By Dele Sobowale
The outing was a sign of success since the legal team was able to convince the court to halt the execution of the judgment and also secure its nod to proceed on appeal against the award” – Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. September 29, 2019.
“Every country has the government it deserves” – Joseph De Maistre, 1753-1821 (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 80).
Nigeria is in this serious mess because My Fellow Citizens (“I am beginning to wonder how many fools it takes to make the term ‘My Fellow Citizens’” according to Honour De Balzac, 1799-1850), including people who had received the nation’s highest honours and occupied the highest political offices, have either been conscienceless criminals individuals or so absolutely incompetent as to leave one wondering if we will ever get out of this mess without serious and everlasting damage to our country. Contrary to Abubakar Malami’s attempt to be upbeat about the outcome of our first court appearance, experience both at home and abroad will point to the fact that only the minimum relief had been granted to Nigeria and under very stiff conditions. For a poor country, which is still struggling to fund this year’s budget, three months to the end of the year, a $200 million (N700-720BN) cheque is not one we can write without doing more severe damage to the 2019 Budget which is already a colossal failure.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings” – William Shakespeare, 1564-1616, in JULIUS CAESAR.
When the year ends, 2019 would have been the fourth disastrous economic year in a row under the Buhari/Osinbajo administration. No other government which lasted more than three years, since 1960, has ever raked up such a dismal record. They are hereby listed for those who doubt that statement. They include Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, General Yakubu Gowon, General Olusegun Obasanjo, President Shehu Shagari, President Ibrahim Babangida, General Sani Abacha, President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan. In fact under Gowon, the economy grew at up to 7 per cent per annum for three years; while under Jonathan, we averaged over 5 per cent per annum. Even Abacha gave us over 3 per cent. None of those governments presented Nigerians with a record such as Gross Domestic Product, GDP, growth of: -1.4% (2016), 0.8% (2017), 1.98% (2018) and most definitely less than 2.0% for 2019. Cumulatively, that translates to 0.85% per annum over four years. Meanwhile, the population was growing at estimated 3% per annum or at over 12% during the same period – or 14 times the GDP growth. Yet, nobody in this government raised alarm at the increasingly disastrous development which is now the major stimulator of crime in all its aspects in Nigeria today. Unless there is a radical change, by 2023, nobody will care much who succeeds Buhari. Life, already hellish, will be more so.
To say we deserve the punishment is to say the least. The handwriting was clearly on the wall by the time we went to the polls this year. Yet the “majority” were herded, like cattle, to the polls to re-elect the same government which had already sent an economy which was down on its knees flat on its back. Along the way, global study groups had revealed to ‘My Fellow Citizens’ that Nigeria had overtaken India as the poverty capital of Nigeria and we are now adding six poor people to the pool every minute without any concerted or credible effort by the federal and state governments – mostly controlled by the All Progressive Congress, APC – to halt the slide into deeper mass poverty and destitution. The most visible response by the FG was the TraderMoni scheme which was pathetic because all it did was to mimic the senselessness of Yahoo Boys spraying dollars at parties without making a dent on the contours of poverty in Nigeria. One would search in vain throughout history without coming across another example of a top government official in any civilised country abusing the country’s currency that way. It was cheap politics and costly economics.
“We have met the enemy and they are ours” – Oliver H Perry, after the Battle of Lake Erie.
There is no better way to understand the problem we find ourselves in than by looking critically at how we got into the $9.6bn mess and how we continue with the effort to extricate ourselves than by acknowledging what we already know – that the plot to defraud Nigeria so massively was hatched by top level Nigerians with close links to the Presidency, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. There is also the possibility that a former Chief Justice of Nigeria might have had a hand in it. These, perhaps, no more than seventy pillars of the Nigerian society got us into more trouble than thousands of Yahoo Boys or hundreds of thousands of armed robbers. Despite Malami’s statemet about prosecuting those involved, Nigerians know better. They know that few, if any of the real culprits, will be prosecuted and jailed. Notwithstanding the court which convicted a few Nigerian employees of P&ID, which was an amateurish way of procuring an alibi for the appeal in the UK, the case will not end until the end of this government. Malami, who started it, will be a spectator at last. See what has happened to the Malabu case.
