Fellow N/landers, I took pain to type this article I saw in the Daily Trust as I could not find the electoronic copy on their website, also because of its importance to Nigerian history, if indeed we have all being fair in our assesment of the OBJ administration. I find this article highly instructive, most especially from a newspaper that has had an average of 3 articles on a daily basis bashing Obasanjo for close to two years now. This newspaper has called OBJ names unthinkable in many of their publication that one would think their sole mission for existence is to destroy anything Obj. This article was written by one of their Snr staff, I encourage you all to read through and let see if we can put history in their proper perspective, sentiment apart.
So Obasanjo did not do a Single Good Thing?
Article by Idang Alibi, a senior staff of Daily Trust
Daily Trust Newspaper of January 8 and 15, 2009.
When I ask some people why they hate Obasanjo so much, some tell me that during his administration Nigeria earned so much revenue from crude oil but that he did not do anything with it. Really? As far as I know the evidence on ground contradict that assertion. We will look at my own evidence. I think it will be fairer to say that according to the way each of us sees things Obasanjo may not have done much as we wish he should have, but to say that he did not anything is unfair lie. The following are some of the significant things I think that Obasanjo did with Nigeria’s petro-dollars.
Freeing Nigeria from debt enslavement: For me the single most important thing Obasanjo did for Nigeria was to free her from debt peonage. And recently, the current Minister of Finance, Dr. Mansur Mukhtar gave what to my mind is a well deserved salute to Obasanjo by saying that if we had not negotiated an exit out of our then 33 billion dollars debtat the time we did, today we would not be talking of owning 33 billions dollars. What we will talking about instead is 50 billions dollars indebtedness to foreign creditors. This would have come about for penalty payment for defaults and accumulated compound interests. See the great gain Nigeria has got from Obasanjo’s sagacity and courage. When he took that step many condemn him savagely.
Some mocked at Obasanjo calling him a man of the old school who was a living example of the biblical admonition that you should owe nothing to anyone. Some radicals even wondered how any sane man will want to pay such a huge debt. They cited the example of the USA as the most indebted nation on earth who was not even in a hurry to repay what she owe and wondered why Nigeria should seem in such a hurry to pay her own. They sounded as if owing and refusing to pay is a kind of virtue and not a vice. Mercifully. Obasanjo disregarded them all. And today, we have Obasanjo to thank for his patriotic stubbornness. At least Obasanjo is right on that score. Why do we no acknowledge and give him credit for it? Obasanjo used part of our oil revenue to free us from enslavement. That is no mean achievement.
The positive spill-over effect of our freedom from debt can not be quantified in material, monetary or even spiritual terms. Our quality of life today would have been considerably lower if we were still indebted. Some relief gained as a result of our exit from the debtors club has done much to alleviate poverty in the land.
I said at that time and I will like to say it here now that if Zik, Awo, Ahmadu Bello and other nationalists can be credited for winning for us our first independence, Obasanjo can be said to be the man who won for us our second independence when when we lost it through our foolishness and recklessness. From the confession of Dr. Mansur Mukhtar, Obasanjo has been vindicated.
Building of Foreign Reserves: What is the second important thing Obasanjo did with our oil money? He built foreign reserve of over 60 billion dollars for Nigeria. It was under Obasanjo economic management that for the first time in the history of this nation where leaders squander money like drunken sailors that we managed to save that much for a rainy day. It takes prudence not to blow away a fortune. Let us give Obasanjo some credit for frugality.
The Integrated Power Project: Obasanjo used part of our oil wealth to try provide light for Nigeria. It is unfortunate that today the story of integrated power project undertaken by Obasanjo is so mired in the politics of intrigues , manipulation of information to achieve certain objectives and blackmail that no one knows the real truth about it. Obasanjo did not deliver light to Nigerians with the IPP. But what is a greater truth is that the idea behind the building of sic gas –powered power plants was not a foolish one. The low intensity insurgency in the Niger-Delta where gas was to be sourced for the plants may make the idea foolish today but some of us are being wiser after the event. The tragedy of highly politicized probe into Obasanjo power project is that we can not just be certain about how much was actually spent and whether or not the amount spent is commensurate with the results achieved.
I think that if we were not too much in a hurry to demonize Obasanjo but had taken the time to find out exactly what he did, where he stopped and what remains to be done and taken the steps to complete what was outstanding, the IPP would not be the disaster that it is held out to be.
I would have wished that Obasanjo had completed the power project and left a legacy of stable power supply, but for whatever reasons he was unable to do so. But government is suppose to be a continuum . At any rate, it has not been decreed that it must be Obasanjo who should solve our power problem. He did his best to the best of his ability. Let us commend him for the little he did and urge the present administration to learn from his failure and give Nigeria steady power supply.
