Former president Olusegun Obasanjo, a retired general, has never failed to demonstrate to Nigerians that he is a good letter writer and a controversial figure, whenever he takes it upon himself to identify some ills in the society and calls attention to them with his pen or through verbal recriminations thereby making some people uncomfortable
| By Olu Ojewale | Feb 15, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo has so far, proven to be the most blessed former Nigerian leader with a lot of ink in his pen and arguably the most controversial. He has never shied away from using both talents to pontificate and remonstrate.
Since 1980s Obasanjo has taken it upon himself to write to the government of the day expressing his opinions on various aspects of governance that go against his fancy. Obasanjo, who was president between 1999 and 2007, is in the news again for the same craft that put him in collision course with previous administrations in the country.
This time, he addressed his letter to the National Assembly while he delivered his denunciation of government policy in a lecture, he delivered in Ibadan, Oyo State.
In a letter dated January 13, the former president accused members of the National Assembly of corruption, impunity, greed and of repeatedly breaking the nation’s laws.
The letter, addressed to Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, and Yakubu Dogara, speaker of the House of Representatives, specifically accused the lawmakers of fixing and earning salaries and allowances far above what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission approved for them.
He also alleged that several of the 109 senators and 369 members of the House of Representatives were receiving constituency allowances without maintaining constituency offices as the laws required of them.
In the letter, Obasanjo said that he had on many occasions, both in and out of office as president, agonised over the massive corruption and lawlessness at the National Assembly and other arms and tiers of government.
He, therefore, urged the lawmakers to “return to the path of honour, distinguishness, sensitivity and responsibility,” and show its transparency by publishing its recurrent budgets for the years 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015. This, he said, would help to make comparison with countries such as “Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and even Malaysia and Indonesia who are richer and more developed than we are.”
He warned: “It does not matter what else we try to do, as long as one arm of government shrouds its financial administration and management in opaqueness and practices rife with corruption, only very little, if anything at all, can be achieved in putting Nigeria on the path of sustainable and enduring democratic system, development and progress. Governance without transparency will be a mockery of democracy.”
As if that is not serious enough, Obasanjo recalled that while in office as president, he was threatened with impeachment by the members of the National Assembly for not releasing some money they had appropriated for themselves which were odious and for which there were no incomes to support.
On the plan by the legislature to buy new cars for its committees, the former president said it was unnecessary and insensitive.
“A pool of a few cars for each chamber will suffice for any committee chairman or members for any specific duty. The waste that has gone into cars, furniture, housing renovation in the past was mind-boggling and these were veritable sources of waste and corruption. That was why they were abolished. Bringing them back is inimical to the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians,” Obasanjo said.
He also called the attention of the legislators to unfavourable economic climate and asked them to be more considerate in their demands and expenditure.
Apparently the letter displeased a number of persons, especially lawmakers who viewed Obasanjo as an interloper.
In a statement issued to counter Obasanjo’s letter, Dino Melaye, a senator from Kogi State and chairman, Senate committee on Federal Capital Territory, on Thursday, January 28, described the missive as “a misplacement of anger.”
Melaye alleged that it was the Obasanjo regime that actually exposed the National Assembly to corruption and easy money.
Besides, the senator accused the former president of being vindictive because he had expected him to have forgiven all those who “defrauded him in 2007, those who collected his money and refused to implement the third term agenda.”
Further, he alleged that there was the case of bribery introduced by the Obasanjo administration in its desperate attempt to remove Ghali Umar Na’abba from office as the then speaker of House of Representatives, which failed.
“That government exposed the National Assembly to corruption and easy money. I hope this is not an attempt to cover up and distract attention from the Halliburton and Siemens corruption allegations.
“While I am against corruption anywhere in Nigeria, I will not support accusations based on anger and vindictiveness. The eighth Senate should also look inwardly and purge herself of all the deliberate misgivings of the past. Nigeria must work and we must support the anti-corruption stand of the Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration.”
Bukola Saraki, Senate president, simply assured that the Senate under his leadership was committed to good governance, transparency, accountability, due process and responsiveness to the economic reality of our nation.
“It is for this reason that the legislative chamber has introduced bold and progressive reforms in the management of the finances of the National Assembly,” Saraki said.
He also said that the legislature would work with the government to block all areas of revenue leakages and strengthen anti-corruption agencies to effectively carry out their works. “As a former president and a father of the nation that we all hold in high esteem, I intend to reply the letter and outline the actions the Senate is taking to address his concerns,” Saraki said.
While his letter was causing trepidations in the National Assembly, Obasanjo did not find any discomfiture in dropping another salvo from his arsenal. This time, he took a swipe on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, governors and local council leaders.
