By Dele Sobowale
“The moving finger writes; and having writ, moves on. Nor all your piety, nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line; nor all your tears wash out a word of it” – Omar Khayyam, 1123AD, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 57.
Plutarch, 46-120, one of the greatest historians, introduced a method into historiography titled, Parallel Lives, in which he compared the rulers who led their people at different times. Except for journalism – the first rough draft of history – or ‘history on the run’ in these days of CNN, BBC News etc – is frequently about things that happened in the past. I borrow from Plutarch to take a quick trip into Nigeria’s history as we enter the last days of 2019. Something extra-ordinary might still occur which could change the course of our history this year. An amendment will be made when that occurs. But, right now, the main outlines of what happened this year is well-known to us. Readers are left to decide whether our nation marched towards the destiny that our founding fathers promised us or we are moving in the wrong direction.
“Every country has the government it deserves” – Joseph De Maistre, 1753-1821.
Irrespective of whether the reader thinks Nigeria is moving in the right direction or not, it can be stated with some degree of assurance that we have the government we deserve. There was an election in February and after all the legal processes have been exhausted, it can be stated authoritatively that Buhari was elected President. Nothing known to man can alter that fact – not even the claim by some people that they did not vote for him. Democracy does not require that you vote for the ultimate winner – or even vote at all. Once the votes are counted, the majority have spoken for the rest. Those who voted and are now regretting doing so have my sympathy. More than in any transaction involving human beings, caveat emptor (or buyer beware) remains a cardinal principle guiding all our choices. Voters should put on their thinking caps when politicians peddle promises which they are unlikely to fulfil when they get elected. Did any newly-elected governor state categorically that he would not pay the N30, 000 minimum wage? As we end the year, workers are still waiting. In Kogi, workers unpaid for months suddenly received their salaries – courtesy of helping hand from the Federal Government. Now the FG is deducting the loan offered to states. The workers are set for four more years of hardship. They voted for it.
The year was characterised by some major events – the general elections constitute only half of the story on elections. This year will go down in history as the year bullets replaced ballots as the means of deciding who wins elections in Nigeria. We now routinely break heads and kill people instead of counting heads and raising hands. The security forces who boasted to us that they were prepared to provide security were either accomplices to mayhem or were reduced to the status of mere observers. The Inspector General of Police, IGP, announced “Fake Police Officers” were responsible without telling us why the real police officers failed to apprehend the criminals tainting the image of the Nigeria Police – assuming that image is not already damaged beyond redemption. Widespread violence is now the new normal in Nigerian elections. Incidentally, elections as war were not an original idea in 2019. It started earlier.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.”
Budget 2019 followed the same course as the four previous years’ budgets. It was not approved by the National Assembly, NASS, until May this year. Close to half of the year was gone. That was bad enough. The budget was an exercise in futility because it was based on revenue estimates that were totally unrealistic. That was worse. The worst aspect was the absolute disregard for the most recent records which would indicate that Nigeria had failed for five years to earn the crude oil revenue envisaged in each year’s budget. Common sense would dictate a review of the budgeting process. Common sense is a scare commodity in Abuja,
As we end the year, the rubber stamp Senate has before it a request for $30 billion loan by the FG. No need to cry over spilled milk. Lawan was installed as Senate President for that purpose. Generations of Nigerians will suffer for what started as a loan request in 2019.
“My way of joking is to tell the truth…” George Bernard Shaw.
Ten years ago, precisely, 2009, the late President Yar’Adua was first flown to Germany for treatment. The man, as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, had previously collapsed during a campaign rally in 2007. That episode led to then-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s rib-cracker – “Umoru are you dead?” It also provided an insight into the minds of Nigerian political leaders. It was during that campaign that Obasanjo proclaimed election as “a do-or-die affair”. Nobody in the PDP raised objections to OBJ’s reckless utterances because they were in control of the security forces. Baba Iyabo established a precedent. So if PDP members are now dying, the party has its former leader to thank for it.
In two articles I published in 2009 and titled, OPEN LETTER TO MRS TURAI YAR’ADUA, the widow of the late President was advised in the first one to persuade her husband, whose health was rapidly deteriorating, to resign and hand over to his Vice President. “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” That was the advice. She did not. In the second letter, Madam was told to forget about her husband returning to office fit and able to carry on. He never did until he passed on. That was bad enough. The worst part of the era was the sad legacy his administration left us. Yar’Adua was not involved; but, the $9.02 billion judgment handed down by a London court started when close associates of the late President allegedly took advantage of his ill-health to perpetrate that scam which has now constituted a serious threat to the nation’s economic well-being. One can only pray that we can get out of the trap with minimum damage to the nation.