The unnecessary bad blood that has been generated over the power probe will not give us light. What will is for intelligent and patriotic persons to sit down and decide what to do and avoid distracting politicking and posturing. We spend too much time blaming the past in this country, when what we need to do is to plan our future. If I were in the medical field I won’t want to be a post-mortem surgeon. I would prefer to be a reconstructive surgeon.
Dualization of Nyanya-Keffi road and building of the National Stadium, Abuja: Still in answer to those who wonder what Obasanjo did with the oil money that accrued to him, I want to mention two projects that quzzuled some of that money. For some of us who live in Abuja and who have been here before the second coming of Obasanjo in 1999, we must be aware of how the old Nyanya-Keffi Road which was then one lane road used to consume human lives almost on daily basis. Almost on daily basis the stretch from Sanni Abacha Barracks to Nyanya used to witness horrible accidents. Trailers and other heavy duty vehicles used to be involve in multiple accidents, killing, maiming and destroying property.
Obasanjo dualised that road and today the demons that used to suck blood on that road has been contained. That road cost about 50 billion dollars. If some of us do not consider it remarkable , I do for the simple reason that people are no longer dying needless deaths on that road anymore.
The Abuja National Stadium: As with many things associated with Obasanjo, when he muted the idea of building a national stadium in the federal capital, many Nigerians kicked against it, saying that the money should be put into other projects that will have greater relevance on the lives of the average people.
Some of us said then that if the money earmarked for the stadium was used for it or not poverty will not disappear in Nigeria. Obasanjo went ahead with the stadium project. Today, it is standing as a monument executed during the Obasanjo era. And it will continue to stand as a memorial of to the stubborn nationalism of Obasanjo. Am pretty certain that when the Taj Mahal was built in India several centuries ago as a monument to love, some social critics of the era had mouthed some sentiments about the plight of the poor in India. Today India still has millions of poor people and the Taj Mahal is still standing strong, inviting millions of visitors to India year in year out.
So Obasanjo did not do a single good thing? (Concluding Part)
In the second part of this series published last week, I had mentioned some of what I consider some of Obasanjo’s concrete or solid legacy for Nigeria. In it, I forgot to mention also Obasanjo’s achievement in the gas sector. I do not have the figures but I do know that before Obasanjo left, Nigeria was earning more money from gas than she used to do before Obasanjo’s second coming.
In this concluding part of the Obasanjo story which some do not wish to hear but which I think I have a duty to tell all the same, I wish to dwell on the realm of concrete policy or paradigm shift. I believe that here too Obasanjo also left a string of achievements worth commenting on. The value of some of the policies that Obasanjo sought to institutionalize in Nigeria can not be calculated in monetary terms but those who know can attest to their value. I will mention only a few here.
Privatization Policy: Since independence, we have been confused about exactly what economic philosophy to adopt for national growth and development. We were practicing a confused and confusing model called mixed economy. This was a strange form of socialist capitalism. Under it, government owned what we call the commanding heights of the economy. Government was into almost everything. It owned hotels, airline, ports, even restaurants and telephones, just about everything as I said.
Arguments raged in the land about whether we should adopt capitalism or socialism as a national ideology for economic development instead of the mixed economic model that had truly mixed things up for us and which was at the root of why we did not get anywhere. Harry Truman once said that some questions can not be answer but that they can be decided. It took a man of decision like Obasanjo to decide that an end be put to the mixed economic nonsense. Obasanjo decided that Nigeria should become a full fledged capitalist nation.
And he decided so through a vigorous pursuit of privatizing loss making public enterprises which government had no business going into in the first place. My friends in the socialist camp have been riling against this courageous decision and since then abusing Obasanjo as a rununig dog of neo-liberal economics. I am an economic illiterates but I have the elementary knowledge that state’s involvement in business is not very good business at all for Nigeria. If it has succeeded in other countries, there is no indication that it will ever succeed here except we have a government run by angels for angels living in Nigeria. Our attitude to public property is so poor that when people talk about our common patrimony in Nigeria , I am truly puzzled whether they re actually talking about Nigeria.
They talked about NITEL which in over 40 years of our nationhood could only provide over 400,000 telephone lines to service over 140 million people. They talked about other drain-pipe enterprises that were only there for a few privileged citizens. Me, I could not understand what was going on. But I can understand what Obasanjo did. He wants Nigeria to adopt a clear cut capitalist development path.
