EIGHTEEN years ago, May 29, 1999, Nigeria military under the command of General Abdulsalaam Abubakar, Head of State, disengaged from governance of the country. Abubakar handed over power to elected President Olusegun Obasanjo on the political platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in Nigeria. The military had dominated politics in the country from independence in 1960 up till May 29.
In Obasanjo’s inaugural address to the nation as President, he gave hard knocks to the military, his constituency, where he served as a former military head of state from 1976 to 1979. As an insider, Obasanjo said: “The incursion of the military into government has been a disaster for our country and for the military over the last thirty years. The esprit-de-corps amongst military personnel has been destroyed; professionalism has been lost. Youths go into the military not to pursue a noble career but with the sole intention of taking part in coups and to be appointed as military administrators of states and chairmen of task forces.”
And added: “As a retired officer, my heart bleeds to see the degradation in the proficiency of the military. A great deal of reorientation has to be undertaken and a redefinition of roles, retraining and reeducation will have to be done to ensure that the military submits to civil authority and regains its pride, professionalism and traditions. We shall restore military cooperation and exchanges with our traditional friends. And we will help the military to help itself.”
Marching his words with action, less than a month in office, June 13, 1999, Obasanjo announced the retirement of 116 military officers who held political offices from 1985 when General Ibrahim Babangida plotted a coup d’état took over power. They included former military governors of Nigeria’s 36 states, ministers, chairmen of board of government’s corporations and parastatals who were military officers.
General Ishaya Bamaiyi, Chief of Army Staff, when Obasanjo was been sworn-in as president, while commenting on the excesses of some military personnel, advised Obasanjo to flush out ambitious military officers to enable democracy survive in Nigeria. Bamaiyi warned that ambitious military officers were still very much around and should be checked to ensure the army engaged in its constitutional role in a democracy.
Obasanjo’s clean up in the military was applauded. Thereafter, he began a systematic and sustained phase of restructuring the Nigerian military. For eight years as president, Obasanjo took necessary steps to cage ambitious serving military officers. He ensured the military engaged in its constitutional role in democracy. From Obasanjo’s presidency to Umoru Musa Yar’dua and Goodluck Jonathan, Nigerian military gradually found its place in a democratic setting.
From a pariah Nigerian State, with a reputation for corruption; earned by succession of military governments that plundered the country’s economy, which also impoverished the citizens than any other African nation; and heavy debt burden of over $30 billion, decayed infrastructure and national development, Obasanjo embarked on reforms to accelerate economic growth and development.
Nigeria owed Paris Club [made up of 19 nations] over $30.847 billion as at December, 2004. Obasanjo’s government struck a buy-back deal with Paris Club. Paid off $12.4 billion about 40 percent and the balance $18.5 billion was written-off. On completion of the payment and debt forgiveness in April 2006, Nigeria was first in sub-Saharan Africa State to clean-up its Paris Club debt and was taken off international blacklist, and could once, again, borrow on liberal terms.
To restore investors’ confidence in the economy, Obasanjo reformed the financial sector with the consolidation of Nigeria’s questionable and financially unhealthy 86 banks to 24 banks with strong capital base. He established the ICPC and EFCC to fight the monster corruption and bring back honesty and transparency in government business.
Obasanjo either spearheaded the repositioning or deepening of regional organizations such as New Partnership for African Development, NEPAD; African Peer Review Mechanism, APRM; the scope of ECOWAS; served as Chairman of Group of 77; Chairman, Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting; Chairman, NEPAD Head of State and Government implementation Committee.
Obasanjo opened up the space for investment in education sector. Through the National University Commission, NUC, privately owned universities flourished. The National Open University, NOU, was established. The national budget for education measured up reasonably to demands. The healthcare sector also got Obasanjo’s fair attention. Teaching Hospitals and other Federal Health Institutions were relatively refurbished and equipped.
Obasanjo’s eight years in office, unquestionably had high points as well as grossly low points. For instance, corruption was not evenly and efficiently fought, even though he institutionalized the fight against corruption by establishing two major agencies, EFCC and ICPC for the fight against corruption.
