President Obasanjo and his economic advisers are currently frustrated and enraged over increasing opposition to his “third term” agenda by the majority of Nigerians. Saharareporters was reliably informed that Obasanjo’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ discussed the ongoing anti-third term campaigns at a meeting earlier this week and concluded that more Nigerians are becoming opposed to the third term agenda. They decided to adopt different plans to either revive the campaign or to abandon it entirely and act as though it was a freedom of speech issue for the campaigners. However, the kitchen cabinet-in-session concluded that they would not build a foreign reserve that would be inherited by anyone else. Sources said that it has dawned on the President that if he cannot run for a third term in office, he might have also lost out on the opportunity to present a successor to the Nigerian people.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Ngozi Iweala, Nuhu Ribadu, Charles Soludo, Andy Uba, Julius Ihonvbere and another trusted aide were in attendance at the meeting. The President was said to look “very tired but angry.” The meeting reviewed the on-going third term campaigns and decided to embark upon a few palliatives to bring opposition to the agenda under control. With a few exceptions, those in attendance were said to be unimpressed with the way President Obasanjo’s friends were going about the 3rd term campaigns. Each of the attendees also reported back from their recent international trips with the conclusion that opposition from the international community was also growing.
Ngozi Iweala, the minister of finance, suggested that if the opposition to Obasanjo’s third term rule would not abate, the President should start an economic revival plan akin to the “Marshall Plan” as a way of bowing out of power respectfully. Further, he should also to embark upon spending the foreign reserve that had accrued from excess crude savings. According to Iweala, the economic team could not have saved up so much money only for others to come and inherit. It was also reported that the IMF and the World Bank, as well as other international financial interests, are already targeting the foreign reserve. They also expressed fears that the IMF/ World Bank might impose fresh economic policies on the nation so that Nigeria can turn its foreign reserve to international economic scavengers close to the two institutions.
Ngozi Iweala was said to be the feistiest at the meeting. According to our source, she dominated discussions. She was the one who proposed that, should the Third term agenda fail, President Obasanjo should go on a spending spree so as not to leave much money in the national treasury for people she described as “thieves.” She was said to have claimed the most credit for the build up of the foreign reserve as well as the debt relief deal which allows Nigeria to exit the Paris Club. She asked Obasanjo to come out with a “Marshall Plan” to eviscerate the foreign reserve by embarking on heavy duty capital projects and ensure that payments are made before quitting office. Her proposal includes building of more power projects, refineries, railways and more highways across the country. There is also a plan to spend billions of dollars in a Trans-Sahara gas pipeline project from Nigeria to Algeria. Some of the President’s friends in the US have been fingered as the consultants for this multibillion dollar project.
Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala came from the World Bank. She had served President Obasanjo as an economic adviser in his first term in office, seconded to Nigeria by the World Bank. She has been touted as a world class economist, even though her job at the World Bank was more administrative in nature. Upon her recruitment, to serve as minister of finance she was paid some $250, 000 per annum by the Nigerian government until outcry from Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora forced her to abandon the ‘dollar salary’. Earlier this year, Saharareporters spoke to her about her salary, below is the conversation between her and this reporter:
Saharareporters: Good evening Minister! How are you?
Minister: I am fine and who is this?
Saharareporters: Oh, my name is Sowore Omoyele. I am calling you from New York. I am a journalist/writer. I just have a question for you over the dollar salary issue!
Minister: “Dollar Salary?” The Dollar salary issue is dead! I am no longer talking about it. I no longer receive dollar salary. I am being paid in local currency now.
Saharareporters: No Ma’am I don’t think so. That is why I am calling you. We know your husband said you now receive your salary in Naira, but he didn’t say whether it is just mere conversion from dollars to Naira
Minister: Please, who do you say you are again, because I would like to find out how you got this number?
Saharareporters: Oh yes, my name is Sowore Omoyele. I am a writer based in New York….we write on the internet…
Minister: He he he, Ehe! Are you not the person who interviewed Gbenga Obasanjo that is in the news recently?
Saharareporters: You are correct ma’am
Minister: Laughter… then, yes I would like to speak with you but I am concerned about how you got my number. How did you get my number? This line is only dedicated to my husband and my kids. Isn’t there privacy anymore in Nigeria?
Saharareporters: Ma’am, why don’t you just understand that it is a telephone number and that I am a Nigerian citizen and that you are a public official? What is the big deal about you
r number? Why don’t we just talk about this issue rather than spend all the time talking about where I got your number from? I mean, you know I research and investigate stories. Getting your number is not exactly rocket science.
Minister: No, this number is for my family. It only meant for handling emergencies. I use it for my family only. Yes, I am a public officer but I am also entitled to some privacy. Don’t you guys have some ethics about how you do your things? I mean, you and that your partner, what is his name…What do you guys want from me?
Saharareporters: Really nothing madam, I just want you to be more communicative with people. I have just called you to ask a simple question and you are ripping me apart as if I am some hardened criminal. I am not a criminal, and you know that. I am a Nigerian citizen; I am from the country where you are a public official. How can it be wrong and criminal to ask you a question? You are not a CIA agent and so it is not a crime to call you. It is only in Nigeria that people go to jail for doing their legitimate duties. You know I won’t go to jail for calling you on the phone, right?
