By KENECHUKWU OBIEZU

Out of Nigeria’s 63 years as an independent country, the military has exercised power for about 28 years. Democracy made a belated return in 1999 and has been in place since then. While the argument that there has been enough time to make headway is fair, it also represents a fair argument to say that the foundations laid for the country’s peace,progress and prosperity were almost irreparably compromised when the military exercised power at different points of the country’s national life.

And what was the legacy of the men who broke out of the barracks to bulldoze their way into the country`s corridors of power? To justify their actions, they have always maintained that they were on rescue missions. But the military men who barreled their way into power in Nigeria, battering all that stood in their way, left behind a broken country as they retreated to the barracks in the face of a democratic surge that was not to be stopped

 A leprous legacy

Between the many military Generals who ruled Nigeria since the first military coup in 1966, Nigeria was torn apart as prey between a clan of hyenas. Under the crushing boots of the men who jumped into a space they were so ill-equipped for, and the iron fists with which they ruled, Nigeria suffocated. 

The country’s image as a burgeoning democracy was shredded, just as its reputation as Africa’s great hopes was dashed. At home, life which had found new meaning after independence in 1960 returned to its pre-independence slug as a people who had put up with colonial oppression, suppression and repression for more than 50 years were confronted with a new kind of bitter pill which was entirely homemade.

Under different military regimes, those who dared to demand freedom for Nigerians were ruthlessly treated by agents of a state that was pseudo because it lacked any patina of legitimacy. Dozens were killed under various military regimes.

When in 1993, under the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, a presidential election that was supposed to usher in a new dawn forNigeria was sacrilegiously annulled, it appeared that the final nail had been driven into Nigeria’s coffin.

 Before the annulment, it had appeared that there was no real commitment to returning the country to civilians by the Babangida administration. The suspect haste with which the elections were annulled was telling. But more telling was the fact that the chaos enabled yet another military regime to take over. General Sani Abacha had worked closely with General Babangida. In the carefully designed uncertainty surrounding the annulment, he rode into power via yet another military coup. 

 His five years in power between 1993 and 1998 brought with it a blizzard of assassinations, and unrivalled plunder of public funds.

In 1998, Abacha died in mysterious circumstances. His death paved the way for Nigeria to return to democracy but also lifted the curtain on just how much the Kano strongman stole from Nigeria.

He did not only steal from Nigeria on an unprecedented scale. In choosing to stash his loot in countries around the world, Abacha ensured that posthumously, he continues to paint Nigeria as a country caked in corruption and kleptocracy. Yet, to many,  he remains a hero. In their eerie estimation, the Nigerian hero is not the one without sin but the one who showed pluck in committing sin.

A litany of loot

 An inventory of what Abacha stole from Nigeria reads like some thriller out of Hollywood.  In 1998, $750 million was recovered from the Abacha family. In 2000, $64 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2002, $1.2 billion was recovered from the Abacha family. In 2003, $88 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2003, $160 million was recovered from New Jersey. In 2005, $461.3 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2006, $44.1 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2014, $227 million was recovered from Liechtenstein. In 2018, $322 million was recovered from Switzerland. In 2020, $311.7 million was recovered from New Jersey.

  The Federal Government of Nigeria recently signed an agreement with the government of the United States of America,USA, to repatriate the total sum of $23,439,724 looted by Abacha to Nigeria.

 Given the trajectory of the funds so far recovered, it is almost certain that more money stolen will be uncovered and repatriated back to Nigeria where they may still be plundered under an administration that has so far paid only lip service to fighting corruption.

 Even in death, Abacha`s unprecedented kleptocracy continues to haunt Nigeria, indicting all those countries that provided safe haven for his loot, and showing a new generation of Nigerian kleptocrats that in a country where the system is loose and permissive, anything at all is possible.

 If today, corruption is ingrained in the psyche of the everyday Nigerian, the foundations were firmly laid under the various military regimes which oppressed the country at different times.

 The story of Nigeria’s journey to its current sorry state will never be complete without this part of it. Current and future governments of Nigeria owe Nigerians not only a responsibility to ensure that the repatriated funds are not further plundered, but that it shall no longer be possible for anyone to steal Nigerians blind. 

To do otherwise would be to pay homage to thieves and their memories.

According to the report, the total value of non-oil exports in the first half of the year, January to June 2022, was about $2.60 billion up 62.37 per cent from the respective $1.60 billion and $981.44 million recorded in the first halves of 2021 and 2020. This rebound should be sustained through giving of more incentives to exporters and targeted financing for export infrastructure. The Export4Survival campaign by the NEPC introduced in February, should be sustained to raise public knowledge on opportunities in the industry and to emphasise the advantages of exporting Nigerian goods and services to boost our GDP and shared prosperity”, the LCCI President said.

In the same vein, the Chairman, Export Group of LCCI, Mrs. Bosun Solarin, who gave further insights into the discourse, admitted that the symposium was timely and coming up when Nigeria was in dire need of foreign exchange, and that the world was earnestly waiting to see the effective take-off of AfCFTA that is capable of elevating 30 million people out of abject poverty and generating market hub that would connect 1.3 billion people from 55 countries with US$3.4tn aggregate Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

She said the actualisation of the benefits of the legislation remains elusive without effective distribution channel in which logistics play an indispensable role of bridging the gap between the dreams and realities of AfCFTA. Mrs. Solarin informed that the presence of experts in the logistics industry, and captains of export business would make it possible do a critical examination of the role of logistics in AfCFTA from trajectories with insightful contributions for all participants.

The chairman, while reiterating the fact that reliable transportation was critical to trade and development, tasked relevant stakeholders to put in place policies that would make Nigeria’s export very competitive. 

In summary, what we need to put in place to make AfCTA impactful include tapping from several programmes and opportunities at the regional, continental and international levels that exporters can benefit from such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) as well as Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS); exporting of primary products to the global community with value addition; need for regulatory agencies to strengthen the means of communication, to close the information gap between the agencies and players; incorporation of communication plan and strategy for feedback and continuous interactions; promotion of digitisation and automation of processes and procedures; creation of more awareness; building of capacity of the public sector trade regulators; embracing Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model;  putting in place effective distribution channel whereby logistics play an indispensable role of bridging the gap between the dreams and realities of AfCFTA, among others.

Obiezu, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos

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