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Friday, October 14, 2016

Perception baggage of the Buhari presidency

Those who prophesied that then General Muhammadu Buhari would win the presidential election did not see beyond their nose, and Nigerians were too preoccupied with the ‘trophy’ and ‘who will carry the day’ to worry about its aftermath. That aftermath is here with us today. Indeed, the 2015 presidential election was keenly contested between ex-President, Goodluck Jonathan and now President Muhammadu Buhari. Nigerians had grown tired of what they referred to as 16 years of PDP’s misrule and Jonathan’s lacklustre performance. With the benefit of hindsight now, the national consensus that favored Buhari’s emergence was more of ‘PDP fatigue’ than Jonathan’s abysmal performance. Arguably, Jonathan might have been a beneficiary and an undertaker. The fall of the PDP actually predated him.

At the peak of Olusegun Obasanjo’s imperial presidency and PDP’s reign, it was easy to convince wannabes to keep their ambitions at bay, while the party hierarchy as headed by OBJ determined who got what in a classic case of lack of internal democracy. For those who tried to be stubborn, the president would unleash his attack dog, the EFCC on them. Your book of record, sins and misdeeds are presented to you to shut you up. This was the scenario that ensured the emergence of an ailing President Umaru Yar’adua in 2007. In order to appease the Niger Delta and curb the region’s restiveness, the same Obasanjo single-handedly made Jonathan, Yar’adua’s vice president under the PDP. Then Yar’adua passed on, and the rest as they say is history. By 2011, when Jonathan insisted on running for the presidency against the party’s own gentlemen’s power-rotation agreement and internal zoning mechanism, the seed for the eventual capitulation of PDP was already planted. So, affirmation instead of election and other undemocratic tendencies were issues that the emerging APC took advantage of in the 2015 presidential election, and the only credible symbol of opposition that the party could rally round, to lead it to victory, was Buhari.

With this background, it was easy for crystal ball gazers to predict Buhari’s victory, without predicting the possible reenactment of his past. They said he was a changed man, a converted democrat and a man whose wisdom has come of age and a dogged fighter to boot having contested for the presidency four times. We were told his past (mis) deeds did not count for anything. A quick peep down memory lane will suffice. Buhari first came to power via a military coup. He ruled with iron fist, and instilled fear in the populace. His economic policies were mundane; all that people could remember was the absence of essential provisions from their family shelves. His laws were draconian; journalists and politicians were sent to the gallows without proper hearing and trial. Those in the know say the brain behind his most successful societal orientation programme; the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) was his late second in command, Tunde Idiagbon. They attributed the failure so far of WAI’s successor programme, Change Begins With Me, to the man’s lack of interest in the ideals in the first instance. Yet, another tale has it that Buhari was an aloof head of state, who was only a symbol of the office while his lieutenant and cronies were into governance.

Fast-forward to today’s Buhari and you will see all the ingredients of the past. Pundits say he could be apathetic and the evidence is emerging. The passion of the president is sometimes at variance with the personal preferences of his cronies or associates. They make references to the opulent lifestyles of his immediate family and many of his associates, making them conclude that, perhaps change begins (and ends) with the president only. That says a lot about the anti-corruption war.

Again, let’s take a trip to the past. As a military head of state, he was autocratic and dictatorial. That was expected. His handlers told us he has changed. Really? The event of the last weekend has cast doubt on Buhari’s new image as a converted democrat. In a Gestapo military style, reminiscent of his past, the judiciary, the third arm of the institutional tripod, was viciously attacked. Residences of some supreme, high and appeal court judges were raided and monies allegedly recovered, all in an attempt to deepen the anti-corruption war. No Nigerian in his right senses would defend corruption or the stupendous wealth associated with some of the judges, but the manner of the raid calls to question the president’s leadership style.

A clean-up of the judiciary should be total and holistic and should start from the magistrate court right up to the Supreme Court. However, the latest swoop on some judges by an unlikey agency of government smacks of vendetta, witch-hunt and a hidden agenda. Last week, the presidency and the High Court discontinued the forgery trial against the Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.  I hope this judges’ case, when it gets to the courts, as it will surely do, will not end up like the forgery case.