His government was not spared by international rating and index such as Transparency International as a corrupt government. Global Corruption Barometer Survey Report of Transparency International in 2006 stated that progress was made by Obasanjo’s government’s fight against corruption, but corruption was still rampant and higher in Nigeria than many other countries.
The two general elections Obasanjo’s presidency supervised in 2003 and 2007 went down history as most characterized by massive frauds and irregularities, as reported by international observers and media editorials. Billions of Naira was spent on NEPA and its successor PHCN and electricity supply fluctuated between 2,000MW and 4,000MW, against projected 10,000MW by government.
Nigerians, who were to have benefited from good governance, got their lots worsened during Obasanjo’s eight years in office. According to reports, unemployment soared. About 44 percent of Nigerians had no access to improved sanitation, about 48 percent had no access to improved water supply, and about 40 percent had no access to electricity, while between 60 to 70 percent lived below poverty line of less than $1 per day.
Obasanjo’s leadership style fell short of a democrat. He had no regards for the rule of law and flagrantly disobeyed court orders. He simply ran a one-man-show type of leadership. Obasanjo was all-knowing, least corrupt, most religious and a statesman per excellence. No one could advice him – even when he had paid Special Advisers and Assistants. He was always not playing the role of a unifying political actor in the country.
Obasanjo engaged his vice president Atiku Abubakar in a do-or-die fight on different issues. He almost soiled his political career and statesmanship with the botched third-term bid. He mismanaged the Niger-Delta militants’ agitation. He employed the least diplomatic approach to crisis management of the volatile situation in the region. To the people of Niger-Delta, today, Obasanjo remains one leader they would have nothing to do with.
Umaru Musa Yar’dua
Umaru Musa Yar’dua’s brief spell in office, as president, who succeeded Obasanjo in May 29, 2007 were eventful. He would be most remembered for his very skillful handling of the amnesty programme that restored peace to the troubled Niger-Delta region. He would also be remembered for publicly admitting that the election that brought him to office as president was seriously flawed by irregularities, and initiated far-reaching electoral reforms to instill confidence in Nigeria’s electoral system.
Goodluck Jonathan, vice president to Musa Yar’dua became president on the doctrine of necessity after the death of his boss. He completed the tenure of Yar’dua. In 2011 he was elected president of Nigeria in a general election and sworn in May 29. Jonathan’s presidency was equally eventful. He emerged president against several odds — from political actors, who did not support his Presidency. These actors opposed to Jonathan’s presidency claimed that they needed a northerner to complete the tenure of Umoru Musa Yar’dua. Others threatened to make his tenure ungovernable.
Jonathan made notable political appointments of renowned professionals and technocrats to run the affairs of his government programme which he tagged: “Transformation Agenda”. On May 29, 2014, Jonathan made half-hour broadcast on national radio and television. He recounted the progress his government had made. He also evaluated the general progress the country had made since the first Democracy Day on May 29, 1999.
One remarkable achievement, according to Jonathan, as at [May 29, 2015], 15 years of unbroken democracy was what he described as: “scope of fundamental rights and liberties enjoyed by our people” which he said “expanded beyond measure”, such that the country has not experienced in decades past. Goodluck Jonathan was right. He was in a better position to make such assertion as achievement.
Under his watch, Nigerians, undoubtedly, enjoyed and experienced the “scope of fundamental rights and liberty”, which actually “expanded beyond measure”, such that the country never experienced in the past decade. Jonathan’s presidency ensured citizens unfettered access to freedom of expression and association.
The signing into law the Freedom Of Information Bill attests to this. He was the most vilified of Nigerian presidents, yet there were no reprisal consequences for attacks on his person and his government. Citizens and foreigners felt secured in the country. People were not hounded about on trumped up charges of perceived offences committed.
Jonathan laid solid foundation for democracy to thrive in Nigeria. He introduced major electoral reforms from where Yar’dua stopped, and entrenched the principle of one-man-one vote in the electoral process to ensure each vote counted. He brought one of the best and brightest minds to drive the electoral process in the person of Professor Atahiru Jega as Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Under Jega’s watch, elections were convincingly won and lost. When Jonathan’s party, the PDP, lost to the opposition, Jonathan congratulated the winners, and encouraged the losers to try again. Jonathan was famously known for his commitment to democracy with his expression that no ambition of his was worth the blood or life of anyone.