Minister: I am just concerned about how you got my number and the fact that you want me to interview with you on this line. I am expecting a call from my daughter Onyiye and I had thought the call was from her or my husband. Did you talk to my husband? How did you get this number?
Saharareporters: Okay Ma’am we have spent too much time talking about the number issue. Can we at least settle the dollar salary issues before you go?
Minister: Yes, what do you want to know?
Saharareporters: So how much do you receive now?
Minister: I receive the same amount as other ministers!
Saharareporters: How much is that in Naira?
Minister: Go and find it out yourself
Saharareporters: Haba, ma’am you are the apostle of transparency and accountability in Nigeria. You even publish allocations to state and local government every month, why can’t you reveal your salary?
I receive N794, 000 per …. (Saharareporters note: I didn’t hear whether it was per month or per annum).
Minister: I have to run now; my daughter is on the other line! Call me at this line if you want to talk 09……that is my office and business phone.
Saharareporters spoke to an analyst who said, Though the IMF has approved the PSI for Nigeria to exit from the Paris Club, the international financial institutions are not really fooled by the Nigerian government.” Another contact close to the two institutions who is also knowledgeable about the “Debt Relief” package said, “They know that the Obasanjo regime has been poor and weak in terms of institutional development.” Furthermore, the analyst told Saharareporters that the international community knows that offloading $12 billion dollars for debt repayment is not a wise decision. They were more concerned about the corruption which, as they know too well, Mr. President wasn’t fighting.
According to our contact, the international community sees Nigeria as a father of four kids who withheld the school fees and feeding allowances of his children so that he can pay his debtors. It never made sense to them, and it never will. They knew all along that the “Debt Relief” package was bribe money offered by Obasanjo to buy the international community’s opinion to perpetuate his stay in power, it merely confirmed what they had always said, that Nigeria was not qualified for debt forgiveness. He pointed to the huge foreign reserves and offered another analogy, “Why would a self-centered Obasanjo, who doesn’t really care about Nigerians, build a foreign reserve for an in-coming regime that he doesn’t know? It is like painting a rented apartment when you have already received a quit notice!”
The regime is also considering some political moves to reduce the opposition from the Niger Delta area. It has already announced a bogus spending plan for the Niger Delta area which includes massive spending on infrastructural development and employment for indigenes in the armed services sector. There is also a growing debate to consider releasing Alhaji Asari Dokubo of NDPVF, Chief Ralph Uwazurike of MASSOB and Gani Adams of the OPC. The attorney general is being briefed to consider letting them out on bail. As of press time, they have not been able to convince President Obasanjo who is said to favor their continued detention until his headache at the moment – Vice President Atiku – has been totally vanquished.
Last week Saharareporters gathered from sources inside Aso Rock villa that Obasanjo and his team were searching in Switzerland for more dossiers on Atiku. They were to ask the Swiss government to repatriate some funds traced to one of Atiku’s company accounts in Switzerland. They figured that crushing the VP was central to a more favorable atmosphere in case the third term agenda did not materialize. Our source also revealed that everyone in the kitchen cabinet feels isolated because of the embarrassing nature of the third term campaign. “They’ve all traveled out recently and found out that there are no allies in the international community as such.”
As proof of the frustrations of the kitchen cabinet, core member Professor Julius Ihonvbere, one of Obasanjo’s special advisers, had recently warned members of the international community to steer clear of Nigeria’s internal affairs. Although there were no public pronouncements or provocation from any country; his warning was a reaction to the undercurrents of opposition to the third term agenda.
Amongst members of the kitchen cabinet, Nuhu Ribadu and El-Rufai were said to be most crestfallen. El-Rufai is said to be dealing with a series of scand
als arising from the PENTASCOPE deals and also his close association with Jimi Lawal, who reports indicate might have made away with huge sums of money accruing from sales of federal government houses in Abuja. A source said El-Rufai, who has refused to publicly address the PENTASCOPE deal issues since it broke, might have officially confessed to President Obasanjo about the missing FCT money said to be $80 million and also invited the EFCC to intervene. Jimi Lawal is currently on the run after leaving Nigeria on the morning of February 15, 2006 on a British Airways flight from Abuja. He was aided in his escape by El- Rufai, who secured him free passage and encouraged him to run away to avoid further embarrassments to him. A few weeks ago, Jimi Lawal left London for China where he is currently hiding. The EFCC has asked INTERPOL to issue an international arrest warrant on him.
Nuhu Ribadu is said to be depressed by the exposure of his role in the clampdown on politicians opposed to the Third Term agenda. Ribadu was said to have turned down an invitation to accept an award by a US-based group because he didn’t want to be ambushed by Nigerians in the US and possibly the international media about the hypocrisy of his spearheading an anti-corruption war. He is said to swear to his closest friends that he didn’t know that he was being used by the President to hunt down his political opponents. He confided to some of his close aides that his intention to prosecute Bode George over the NPA scandals convinced him that the President will not tolerate him overreaching himself. He had since cut back on his public appearances and rhetoric. Overall, the third term campaign may be falling apart, the faith of the disciples are shaken but Nigeria’s foreign reserve in grave danger!