By Dele Sobowale
I believe that Ibrahim Babangida is really one of those who brought this country down. He was the one who legitimised corruption. He made it legitimate and an acceptable way of life. He didn’t see anything wrong in being corrupt and he allowed people to do it” – Professor Itse Sagay, DAILY INDEPENDENT, October 3, 2019, p 13.
Sagay was one of the public commentators for whom I had the greatest respect. But, that has changed. The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, has also changed. PACAC, in my view, does everything but advise Buhari on the real nature of corruption. In fact, the transformation of once beloved prof reminds one of the observation by Horace, 65-8BC, who asked rhetorically, “What does corrupting time not diminish?…” I may be wrong, but, there is a feeling that since Sagay joined the “food is ready” group of people inside the Rock, things have not been the same. Buhari is totally right and his critics are absolutely wrong according to Sagay. That itself is self-condemning. My ten-year-old granddaughter knows that only God is perfect.
“It is easy to be consistent, but, nobody can be consistent to the bitter end” – Albert Camus, 1903-1960, French Philosopher and Nobel Prize Winner.
Our former comrade-in-arms made one grievous slip before when he became selective about a court case decided in Nigeria concerning corrupt politicians. We forgave him for two reasons. First, nobody is perfect. Second, everyone has interests which they defend vigorously – even if it involves violation of the principles they generally espouse. Sagay’s defense of an outrageous Nigerian court judgment has been forgiven; not forgotten. It was about corruption.
General Ibrahim B Babangida, IBB, was only one of the Nigerian leaders with whom I had a lot of disagreements while he was in office from 1985 to 1993. I was such a harsh critic of the regime’s fiscal and monetary policies, that I was quietly invited and briefly detained three times during his tenure. My first encounter with the officials of the “benevolent dictator” – as the ever smiling head of state was called – was when I got published an article in VANGUARD on a Monday, under my regular column MARKETFACT which started in 1987. The article titled CONFUSED BANK OF NIGERIA, CBN, so infuriated the late Governor of Central Bank, Ahmed, that I was not only whisked from my office at the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM, in Victoria Island, to CBN headquarters, then in Lagos, I was also detained for a whole day. Two more trips to brief detention were to follow.
The second followed my publication in this paper that the Political Transition Programme embarked upon and totally financed by the Federal Government would end up costing N40 billion. I was pulled in to find out who was providing me the figures until I showed the interrogator all the calculations on which the figure – now widely quoted — was based. The man shook his head and said, “You should be working for government. You are so meticulous.” I replied, “Never. Working for government will amount to working for liars. I don’t want to spend any part of my life doing that.” We shook hands. He went back to work; so did I.
My third encounter was with people attached to the late Admiral Aikhomu, then-Chief of General Staff, CGS, and Vice President. Aikhomu had at one function announced that the Transition Programme was progressing satisfactorily. Then he took a swipe at the “prophets of doom” – meaning those of us who were sceptical that return to civil rule in 1992 was certain. Well, I must confess to being one of the “prophets of doom” and I replied the CGS by drawing attention to a “Hidden Agenda” aimed at subverting the transition in 1992. Another invitation followed. “Are you calling the CGS a liar?”
“I was not, but can somebody call me when the civilian President is sworn in October 1, 1992?” History has already recorded what happened.
I returned to the past in order to arrive at the present and to make readers understand why I rise in defense of some one whose government ruffled my feathers against a former comrade-in-arms. Times have changed and we must change with it. But, truth is constant – irrespective of who is involved.
The vendor brought my copy of DAILY INDEPENDENT and VANGUARD on Thursday, October 3, 2019 and I was in a hurry. But, people like prof always attract my attention. I must read them. Nigerian professors in the public domain since the 1990s have not given good account of themselves. Once appointed to office, they turn to cheerleaders for the administration they serve. The first thing that caught my attention was the summary by Temidayo Akinsuyi, who wrote that “He [Sagay] also spoke on how the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has greatly dealt with corruption in the country.” Really! Was Sagay talking of our Nigeria or another country? I read more and came across the statement at the beginning of this article. It was astonishing coming from a professor of law who is approximately the same age as me and who only needs to recollect a few things which happened in the past to know that he was, at least, “exaggerating”. That is being polite. The milk of human kindness flows.
“You are entitled to your opinions; you are not entitled to your own facts” – Senator (Harvard University Professor) Daniel Moynihan, NY, NY, USA.