P&ID, like Malabu, was a scam originated and perfected by Nigerians, in and out of governments and who only sought the assistance of foreigners as accomplices. When the authorised agents of government who had signed several agreements on its behalf before and after a particular one signed the one in contention, even a damn fool knows that government has a difficult case on its hands. The Minister of Petroleum is not a low level official and should be presumed to know what is appropriate to sign. The same can be said about other signatories to the agreement. The FG which now seeks to disclaim them had all the time from 2010 to do so; but, neglected to do it. Had that been done when the judgment was first delivered, Nigeria would not be facing a $9.6bn judgment now. Even if nothing else, the accumulated interest which drove the damages to that level can only be regarded as our fault. It was gross and deliberate dereliction of duty by all the Ministers of Petroleum, Finance and Justice. Four of those years must necessarily be charged to the account of Mr Malami despite his desperate attempts to bamboozle us with untenable excuses. Had he acted in 2015, we would not be so deep in the black hole. That fact cannot be denied.
At any rate, what had Malami secured for us from his day in the London court? The answer is: very little. The court has merely granted Nigeria leave to appeal the judgment. Even if Malami does not know, there are at least six Ministers on Buhari’s cabinet who must know that grant of appeal does not mean you have won the case. And, in a matter such as this, the possibilities range from the Court of Appeal upholding the judgment to throwing it out or reducing the penalty. We are doomed if Nigeria loses on appeal. P&ID will most likely head to the Supreme Court if it loses. Either way, we are in for a long ride on this one.
Our hope for substantial or total relief apparently rests mostly on the judgment delivered by the Federal High Court in Abuja against the P&ID staff arrested and charged. That “judgment” reminded students of history of the Moscow Trials during murderous dictator Josef Stalin’s, 1922-1953, reign of terror in the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR. Unfortunate individuals were arrested on trumped up charges, tortured or scared to death and forced to plead guilty to the charges preferred against them. They were immediately sentenced to long terms with hard labour. Nobody on earth was in doubt about what the outcome of the case was going to be. The FG needed that verdict as a minimum defence strategy. And a judge did his “patriotic duty” to provide the needed support.
However, Malami and his team of lawyers appear to forget that the British Court is not subservient to the whims and caprices of the FGN. It is a safe bet that P&ID will endeavour to make that judgment inadmissible in evidence in Britain. We may be held up on that objection alone for quite a while. What then happens if the Abuja judgment is declared inadmissible? What is Plan B?
At any rate, by asking the FG to make a security deposit of $200 million, the court already has imposed a penalty on Nigeria and Nigerians. Two options are available to us — we pay — and take a risk of losing on appeal. In which case, the $200m becomes the down payment on a monstrous bill. Or we fail to pay and prolong the agony for ourselves. Contrary to the re-assurances Malami is giving, the road ahead is strewn with mines and grenades. One question which Nigerians should be asking Malami is: why wait till now to arrest and prosecute people who were in Nigeria all along and who had been allowed to walk about free until the nation’s survival is threatened? Why was the file gathering dust since 2015?
If the prosecution and sentencing of two people in Nigeria does not guarantee Nigeria relief, the promise to extradite those abroad appears to be an even longer and more tedious as well as less promising process. First, they must reside in countries with which we have bilateral agreements. Second, they will not come without giving us a run for our money. Our attempts to get Dan Etete, a former Minister for Petroleum, should serve as warning. We are now embarking on the same wild goose chase with Diezani Madueke. If they have enough money, they can simply move elsewhere. Certainly, we will still be waiting for more accused persons to arrive and face trial when Buhari will be returning home to Daura.
It has been necessary to go to this length to establish the point that we are faced with the worst possible period in our national life. And, some of the grim consequences are already staring us in the face.
“What will posterity think of us when it reads what an idol we adored?” – Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784.
For that matter, what will they think of us when Nigerians in the future read about most of the idols we have adored – Heads of State, Presidents, Governors, Ministers, Chief Justices? I ask because of what is happening to our kids right now. Crime has now become their only means of employment. Furthermore, they are no longer remorseful when caught at it. After all, they read how the FG treats a Maina who had been accused of embezzling several hundred times more money than they did.
Opening any newspapers these days, and despite the sameness of stories on the crime pages, one is struck by the frightening number of our young people, male and female, arrested every day. That observation leads to two questions. Are we now going to embark on building only more prisons for the young people? And, is that the legacy this government will leave for future generations?