In fighting corruption, you don’t pick, choose and don’t politicise, otherwise it will lose its essence. However the judges’ case goes in the end, it has already detracted from Buhari’s anti-corruption posture and his government’s credibility. Meanwhile, those who doubted his democratic credentials initially are daily being proved right.

National assets sales and elite conspiracy

Just because the richest man in Africa, Alhaji Aliko Dangote proposed the idea of selling off national assets to stave off economic recession, cannot and should not make it the gospel truth. When Dangote first mooted the idea, a lot of people felt he was flying a kite. However, when the National Economic Council approved the plan but which the Senate roundly rejected, it became obvious that there were hidden hands behind the idea; it is a clear conspiracy by the moneybags and the people that control the levers of power to take advantage of a very bad situation to further enrich themselves.

The proposal to sell national assets was borne out of the need to take the country out of the economic recession it has found itself, according to the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo after the Minister of National Planning, Udoma Udoma presented the plan to the council. Although the assets to be sold off were never itemized, speculation is focused on Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and refineries, which the government hoped would fetch it $50B to fund the 2016 budget.

In an info-graphic published by Daily Trust last Friday, the Federal Government owns 100% stake in the four refineries, 100% in the 22 federal airports, 45% in NLNG, 42.5% in African Finance Corporation, 24.9% in West African Gas Pipeline and six joint venture oil assets. If we sell these off, what else do we have to our name as an independent entity? And what do we leave for the coming generations?

This must be voodoo economic thinking. Our past experiences do not hold much hope for this new thinking. When previous governments went into privatisation frenzy, government corporations were cannibalised and sold off as scraps; the new buyers stripped the assets, after they had gulped millions of taxpayers’ money. What did we get in return? A few people were enriched and loss of jobs by workers in the process compounded the nation’s woes. The Assets Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON was set up to buy debts back and keep companies running; that too ran into troubled waters. If recession is only a temporary downturn, and assets are permanent, why do we have to do away with permanent assets to solve temporary challenges?

There might be some economic sense in selling off non-viable government corporations, but because of the political dimension the sale might take, it is not worth considering. The government earns almost $2B from the NLNG. When this government came in newly, it was to NLNG it ran, to get money for the first bailout to states. (The NLNG has injected $46B into the economy). The politics of it is very obvious; only cronies, moneybags, and supporters of this government, who, because of economic recession, are probably finding it difficult to recoup the money they lost through election funding, might be given the opportunity to buy. Is that why the government is considering the idea?

The mere thought of this has further deepened the loss of trust and confidence in this government. Elsewhere in the world, governments never cease to intervene in public and private corporations to help them come out of the woods. When Obama came in newly, America was in recession and several companies were threatened, but the Obama government bailed them out. They remained and have remained in business to continuously keep the economy going. State intervention in business is legendary and allowing market forces or selling off assets are definitely not a way out. Imagine selling off today, and in the next few years, the nation witnesses another recession, what are we going to sell then? In stimulating the economy, we can borrow a leaf from countries that have successfully done it: increase taxes of the rich and ostentations, cut down on benefits for the top echelons.

Although economic recession is almost global, Nigeria’s is biting hard because of mono-dependent economy, profligacy of the past, and the exportation of scarce forex to oil our lavish lifestyle and import consumption of foreign goods. The logical thing to do is to look for solutions in the problems: Produce what you consume, earn foreign exchange through the development of other sectors, cut down on wastages and reduce expenditures. And this can only be effective if we start from top to bottom. The executives and lawmakers should reduce their remunerations, and the number of their aides; presidential jets, which are almost 10, should be reduced to at least two.

It is not a surprise that Organized Labour and PENGASSAN in particular are planning to shut down the nation if this government goes ahead with its sinister plan. Workers are always the first casualties of such decision, as did happen with the privatisation of NEPA, steel companies, NITEL oil companies,Daily Times newspaper etc. This time around Nigerians will not allow this government to go away with blue murder, because that is what it is. They went scot-free with constant hike in the pump price of fuel, tax increases on ordinary people, hike in school fees, TSA, and all such tough measures and hard programmes that only inflict pains and hardship on Nigerians. It is now a different ball game. Government should not stretch the patience of Nigerians to its elastic limit. The 2012 fuel scarcity strike set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Jonathan PDP government. The APC government of Buhari can at best take a cue from that ugly past

Dame Patience: Back with a bang!

