Obasanjo in The Mould of Abacha

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Obasanjo In The Mould Of Abacha

 

By

 

Sam Aluko
 

 

 

 

culled from NEWSWEEK, Tuesday, May 09, 2006

 

It is often said that if mirage is repeated often and often it assumes the garb of truth and people begin to doubt if what they cherished as truth was not really a mirage. That is the situation that we have been having in Nigeria since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme by the Babangida regime in 1986 and particularly since the emergence of the Obasanjo administration on May 29, 1999.

 

The slogan and the pet word in the Obasanjo economic dictionary today is the "Reform Agenda". The advocates of the perpetuation of Obasanjo as the life president of Nigeria hinge their main reason on the need to allow Obasanjo to complete and consolidate his economic reform agenda for Nigeria, so that by 2020, Nigeria will become an economic and industrial giant in the world. In other words, the proposed amendment of the 1999 Constitution to provide for three terms of four years each, instead of the existing two terms tenure of four years for the President and the governors of Nigeria, is not to enable Obasanjo to stay in office for another four years but for a new fresh presidential term of twelve years that will terminate in 2019. That is why the slogan in the Presidency in Abuja, today, is 2020, not 2011.

 

 

The proposed amendment is in the mould of the late General Abacha's henchmen in the Vision 2010 Committee. They were planning two terms of six years each, after 1998, for General Sani Abacha's transition from military head of state to a Civilian president, so that, in the language of the henchmen, by 2010, adequate measures would have been put in place, "to stimulate economic growth and to transform Nigerians into patriotic citizens and place the country en-route to becoming a developed country". The visioners went further to state that, it is necessary that the reform measures being recommended, 'should be carried out not only with the full weight of the government machinery, but also with the complete support of the private sector, and the willing cooperation of the general public".

 

 

The Vision 2010 Committee was inaugurated by Abacha on September, 1996, to complete its assignment and submit its report not later than September, 1997.The 2010 visioners, like the present proponents of a third term for Obasanjo, were proponents of massive new "reform agenda" for Nigeria.

 

 

In the "charge" to the Vision 2010 Committee, on September 27, 1996, General Abacha asked the Visioners, first, to constructively analyse why after more than 36 years of political independence, our development as a nation in many spheres had been relatively unimpressive, especially, in relation to our potentials. Secondly, to envision or visualise where we would like to be at the time that Nigeria will be a fifty years old as an independent nation, in 2010. Thirdly, to develop the blue print and action plans for translating the envisaged vision into reality.

 

 

The 230 page Report of the Vision 2010 was submitted to Abacha in September, 1997. The Visioners consisted of 247 elite Nigerians, under the chairmanship of Chief (Dr.) Ernest Shonekan, the preceding head of state to General Abacha. The committee was assisted by 141 technical and secretariat staff, drawn from the Presidency, the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), federal ministries, the National Assembly, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the universities and the private sector. In addition, 29 Facilitators, 24 Resource persons, and 17 consultants, including foreign experts from Asia, Europe and America, participated in the Vision. The 247 members included the country's major emirs, obis, and obas, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, leading industrialists, commercialists, bankers and academicians, many of whom are now very prominent leaders in the ongoing Obasanjo reform administration. In its letter of transmission of the report to Abacha, the Visioners stated that, "The Report is the outcome of 12 plenary meetings, 57 around-the country meetings and workshops, 53 sub-committee meetings, field studies, and, thousands of memoranda from the public, including input from federal ministries, state governments, private sector institutions, Nigerians domiciled out of the country, and some foreigners who have interest in the welfare and livelihood of Nigeria". These foreigners are now called, "Development Partners" in the Obasanjo administration.

 

 

The Report proposed both immediate, short-term, medium term, and long-term measures to stimulate and grow the economy of Nigeria. The Committee rightly adumbrated that, "all of us, and not one single segment of the society or a single administration, could be strictly said to be responsible for our problems. The Committee then proceeded to ask, and answer, three questions about the country; viz: "Where we are, and why?" Where do we want to be?" And, "How do we get there", so that by 2010, Nigeria will be a democratic society, committed to making the basic needs of life affordable for everyone and creating Africa's leading economy?"

