By Eric Teniola
IN June 2005 we were so ecstatic in celebrating the debt relief offered us, a relief of over $20 billion, which was beyond the total revenue of Nigeria for one year.
So happy were we that President Olusegun Obasanjo had to make a broadcast to the nation on June 30, 2005. He followed the broadcast by appearing before the joint sitting of the National Assembly on July 26, 2005 to speak on the issue.
In the broadcast, he declared: “How did we work to get out of this debt quagmire? We did it by resolving and working hard to break with the past; by identifying new voices and new leaders; and by rejecting business as usual and voting for new values of accountability, transparency, fair competition, social justice and the upliftment of the living standards of Nigerians.
“We revamped our institutions and put in place an economic agenda that reduced the role of the state in the economy while strengthening the place and role of private investors. We mounted a vigorous global campaign to make a good case for debt relief”. He commended the economic management team and assured that Nigeria will never fall into such trap again.
“How about the future? We must learn from the past. We must all show collective responsibility to prevent a return to the past. We must all commit ourselves to protecting, rather than squandering the future of our children. We must all agree not to remove the solid blocks on which our nation stands by accumulating debts that we cannot repay. May God never let us go through this painful path again.”
We were all so happy at that time. Several people commended government for the action, including Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie and General Yakubu Gowon (retd). Others who commended the government at that time were the Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, the Speaker of the House of Representatives at that time, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari, former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
Others were Alhaji Mohammed Danjuma Goje, Abdullahi Adamu, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Chief Ebere Udeagu, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Chief Sunday Fajimi, Engr. Hamman Tukur, Ambassador Agboola Isaac Aluko-Olokun, Honourables Farouk Lawan, John Agoda, Kayode Amusan and Kelechi Nwagwu; Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, Oba Omo N’Oba Erediauwa, Reverend Dr. Wilson Badejo; Mrs. Oluremi Oyo, Alhaji Mansur Ahmed, Alhaji Lateef Owoyemi, Mr. Charles Ugwu, Dr. Sonnu Folorunso Kuku, Dr. Cecilia Ibru, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Chief Frank Kokori, Mr. Harry Nwana, Dr. Elizabeth Solere, Brig. Gen (retd.) Mohammed Buba Marwa, Prince Chidi Chukwuani, Mr. Kenneth Orkuma Hembe, Comrade Zik Gbemre, Mr. Cordel Okafor, Mr. Bisi Olawunmi, Dr. Uma Eleeazu, Dr. Stanley Macebuh, Prof. Nimi Briggs, Mr. Chijama Ogbu, Mr. Joseph Omowa, Mr. Adesoji Olugbenga, Mr. Moses Olurunwa, Dr. Boniface Chizea and others.
Others outside Nigeria who commended the central government at that time were the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary UK., Mr. Idrissa Thiam, Senior Resident Representative of IMF in Nigeria, Ms Romilly Greenhill, Policy Officer, Action Aid and Mr. Marc Balston, Debt Strategist, Deutsche Bank, London. To me the comment of General Yakubu Gowon (85), was most meaningful.
He was in power for nine uninterrupted years and throughout his tenure, 1966 to 1975, Nigeria did not borrow a kobo. He should be commended along with his Ministers of Finance who managed Nigeria’s finance during the civil war, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (March 6, 1909-May 9, 1987); Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari (February 25, 1925 – December 28, 2018); and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance at that time, Prince Abdul Aziz Attah, son of the late Attah of Igbirra in Kogi State. General Gowon said at that time: “Let’s hope that no government will ever again commit the future generation to such a heavy burden of debt”.
Let me say a word about Prince Attah. He was educated at Okene Elementary and Middle Schools between 1926 and 1935. In 1936 he entered the Achimota College, Ghana, and studied there until 1944 when he went to Belliol College, Oxford, England, graduating in 1947 in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Returning to Nigeria the following year, he entered the government service as Cadet Administrative Officer in the then unified Nigeria Public Services.
He served in Calabar, Opobo, Ikot-Ekpene and former Southern Cameroons, all then under the Eastern Region, and after the division of the Public Service continued to serve in that Region; he was District Officer in Umuahia before obtaining the important post of Private Secretary to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier of the Eastern Region.
Then he was Secretary to the Agent-General for the Region in Britain; Training Officer in the Regional Ministry of Finance, Enugu; and Secretary for Annang Province.