Speaking at the conference of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, ISGPP, Ibadan, Oyo State, on Monday, February 1, Obasanjo having dissected the state of the nation’s socio-economic affairs against its programme of change, he returned a verdict of doubt. He said: “The problem today is that it is doubtful if the current administrative system is imbued with right mix of skills and values to successfully implement a well-articulated programme of change.”
Recalling how he led Nigeria to exit the Paris Club, which wrote off its $18 billion of debt, Africa’s largest debt cancellation, and how he pursued public service reforms, regretted that the gains he made had been reversed.
He noted: “The drastic fall in the price of oil in the international market has unravelled the weakness of governance in Nigeria. The minister of Finance has recently announced that the 2016 Budget deficit may be increased from the current N2.2 trillion in the draft document before the National Assembly, to N3 trillion due to decline in the price of crude oil.”
Obasanjo, therefore, warned that the country was on its way to another debt burden unless the rising debts were creatively addressed.
In the same vein, the former president stressed the need for government to kick out all forms of corruption in the polity, provide jobs for unemployed youths and be committed to change.
The former president used the forum to enumerate some his achievements in government, including how he established the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to tackle corruption in the country.
“Today, corruption drains billions of dollars from our economy that cannot afford to lose even a million dollars. It seems we are just beginning the fight against corruption afresh,” he said.
That notwithstanding, he said it behoved on Nigerian leaders to leave by example. Such behaviour, Obasanjo said, he found lacking in several state governors and council leaders.
According to him, “Leaders who call for sacrifice from the citizenry cannot be living in obscene opulence… Leadership must mentor the young and provide them with hope about their future as part of a process of inter-generational conversation.”
Instead, he noted that some state governors had turned themselves to emperors and mismanaging funds meant for local councils in their respective states. This, he said, had been responsible for lack of development in the 774 constitutionally recognised local government councils.
He blamed the situation on governors. “These governors have rendered public institutions irrelevant and useless in the manner they starve local governments their legitimate funds from the federation account.
“When governors take their money, the chairmen of councils take the balance of the money and put it on the table and share it out among the council members. In some states, governors have hijacked the resources of local governments and expended them to serve their whims and caprices instead of using these resources to galvanise growth and development,” he said.
Be that as it may, Tunji Braithwaite, a lawyer and elder statesman, said Obasanjo himself could not be totally absolved from the Nigerian problems. Braithwaite, in fact, alleged that the former president and General Ibrahim Babangida, a retired general and former head of state, made corruption attractive to state governors in the country.
He alleged that their policies and actions actually elevated corruption in governance, adding that some of the state governors were merely emulating them.
Speaking in an interview, the former presidential aspirant, said: “Obasanjo is not saying anything original because when he assumed office in 1999, I warned that the military constitution would make the governors emperors. Governors determine security votes which they do not account for. Since 1999, the military constitution clothes them (governors and president) with immunity against being arrested for criminal misdeeds. Many of them brazenly looted the treasury and got away with it. Obasanjo became rich through this structure.”
Braithwaite believed something must be responsible for making Obasanjo to be such statements in recent times.
Indeed, many persons have been speculating that it might be because of the decision of the Buhari regime to open the closed file on Halliburton case, which Abubakar Malami, attorney general of the federation, said would be reopened. Nigeria was said to have lost more than $182 million to the Halliburton and Siemens corruption cases in which Obasanjo government was said to have benefitted.
Some past military leaders have also been fingered in the two cases.
However, some persons would like to speculate that the current outbursts of the former president are meant to divert attention and make him look like anti-corruption crusader.
Onyekachi Ubani, a human rights lawyer, said it was not enough for Obasanjo to accuse anybody of being corrupt. He asked rhetorically, “what did he do when he was there?” According to him, the former president had the opportunity to take Nigeria to a greater level but because of his personal ambition, he frittered away the opportunity.
That notwithstanding, Ubani said it had become important to note down his observation and examine some of his allegations to see merit in them.
Indeed, Emmanuel Oyewo, a public commentator, said Obasanjo’s observations were a clarion call to Nigerians to note how some persons were busy wasting the nation’s resources. “Have you ever been to Ota farm or the residence of Chief Obasanjo you will be dazed that the former president is an average man in terms of riches… If anyone has a legitimate proof of his corrupt acts or stealing, they also should bring it out,” Oyewo said.
In any case, Obasanjo is quite known for his craft of letter writing to governments and controversial utterances. He famously criticised the Babangida administration in the 1980s saying the government economic programme should have human face.
He called the late General Sani Abach’s administration a despot and this prompted the then head of state to rope him into a phantom coup for which he was sent to jail in 1996. That experience did not stop him from writing to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then the immediate former President Goodluck Jonathan, to criticise their governments on the nation’s state of affairs.
Whatever has motivated Obasanjo into the current criticism only time will tell. But as it is, it’s not out of fashion for the retired general to be cantankerous.