Jonathan’s May 29, 2014 broadcast, further listed “high national economic growth rates, steady improvements and expansion of national infrastructure, restoration of rail systems, implementation of energy roadmap to improve power supply, revolution in agricultural sector, improved road network, airport expansion, local content policy and better opportunities for Nigerian entrepreneurs and skilled personnel, oil and gas sector”, as achievements made possible as a result of uninterrupted democracy.
Jonathan’s government opened up the agriculture sector to local and foreign investors, in such a way that brought back hope to local farmers, with added value chain. The agriculture transformation programme was driven by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, Nigeria’s most successful Agriculture Minister. He introduced wallet system to get fertilizer direct to local farmers without middle men. Jonathan’s government launched cassava baked bread. The government introduced and launched farming programmes to economically empower the small and medium scale farmers and the youth. A good number of youths, small and medium scale farmers benefited from the programme.
Within three years of Jonathan’s government, Adesina said the number of integrated modern rice mills in the country rose from one in 2011 to 18 in 2014 – all processing local paddy rice into high quality finished rice. High quality and well packaged Nigerian rice was in the local market, including Quarra Rice, Umza Rice, Ebony Super Rice, Eko Rice, Mikap Rice, Ashi Rice, Queen of the Niger and Mama’s Pride. The government repeatedly stated that it had self-sufficiency food plan by the end of 2015.
Jonathan’s government embarked on holistic airport remodeling and upgrading, as part of aviation roadmap it launched, to ensure safety, security and efficient airport operations. Phase one of the project involved the reconstruction of airports in Abuja, Benin, Calabar, Enugu, Jos, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos, Owerri, Port Harcourt and Yola were expected to be completed in first quarter of 2013.
The airports were completed and commissioned. The General Aviation Terminal, GAT, at Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos, known as Domestic Terminal One is a beauty to behold. The reconstructed and commissioned Domestic Terminal One of Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, is with a touch of class.
Before the Airport remodeling project, Nigerians and other users of the country’s airport never hid their displeasure on the state of airports in the country. The structures and facilities at the airports were obsolete with malfunctioning air conditioners, conveyors belts, toilets, as well as, airports that were unfittingly overcrowded with touts. Past efforts to facelift the airports, even with huge sums of money involved, did not pass the test of time.
Stella Oduah, Aviation Minister, at 2013 ministerial platform, indicated that the ministry was partnering with the private sector to establish a national carrier to undertake domestic, regional and international flights. Her words: “It will further complement the existing airlines operating in Nigeria and we expect the national carrier to partner with Africa’s focused aircraft leasing business”.
Obasanjo liquidated Nigeria’s national carrier and Africa’s pride, Nigerian Airways Limited in 2003, on allegation of corruption against the Board of Directors and Management of Nigerian Airways Limited. In response to mounting criticism and pressure against the liquidation of Nigerian Airways Limited, Obasanjo said he did not owe Nigerians an airline.
Jonathan’s government significantly improved the rehabilitation of rail system across the country. After SURE-P Railway Sub-Committee meeting in August 2013, in Abuja, Mr. Chike Okogwu told newsmen: “We have spent over N30 billion in railways since inception of SURE-P. The N30 billion is for the rail projects all over Nigeria. We have the modernization project from Edo to Abuja to Kaduna which is new line and standard gauge line. We have done the rehabilitation of the Eastern line which is divided into three contracts, Port Harcourt to Makurdi, and from Makurdi through Jos, Kafanchan also Bauchi to Gombe and to Maiduguri”.
The western rail line, according to Okogwu was at 90 percent completion before the committee’s intervention. He said Edo to Kaduna lines with materials on site was about 55 percent completion, while the Eastern line was at 48 percent completion. He was optimistic some of the projects would be completed in good time.
Nigeria Railways Corporation, NRC, re-introduced freight train service at Apapa Port, Lagos, in August 2013. The terminal operators at Apapa Port applauded the inauguration of the Container traffic train service from Lagos to Kaduna and Kano and hoped it would transform and boost the nation’s economic activities. President Buhari, just six month in office launched the Kaduna-Abuja rail system. This was not a project his government initiated and executed.
