Upon assuming power through a controversial election in 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, in one of his early interviews, responded to a reporter’s question, as to the ideology that drove him, (as reported on the BBC website) to act, the interviewer asked the president-elect, “what is your critical agenda for Nigeria?”, Obasanjo replied “Don’t ask me what my ideology or economic program is, I don’t know any law and I don’t understand economics, but I know it when my stomach desires pounded yam and egusi soup.”
That was an inauspicious beginning for Nigerians. For the next few years, neither the respect for the rule of law, nor the economics of developing Nigeria proved to be a concern for Obasanjo; only his personal aggrandizement and greed were catered to. After ruling Nigeria for another eight years, Obasanjo was required to leave office by the very form of government he dreaded most; multi-party democracy. In the end Obasanjo was not sure what legacy he had left Nigerians. In his last days in power, the BBC’s John Simpson interviewed Obasanjo at the Aso Rock, and asked him what he would like to be remembered for, Obasanjo responded, “that he hoped his legacy would be a feeling of confidence among the Nigerian people.”
The tragedy of the Obasanjo era is that, after promising so much, Olusegun Obasanjo and his gang did not provide the leadership, nor set the example worthy of emulation. The Obasanjo era is remarkable only for the greed, corruption, inordinate ambition, and total breakdown of the rule of law and accountability.
As I am talking, have you peep into Nigerian media report today? There is an offensive report that produced the visit Atiku Abubakar paid Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, after several years of political face-off between the “pioneers” of this democracy. A rethink into this development rewinds my memory into the duo era. Despite that the face-off between Obasanjo and his vice, Atiku reached a crescendo, all forms of allegations and accusations were tendered against each other. It appears the attack hounds of each camp spend their nights brainstorming on strategies to use in destroying the destiny of all Nigerians. We have heard tales of financial sleaze, and its murder allegation! Elements suspected loyal to the ex-vice president became even more desperate, threatening the lives of some ministers.
Gbenga Obasanjo (President Obasanjo’s son) accused him, as did the President himself. Several such accusations have been floating secretly, and openly. Atiku Abubakar was suspended from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), for three months, over corruption allegations, leading to his decamping to AC. Since ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo has always been a spoiler from his village to the State House. And he wanted to discredit his deputy which truncated the later’s Presidential ambition of Vice President Atiku Abubakar. But as we all know that the kettle cannot call the pot black. These entire abracadabras swept under carpet hurricanes our looted monies to the abyss, which was the crux of that face-off. Now that the wind had settled, they were coming to edge their differences, probably to ground Nigeria. Again, accusations have been that the Vice President is corrupt, and should not be allowed to stand as president in next year’s election.
I don’t find it all that surprising. They’ve been at loggerheads with each other for the longest. Both of them are corrupt in some sense, most likely. But OBJ’s really asking for impeachment, considering that he’s taken advantage of his oh-so-presidential position in a vindictive and offensive manner, not only against Atiku but also against journalists and news broadcasters.
Obviously, someone needs to be cut down to a much-more-befitting size. And I’d rather for Atiku to take office rather than yet another military nut with a superiority complex. Hell, maybe Odili!
One of the fallacies perpetrated in the official Nigerian and Western press was that Obasanjo had brought ‘stability’ to Nigeria. But the truth is that when Obasanjo controversially “won” election in 1999, Nigeria was already a stable, peaceful country with a duly elected constitutional government. We had a robust parliament debating the affairs of state. There was no insurrection on the horizon. If anything, it was Obasanjo who destabilized Nigeria and brought untold hardship to her people.
There is little doubt that under Obasanjo, Nigeria attained a level of international repute that she had not had since the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe. Nigerians remained a peaceful and law-abiding people and thus managed to avoid the encumbrances that have thrown our neighbours into civil strife and despondency. But our international acclaim, masked nagging problems at home that impoverished the people and made a change of government inevitable. Indeed, the domestic policies of the Obasanjo era present a legacy to avoid, if the country is to move towards economic development.
In the PDP, the party in government, whose ideological commitment to private enterprise and liberal democracy cannot be doubted, Nigeria has a good chance of developing a truly democratic-based free enterprise regime. Certainly, President Yar’Adua has given assurances that every support will be given to investors in an effort to resuscitate the moribund economy. However, Mr. Yar’Adua could also achieve some of his goals faster if he avoided some of the brazen and corrosive policies of his predecessor.
First, the new president must assure the business community that their investments and businesses will be safe from any wanton government policy that would lead to their ruin. Such an assurance will be a step in the right direction because under Obasanjo, established Nigerian businessmen and entrepreneurs suffered greatly.
