Buhari v. Haruna Adamu
This article, by the very nature of the atmosphere under which it was written, must have a personal overture. I must confess that before finally making up my mind to write it, I had to take a number of things into consideration. The first was the danger to speak when others are quiet, for whatever reason. Wouldn’t it tamper with my personal interest, and mind you I have many – my freedom, life and family; and, more worrying, the interest of this magazine, the Weekly Trust? Would I not be over-stretching the patience of its Chief Editor who has accorded me all the freedom a writer could dream of? I say this because it seems, and I would like to be proved wrong, that the entire media houses in the country have chosen either to remain silent or go on a carnival of blackmail, but never print anything positive or even objective, about the tenure of General Buhari as PTF chairman. Whether this is calculated or not, only time will tell. And time does tell, especially in Nigeria.
I have decided to speak my mind believing that this is a column whose responsibility ends on the desk of its writer, not the newspaper or its editor. Two, I believe that unless northerners learn to tell the truth no matter whose ox is gored, they will, together with their leaders, always be victims of blackmail by the southern press. Finally, I put my trust in God and seek his protection against both my own evil and that of others. He is the best Protector, and the best Helper.
It is important to recall that PTF was an adhoc organization formed to address the urgent need to rehabilitate our infrastructure after a prolonged period of neglect. The nobility of Abacha’s intention here was exemplified by his insistence that Buhari heads the fund and conceding to according him full executive functions. Thank God, Buhari has not failed the nation. Any honest person will hold that no government organization has ever performed so well within such a short period and constraints as did the PTF under General Buhari.
These achievements not withstanding, it was wishful for anyone to think that PTF will continue after the country returns to democracy. However, what we expected at least, and in spite of Obasanjo’s promise to scrap it despite agitation against doing so largely from the North, was an orderly finale of the organization without risking its investments or dishonoring its agreements.
The first sign that these expectations will not be met was when General Buhari resigned as its chairman just days before May 29, 1999. This sent a signal that the organization will no longer be itself and the deceleration intended will be sharp and rough, not only for its consultants and contractors but also for its former chairman. But the president, while inaugurating the Interim Management Committee (IMC) on the PTF, gave Nigerians the impression that its task will be to “systemically” wind down the organization.
The ‘Angels’ descend
The actions of the Interim Management Committee IMC have completely proved otherwise. The IMC inherited a certified debt of over N25billion naira due to lack of adequate funds the PTF experienced under the Abubakar regime. What should have been the best approach a IMC chairman should adopt under such a circumstance other than take the necessary steps to secure PTF’s multi-billion naira investments by assuring its contractors and consultants. The first impression the IMC team succeeded in creating, perhaps deliberately, and which lasted to date, was that it is on a probe mission, equipped with a torch-light to ‘investigate’ (though this world is conspicuously absent from their terms of reference) the clandestine activities that were believed to be taking place under the former chairman. So not only the former chairman of the fund and it’s much envied project consultants, Afri-Projects Consultants (APC), were made insecure by this bellicose atmosphere but also all its contractors and consultants. Unpaid individual contractors and consultants usually come back with stories of very unsavory interactions with members of the IMC. A member of the IMC, one Mr. Adeboro to be exact, through whom all payments are channeled, is particularly renown for his notoriety at denigrating contractors and consultants who are innocently pursuing their payments. He behaves like a DPO talking to a gang of thieves. Adieu to the old PTF when they did not have to see Buhari to get paid!
The implication of this, and to which the IMC has never given a hoot, was the caution that all employees of PTF tried to exercise in order to be on the ‘safe side’. They did so in a number of ways: withholding their supplies and services; sacking their workers; and, of course, keeping quiet to save their personality from these strange ‘angels of death’ or else risk non-payment. Remember that we just came out of a long period of military dictatorship and in which any small shortcoming, which can be overlooked under reasonable circumstances, could be used as an excuse to unleash horror and terror on individuals. The relationship between the IMC and its contractors and consultants, as is seen generally today, is no longer that of a client and his customer, of honor and respect, but one between a weak citizen in the society on the one hand and the ever-powerful Aso Rock on the other hand.
