Obj to Buhari: Not all PDP governments are corrupt *$30billion foreign loan needless

Posted by Editor | 24 November 2016, 04:13am | 1012

Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo is angry at the penchant of President Muhammadu Buhari to hit at all the past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), governments in Nigeria since 1999 and tag them as corrupt.

Obasanjo, who took exceptions to what seems to have become the President’s singular reason for the parlous situation the country has found itself and why he has not been able to do much to get it out of the woods in the almost two years of his government, said Buhari, must be able to separate the several governments and comment on their activities differently.

Recall that Obasanjo was the first democratic government since Nigeria returned to full-blown democracy, ruling from 1999 to 2007 and that there had been two other separate Presidents since then.

The former President, known for his aversion to being considered corrupt, said on Wednesday at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture: “The blanket adverse comments or castigation of all democratic administrations from 1999 by the present administration is uncharitable, fussy and uninstructive. Politics apart, I strongly believe that there is a distinction between the three previous administrations that it would be unfair to lump them all together.

“I understand President Buhari’s frustration on the state of the economy inherited by him. It was the same reason and situation that brought about cry for change, otherwise there would be no need for change if it was all nice and rosy.

“Now that we have had change because the actors and the situation needed to be changed, let us move forward to have progress through a comprehensive economic policy and programme that is intellectually, strategically and philosophically based,” Mr. Obasanjo said.

“It is easier to win an election than to right the wrongs of a badly fouled situation. When you are outside, what you see and know are nothing compared with the reality.

“And yet once you are on seat, you have to clear the mess and put the nation on the path of rectitude, development and progress leaving no group or section out of your plan, programme and policy and efforts. The longer it takes, the more intractable the problem may become.”

The former president also criticised plans by Mr. Buhari to take about $30billion loan.

“I am sure that such a comprehensive policy and programme (that will move Nigeria forward) will not support borrowing US$30 billion in less than three years. It will give us the short-, medium- and long-term picture.

“Adhocry is not the answer but cold, hard headed planning that evinces confidence and trust is the answer. Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved.

“The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity. We must be careful and watchful of the danger of shortermism.

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“Short-term may be the enemy of medium- and long-term. We must also make allowance for the lessons that most of us in democratic dispensation have learned and which the present administration seems to be just learning.”

It was a day the former President, again took his war to a familiar turf – the National Assembly, with which he had a running battle throughout his eight years in office, the last being the rejection of the third term agenda he was said to have tried to promote, allegedly meant to make him stay in office beyond the constitutionally-provided two terms.

Describing the institution for law making in Nigeria as “stinking,” Obasanjo gave several reasons for his submission, just as he also spoke on the current controversy in the judiciary, where some judges are undergoing trial on allegations of corruption.

Hear him: “Let me comment on recent issues concerning corruption and accountability. Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly, senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The Judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’ I said a loud ‘Amen.’

“Three weeks later, the process of saving the Judiciary began. And, if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers who may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the nation.

If the Judiciary is being cleaned, what of the National Assembly which stinks much worse than the Judiciary?  

“Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practise. Ganging up to intimidate and threaten the life of the whistleblower is deplorable and undemocratic. What of the so-called constituency projects which is a veritable source of corruption? These constituency projects are spread over the budget for the National Assembly for which they are the initiators and the contractors, directly or by proxy and money would be fully drawn, with the project only partially executed or not executed at all.

“The National Assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time… Once you are a member, you are co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15 million a month for a Senator and N10 million a month for a member of the House of Representatives.

“The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.

“Like the Judiciary, the National Assembly cannot clean itself. Look at how the recurrent budget of the National Assembly, with the so-called constituency projects, has ballooned since the inception of this democratic dispensation. What were their budgets in the 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015? The revelation was both alarming and scandalous. Once, when I was president, I asked outside auditors, both normal and forensic, to audit the account of the National Assembly, they frustrated it on the basis of separation of power. They claimed they had oversight responsibility for their corruption and misdemeanour and nothing could be done.

“It is like asking a thief to watch over himself. There must be full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner at all levels.

“The National Assembly budget process is not only carried out in opaque and corruptive manner but also in grossly unconstitutional manner. Hence, our lawmakers are lawbreakers. They are the accused, the prosecutor, the defenders and the judge in their own case.

Obasanjo urged Buhari to investigate funds appropriated for constituency funds adding that the president should stop giving federal lawmakers funds for such projects.

“We should not continue to live with the impunity and corruption of the National Assembly. Yes, I believe that something can and should be done. The president should ride on the crest of the popularity of what is happening in the Judiciary to set up a highly technical team of incorruptible investigators to look into the so-called constituency projects of the past and the present and bring culprits to book…Nigerians will be shocked with what such enquiries would unearth.