 

 

Unknown to many of the Visioners, the moving spirit behind the Vision was to elongate the rule of Abacha, because of his alleged achievements in government during 1993-1997. The achievements were said to include; the stablisation of the political terrain, after the annulment of the June 12, 1992 elections by General Babangida and the political upheavals that followed it, leading to the exit of General Babangida and the installation and the exit of the interim administration of Chief Ernest Shonekan: the stabilisation of the value of the naira and its stoppage from further devaluation; the increase in the country's foreign exchange reserves from $494 million dollars in 1993 to $9.6 billion by the middle of 1997; the improvement in the general standard of living of Nigerians during the regime; the establishment of the Petroleum Trust Fund and the improvement in the infrastructural services it occasioned; the caging of, and the reduction in the influences of the IMF/World Bank in the Nigerian economy, which reached its height during the regime of General Babangida; the prudent management of the annual budgets of the Federal Government; the reduction in the external debt of Nigeria from $36 billion in 1993 to $27 billion by 1997; improvement in the salaries and pensions of public servants; and the unprecedented provision of money for the settlement of internal debts which had been incurred by previous administrations but for which little or no provisions for their settlement had been made until the Abacha's regime. He was later adopted as the Presidential Candidate of the five main political parties for the 1998 election. He died in June, 1998!

 

 

The similarity between these reasons and the reasons being advocated for the elongation of the tenure of President Obasanjo today is obvious. Some of the then proponents of regime elongation said that Nigeria would slide back into retrogression if Abacha did not continue. They also say the sane thing about President Obasanjo today?

 

 

The then National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC), set up by the government of General Abacha, saw through the main motive behind the setting up of the Vision 2010 Committee and of some of its leading members. As the chairman of the NEIC, the 14 members of the NEIC mandated me to appear before the Vision Committee and oppose some of its economic agenda as likely to take Nigerian economy backward rather than forward, and to warn General Abacha on the dangers posed to his person and to the government and the people of Nigeria should he agree to translate into a civilian President after October, 1, 1998, when he promised to surrender power. Thrice, I met General Abacha and thrice he was grateful about the warnings. He promised that under no circumstances would he succumb to being used by the advocates of regime translation. But from the information that the NEIC gathered from the then Chief of General Staff, Lt. General Oladipo Diya, General Abacha and his henchmen were scheming to elongate the regime. It was mainly the opposition of General Oladipo Diya, who argued that the regime must honour its promise to leave on October, 1, 1998, that led to the charge of a coup plot against Genera! Diya in 1997. It led to General Diya being tried and sentenced by a Military Tribunal in late 1997. The similarly between the relationship between President Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku, today, and that between General Abacha and Lt. General Oladipo Diya then is also obvious.

 

 

It was the attempt to pour cold water on the Vision 2010 Document that led the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC) to circulate widely, a document, dated 10 November, 1997, criticising the Vision Document when it was being launched by General Abacha, at the International Conference Hall, Abuja, on, Tuesday, November 18, 1997. Interestingly, General Abacha fully endorsed the NEIC document which made him rewrite his speech which he had wanted to deliver at the launching of the Vision Document.

 

 

The NEIC document, while commending the thoroughness of those who prepared the Vision 2010 Document, opined that the most important stake-holders in the development of Nigeria are Nigerians, overwhelming majority of whom did not participate in the formulation of the Vision nor were aware of its contents. NEIC, therefore, advocated the necessity to make the Vision Document (like the present NEEDS Document of General Obasanjo) available to the wider Nigerian public for information, debate and scrutiny, rather than confine it to the possession of the elite and the foreign agents, governments, and foreign institutions. NRC further advised that the launching of the Vision 2010 Document should be deferred till after October 1, 1998, when a civilian regime would be in place and the political party or parties in power would incorporate or modify the Vision in their manifestoes. Further, that the three questions which the Vision sought to answer missed out the most essential question of, "How did we get to where we were?" In this respect, NEIC criticised the Vision's endorsement of the Babangida's Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), which is more harshly endorsed by the present Obasanjo administration, as being responsible for the abandonment of rigorous economic planning, increased pauperisation, and criminalisation of our people, through the massive devaluation of the naira, unprecedented fall in the purchasing power of our citizens and the drastic fall in their standard of living. It went further to state that unless Nigeria put in place a production-inducing and full employment strategy in place of the financial derivatives and the employment down-sizing syndrome, our Vision in 2010 or 2020 will remain blurred and will make the economy and our people more corrupt and less viable in 2010 than in 1980. We must, therefore put in place a large measure of economic planning, economic nationalism, self- sufficiency and autarky instead of the existing dependence on nebulous free enterprise, privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation, imposed from abroad.

 

 

As an alternative to the Vision 2010 Document, the NEIC put forward a 166- page Economic Recovery Programme, which was a medium-term programme, also to replace the medium Term Programme which was being foisted on Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the National Planning Commission, by the World Bank/IMF and our 'Development Partners'.