Only God knows how much this belligerence costs the common man who may be in a game reserve waiting for the arrival of agricultural inputs or a patient waiting for the arrival of a drug that is essential for his cure. All projects stopped automatically, as is evident on our roads, hospitals and educational institutions. The President noticed this and had to intervene at a time, assuring contractors and consultants that the government will honor all agreements and pay all debts accruing therefrom. But it was too late; an irreparable damage has already been done. Candidly speaking though, the government did not help matters either, especially when it allocated only N5billion to the fund that was already indebted to figures north of N20billion naira. With this meager amount the IMC unilaterally decided that only contractors owed a million naira or less will be paid from the allocation.
But the IMC conveniently circumvented its financial shortcoming by adopting the style of pedestrians on the streets of Lagos, Enugu or Kano. It is simple: threaten the creditor; question the amount you owe him; or deny being liable at all. This strategy, I must say, is certainly the least expected of men of letters, headed by a whole Ph.D., appointed to look over a public organization worth billions of naira.
Payments to all consultants have been withheld under the pretext that the fee paid them by the former PTF management were questionable or at its best exorbitant, though they perfectly agree with what is approved by the federal government for the respective categories of consultants. Thus, in the logic of the IMC, it would require a review, downward of course. Contractors are not spared either. The IMC simply alleged that the contract sums were highly inflated. There is the daily ‘threat’ from the chairman of the IMC that they have recommended to the President the constitution of a panel to recover money paid to ‘selected consultants and contractors’. Yes ‘selected’, because I am certain that if the rule is applied as a blanket treatment, even The Economist of Haruna Adamu, and all the media houses making noise about the fund under Buhari, will qualify for a refund. What is funny is when I read what the composition of such a panel would be, according to the recommendation of the IMC. The Chairman is mentioning security agents, as if he is dealing with a security matter. He has forgotten that this is a civil matter, an agreement reached at between legally valid firms and a delegated authority of government. He has also forgotten that this is a democracy in which legal rights of citizens should be respected and disputes are settled through constitutional means of courts or judicial commissions that have the exclusive right to declare the guilt or otherwise of such citizens.
The matter does not end in appointing auditors with previous grudges against APC or PTF management and using their tailored reports to establish ‘anomalies.’ I believe I am speaking the minds of almost all contractors and consultants who, sad to observe, had to publicly hold meetings and issue communiqués deploring the attitude of the IMC, including corruption and visiting their sites in their absence. If the IMC think that what it is doing is in the interest of the regime, then they have run foul. The president is already publicly saying that he is not impressed. No one would say that the PTF today has even one-tenth its organizational competence and integrity under Buhari. At no time then did we hear consultants complaining about corruption and caviling. I will not be exaggerating if I claim that it is a consensus, especially after seeing the disappointingly contrasting performance of the IMC, that Buhari behaved like a perfect gentleman. No one will accuse him or his board members of collecting payment or godfatherism before a certificate could be paid, at least not to my knowledge. Whatever grudge we had was with APC.
Coming to talk about APC, contractors and consultants, as human beings, had only two natural grudges: it was either they did not get a job they were eyeing at or their certificates are delayed especially at later stages of implementation. I personally had both grudges, a fact that made me boycott them for the last two years of their assignment. But the issue at hand now is not personal. We must appreciate that the young minds at APC have displayed a good degree of professionalism. Though they could not find job for every graduate in Nigeria, something the federal government cannot do either, they have nevertheless succeeded in ‘rehabilitating’ (to borrow from the humor of the great orator Mike Okpara) many, including media houses. They have employed the greatest number of consultants and contractors than did any management firm in the history of our great nation. They have also, with an equal degree of impression, employed the services of professional bodies and agencies. If we are ready to be large-hearted and allow for a margin of human error and shortcoming, which are characteristic of every human endeavor, we will not help but doff our hats for that organization.