“The National Assembly stinks and stinks to high heavens. It needs to be purged.” 

Obasanjo also said the blood of military men who died in battle in the North East will be on the hands of their leaders who misappropriated funds meant to purchase arms for them.

“When the military is corrupt, it affects its fighting ability in many ways. Poor, used and inappropriate equipment and materials are purchased by the military for the military at the expense of the lives of fighting troops in the warfront. In some cases, nothing at all is purchased. How callous, for a General, an Air Marshall or a Naval Admiral to be so cruel and unpatriotic as to buy such inappropriate weapons, equipment, ammunition and materials for men facing the rigour and ruthlessness of an enemy force like Boko Haram!

“Whether they are alive or dead, their family members should also be ashamed of them. And, what is more, the blood of those men who died because of their nefarious and sordid acts and actions would be on their hands. The anti-corruption war in the past has landed some governors in jail while some still have their cases pending in courts. ..”

The former president also advised Buhari against a proposed $30 billion foreign loan, insisting that one reason adduced for the loan, that some of the projects would be self-sustaining was not true, using his experience as examplke.

“We immediately need loans to stabilise our foreign reserve and embark on some infrastructure development but surely not $30 billion over a period of less than three years.

“That was about the magnitude of cumulative debt of Nigeria which we worked and wiped out ten years ago. Before that debt relief, we were spending almost $3 billion to service our debt annually and the quantum of the debt was not going down. Rather, if we defaulted, we paid penalty which was added on.

“The projects listed for borrowing are all necessary in the medium- and long-run for our economy but we have to prioritise. Railway is a necessary service but it is not profit-making anywhere in the world today. We need steady and continuous but manageable funding on the railway project. Mambilla hydro is the same; necessary but it cannot pay itself, especially with the global energy sector of shale revolution, hydrogen fuel and increasingly cheap renewable energy such as solar.

“Telling us that those projects will pay themselves cannot be the whole truth. We were told there was rainy day when we lavished our reserve and excess crude on frivolities. When we now have the rains beating us, there is no umbrella over our heads.

“Again, now, we are being told the projects will pay themselves when we know damn well they will not. If we borrow some $30 billion in less than three years, we would have mortgaged the future of Nigeria for well over 30 years to come.

“A careful scrutiny of the projects with prioritisation and avoidance of waste and taking into account avoiding bunching of debt service in future especially when no one can accurately forecast the global and national economy, will indicate less than thirty per cent of the foreign loan being requested as prudent.

“We must not be unmindful of internal borrowing either. It impacts somewhat differently on the economy but it must not be allowed to crowd out the ability of the private sector to borrow to grow the real economy which is to lead us out of the recession.

“Corruption is corruption and it cannot be explained as the proceeds of sale of rice and gari by a judge nor can millions of dollars be explained as medical fee or gifts without identified sources by a public officer or spouse of such a public officer.

“All in all, everybody must be held accountable.

“There should be no sacred cow or witch-hunting or untenable excuses to let the camel through the needle eye. Those who must be made accountable must be made accountable with stick and carrot…”

He added: “We must be hard and harsh on those who stay outside, whether they are Nigerians or expatriates, and piss inside our economic house through smuggling, dumping and cheating on duty payment and lying on custom classification. We must make our neighbours realise that encouragement of acts to undermine our economy by allowing their countries to be used a smuggling route and dumping grounds for entries of unwanted commodities into Nigeria will be treated as an act of hostility. We must be ready to close our borders with such neighbours to protect our economy. We must also empower customs to close the shops and factories of cheaters and immigration to deport hostile expatriates within our midst. The act of underpinning and destroying our economy should be regarded as an act of hostility and treated as such.

“If we do not fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the gain in fighting insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance.

“No administration can nor should be comfortable with excruciating pain of debilitating and crushing economy. Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering. I know that President Buhari has always expressed concern for the plight of the common people but that concern must be translated to workable and result-oriented socio-economic policy and programme that will turn the economy round at the shortest time possible. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect things to change. That will be a miracle which normally doesn’t happen in normal national economies. We have people inside and outside who can be brought together to help device the right economic policy and programme to get us out of the pit before we fall over the precipice into a dark cave. Economy requires a great element of trust to get it out of the doldrums let alone out of negativity. That trust and confidence has to be created.

“Coming back to the issue of corruption, there is always need for institution reform to go along with recovery to make gains from fight against corruption last. Such reforms may have to be strengthened by legislation like the military procurement I mentioned earlier. But where the guard is the thief like we have seen in recent times, it makes things difficult, if not impossible.”





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