 

 

I have dealt at length with the past reform programmes in order to show their similarly with the on-going reform agenda of the Obasanjo administration and to show that nothing is new in it. On the other hand, the Obasanjo reform agenda, as enunciated in NEEDS, NEPAD, PEER MECHANISM; AGOA, NEITI, and other IMF/World Bank sloganisations and shibboleths can only lead the country and its economy into a cul-de-sac and to increased pauperisation, criminalisation, corruption, and, deterioration. It is also to show that rather than reform the economy, the ongoing reform agenda will further deform all the economic, administrative and social equilibrium that existed before 1999.

 

 

It is in the pursuit of further pauperising the citizens that the World Bank/ Document titled, 'NEEDS', (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy), was foisted on the nation. NEEDS lacks time dimension. it is without investment quantum. It stresses an undue dependence on the private sector that itself depends heavily on the public sector. Neither the elite nor the masses of our people participated in the formulation and articulation of NEEDS. In this respect, NEEDS is inferior to the Vision 2010 Document. NEEDS is supposed to have its state counterparts in SEEDS (State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy), and LEEDS (Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy). Neither NEEDS, SEEDS nor LEEDS had been articulated nor put in place to any known extent. On the other hand, the basic tenets of NEEDS, SEEDS, or LEEDS violate the provisions of Section 16 of our 1999 Constitution.

 

 

Section 16, of the Constitution provides that, "The state shall harness the resources of the nation and promote national prosperity and an efficient and self- reliant economy; control the national economy in such a manner as to secure maximum welfare freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity; manage and operate the major sectors of the economy Protect the rights of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy direct its policy towards ensuring the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development ensure that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of a few individuals, or of a group and, ensure that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment benefits, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.

 

 

Towards the attainment of these objectives, the section further provides that, "A body shall be set up by an Act of the National Assembly which shall have power to review from time to time, the ownership and control of business enterprises operating in Nigeria and make recommendations to the President on same, and to administer any law for the regulation of the ownership and control of such enterprises

 

 

In order to forestall the on-going privatisation or individualisation of public enterprises and pubic properties, sub-section 4 of Section 16 of the Constitution further provides that, "the reference to the major sectors of the economy shall be construed as a reference to such economic activities as may, from time to time, be declared by a resolution of each House of the National Assembly to be managed and operated exclusively by the government of the federation; and until a resolution to the contrary is made by the National Assembly, economic activities being operated exclusively by the government of the federation on the date immediately preceding the day when the Constitution came into force, whether directly or through the agencies of a statutory or other corporation or company shall be deemed to be major sectors of the economy

 

 

None of these provisions in the existing Constitution, which were also first enunciated in the 1979 Constitution, signed into law by the then Military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo, have been amended, or are being proposed for amendment. Therefore, the existing privatisation of public enterprises; the sale of federal government houses to private individuals and to individual civil servants; the privatisation of pensions; the privatisation and the proposed privatisation of the major sectors of the economy, and, the designation of the private sector as the engine of growth of the Nigerian economy violate the spirit of the 1999 cons and the supreme law of our country.

 

 

The on-going privatisation and the reform agenda, collectively put into jeopardy the welfare of the majority of our citizens and deny many of them adequate shelter, welfare and rights which they hitherto enjoyed. The National Assembly, rather than protect these basic economic privileges and rights of the citizens that elected them, had acquiesced in the flagrant violation of the Constitution. instead, the National Legislators have been more interested in elongating the dictatorial powers of the President to ride rough shod over the citizenry.

 

 

At the state and the local government levels, Section 7 of the Constitution also provides that, it shall be the duty of a Local Government Council, within the state, to participate in economic planning and development, and that an economic planning board shall be established by a law enacted by the House of Assembly of the state to the effect. Rather than that the state legislatures should enhance the role of the local governments, the legislators had assisted every state government to denude, consistently, the financial and economic rights, duties and powers of the local governments and their people with impurity, since 1999.

 

 

In other words, the reform agenda embarked upon since 1986 by General Badamasi Babangida and which are being more draconically prosecuted by General Olusegun Obasanjo under the aegis of the World Bank, the IMF and their foreign collaborators who masquerade as our 'Development Partners'. Apart from their violating our Constitution, further contribute to deformation of the Nigerian economy. They will increasingly concentrate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the majority of our citizens. They will further polarise our people into feuding groups, not only in the Niger Delta but also country-wide. They will further contribute to the exodus of our youths into the economies of Europe and America to the detriment of our economy and our national pride and psyche. Those who continue to celebrate the ongoing reforms are deceiving the nation into a false sense of security and forlorn hope. They are benefiting from our collective loss. They are worshipping false gods. Nemesis is on a nation that worships false gods. If Obasanjo stays in power even till 2019, if he continues to pursue the economic policies that are currently in place, Nigeria will be poorer in 2019 than in 1999. This Nigeria must not permit.

 

 

Sam Aluko is a professor of Economics

 

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