DISCOURSE WITH DR. ALIYU TILDE
He Betrayed God
Last week, Nigerians witnessed the sixth anniversary of the resumption of democracy. If Nigeria were a country where opinion of the people matters, the polls would have told us the degree to which they are disappointed with the present civilian dictatorship. But public opinion carries no weight in our policy formulation. This leaves us with no option but to rely on opinions expressed in the media.
Hundreds of pages have been written on the anniversary last week. I was not surprised that almost all commentators, from the street beggar to the university professor, scored our federal and state governments very low. It rather came as a relief that those of us who undertook the risk of telling government the truth for the past six years have not been alone in their judgement. A verdict of failure passed by this writer in 1999, only 100 days after Obasanjo’s assumption of office and which was then generally regarded as premature, has regrettably swelled into a national consensus today, no thanks to the gross incompetence and dishonesty that has become the hallmark of governance in the country today.
This is in deed a sad verdict on a regime that came to power based on our trust and the hope for peace and development. So destitute of public trust and so craving for stability was the country that it preferred an ‘Okrika’ to a new cloth. We thought Obasanjo did it successfully before; after all, he comes from a section of the country that often boasts of its intellectual might and complains of systematic political marginalisation. On the latter, it has made the loudest noise after June 12, while on the former it reserves an unquestionable title to its claim. But after six years of unimpeded authority, neither the second-hand cloth nor the knowledge of that region proved to be significant in solving any of our problems. Everything – the trust and the hope – now appear submerged in an ocean of dishonesty, unassailable incompetence and calculated strategies to undermine justice and common good. As a result, today, only the Igbo can lay genuine claim to marginalisation in both corruption and leadership.
It is reported that the President is disappointed with Nigerians over his poor score card. He complains that he is trying his best but Nigerians hardly see it. How can we see nothing? Let the President take an inventory of the problems he inherited and, one by one, score his performance on each. Nothing has improved: Is the Nigerian child getting better education than in 1999? Is the Naira stronger, as it moved from N84 per dollar in 1999 against N150 today? Is food cheaper, when a 50kg sac of rice cost N2,350 in 1999 and N5,500.00 today? Are our homes, streets, offices and factories enjoying better supply of electricity today than in 1999? Are our refineries working? Is fuel cheaper today at N60 per litre than the N22 it was in 1999?
In what way has our welfare improved? Do Nigerians now have access to better housing, affordable health services, and good education? Do we feel more secured as we go to bed or when we chase livelihood on roads, markets, farms and offices? Are our roads better now than in 1999? Is our water cleaner and abundant? Is our railway functioning, or is it dormant as before? Is justice closer to the weak now or is it still the exclusive preserve of the strong?
Is brotherhood among Nigerians stronger today than in 1999? Many commentators have indicated that more Nigerians lost their lives to communal clashes in the past six years than in the preceding thirty years. The acrimony between ethnic nationalities still runs deep, as if the messiah has not arrived. If that acrimony has waned, why is the President wasting his time on a multibillion naira national conference on political reform?
These are the facts – regarding welfare and security – by which the Nigerian constitution will score Obasanjo and our governors very low. They have connived to mismanage our resources and squander our golden opportunity for genuine reform. It is not their fault; though. The mistake is ours, though some would validly argue that we were lured by the power brokers who, in 1998, rehabilitated Obasanjo and packaged him to our adoration. Those brokers must be regretting now, as their nights are not better than ours, or as the late Shata would say, “whoever claims that a bonfire of corn-stalk burned throughout the night, as timber would do, it is he who spent the night sleepless.” Both of us relied on the past, and the past, as the Egyptian would say, dies once.
In some ways, even the regime is humble enough to acknowledge its failure. One of such ways is privatisation of NEPA. The real energy demand of Nigeria is very low compared with even those of countries like South Africa and Iran. It is still something that a national company under a competent leadership can generate and distribute. When the President came to power, filled with the misconception that Engineer Suleiman’s team were incompetent and corrupt, and particularly with highly competent people like Bola Ige as Minister of Power and Steel in his cabinet, the President sacked the NEPA management team. His minister promised the nation that problems of power in the country will be over by the end of 2000. What has happened to that promise is now history. Five years after 2000, Nigeria is generating the least electricity in the past 30 years. In fact, when the President visited Iran soliciting for investors, he was asked the quantum of electricity generation in Nigeria. His reply was greeted with laughter and he was told that what he generates is not enough to support the city of Tehran.
This is happening when Ghana, our neighbour, was celebrating ten years of uninterrupted power supply. Iran and South Africa, we must remember are Third World countries, according to capitalist taxonomy. Yesterday, I heard a woman from Baghdad over the BBC complaining that things are so terrible there that they have only four hours of electricity daily. Nigeria, in the absence war, is worse than Baghdad, as any Nigerian that gets up to four hours electricity daily should count himself lucky. Over 100 billion was sunk in revamping NEPA, but that has not changed the status quo: never expect power again.
To run away from the incompetence of generating the 4,500MW it promised, the government has decided to privatise the corporation. We are still not sure that the privatisation of NEPA will not end in another scandal, like that of NITEL. What an irony for a President who just before he assumed power was sounding these words of caution: “…in our situation, we must not saddle the market with the function it cannot perform. Some essential factors of the market for effective regulatory and distributory functions are absent with our level of development. So, to abandon the economy to non-available and non-functioning market forces is to destroy the economy.” Mhm.
The second acknowledgement of failure came from the President in the last quarter of 2003. That was when Nigerians found that he spent one year out of the four years of that tenure overseas soliciting for foreign investment. The President was publicly bitter that the foreign investors have turned down his invitation. He was fuming and asking, “Why”?