The former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan obviously enjoys the glitz of life in the limelight, even if such publicity is negatively skewed against her. This past week has seen so much of that, but the glamorous and powerful woman of yesteryears appears unperturbed about her perception by many as a bad representative of that office.

And so it was that the ex-first lady, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigation, was said to have been linked to $22.3M dollar in five different accounts in one of the new generation banks, out of which $19M has been frozen by the EFCC and more likely to be confiscated. 

According to The Nation’s report of last Sunday, besides the $22.3M in question, a fresh probe is ongoing over a N5B property in Abuja alleged to have been owned by the former first lady. The sleaze was perpetuated in collusion with 10 others among them, some bankers and domestic staff of the erstwhile first family.

The accounts according to the former first lady’s media office were opened to facilitate her access to fund while on medical trips abroad. An ailment that requires such an amount to treat could have claimed its victim. There is also a brewing controversy between Madam Patience’s media aide, Chima Osuji and Dr. Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, the former special adviser on Domestic Affairs to her husband, ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, on how the latter tried to shortchange the former first lady in the course of opening the accounts. 

 Over time, the EFCC has been accused of trying people in the media only for such people to get reprieve from the law courts. This time around, the former first lady took up the gauntlet: she has sued the EFCC demanding the release of $31M belonging to her.

Really, we live in interesting times. Mrs. Jonathan wants the courts to justify her claims to the money, because the accounts are in her name.  No problem, as she herself would retort. Conversely, Nigerians also have the right to ask for the sources of her sudden wealth, since running to court ‘to repatriate her confiscated money’ in the first instance is an admission of culpability and ownership of all the companies involved in laundering the looted funds. Indeed the former first lady is walking on a tight rope. Four of the associate firms in the money laundering case have pleaded guilty. The two aides of the former first family are opening up on what was originally in the closet. How then can she wriggle herself out of the money mess? What was Mrs. Jonathan’s worth before becoming Nigeria’s first lady? Can her total emoluments in life, even as a permanent secretary match what she is currently worth?

Nigerians are conscious of the enormous goodwill and patronages that accrue to the office of the first lady, solicited and unsolicited. Nonetheless, no one would   imagine the quantum of sleaze and stolen money stashed away by Mrs. Jonathan. With Dasukigate, we thought we had seen the end of primitive accumulation and acquisition of ill-gotten money, but with Mrs. Jonathan’s admission of guilt, associates and appointees who may be convicted in this case need some psychiatric examination, because it does not make sense to accumulate wealth that even two or three generations cannot exhaust. 

$22.3 at the exchange rate of N400 per dollar is about N8.9B. To say the least, this is more than stealing and daylight robbery. It’s is madness of the highest order and shameful. It is impunity taken too far. Nigerians have always been circumspect about the power, perks and perquisites that go with that office. With these revelations, their suspicion is now heightened.

 Over time the office of the first lady has been overwhelmingly powerful with the capacity to dispense appointments, goodwill and receive gratification in cash and kind in return.  They take advantage of their Olympian height as spouses of presidents or governors to commandeer and corner resources and appointments which they share to their cronies. That must have accounted for Mrs. Jonathan’s stupendous wealth. But even at that, she is in a different class among Nigeria’s first ladies.

The former first lady will not bury her head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. She is not in a hurry to leave the stage. In or out of office she loves to grab the headlines. She was lord when she reigned and won’t go down without a bang. If not, how would a woman, who should be sued on behalf of the IDPs, nursing mothers, pregnant women, school children, market women and the sick, all of who had suffered deprivation, on account of the activities of her husband’s government in which she was an active participant, have the effrontery to sue the EFCC for peeping into her closets of looted funds?

Time has come for us to rethink the office of the first lady, now that it has become an office for slush funds and for abuse by those who should protect and preserve its sanctity. That office should be sanitised, thoroughly over-sighted or scrapped since it does not even exist in our statutes books. Instead of the first ladies to support their husbands in office through input in policies, especially gender-based issues affecting women and children, they, through their aides and cronies, dip their hands in the till, yet they have no constitutional roles. Mrs. Jonathan, who in office was known for her drama and theatrics won’t go down without living an indelible mark.  Her recent legal altercation with the EFCC is indeed legendry and classic display of crass penchant for the absurd.

