Economic Reforms: The More You Look…

by Dainam Dakolo


But for precedents, especially from past pursuits by men like Rivers State Governor Peter Odili, Senator Ibrahim Mantu, Ojo Maduekwe, Senator Arthur Nzeribe and other like-minded individuals, it would have been well-nigh inconceivable that a case for constitution amendment could be made to allow Chief Olusegun Obasanjo a third term on the basis of purported successes in political governance. Latching onto the regime’s reform programme and anti-corruption ‘war’ as well as unsubstantiated claims of sound economic management, politicians of that breed are driving the country to the edge of the precipice through diabolical schemes to have the head of the Abuja junta stay beyond the mandatory 2007. Obasanjo, who evidently enjoys the shenanigans, has nonetheless repeatedly admitted failings of his regime that, to right-thinking persons, are sufficient to establish the ordinariness of his standards and performance to date. He has, for instance, admitted the near-collapse of the entire internal security apparatus between 1999 and now, revealing how officers and men of the Nigeria Police Force constitute a menace to the populace, colluding with hardened criminals and providing assault rifles for armed robbery operations in the country. Inspector-General of Police (IG) Sunday Ehindero amplified that recently when he disclosed that a sizeable number of officers and men recruited into the Force between 2001 and 2004 are armed robbers. (See THISDAY, December 15, 2005, p.3)

The honourable man that he claims to be, Obasanjo has shown that he is nothing of the extraordinary leader that the Odilis and Maduekwes advertise to the world. Time and again he did bemoan the dysfunctional state of electricity infrastructure (despite the injection of over N400 billion into rehabilitation and expansion of power facilities since 1999) and the crippling impact on industrial output. Obasanjo is manifestly concerned about the high incidence of factory shutdowns and staggering statistics on job losses – Trade Union Congress (TUC), too, addressed the country on the crisis on Monday (March 13) – and youth unemployment, as well as the inflationary spiral that has pushed even the most staple of household requirements beyond the reach of the average citizen. Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) helped him out with hard facts in 2004: “From less than 50 per cent living below the poverty line in 1999, more than 70 per cent are now living in absolute poverty. That leaves us with 80 to 90 million Nigerians living in abject poverty.” (Daily Independent, October 8, 2004, p.A6).

The pervasiveness of corruption, too, has not gone unremarked. In fact, Obasanjo has vowed repeatedly to deal ruthlessly with culprits. His lamentation was echoed by the State Department in Washington, United States (US), in a 38-page report last week. The Americans, however, did not exclude The Presidency from the taint of corruption. Meaning that Obasanjo himself needs self-examination in his so-called anti-corruption crusade – at least, there is a N300 billion fraud in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and Federal Government budgetary allocations have been repeatedly diverted. Implicit in the State Department report is the suggestion that the Odilis, Achike Udenwas, Abdullahi Adamus, Bode Georges, and others at the forefront of the campaign for tenure extension be investigated and disgraced like other office holders who refuse to worship Obasanjo and Tony Anenih. (Is there, for instance, anything to choose between Governor Odili and impeached Governor Alamieyeseigha now being prosecuted for fraudulently diverting N124 billion into his personal accounts?) Pointedly, The State Department declared: “general economic mismanagement (by who else but the President and State Governors) hindered growth.” Another influential institution in the U.S., The Atlantic Monthly (a journal), summed up its review of events in Nigeria, thus: “For all its oil wealth, and after seven years of governance by one of Africa’s most highly touted democrats, Nigeria has become the largest failed state on Earth.” (See “Worse than Iraq?” NewAge, March 10, 2006, p.7).

But for the ideological groupthink that has made the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) an embarrassment to Nigerians and the black race at large, how would anyone dare suggest that Obasanjo, with his sickening attributes in full manifestation since 1999, is the kind of man deserving of tenure extension beyond eight years? Only a Peter Odili, an Ojo Maduekwe or an Ibrahim Mantu, with peculiar abilities for discernment, could have divined any distinction and proudly proclaim same to the rest of society. In 1993, as Deputy Governor in Old Rivers State, Odili saw such distinction in the notorious General Ibrahim Babangida, and joined other ‘elected’ Governors/Deputies of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) to pressure the military dictator to succeed himself. In 1998, as National Secretary of the defunct Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN), that Odili fellow recognised the widely detested General Sani Abacha as the best material for national leadership, and openly canvassed his (Abacha’s) adoption as sole Presidential candidate for the elections planned for that year.

Governor Odili – poor Rivers State; see the deplorable condition of Port Harcourt and environs, despite over N8 billion monthly revenue from the Federation Account – really did not have to allude to economic marvels and reforms by the Abuja junta to convince Nigerians about the necessity to give Obasanjo another 12 years in office after 2007. It is in his (Odili’s) character to play the mischievous role he is currently championing. What cannot be overlooked, however, is the deliberate attempt by him and the motley crowd on the third term train to distort facts and mislead the world about the content of the reforms being implemented by his current overlord. A word from Chief Charles Ugwuh, President of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), in reaction to an address by Professor Charles Soludo at a stakeholders forum in Abuja on April 20, 2005, should give Odili, Mantu and others an idea of how Obasanjo’s so-called reforms stand with Nigerians: “Until the average Nigerian feels the impact of on-going reforms, any claim to its success is not only questionable, but should indeed not be celebrated, as long as the industrial sector remains comatose and the average Nigerian miserably poor.” According to him, official statistics on accomplishments under the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) are strange to Nigerians, “because the impact can’t be felt in their lives.” (The Guardian, April 21, 2005) That was Ugwuh before The Presidency initiated the drive for recruitment of prominent figures into the third term trail.

Truth is, reforms not grounded in felt need (as expre

ssed through national consensus) and without institutional capacity for articulation and implementation of programmes can only lead to regression, as has been the experience in privatisation, liberalisation/deregulation and monetisation, among other policies. Look at the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE), for instance, and recall its countless false starts and the costs to Nigeria, beginning from the botched privatisation of Nigeria Telecommunications (NITEL) Plc (and the Federal Government loss of over N100 billion to Pentscope of The Netherlands) and Ajaokuta Steel Company (and the loss of yet-to-be declared losses to Solgas of the U.S.). Aside from that limitation, the absence of institutional capacity, Obasanjo’s regime has failed to demonstrate the level of transparency, firmness and doggedness required to make a success of any one of his reform programmes.

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