By Dele Sobowale
“History does not repeat itself; man does” – Professor Barbara Tuchmann, Harvard University, USA.
The first part of this article was written in 1992. It earned me my first arrest and detention and anguish which I never revealed until now. It was the first time, not the last, since my columns started appearing in VANGUARD Newspapers, that I was tested almost to the limit. Perhaps, the only thing that was not at stake was my life. Follow me.
ORIGIN AND SUMMARY OF 1992 ARTICLE
“You will ruin the Nigerian economy; and the person who appointed you, IBB, will spend the rest of his life being vilified for the failure of SAP because of your new set of monetary policies” – Dele Sobowale, VANGUARD 1992.
It was my fifth year writing columns for the paper; courageous Frank Aigbogun, now Publisher of BUSINESSDAY, was the Editor and brave Lanre Alabi the BUSINESS page Editor. Since I am already compiling a book out of the over 3, 200 articles written, I will not go into details about how an unknown Area Boy broke into VANGUARD. You will read that next year. I just want to mention one other fact about the past. I am not a journalist, but, right from the very first article, a private vow was made. I will quit if no impact was made within five years. I created enough trouble for Uncle Sam, Frank and Lanre within two years that it was a miracle that they did not throw me out. I cannot thank them enough -especially now that the end is near.
Publish and be damned was my motto. Nobody in public life was ever going to be untouchable. In 1992, one of the repercussions was visited on me for being rash or stupid enough to forget that we were living under a military regime. I received the first of several of the penalties – detention – for ten hours, in Central Bank Headquarters, then in Tinubu, Lagos. What happened?
President Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, which I whole-heartedly supported in principle, was about four years old. IBB, in January 1992, had announced his departure that year; but SAP was already failing. So, in 1992, the government announced a whole set of new reforms. Beg, buy, borrow or steal my book on IBB; and you will discover that more decrees were passed in that year alone than any other government has passed during their tenures.
Then, unlike now, after the Head of State announced the budget, the Minister of Finance would gather top government officials, leaders of the Organised Private Sector, ASUU, Labour, Research Institutes and media for a briefing. The fiscal measures – taxes, tariffs, import prohibition list etc — supporting the economic projections will be laid before the stakeholders. The final leg of every year’s budget cycle belonged to the CBN; which would announce the monetary measures to round up the process. I was designated by the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM, Lagos to represent the Institute. Despite the fact that I was officially a Senior Lecturer/Consultant – Marketing, I was the only Economist among the Lecturers. That meant that I had to write a report. The reports, for 1990 to 1992, were, with permission, again summarized to fit into my column in VANGUARD. That was how trouble started in 1992.
After reading the monetary policy measures proposed by then-CBN Governor, the late Alhaji Ahmed, I was convinced that it would vitiate all the positive impacts of IBB’s reforms for that year. You have already read the final warning to Ahmed, above. Now read what followed telling a CBN Governor the truth; because, indeed, Babangida continues to receive maledictions for SAP.
WHEN TRUTH TELLING CAN BE COSTLY
“The truth shall make you free; but, first it shall make you miserable” – Anon, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 253.
I came across that quotation on the staircase of North Brewery Limited, Kano when I went to resume for work on my first day as Marketing Manager, MM, on March 1, 1981. A series of plaques had been placed on the walls by the Managing Director, MD, the late Mr Babatunde Fowowe. I made sure that this was going to be one of my takeaways from the brewery – even if I lasted only one day. Long before the book was written, this warning by a sage sustained me when the roof, literally, caved in on my promising career at NIM.
Although I knew that NIM had an annual contract to conduct in-house courses for CBN, and I was a regular resource person, I was intelligent but not wise enough to realize that CBN would take the measures they did. First, the papers were on the stands by 7.00am; and by 10.00am, fully-armed Mobile Policemen in three vans were literally breaking down doors at NIM. “Where is Dele Sobowale?” they shouted; as staff ran for cover. I stepped out of my office, without a coat, my tie loose and walked straight into their “embrace”. I was not allowed to return to my office to pick anything or even send a message home. I was carried off to CBN at break-neck speed on the orders of Alhaji Ahmed; who was not in the office. He, however, was gracious enough to order that nobody should touch me; they should take me to lunch (which I declined); but on no account should they let me escape!
Until he returned to the office at 8.15pm nobody told me why I was being held like an armed robber. I was taken to his office. While still standing, he asked me: “Who is paying you to destroy me?” I laughed before saying “I didn’t even know you.” Then he brought out the day’s paper. “You wrote this, did you not?” “Yes I did.” “Do you know what might happen if IBB reads this?” “Do you know what will happen to Nigeria if you continue with your policies?” It was then he asked me to sit down. I was not discharged until after 10pm. He offered one of the staff cars to take me back and some money. I rejected both. This was war.
But, that was not the end. The CBN threatened to cancel their annual contract with NIM unless the Institute could get me to write a disclaimer to my article, as well as an apology to Ahmed; and to promise never to write on CBN again. Given the amount at stake, the matter became a big issue at NIM. It was resolved that I should apologise. Without a job waiting for me, I chose to resign. I walked out of NIM and became jobless for the first time in my life. My world seemed to have come to an end. My wife almost divorced me.
Then, two weeks after, God intervened. The Managing Partner of a small Consultancy Group, which had won a World Bank contract, needed experienced Consultants who had worked in the North. He went to NIM and asked the receptionist if she knew any of the staff who fitted that description. “He is no longer with us; but I will give you his address. He is Dele Sobowale.” “Is that the VANGUARD man?” “Yes.” The next day, I was holding a letter of appointment with remuneration package 300 per cent of what I left behind at NIM. Incredibly, I was re-engaged for several years as a Part-Time lecturer at NIM.
WHERE DOES THAT LEAD US?
After allowing the Buhari administration to destroy the Nigerian economy by violating the Fiscal Responsibility Act recklessly, the current CBN has now introduced several measures which, individually, might not be significant; but which, collectively, will most probably lead to another recession very soon. The lives of rural people will be made more miserable; rural-urban drift will increase from 2023.
“Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And, ain’t that a big enough majority in any town” – Mark Twain, 1835-1910.
Asiwaju Tinubu had the right to refuse to participate in the TV show attended by his rivals. Every candidate for any election is totally at liberty to determine how to conduct his campaign. But, I also have a right to decide if his choice makes sense to me. I have always detested Nigerian leaders who leave Nigeria and go abroad to send verbal missiles to us. I find it insulting – particularly when it turns out that what occurred was a charade and not in the least enlightening. So far, I have not read anything he said in London which could not be said here; and at a far lower cost. So, that told me something. Anybody who can spend his own money, so recklessly, will do worse with public funds. Who needs that sort of leader in a country highly indebted? The show was certainly not amusing.
PARTIES ARE FALLING; COMPATRIOTS ARE RISING
“Our lives begin to end; the day we become silent about things that matter” – Rev (Dr) Martin Luther King, Jr, 1929-1968.
Political parties deserve to be so called only if the members share the same views on essential matters; and those views represent the interest of majority of the people. Nigeria’s four leading political groups – APC, LP, NNDP and PDP – share one characteristic. They are houses divided. All we are hoping for is that the winner will be able to unite his own people. That is asking for a miracle. It is better for us who are not party members to create a strong all-inclusive organization which can strengthen our polity. Call me, join the COMPATRIOTS; give Nigeria a chance. But, don’t come alone; bring others.
Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of Vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.