Mike Onolemenmen, Jonathan’s Minister of Works, while in office, gave a picture of Nigerian roads networks. He said in the1980s, Nigeria boasted of the best roads networks in sub-Saharan Africa. But the huge investment on roads in the ‘80s was not matched with maintenance strategy. Out of 200,000 kilometers of roads in the country owned by federal states and local government only 39,000 kilometers are paved, according to the minister.
In comparison, Onolemenmen said United State has 6,506,204 kilometers; China 3,806,800 kilometers; Brazil 1,751,868 kilometers; Turkey 352,046 kilometers; and South Africa 362,099 kilometers; against Nigeria’s 36 States federal, state and local governments with 200,000 kilometers of roads and only 39,000 paved.
Onolemenmen projected that for Nigeria to be among the first 20 economies in 2020, roads infrastructure needed to grow from 200,000 kilometers to about 300,000 kilometers. The minister’s analysis showed that roads deficit in Nigeria transcended several governments. According to the minister, Jonathan’s government took reasonable measures to put roads in the country in motorable shape.
Jonathan’s government further opened up the space, after Obasanjo, for private sector investment in education – especially university education, by approving several privately owned universities in the country. There was also massive investment in educationally disadvantaged areas, such the Almajari schools in northern Nigeria. Notable in the health sector, was the government’s outstanding fight against EBOLA epidemic with minimal casualty, and other areas in the health care services.
Different versions of what the state of the nation’s economy was when Jonathan handed over to President Buhari in May 29, 2015 emarged. Some claimed that Jonathan left what they described as “empty treasury” — no savings, no infrastructure, power, rail, roads.” Others claimed he was a “clueless” president who could not perform. Obasanjo, the “king maker” described Jonathan’s performance as “below average”.
The facts were that Nigeria had about $36 billion external reserve when Jonathan handed over to Buhari. The Excess Crude Account had $2.3 billion. The Sovereign Wealth Fund Account had $1.5 billion. The Treasury Single Account was Jonathan’s baby. The monies in various federal establishments transferred into the TSA when Jonathan handed over to Buhari were N1.8 trillion.
These figures, added up, even in elementary arithmetic show the state of finances Jonathan’s government left behind for Buhari’s government. Did Jonathan leave an “empty treasury” for Buhari’s government? Godwin Emefiele, Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor, would be better place to provide an answer. Under Jonathan’s watch, Nigeria rebased its economy and became Africa’s largest economy.
There were exchange and corporation with Nigeria’s traditional friends during Jonathan’s government. In 2012, European Union, EU, commended Nigeria for its role in supporting democracy in Cote d’voir, Guinea Bissau and Guinea. Nigeria provided noteworthy assistance for Guinea Bissau presidential election that brought in Jose Mario Vaz as president.
There were odd sides of Jonathan’s government. Jonathan’s failure to implement the Report of the National Conference lowered his score-card. Worse was Jonathan’s government’s passive attitude towards the fight against corruption, which, indeed, earned his government unfavourable reputation. The war against insurgent Boko Haram was not approached strategically.
President Buhari’s government was sown-in May 29, 2015. Two years of governance in Nigeria, accessing Buhari’s government is simple. Obasanjo ones told journalists on his way out of the Presidential Villa, after a visit to Buhari that he [Obasanjo] would not criticize the President because he knew his capacity to perform – what President Buhari could do and could not do. Obasanjo was right. Not only Obasanjo knew President Buhari’s professional skill [as a soldier] and management competence. Nigerians also knew.
The political platform on which Buhari emerged president, All Progress Congress, APC, during its electioneering campaign led by Buhari the flagbearer, promised voters dozens of what the party’s government would do to develop the country and improve their lots. At Buhari’s inauguration speech, he focused on security – with emphasis on Boko Haram insurgent, tackling corruption, and the economy. The APC has jettison its election campaign promises – some it swore the party never made; even though they are in public domain, and copiously traceable to the party as its campaign promises.