The Bekwarra of Northern Cross River State, did go to the University of Chicago, that hatchery of Nobel laureates in Economics, but they have a proverb which shows that even as unlettered as they are they see something wrong with socialism or the public ownership of property. That is why they say inone of their numerous thoughtful proverbs that” the community’s goat dies of starvation”. The Ibo also say that “our is ours but mine is mine” We used to die of telephone starvation when when NITEL was running our common telephone patrimony.
Monetization Policy: No recounting of the monumental achievements of Obasanjo would be complete without mentioning of monetization policy in which efforts were made to stop the practice whereby public servants become fat parasites on government. In fact in the past, public servants of a certain cadre become government pikins . They live in government houses, ride government cars fueled for them by government, fly first class at government expense and even feed themselves and family at government expense. Some had fleet of cars at their disposal to run all manners of errands for them at the expense of the public they were suppose to be serving.
If an electric bulb costing about 60 Naira in their government quarter needed replacement, government would be called upon to do so. Some times at ten times the price of the bulb! Yet some Nigerians who have not bothered to find out the wisdom in Obasanjo’s monetization policy condemn as a heartless man who sold government houses and took other steps to deny public servants enjoyment!
With the level of corruption and malfeasance in our system, if Obasanjo had not instituted monetization, there may have come a time that this nation will exist for the sole purpose of providing for a few public officers.
In an interview he granted to a Nigerian newspaper during the run up to the 2007 presidential election, a presidential aspirant Mohammed Buba Marwa, once said that the president that will succeed Obasanjo will not have much problem because Obasanjo had already taken some of the courageous decision that needed to be taken. Some of them are privatization, debt payment, monetization, etc which can be very very controversial indeed. No two persons can agreed on some of these issues. Which some will praise them to high heavens, some will condemn them with every atom of vehemence at their disposal. It needs a man of decision to decide one way or another and to vigorously defend his stance as the direction the nation should go. Obasanjo did that for Nigeria.
I admired and respect Obasanjo for restoring fuel supply to power the economy and the social life of this nation. I also ask God to note that Obasanjo tackled the shameful issue of retired pensioners who were starving and dying because the system could not cater for them. He may not have solved the problem completely but he tried very much. The National Health Insurance Scheme which Obasanjo introduced is not working very well. But let us commend that initiative and build on it. Obasanjo did bank consolidation. It is partly why they Nigeria economy is ot as troubled by the world’s economic recession as is the case with other nations. Let us praise him for this. Obasanjo undertook a reform in the insurance sector. He left that sector better than he met it. Let us acknowledge the little effort he made in that direction too.
There are three special Nigerians my family and I pray for every day during our devotion. Obasanjo is number one. The other two are Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and Nuhu Ribadu. I admire them for some great qualities they posses which are critical for leadership: courage, passion, conviction, commitment and patriotism. I keep praying to God to forgive Obasanjo, his sins and show him mercy for saving Nigeria from creditors. I also ask God to note it that it was Obasanjo and el-Rufai who made Abuja the most beautiful city in Nigeria that it was intended to be before some rapacious and thoughtless person were bent on turning it into slum.
I tell God to reward Obasanjo and his economic team for building our foreign reserves to about 64 billion dollars when he left. Some uncharitable folks say he was able build that not through any economic management wizardry on his part. That it was achieved on the basis of an oil windfall. But let us realize that Obasanjo had the sense of frugality not to have blown the windfall in a typical Nigerian manner. Economists have said that it was because of the healthy foreign reserves that we witnessed a measure of stability throughout Obasanjo ‘s tenure well into today. We need to be fair to Obasanjo for this.
I know a lot of Nigerians will descend on me for saying it but let me say it all the same: those who once described Obasanjo as the architect of modern Nigeria were not being sycophantic. He deserves that accolade. He laid the foundation or pillars upon which a modern nation should stand. The new pension scheme, the new integrated power project, bank consolidation, monetization policy, and many more are sure foundation Obasanjo erected upon which a modern industrialized Nigeria should be built. As I said in the first part of this write- up, Obasanjo left a legacy that if others build on Nigeira will be the better for it.
As a people we tend to react with emotion or hysteria to issues. Very few are given to cold or sober reflection or dispassionate look at the issues of the day. Our power wielders know this weakness of ours and that is why they have become so adept at manipulating and mobilizing popular mood against their political enemies or any one they want to destroy. They reach out to some corrupt elements in the media with half truths, untruths or outright lies and trust that the persons they want to demonize will become demons in the eyes of some gullible Nigerians in the next few days. Today the game in town is to bash Obasanjo and in atypically Nigerian bandwagon fashion every one is desperately struggling to add his own voice to the condemnation of Obasanjo. How sad.