“What happened in Abeokuta was an executive extortion and it is a contradiction to the campaign against corruption…it was transparent and open.”
— Professor Wole Soyinka (May 16, 2005, Ibadan).
What bother me these days are not so much the immediate implications of what President Olusegun Obasanjo does and represents, but the very tantalizing and insidious precedent most of those attitudes and preoccupations constitute to those who would take over from him, assuming he truly goes in 2007. And it does seem, judging from the way he carries himself, that he is totally unperturbed by it all. In fact, he appears set to even embark on much more damaging adventures before the speculated terminal date of his administration. And for a nation whose political class is clearly distinguished by its unduly large appetite for unwholesome paradigms, it would, no doubt, require decades to totally purge future Nigerian leaders of all the unhealthy strains of Obasanjo’s peculiar leadership agenda and style, and gratify the deep yearning of the citizenry for a new, refreshing era of patriotic and selfless leadership, totally healed of all the festering sores of the disastrous Obasanjo leadership accident.
Penultimate weekend, the formal launch of the Obasanjo Presidential Library (OPL) project was performed with din and elaborate fanfare in Abeokuta, Ogun State. In the United States where Obasanjo saw this ego-massaging idea and plagiarized it with unqualified zeal, no public outcry usually attends its execution, mainly because, those whose idea he had copied (without their good intentions) are very sensitive to the feelings of their citizens, and so would not use their awesome executive powers to compel people and institutions to deploy their hard-earned resources to finance a clearly personal project. Presidential Libraries in the US are established and backed by law, funded by the state, and are known by all as the property of the state. In civilized climes, if serving presidents decide to set up private projects, such as Obasanjo has just done, they usually wait until they have left office before launching them, and, the success or otherwise of such events would serve to underline the people’s appreciation of their stewardship while in office.
Reports last week indicated that a lot of murmurings, bitter complaints and recriminations have been raging in several quarters as allegations fly about that people were indeed compelled to “freely donate” to the “very laudable” project. On Tuesday, last week, Vanguard Newspaper reported that “the private sector donation to the library project” was already “generating ripples in business circles”. In fact, some “shareholders, bank managers and others” who spoke to the paper “expressed anguish at the way donations were made at the venue. Some bank managing directors alleged they were compelled by an invitation letter from NNPC to make contribution to the project. Some expressed anger that a private project of the President could be turned into a near compulsion for businesses to donate shareholders’ money.” Specifically, a Managing Director of a bank told Vanguard that “banks which had direct dealings with the NNPC” and those “handling NNPC accounts were invited through a letter signed by the Finance Director of the corporation to donate to the project.”
Vanguard, in the same report, revealed that “banks were not the only private sector institutions that were compelled (through) subtlety to donate to the project. The NNPC had also written to oil companies to donate toward the project for which the seven major oil companies responded by donating $20 million (about N2.7 billion), the highest from the business community. Sources said since the NNPC and the oil companies were in joint venture, part of their contribution was government money.”
There is also the issue of the N10 million “donation” (read: levy) by each state governor said to have been pledged on their behalf by Gov Victor Attah of Akwa Ibom State, the current Chair of the Governors’ Forum, and the vexatious donation of $1million from the Nigerian Ports Authority, a very sick and dying government parastatal indebted to hapless contractors to the tune of billions of naira, to a project that has been described as a “totally private affair”. Already, there are reports that Gov Attah is currently under fire from his colleagues for committing them to such a huge, unbudgeted (and therefore illegal) expenditure without their consent.
The outrageous launch in Abeokuta has equally thrown up a body whose existence was before now unknown to Nigerians. This body, Obasanjo Holdings, donated N100 million to the library project. Who owns this Obasanjo Holdings, and when was it incorporated? Nigerians are aware that Obasanjo ran a failed farm in 1998, when he came out of prison, so was it from the ashes of this collapsed business that the Obasanjo Holdings sprung up to donate the N100 million? And where was the Code of Conduct Bureau when Obasanjo Holdings was being incorporated while the president was still in office? I am equally reminded that Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, have both obtained licenses to run private universities in Nigeria. Now what is the Code of Conduct Bureau saying about a serving president embarking upon private projects while still in office? And what more will Obasanjo use to reward these privileged businessmen and contractors who lavishly “donated” handsomely to his library project? Does this president have any modicum of respect for any law, orderliness and due process?
In an editorial on Monday, The Guardian could not hide its disgust: “The library launch has been described elsewhere as executive extortion. What has happened is perhaps more serious than that. It can be described as constructive corruption where the construction is subtle, disarming and palpably negative. And that is an extremely dangerous adversary for any anti-corruption crusader … Knowing the Nigerian mindset you cannot involve functionaries of government and its agencies and tell the world that all their donations are coming from their salaries and private enterprise.”
Salaries and private enterprise indeed! Was the N100 million donated by Gov Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State taken from his personal salary too, or was any provision made for that expenditure in the state’s budget? What will Nigeria look like by the time Obasanjo is through with it?
It does seem that Obasanjo is no longer ready to pretend about the now undeniable fact that he is in office to serve only himself, family and cronies. And he is really prepared to make good business out of this resolve. Whatever then happens to Nigeria in the process should be the exclusive bother of the long-suffering people of Nigeria.
With the kind of insidious precedents Obasanjo is setting in office, no one should be surprised if some like-minded fellow comes on board tomorrow as Nigeria’s president and decides to launch a multi-billion naira “private Presidential Estates” for himself, the way Obasanjo has just done. And the fellow could, in religious adherence to Obasanjo’s script, compel government agencies to “freely donate” billions of dollars and pounds to the project. Also, he could mandate the various contractors and businessmen who had posted billions of naira in
profits and sundry earnings due to the unhealthy concessions he had granted them to “freely donate” his own cut from the unwholesome deals to his “worthy project.” I find this emerging scenario very scary, because, unless there is a divine intervention, Nigeria would remain the helpless, exclusive menu of a small band of insatiable, unrelenting, vicious locusts.
This negative trend did not start in Abeokuta where the president netted without sweat some N6 billion naira penultimate weekend. Till today, I am yet to meet anyone who claims to know the real motivations for the N2 billion “donation” to Obasanjo by a group that called itself “Corporate Nigeria” during his recent campaigns for the presidency. Who knows the extent, his successors, emboldened by this unwholesome paradigm, would go to raise their own funds to prolong their reign?
Again, no one contests the fact that the Obasanjo presidency has seen the nation suddenly degenerate from massive rigging of elections to no elections at all. It is in this same era that we are being made to know that people can abduct a sitting governor, forcefully sack a dully constituted government, and get away with it. Again, in this era, the government has shown it could supervise the destabilization of a state, and order the total extermination of communities. This government will, perhaps, above all things, be remembered for its unparalleled contempt for court orders and the rule of law. It has equally promoted selective application of justice to a hallowed culture. And now, it has capped all these sterling credentials with what Prof Soyinka has called “executive extortion”!
With these legacies brazenly advertised before Nigeria’s aspiring leaders, is it possible that post-Obasanjo Nigeria would not be seen marching farther inside the thick forests of the jungle? Where is the will and scruples in those angling to succeed him (if all his self-succession scheming fail) to jettison Obasanjo’s very unholy precedents? If you ask me, I think the rebuilding and recovery of post-Obasanjo Nigeria might take some couple of decades to even commence. I only hope I would be proved wrong.