how to run a government

By Dele Sobowale

I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good character…a man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies” – Oscar Wilde, 1856-1900, VANGUARD BOOK of QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 48.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, opened their national campaign in Akwa Ibom State, AKS, last week. And, except for Adamawa State, where Atiku comes from, and will win easily, they could not have selected a better state to kick off their rallies. If there is one state I can claim to know very well, even more than my own Lagos State, it is AKS.

Even at the risk of being accused of immodesty, I can state that any AKS politician unknown to me is not big or important enough in that state. I can also claim to know the geographical layout of the state better than even most of the indigenes. This is not the time and place to explain what I mean. But, I will recall a period which only the people of AKS will remember very well, will not forget for a long time and which will shape the 2023 elections.

Obong Victor Attah was the Governor from 1999 to 2007. He is an Ibibio in a state comprising of three ethnic groups – Anang, Ibibio and Oron people – with Ibibio people being in the majority. Close to 67 per cent of the state’s population are Ibibios and they spread across all the three senatorial districts – Eket, Ikot Ekpene and Uyo. It was well-known that, left on their own, the Ibibios could, for ever, elect the Governor of the state – just as Tivs in Benue and Igalas in Kogi.

But, towards the end of Attah’s second term in 2006, the political leaders decided to rotate the governorship; in order to allow Anang and Oron people to have a chance of being Governor. Again, without going into too many details, Akpabio, Anang from Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, who was also Attah’s Commissioners for two terms, emerged as the PDP candidate and eventual winner. Only God knows what happened. Within a few months of becoming Governor, Akpabio had turned against his former boss and benefactor.

He went further. He even forced several of his Commissioners, as well as appointees to publicly attack Attah.

Fortunately for Attah, he was not only immensely popular, even till today, he was also the acclaimed Father of Modern Akwa Ibom State. He led the struggle for the creation of the state when Babangida, his friend, was in power. He even gave the state its name. Otherwise, given the absolute power state Governors possess, Attah might not have lived till this day to influence events. The two politicians became sworn enemies from 2007. Akpabio, as the incumbent Governor, took control of the PDP. Suspecting that he might not secure a second term, he waged war on Attah and everybody else likely to oppose his second term bid.

Until 2007, AKS was the most peaceful state in Nigeria. His Excellency, Obong Victor Attah, was Governor from 1999-2007. Ex-Governor Godswill Akpabio succeeded him. By 2009, Akpabio had moved against virtually all opposition forces. Politicians fled the state to Abuja and only one individual was courageous enough to contest the governorship with him in 2011.

Senator James Akpanudoedehe, ex-Minister of State, ex-this, ex-that, an Ibibio, a former National Road Transport leader, tough as stainless steel, was in PDP before Akpabio. He took strong exception to the audacity of an Anang seizing political power in AKS and decided to challenge Akpabio. The reader must believe that I was closely involved in that heroic confrontation.

James decamped to the Action Congress, AC, to contest; and he saw hell. He was arrested and charged with two capital offences and dragged from Abuja to Uyo on trumped-up charges. I had to go and bail him on one occasion. But he survived to contest. Meanwhile, virtually everybody who counted in AKS-PDP, especially Ibibios, had decamped to AC. They were waiting for the opportunity to regain power in Uyo.

The dissidents, including a group of twenty-two, G-22, tried again in 2015 to gain power. Their candidate was Mr Umana O Umana. He ran on ACN ticket; but Akpabio was still Governor and Jonathan was presidential candidate. AKS remained under Akpabio’s control. He went to the Senate. But, his political adversaries never relented.

They strengthened ACN, which later joined the APC coalition. And, despite the fact that Governor Udom Emmanuel is Ibibio, they were prepared to vote him out in 2019, on account of Akpabio. They had another Ibibio waiting in the wings. Akpabio was aware of the plan; then he made the surprise move in 2018 by decamping to APC. That was what saved PDP from losing AKS in 2019 and how APC lost it.

Akpabio also lost his Senate contest. That is not all. It is almost impossible for any political party having Akpabio as member to win a state-wide election in AKS. Right now, APC members know that with Akpabio in their midst, the majority of Ibomites will never vote for the party. Even voters in Ikot-Ekpene Senatorial District know that Akpabio has thrown away any chance for them to be Governor for a long time.

The people of Orom Kingdom have suffered collateral damage on account of what most people regard as the worst form of ingratitude. I was in Uyo earlier this year; and made a dash to Oron to visit a friend. Four politicians were with him. Soon the topic turned to Oron governorship bid. Without exception, they could not foresee that happening in their life time – after what Akpabio did to Attah and Ibibios. They will also vote against any party which includes Akpabio.

Only a great miracle will prevent PDP from winning in AKS. APC received its kiss of death from Akpabio in 2018.  Nothing will revive it this year. So, we have two – Adamawa and AKS – down; and 34 to go.

My unsolicited advice to the APC about AKS is simple. Don’t waste your money on it. Don’t let anybody deceive you.

BUDGETS AND BONDAGE: THE TRAGEDY OF 2023 BUDGET

“Dele, I hope you are listening to the 2023 Budget.”

“No; why should I? It is the same nonsense, by the same people who prepared the last seven. The heads have not changed, the mind-set cannot. Call me tomorrow morning.”

The call came from a friend while Buhari was delivering the budget address. The conversation was as reported above. In order for my friend not to feel bad, that he had wasted his time calling me on an important national matter, I promised to publish a short reaction today – for his sake, for Nigeria’s sake and in order to keep my sanity. All three are important to me.

The first Federal Budget on which I ever commented was that of 1988 – delivered by Babangida. Prepared by intellectual and professional giants – Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr Chu S P Okongwu, Chief Olu Falae, and supported by Professor Jubril Aminu, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and incomparable Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji (triple A) – I still had the gall to find fault with it.

I was not intimidated by reputations or positions. As far as I was concerned, a National Budget presented represents the opening of a dialogue between the government and the governed. They tell us what they propose to do with our lives; and we have a choice to stay silent (meaning consenting to the proposals) or objecting to parts or all of it.

Having learnt from the university that there is no perfect budget, not even one prepared by me, I always felt that it was my duty to raise the objections which others are too timid to register. I cannot think of any of IBB’s budgets – 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 – which was not severely interrogated.

The same treatment was given to Abacha’s budgets, Abubakar’s only 1999 Budget and all those since 1999 by Obasanjo, Yar’ Adua, Jonathan and now Buhari. By and large, I have observed that budgets, which can be regarded as a series of promises, are made to be broken. ALL our governments have lacked the discipline characterising Asian tigers which has been their competitive advantage.

To me the success or failure of any budget depends on the core knowledge base, group experience, honesty of purpose and integrity of the key actors in every government – which is always the biggest team in any country. The leader at any one point in time is the most important factor. He seldom knows everything; and need not. What he needs to know are the people who know a lot about everything his budget touches. Above all, he should have read a lot and continue to read a lot more.

Buhari’s last budget summarises everything that has been wrong with the Federal Government’s budgets since the first one in 2016 – which was so poorly crafted that a possible recession became a certain recession. I have found myself repeating the same comments on Buhari’s budgets every year; and there is no reason to repeat myself with regard to the 2023 Budget.

It is only the latest version of the series of blunders which created problems which two successors will labour to correct. Yet, the man considers himself a great performer. Just as “it takes wisdom to know wisdom”, it also takes knowledge to understand knowledge of any subject. None of Buhari’s economic policy managers can understand complex economic situations. The fault was ours: electing a President who had no previous knowledge and who does not read.

As far as I am concerned, Buhari represents the past. So is his budget.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.