Boko Haram has, indeed, been decimated, certainly, not conquered. Defeating Boko Haram may out live Buhari’s government. The rescue of over 100 abducted Chibok School Girls, so far, out of close to 200, is a lot of progress by the government. But national insecurity is escalating. The massive killings in Southern Kaduna and Benue States, which is spreading to other States by Fulani Herdsmen, are sad commentaries.
Kidnapping is soaring across the country – both on wholesales and retails – including kidnapping innocent school children, facilitated by lack of adequate and efficient policing system. Armed robbery incident is equally soaring in the country. Kidnapping and armed robbery have become a national scourge.
The situation in the Niger-Delta region remains an uneasy calm. The region’s militants who have been agitating for equity in developing the region are sitting on explosives on the oil wells and waiting to do their bids if government fails in its responsibility to equitably develop the region.
President Buhari said getting the economy up and moving was priority of his government. He would engage technocrats and experts to drive policies for national economic growth. He kept Nigerians waiting for close to six months before appointing ministers who would drive the process of policy implementation. When he did appoint ministers, it was obvious the economy would not be moving forward. Few months later, the economy moved into recession.
Foreign Exchange rate inherited by Buhari’s government was less than N200 to the dollar. Now it hovers between N400 to N500 to the dollar. The country’s inflation rate is in the neighbourhood of 18 percent. Cost of living skyrocketed. Liter of petrol moved from N96 to N145. Kerosene moved from N50 official rate to over N200. Diesel and gas prices hit the roof. The managers of the economy [economic management team] seemed to be in the dark of which direction the economy should go. Why the system is failing President Buhari and his economic management team blamed everything on corruption.
President Buhari began to market his country globally as the most corrupt in the world. The international community and investors became apprehensive about doing business in Nigeria. Taking after the president, former British Prime Minister Cameron, once, described Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt.” No one would coat his personal estate or interest as corrupt, as the present government has painted a gloomy picture of corruption about Nigeria to the world.
In September 2016, President Buhari’s managers, gathered some young minds described as “Creative Youths” in ASO Rock. According to Punch Newspaper of October 1, 2016 page 8; and told them: “I am going to bore you with what we met…. When we came in, I screamed to high heavens because I had promised a lot while seeking votes. I asked where is the savings? There was no savings. There was no infrastructure, power, rails, roads, there was none”. Even before young minds, the leaders of tomorrow, President Buhari continued to desecrate his country.
Buhari’s war against corruption in twenty-first century democracy is taking the form of his 1984/85 military dictatorship as Head of State; when he arbitrarily and high-handedly jailed civilian governors, some, for as much as 100 years and above. His government has been tirelessly trying to replicate the 84/85 tragedy, in a democracy and under the rule of law, in the guise of waging war against corruption.
Official corruption is crime against the people. For the money meant for national development – to provide infrastructure and enhance the welfare and better living condition of the people to be looted by few unpatriotic persons is not in the best interest of the nation. The persons involved need to account for their unpatriotic conducts. But it must be within the rule of law.
Buhari’s war against corruption has two versions. The carrot version for close allies to the president, and Gestapo version employed by the DSS and EFCC, to others who are alleged to be corrupt. Many of whom are still under unlawful detention for months without trials, against court orders for bail, and the dehumanizing condition of people presumed innocent by law until found guilty.
Nowhere in civilized society would homes of highly placed judicial officers such as Supreme Court and high court judges be stormed at the middle of the night, their families traumatized and brutalized by the DSS in the guise of fighting corruption as epitomized by Buhari’s DSS in the crackdown on judges in Nigeria.
While the crackdown of Judges was going on, Buhari warehoused alleged corrupt persons in his government, including Acting Chairman of EFCC Mr. Magun, whose confirmation of his appointment had been rejected twice by Nigerian Senate on report from the DSS as not fit and proper person for the job because of allegation of corruption against him.
Two years on of Buhari’s government, midterm report of his government performance seem not favourable. Nigerians are not better off after two years of President Buhari’s tenure. The government’s spokesman Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information, need to carry out voice-pop or an empirical survey across the country and published its findings unedited for Nigerians to genuinely assess Buhari’s government.