As Donald Duke Eyes Presidency Again

Former Governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke and his ambition formally made known to the public in London, March 5th 2010, to run for the presidential election next year (2011), is a welcome development. Somewhere in 2006, Donald Duke announced that he would run for president in the 2007 presidential election, but stepped aside in favour of the eventual winner, Umaru Yar'Adua. Such ambition of Duke for the presidential race come 2011 wouldn't shake any common Nigerian psych because of the unfulfilled promises Nigerians had gotten from their present and past leaders. And Duke might not make a difference. For example, the gentle General Abdulsalami Abubakar came to power, though through dictatorship, and we thought that things would change for better, but it was still the old order. He is today widely remembered for handing over to politicians in a democracy who lack the democrats' etiquette, but not remembered for quenching any of the millions from the treasury that were evaporating from Nigeria into mirage by the military.

After handing over to General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, a civilian now, Duke was confirmed Nigeria's leading debt negotiator but yet, the economy that got the military out of power, the civilians didn't salvage. I still remember Duke saying in Guardian (UK) June 15/1999 with a clear answer thus: “What got the military out of power was not democracy but the dreadful state of the economy. If we, the democratic government, cannot deliver food for the mass of people we can forget about democracy. If we want to keep the military out we have to make the economy work, and for that we need help on the debt. We have already paid more than Dollars 40bn [pounds 25bn] in servicing debt. Anything the creditors get today is a bonus. It's almost a punitive sanction”.

It was Britain that was spearheading international efforts to win debt relief for Nigeria on conditions reportedly that the chancellor wanted Lagos to adhere to a privatisation programme, market reforms and increased scrutiny by international financial institutions. “We must reward performance not promises, particularly on early institutional reform,” the economic secretary at the treasury, Patricia Hewitt, said at a conference.

Today, Duke wants to contest the presidential election come 2011, but was corruption, I mean pervasive corruption curbed and the economy of Cross Rivers State improved when he was governor? We know that during Obasanjo time, an administration in which Duke served in, graft skyrocketed inflation, industries were messed up by corruption and contributed to immeasurable widespread of unemployment. And I don't think that such pervasive corruption didn't affect the then Cross Rivers State under Duke.

What Duke should remember is that corruption we experienced in Nigeria between 1999-2007 he was also in power robbed Nigerians schools, hospitals and welfare services of funds, scared away foreign investors. They saw Nigerians as corrupted people due to the way the politicians were stashing the public money under their care abroad of which the allegation of corrupt public office holders then, was Duke exempted?

One Fredrick Osari on 11/7/2006 asked a question, “Governor Donald Duke: Saint or Sinner?” That was during the reign of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as the EFCC czar. Ribadu presenting a report that indicted 31 governors of Nigeria to a National House, the BBC reported in September 2006 that Governor Duke was the only governor specifically mentioned as not being under investigation by the federal Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Four other governors were also reported as not under investigation but their names were not released). But Osari was irked of why Duke should be totally exonerated and presented his own report to the public parliament, which is on the URL:

It was a shame that between 1999-2007, Nigeria was among the leading exporters of doctors in the world because of bad leadership. Duke even confirmed that when he reportedly said, “It's difficult to appreciate it because of the heights corruption has been taken to. Most of our institutions are bastardised. When corruption debilitates your economy, you have a problem. But I don't think the world is asking for a corrupt-free environment. They know it's not possible. We are talking about a level of transparency and decency”.

IMF monitoring urged. Reportedly, Gordon Brown said it is essential that the Nigerians 'request' an International Monetary Fund monitoring mission in the central bank and finance ministry 'to maintain international confidence in reform efforts'. The demand has hit a nerve in strongly nationalist Nigeria. The then vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, immediately rejected it. 'I don't think we are so bad to warrant that,' he said. Duke asked: 'If you don't have anything to hide, what's the problem with IMF monitoring? You don't want the IMF telling you who should be governor of the central bank. But if you're building a bridge for Dollars 500m, the IMF is entitled to know where the Dollars 500m is going.'

When Obasanjo was showing no great enthusiasm to delve too deeply into probing the contracts awarded by the military – 'of whom the most notable is General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler who has yet to explain what happened to a pounds 8bn windfall that came Nigeria's way when oil prices surged during the Gulf war', Mr Duke reportedly argued that western banks and governments were partners in crime with the army and so should accept responsibility. They would like to hold us responsible for what the military did. Western banks knew what the military were like when they lent the money, so why should our democratic government be more responsible than them?' So, can Donald Duke make a difference come 2011?

Born 30th September 1961 in Calabar, Donald was the Governor of Cross River State, from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007. He received LLB degree in 1982 from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, the B.L in 1983 from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos and the L.L.M. in Business Law and Admiralty in 1984 from University of Pennsylvania.

During his reign as governor of his state (1999-2007), he spearheaded the incumbent debt of Nigeria, pushed for democracy and against military control. Remember he stated; "What got the military out of power was not democracy but the dreadful state of the economy. If we, the democratic government, cannot deliver food for the mass of people we can forget about democracy."

Duke was being praised for his contributions to the fields of agriculture, urban development, government, environment, information and communication, investment drive, and tourism. Through his work Calabar is seen today as the "cleanest city in Nigeria." He created the idea of the Obudu Ranch International Mountain Race and the race grew to become one of the most lucrative mounting running competitions in the world under his stewardship. His coming back in 2011, can he improve than he was perceived to have done?

Odimegwu Onwumere is a Poet/Author, Founder of Poet Against Child Abuse (PACA), Rivers State. Mobile: +2348032552855. Email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: "The views expressed on this site are those of the contributors or columnists, and do not necessarily reflect TheNigerianVoice’s position. TheNigerianVoice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements in the contributions or columns here."

Articles by Odimegwu Onwumere