The Minister of Justice, Malami, appears to be chasing shadows with regard to the $9.02 billion claim. The FG is holding two foreigners as hostages instead of going after the Nigerians who master-minded the alleged scam. One principal collaborator is already dead; but, there is no way his reputation will not be tarnished for his major role in this matter which had its origin in 2009.
“Promises, like pie-crusts, are made to be broken” – Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745.
In 1999, Obasanjo became President. Shortly after his election, the man who once placed a sign on his front gate at Sango-Ota reading “JOURNALISTS AND DOGS KEEP OFF” granted his first interview to CNN – not to the Nigerian media. Obviously, OBJ’s charity begins abroad. Asked what would be his priority, he promptly provided the answer. He would eradicate poverty and fight corruption “to a standstill”. In an article published in the SUNDAY VANGUARD, titled “To My Brother Alex Ekwueme”, I made the following observations in response to that interview. Permit me to summarise.
First, I noted that a President elected by a party parading those who entrenched corruption in Nigeria can only fulfil that promise if he is ready to fight his own backers “to a standstill”. Most likely, he will quietly allow them to loot as usual.
Second, the composition of the party did not include people with a track record of working to alleviate poverty. The poor will merely be used as fronts for corruption. Nothing meaningful will happen.
One single step taken by Obasanjo established the template for what happened later. Most of the rest are captured in PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED.
The N10 billion given to Tony Anenih in 1999 for the Poverty Alleviation Programme, PAP, failed to alleviate poverty. And, there is no report or record anywhere telling Nigerians how N10 billion (a huge sum in 1999) vanished. About N8 trillion went unaccounted for in Obasanjo’s eight years as detailed in that book. But, the genesis of all the corrupt practices was in 1999.
“The most uncharitable critic of IBB, after experiencing four other administrations (Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, and now Obasanjo) readily conceded that but for the annulment of June 12, 1993, the man IBB would have been an untainted hero” – Double Chief Duro Onabule, Chief Press Secretary in my book IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992 LETTING A THOUSAND FLOWERS BLOOM.
Double Chief Onabule probably wanted to escape being accused of exaggeration as an insider in the Babangida administration. I have no such constraints. I was neither an appointee nor a contractor. In fact, if anything, I was more of an “uncharitable critic”. I became an enthusiastic chronicler of the events of 1989 by accident. One of our present and transient rulers had characteristically made a sweeping derogatory statement about previous Presidents and leaders which I knew was unjustified. Despite their various faults, broad condemnation is frequently inaccurate and unjust. Each leader succeeded or failed in his peculiar way. I read the fellow’s comments while in the Lagos Library of the Ministry of Justice conducting research. The librarian had mistakenly brought me the Decrees of 1989. I opened it and then my eyes were opened. Like most educated adults alive in 1989, I had grown accustomed to judging Babangida and his administration based on mostly sentiments. The error made by the librarian turned the table. I was confronted with objective evidence of great achievements.
Governments in any decent society should be judged by the measures they took to serve the needs of the vast majority of the citizenry. Granted, there is and there had never been a perfect government. But, they range from the absolutely atrocious to the very good. One way of appraising governments is to take a look at the laws passed during their tenure and the enduring legacies they left behind.
“Even God cannot change the past” – Agathon, 447-401.
We have elected Presidents and members of the National Assembly since 1999. They had claimed for themselves scandalous remuneration packages which shock their counterparts the world over.
Yet, it is doubtful if anybody can honestly say that we have benefited from many bills passed in those 20 years as we have been doing since 1989. Time and space do not permit me to render all the decrees passed as well as those whose implementation started in 1989. Below are four selected decrees.
• National Economic Reconstruction Fund, Decree 2
• Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation
• National Directorate of Employment, Decree 24
• Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, Decree 49.
Source: IBRAHIM B BABANGIDA 1985-1992: LETTING A THOUSANDD FLOWERS BLOOM.
The first obvious thing is the fact that a purposeful government passed up to 49 useful laws in one year. The second thing is the fact that without those laws, Nigeria would be a totally different country today. And there are enduring legacies as well. In 1989, the late Major-General Mamman Kontagora, Minister of Works, worked on giving us the Lagos Third Mainland Bridge and they completed it in less time than it had taken to repair half of Lagos-Ibadan express road. Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji (Triple A), Minister of Finance, was working to reduce Nigeria’s debt as much as possible.
NOTE: The books are available at CSS Bookshops, VANGUARD Abuja Office and MM2 as well as GATT Aviation airports in Lagos.