a part of the original plot to foist this bogus contract on Nigeria, took the most stupid decision on this contract. Instead of challenging its authenticity in court, they ignored it for five years; as if by doing so, the problem would go away. It did not. That was a fatal error of judgment which in Stalinist Russia would have seen the perpetrators sent to a Siberian labour camp.
Buhari inherited the rotten potato from Jonathan in 2015. And, just as if to demonstrate that Nigerian leaders basically have the same disdainful attitude towards the rule of law, he and his minister for justice ignored the sword hanging over our heads in far away UK.
Nigerian heads of state traditionally are serial lawbreakers. They blissfully ignore court judgments made against the Federal Government. Since “fish rots from the head”, the Army, Police, Navy, Air Force, FAAN, Ports Authority, as well as other agencies of the Federal Government join in throwing insults at the rule of law. That official lawlessness and the open exhibition of impunity blinded the Federal Government to the fact that their unmitigated disregard for court judgments ends at the Nigerian border.
Now a judgment has been delivered against the Federal Government in another country which does not tolerate bad manners and disregard for court rulings. We were mentally and attitudinally unprepared for it. The judgment was ignored when first delivered. Now penalties have accumulated and we face N3.5 trillion judgment debt to pay. The other party can seize just about anything known to belong to the Federal Government of Nigeria – including the Presidential jet – if it flies into the wrong country.,
Wisdom in people [especially top government officials] consists of the anticipation of consequences— Norman Cousins, US Diplomat (Vanguard Book Of Quotations, VBQ, p 274.
The Minister of Justice, who for four years ignored the matter, while the debt exploded to the new level and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, have promised to appeal the judgment. Obviously, nobody in the governments of Yar’Adua, Jonathan or Buhari – including apparently Okonjo-Iweala – anticipated the repercussions of such a huge judgment delivered against Nigeria in a foreign land.
They went about Federal Government business as if the rest of the world does not exist and our administrative incompetence or bull-headedness will have no impact. Everybody is hopefully learning a new lesson; the the world is now a global village and any nation whose leaders choose to live in the Dark Ages might find itself disgraced by an obscure justice in a court in Croatia, Tobago or Fiji Island. Our SAN Minister will now have to work ten times harder to get us out of the mess than if he and the President had acted in 2015. Where is the wisdom?
This storm blowing across the ocean will not die down without some dire consequences. Only two will now be mentioned. First, minister of finance can anticipate even lower revenue generation on account of this. Nigeria’s crude oil accounts globally and especially in the UK will be the first point of attack. She will have a lot more to worry about by December.
Second, the Southern region of Nigeria should get ready to repay a huge debt which probably arose out of a scam organised and foisted on the entire nation by faceless people when late President Yar’Adua was too incapacitated to think straight. The worst fear I have is that this might not be the last land mine hidden from us by past administrations.
It is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. It is perhaps the end of the beginning—Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965. Britain’s World War II hero.
If this Federal Republic of Nigeria collapses as an economic entity, this swindle would probably constitute one aspect of the beginning of the end.