The Narrow-minded and the Prostitutes
But to be large-hearted is what some people would not be, either deliberately or characteristically. By ‘some’ here I mean the present IMC and the southern press. Since it took over office, the IMC has never said anything positive about anybody involved in the management of the former PTF or any project it undertook. To them it was a syndicate, a fraud. What a bad syndicate, so bad that even the angel called Haruna Adamu – the present IMC chairman – who is stain-free as a newborn, could accept to serve as its contractor (or was it as a consultant)? What a bad syndicate that was able to repair our roads, flooded our hospitals with drugs; rehabilitated our educational institutions; supplied counterpart funding to vital projects; drilled thousands of bore-holes in our rural areas; kept our consultants busy; and engaged our industries and contractors to the point of exhaustion? A fraudulent syndicate it was indeed, so much so that it won a national award!
Nor could the southern press abandon its prostitution. After enjoying the contracts and adverts under Buhari, they are today shamelessly ready to publish the junk that describes all the above-listed achievements as “squander of N135 billion”, just because it serves the ego of the new masters. They too, like their new masters cannot say a single good that the former PTF administration did. It beats my imagination to see how a media house like Newswatch would choose to drink from a stinking gutter of calumny. On its cover of 13 March 2000, it said: “How Buhari Ran PTF – squandering of N135 billion; Mysterious disappearance of N500million; N800 million on personal estate; expired HIV/AIDS kits gulp N28billion.” An interesting and funny story indeed, because the editor had this to say finally about Buhari: “As we were informed during our investigations, no one linked any of the questionable contracts or dealings directly to General Muhammadu Buhari. But it must be said that his management style has, indeed, been called to question.”
“Management style”, they call it! They are asking why should Buhari “abdicate” his powers to engineers, the APC? They said, “Newswatch learnt that the APC consultants virtually managed PTF. In fact, a report prepared by the IMC showed that APC was really in charge, not Buhari.” My God! What do they think is the function of a project manager? Or did they think Buhari or the aging Ahmed Talib, Yahaya Gusau, Tayo Akpata and other PTF board members that were all well-above seventy would sit to design projects, screen contractors and supervise them? Were any of them a medical doctor, an engineer or an agriculturist? Let Haruna Adamu honestly tell the world if he has made any sense of the truckloads of documents that reached him, upon his request, from APC. And has he not resorted to employing consultants himself?
“Investigations”, they claim! Did not their investigations reveal to them the suppliers of the “expired” HIV/AIDS kits from Israel? Why did they not have the guts to publish their names? If their ‘investigations’ have not reached that depth, please let them do so and see for themselves who is sitting at the bottom of the pit. Or do we indict their masters, the IMC? Let them be bold enough to tell us those behind the supply, please. Let them also tell us why Professor Umaru Shehu resigned from the head of the committee on the issue. Ditto to the so-called expired drugs. Who supplied them? Let them publish it. Shame on those that do not have the courage to tell the truth but could engage in peddling wild allegations.
The Panel and the Strategy
Now the interesting twist in the whole story is that while Haruna Adamu only wants a recovery panel, Buhari is insisting on a high-powered judicial panel of inquiry to investigate these allegations. APC will welcome a public hearing. Buhari has to insist on this because, as he put it recently, it is the only way to prove his innocence or guilt. In the interim however, he has challenged the journalists that publish these allegations to carry their facts to the Christopher Kolade Panel. No one has done so yet. Their ‘facts’ are not for a panel but for the consumption of the gullible minds that believe that no northern leader is worth anything good.
Haruna may be honest in his search for a fault in the PTF, if there could ever be any honesty in faultfinding. But to me he is unknowingly falling into a trap of the southern press that seeks to bring down any northern leader. It is a situation similar to where a small family cleverly set out to destroy a larger one it envies by instigating members of the latter to fight and kill one another. When only the last person remained, it confidently went ahead to kill its leader. Whatever grudges Haruna Adamu has against Buhari, he should note that he is not doing a patriotic job, as he claimed in a recent Newswatch interview. As Buhari said in a Hotline interview that Haruna has never told the world why he (Haruna) was detained and who recommended the detention. I think Newswatch and other magazines can investigate it for the benefit of its readers.
Lastly, Haruna Adamu and his press have some wisdom to learn from an Arab proverb. It says that whoever throws a handful of sand against the sky directly above him, in protest to the making of God, throws it only on himself. In this is a lesson for the wise, especially for a Ph.D. As I said earlier, I am responsible for the above statement. Wa ufawwidu amri ilal Allah, ina Allaha basirun bil ‘ibad.