Why? The answer lies somewhere in what the President wrote in 1998. He said, “We need massive foreign investment of about five billion dollars annually to get the economy up again. I believe that with the right policy in place under a democratic umbrella with dynamic leadership, trusted and supported nationally and internationally with corruption put under check, this objective is achievable.”
Therefore, we can, on the testimony of the President himself, say that he failed to woo foreign investors because of some or all of the following reasons: (1) failure by his government to formulate the right policy, (2) the government is not democratic, unless he is confusing ‘civilian’ with ‘democratic’, (3) the leadership is not dynamic, (4) it is not trustworthy, (5) it does not enjoy national and international support, and (6) it is corrupt.
The third testimony is the recent damning intelligence report which predicts that Nigeria will collapse within fifteen years. It did not come from cynics like me, but from Obasanjo’s friends and partners: the American government. Why did not the Americans say so during IBB or Abacha? Saying it now implies that the country has sunk further into the abyss of self-destruction. And I doubt if anyone will doubt their evidence, looking at the frequency of communal clashes, the inability of government to avert them, and the prevailing atmosphere of political instability.
Those who once cherished equating the North with its bad leaders now have a very hard reconciliation of facts to make. They have to reconcile that, this time, a southerner has displayed a horrific record of incompetence, forming enough ground on which to construct the conclusion that incompetence and corruption are not the monopoly of any ethnic group. Can the Southwest cry of marginalisation in these two areas – incompetence and corruption - anymore? Or will they claim, as some of them are doing now, that Obasanjo is not a representative sample of their ethnic group?
Nevertheless, our condemnation of this administration must take two points into cognisance. Obasanjo has asked us in his inaugural address not to expect magic; that is, he was not promising to change anything overnight. He was correct. No sane person would expect a population of 120 million people to be reformed overnight and become accustomed to the political ideals of the democracy. No sane person also expected that all difficulties will disappear within a year. What Nigerians are simply complaining now is lack of any sign of improvement in their condition after six years. If we take level of poverty in the country for example, it was about 50% in 1999; but within two years the World Bank reported (in 2002) that it has escalated to 70%. In the same vein, why is there, on the one hand, a decline in electricity generation, in the value of the naira, in agricultural production, in the quality of roads, in security of life and property and a hike in the price of commodities, the prevalence of corruption and fraud, on the other hand, even though the country is witnessing the largest foreign exchange boom in its history? Improvement means an increase in positive indices of development and decrease in the negative ones. What we have witnessed in the past six years is nothing but accelerated retrogression.
The second point that I feel critics of Obasanjo must not overlook is that he could not have succeeded alone. If a villager does not see food on his table, or drugs in the hospital of his village, it could be reasonably argued that Obasanjo may not be the only culprit. We have governors and local government chairmen heading our state and local governments; in many ways they have a more direct bearing on our welfare, save in aspects, like security, where the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction.
There is no doubt that majority of state governments has failed woefully in providing the welfare and development which their people need direly. Most of them, one can confidently say, are worse than Obasanjo. They dupe their people in many ways and rule their states as their personal estates where no one has any right, opinion or regard. Only their candidates can win elections. In fact, the feeble-minded even equates them with God. Subhanallah.
One can say that the actions of such governors have pauperised the population worse than the policies of the federal government. Here, we will mention only one out of many ways by which this pauperisation is achieved. The governors today, with the exception of Malam Shekarau of Kano, have devised various means of controlling the monthly allocations of their local government councils. In many of the states, the control is total. I learnt that in one of the small states in the Northeast, only the salaries of personnel and a running cost of between one and two million naira is disbursed to each local government. And the salary vouchers must be submitted to the Government House for confirmation before the disbursement is approved. The rest is appropriated – or say misappropriated – by the state government through joint projects and so on.
The trend is nearly the same everywhere, such that a local government with a monthly statutory allocation of N60 million will be given only N25million by its state government. The significance of this is that the economy of that local government, as tiny as it is, is starved of N35million monthly. Think of the impact that a monthly disbursement of N35million will have in six years over a rural economy. Without it, how could poverty be alleviated?
We can say a lot of indecent things about governance at the state and local government levels. By their actions, many of these guys make Obasanjo appear as an angel. Why we are strongly critical of Obasanjo is his reluctance to stop the corruption taking place under him as well as that perpetrated by the state governors, about which he has adequate information through the National Economic Intelligence Agency and other security outfits. He also abdicated to governors and the PDP the responsibility of fishing out the competent and trustworthy people who would assist him actualise change. Worse still, he has allowed himself to be controlled by a clique of ethnic and religious chauvinists who have destroyed the leaders he criticised before. Finally, he has failed to show good example. If he did not rig his elections, there would not have been the chance for the governors to rig theirs; if he had checked the excesses of his ministers, the governors would have shown circumspection in devouring the treasury of their state and local governments. But where the President pleads with them to donate to his private library project, for example, by misappropriating public funds, hardly can we spare him of the sharp edge of our sword.
As the executive controlling our security agencies, Obasanjo must take full responsibility of the breakdown of rule of law, the mechanism designed to check the corruption and excesses of public servants and maintain sanity in the society. As the commander-in-chief, he must be held liable for the irresponsible behaviour of his troops.
In conclusion, we may ask: Why has failure become our fate? Has God turned His back on us or have we betrayed Him? What else could we have done other than choose a person who was akin to Joseph; a previous head of state who was once sitting on the death row? Such a person, certainly, in one of his fellowship meetings and prayers at Yola Prison, must have signed a contract with God many times, promising to be righteous if given another chance to live. God has kept his own part of the bargain, and did more. He spared his life; freed him from prison; made him the President; and gave him resources that He never gave to any leader in the history of our nation. Unfortunately, the man, from the verdict which Nigerians passed on his administration last week, has not kept his own part of the bargain. He betrayed God.