The obvious question is: what could be responsible for the easily demonstrable misstatement of facts by a professor of law who must be regarded as an expert on fact-based evidence? To that, I confess, I have no concrete answer. Babangida and Sagay might have had cause for disagreement in the past. Life-long enmity is a fact of life. What bothers me is the deliberate distortion of history offered as fact by someone in transient possession of public attention. What follows is a brief summary of Nigerian history with corruption which calls into question Sagay’s sweeping statement. There is no dispute with prof’s right to his opinions. But, professors occupy a special niche in every human society. Millions of people believe what they say. That places them under special obligation to be careful about their utterances. It is my opinion that Sagay had been careless with his.
“Even God cannot change the past” – Agathon, 447-4014 BC.
Nigerian brand of corruption (which President Jonathan wrongly described as “just stealing”) had been with us even before independence in 1960. The Foster Sutton Enquiries into the affairs of the African Continental Bank, ACB, founded by the Eastern Regional Government, under Premier Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, established widespread looting of the bank by top government officials. Only the frantic and desperate efforts of the Ibo State Union and members of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, NCNC – the party led by the great Zik — saved the government. Even my own father, a die-hard Zikist, withdrew deposits from the Barclays Bank DCO ( now Union Bank) and the Bank of British West Africa ( now First Bank) to deposit in ACB to save Zik from embarrassment.
After Chief Awolowo went to jail for treasonable felony, the inquiry into Western Regional Accounts by the Akintola-led government revealed massive corruption. One of the largest estates in Lagos till today was cited among the proceeds of corruption at the time.
Even if Sagay cannot recollect those two instances, he cannot possibly forget that under General Yakubu Gowon, ten per cent was routinely added to any government contract. The downfall of Gowon and the rise of Murtala Mohammed provided for the first massive indictment of top government officials from Super-Perm Secretaries to Customs Controller and state Governors. Only three Governors were exonerated – Brigadier Bolaji Johnson of Lagos, General Adebayo of Western State and Audu Bako of Kano. All the rest were indicted for corrupt self-enrichment. IBB was not then near the corridors of power.
Sagay should certainly remember that when the coup of December 31, 1983 brought an end to the Second Republic, nineteen governors were taken before the Tribunals established by the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Of the nineteen Governors investigated, only Pa Ajasin of Ondo, Clement Isong of Cross River (including Akwa Ibom at the time) and Jakande of Lagos State were exonerated. The rest were jailed with Jim Nwobodo of Anambra State (now broken into Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi) bagging the longest jail term of 44 years. Commissioners and Ministers also went to jail. Altogether, the state governors, Okilo. Lar, Rimi, Prof. Ambrose Ali, Ige etc, during the Second Republic secured loans which in today’s exchange rate would run into about N2 trillion with little to show for it. That was before IBB. (See my book IBRAHIM B. BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM).
Professor Sagay was certainly a middle level staff member in the university system when the Buhari administration introduced the FORM M exchange control method. It has been the most corrupt foreign exchange allocation method ever devised in this country. I was in the private sector and unfortunately, several individuals still alive and who took part in the foreign exchange racket at the time might not want to talk out of fear of reprisals.
Under FORM M, unknown companies allegedly owned by northerners received more exchange allocation than UAC of Nigeria – which at the time was the largest conglomerate in Nigeria. I was the middle man between North Brewery, Kano and well-connected Kano leaders who got more dollars allocated to them directly than the brewery which was the biggest employer of labour in the state. The allocations were actually published in newspapers at the time.
One Minister bought a private jet in less than nine months in office!!! Talk of power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely, the corruption was boldly advertised and Nigerians were dared to protest. Only the NNPC was more corrupt than the CBN under Buhari. All these occurred before Babangida took over.
Among the first measures of the IBB regime was the liberalisation of foreign exchange. Even Sagay is a beneficiary of the change. Granted, it did not eliminate corruption totally; nothing does. But, it was no longer as concentrated in a few hands as under FORM M.
“Charity begins at home”. If the IBB regime was so totally corrupt, then the first beneficiaries must be the Ministers. Here are some of the names of IBB’s Ministers and I challenge Sagay to point to one who was ever accused of corruption compared to some of their counterparts today.
Justice (Prince) Bola Ajibola, Professor Jubril Aminu, Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Lt-General Akinriande, Major-General Mamman Kontagora, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji (triple A), Dr Chu S P Okongwu, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. The original Secretary to the Federal Government was Chief Olu Falae. (For the complete list see pages 52-53 of the book). Compare them with those in office now.
Those who “eat” in fragile glass houses should not throw hard bones….
To be continued…