Ondo primaries:Bloody nose for the money bags

The Ondo All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election has come and gone but it has, to some extent, left sour taste in the mouth. By the way, the conduct of the election as shown in the open appeared free, fair and transparent; however, the clandestine wrangling and nocturnal intrigues that took place before the election is a throw-back to everything that democracy should be about. Sadly for the fixer- in-chief, the verdict did not favour their anointed candidate

Events preceding the primary election had shown the national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, pitched against the eventual winner and his estranged godson, Chief Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), the former President of NBA. Tinubu threw his weight behind his chosen aspirant, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, but the man lost to a less favoured man despite ‘distributing’ mind-boggling amount of money to the almost 3,000 delegates. This is majorly the crux of this piece. However, the demystification of Tinubu is another side to the story. Dr. Abraham enjoyed the support of Tinubu, the state executives and majority of the delegates, while Akeredolu was said to have been endorsed by the presidency and some ministers like Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi. And so it was that the tide was turned against the grandmaster’s favoured aspirant. What happened in Ondo state has set the stage for political turmoil, game and betrayals that are in the offing even in other states. The true test of aspirants’ popularity, acceptability and support base in any elections against anointment, inducement with money and endorsement will be unraveling in the coming months and years.

Talking about inducing delegates to sway votes, the delegates system of electing representatives has over the years entrenched corruption, so much that the winner is not necessarily the best or most popular but the one with the biggest war chest. In the case of Ondo, Dr. Abraham, the anointed candidate was alleged to have shared about N500,000 to delegates, Dr Olusola Oke gave N300,000, while Akeredolu gave out NI50,000 each. Multiply the amount by about 3,000 delegates and the cost of doing primaries alone runs into billions. In what is dubbed election scam on the social media, the people are now questioning APC’s spending spree via-a-vis their change mantra and the economic recession.

Although the most celebrated part of the Ono story is the defeat of the highest spender who was backed by the most colourful and powerful political grandmaster of the moment, the issue is beyond him. Our delegates system needs to be reviewed, scrutinised and amended. It has outlived its time and no longer sustainable. It is one of the remote causes of budget padding and corruption in the polity. Imagine spending over N1.5 billion to win a primary election as the god father’s candidate was set to do, or the eventual winner, Akeredolu who at N150,000 per delegate must have also spent about N450,000,000 in addition, to the cost of campaigns, renting of crowd and greasing of the palms of community/election victory influencers. When they are eventually elected, their first preoccupation in office is to recoup their expenditures.

The story is told of how one of the governors in the North Central emerged as a governorship candidate some years back. His predecessor who was still in government and wanted him as his successor expended as much as N600,000 on each delegate to outspend his closest rival who had disbursed about N500,000. So, the next four years was a crisis for the backwater state, the citizens and the governor who emerged through that money-guzzling process. He (the governor) was caught in the mix and confused about how to maximise the resources of the state, pay back the ex-godfather governor and deliver on good governance. Of course the crisis of prioritization snowballed into another controversial issue of patronage in government. And because the governor could not sustain the old system of doling out money and still do the needful, the citizens could not understand his predicament. The party men, leaders and delegates who had benefitted monetarily as delegates, wanted the largesse to continue and political appointees cried foul; it was complaints galore until the party was defeated at the polls. 

An indulging system that allows one man to control the levers of power and determines who gets/becomes what is anachronistic to democratic ethos. Therefore, what transpired in Ondo was like a revolt against cronyism and god- fatherism, and a lesson to would-be godfathers who are ready to spend billions on the election of one man with the hope of returns in form of contract kickbacks, while the state(s) and citizens remain tethered to the godfather’s apron strings without basic needs.

So while the APC godfather(s) got a bloody nose from the Ondo experiment, the final result was a vindication of the power of the people to decide who governs them; what Senator Alasoadura, himself a contender in the election, described as the triumph of the supremacy and sovereignty of the people.

Hopefully, this new narrative, coupled with the card reader, should ensure that the best candidate wins the gubernatorial election in Ondo state, just as we hope the same thinking manifests in the Edo election this weekend.