Under Obasanjo, a ‘war’ was declared on Nigerian businessmen and entrepreneurs whose businesses, and in some cases their lives, were destroyed. Among them were:
*Chougory Brothers, a successful Indo-Nigerian businessmen who set in and provided thousands of jobs to Nigerians. After confiscating the assets of their assets, the Obasanjo government put their holdings under surveillance. Needless to say, the property became a business loss under government control.
*Jim Nwobodo, a south-eastern politician who was the CEO of Savannah Bank, got his establishment crumbled for what anyone could view an economic embarrassment not even to think about the day-by-day suffering Nigerians whose monies got entrapped insidethis Bank till date.
*Cletus Ibeto nearly gets economic-boot if not for Obasanjo’s tenure elapse which enabled his “Ibeto Cement” Factory here in Port Harcourt Back to stream.
*Could Merc Wabara come up to explain to us why his “Hallmark Bank ” was forcifully grounded into Ecobank?…this same Obasanjo!
If these businessmen and entrepreneurs had been given government support, or at least not interfered with, they would have expanded their outfits, created new products, and provided more jobs, thereby helping in Nigeria’s industrial take-off. Never should political considerations and personal jealousies be allowed to destroy entrepreneurial effort, especially that of the Nigerian in his own country.
President Yar’Adua must assure businessmen that banks and other financial institutions exist to advance credit for the expansion of their businesses, and that the banks do provide the legal mechanisms whereby such loans are repaid. This is the practice in all civilized countries. The government, in turn, must avoid the policy of confiscating factories and business assets, a technique used frequently during the Obasanjo era, either because the owners belong to different political parties or are accused of not paying their taxes.
The harassment of businessmen who have not broken any law must come to an end using EFCC and NAFDAC was heinous and disheartening that time. In this wise, one hopes the new government will
expedite the case (or lack thereof), regarding the proprietor of the Savanna Bank Nigeria plc chain so that he can continue in his business.
The proprietor of Savannah Bank, a young Nigerian businessman was “accused” of dispensing several bank loans. Rather than having her clients pay off the loan as required in a loan contract, the politician’s business was ransacked. His staff members were arrested, and his business crippled as a result. It is never a crime for a businessman to lend money by a bank to expand a business!
Government interference in Financial Institutions/Business relations based on political considerations must stop in order to afford an enabling environment for business growth. The harassment of businessmen who have not broken any law must come to an end.
Second, the new government’s desire to court investors will receive a shot in the arm if Yar’Adua avoided another Obasanjo legacy – the control of the Press through archaic laws. Perhaps the major cog in the wheel of democracy is a free and unfettered press. The American statesman Thomas Jefferson recognized the role of a free press in national stability when he said when the press is free, and everyone able to read, the Republic is safe.
There is nothing more stifling to homo sapiens than being denied the truth, or having an opinion and not being allowed the right to express it without fear of prosecution or harassment. Nigeria should never recede into the era of a “Culture of Silence”, when fear pervaded the entire country because Nigerians could not express an opinion.
President Yar’Adua can reassure Nigerians of his commitment to freedom of the press and of opinion by abolishing the Criminal Libel Law under which the SSS crippled critical opinion by using the Courts to levy heavy fines on newspaper publishers, journalists, and private individuals. A free press is a needed catalyst in economic development, and will help to unearth corrupt practices that inhibit investment and business growth.
The third policy change that will assure investors of the safety of their investments and their persons is the adherence to the rule of law. Very little can be achieved in a country where lawlessness abounds; and the traditional instruments of law enforcement are trampled upon. Under Obasanjo, a new term called “economic sacrilege” was employed to underscore the law of the jungle mentality where might is right. These “economic sacrilege” or armed enforcers were not beyond attacking private citizens including members of parliament and the Police with impunity! Such acts of lawlessness must cease if Nigeria is to attract investors.
Indeed, Nigeria faces excruciating economic problems as never before in her post-independent history. However, by adopting sound fiscal policy that can rescue the Naira from its doldrums, lower the interest rate (which can only be described as atrocious) on bank loans, provide an enabling investment atmosphere by setting an example in good leadership that controls corruption, (and cuts waste), Nigeria would be on its way to economic resuscitation.
Business and long-term investment will thrive best where a regime of tolerance, promotion of the rule of law, and adherence to the principle of Separation of Powers are developed into our national culture. The Obasanjo regime made mockery the judiciary and of all these cherished principles and ideals. President Yar’Adua should avoid the debilitating anti-business legacy of Obasanjo by promoting these principles and ideals as linchpins of his economic program.