Nigeria: Time to Spring Forward
Nigeria is a nation of intense contradictions, numbing ironies and grinding complexities. In 50 years of independence, it seems to have perfected the art of dancing on one leg, clapping with one hand and advancing in circles. The only constant in Nigeria seems to be incessant motion without movement. You only need to reflect a little on its past to discover that the present is virtually a clone of the past. It is an unending cadence that never ceases to amaze me but Nigerians have a golden opportunity to break this monotony during the April 2011 elections.
In a revealing article published in The New York Review of Books of September 24, 1998, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo described Nigeria as 'a country of anything goes.' Obasanjo's write-up was a sweeping condemnation of the misrule of the Abacha military junta which held Nigeria in its iron grip from November 1993 to June 1998 following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 elections. The June 12 elections, won by the Social Democratic Party's Chief MKO Abiola, was widely applauded by the international community as being largely fraud-free. Incidentally, Obasanjo, who was imprisoned by the Abacha junta for alleged coup-making, was one of those who helped sustain that annulment when he gleefully asserted that Abiola was 'not the messiah' Nigeria needs.' Obasanjo was rewarded for this stance when he was assisted by those who annulled the election to take over as Nigeria's 'elected' president in May 1999.
Although the Obasanjo would have us believe otherwise in his 1998 article, Abacha's shenanigans which included the celebrated judicial murder of activist-writer Ken Saro Wiwa is quite symptomatic of the culture of opaqueness and impunity which predates him. It was very much in play when Obasanjo first held sway as a military head of state from 1976 to 1979. He supervised a transition program with a seeming pre-determined end. He repeatedly insisted that the best candidate might not win and eventually delivered Shehu Shagari, an hitherto unknown Grade 2 teacher, on the wings of a judicial maneuver and magical mathematical configuration. This culture continued during the Buhari-Idiagbon regime when 53 suitcases reportedly full of currency notes were smuggled into the country by the Aide-De-Camp of the then Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari whose government prohibited such trafficking. Ironically, Buhari is now running for the presidency on a supposed anti-corruption platform.
The Pius Okigbo panel set up by the Sani Abacha government as a part of its strategy of consolidating its hold on power found that about $12.3 billion dollars of oil revenue earned during the 1991 Persian Gulf War had disappeared from the dedicated and special accounts set up by the Babangida regime for that purpose by June 1994. Despite that shocking find, no one was ever held accountable for that grand theft. In fact, like numerous other probe panels (e.g. Paul Tarfa's Panel of Inquiry into the Customs and Excise Services; Emmanuel Abisoye's NNPC Probe Panel and MD Yusuf's Police Probe Panel report), the Okigbo panel report has not been officially released. It is this culture of corruption and impunity that ensured the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mills into which more than $5 billion had been sunk in the last 32 years has still not been completed. It has ensured that funds in excess of $2b allocated for the maintenance of Nigeria's refineries were diverted leading to artificial scarcity of refined petroleum products and avenues for cronies of government officials to profiteer through unbridled importation.
Also, billions of dollars budgeted for road maintenance and construction in the last 12 years of PDP's rulership, developed wings and disappeared. Mr. Tony Anenih, the minister most responsible for this 'magic,' has remained the engine room of all the presidential campaigns of the ruling People's Democratic Party which produced Obasanjo, Yar'Adua and the incumbent president Jonathan Goodluck. In his other life, he was the Social Democratic Party (SDP) national chairman who thought nothing of negotiating away the fairly won victory of his party in the June 12, 1993 presidential elections.
Similar billions injected into power generation as well as funds that accrued into the Education Trust Fund (ETF) during the second coming of President Obasanjo have been misappropriated according to the findings of the House of Representatives committee that probed the power sector. The national electric grid is failing and decayed. Almost no part of Nigeria, including Lagos and Abuja get electricity daily. Vast areas of the country remain perpetually in darkness with some communities yet to taste electrical power 50 years after Nigeria's flag independence!
I have gone to this length to briefly trace the trajectory of the Nigerian state to clearly delineate the choice before Nigerians in April's presidential polls which has been billed as a 3-way race between the incumbent, Dr. Jonathan Goodluck, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and retired General Mohammed Buhari. In reality, however, both Dr. Goodluck and General Buhari largely represent the same status quo. As the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ribadu was revolted by the fact that about $360 billion of Nigeria's earnings since independence had been lost to corruption while 70% of the people continue to subsist on less than $1 a day. He set out to end the culture of impunity in Nigeria by systematically removing the mystique associated with corruption in Nigeria.
Prominent bankers, former/serving ministers, eight former state governors, a former inspector general of police, several high profile businessmen as well as a number of advance-fee conmen, known as "419ers,' and high-ranking political party members were investigated and successfully prosecuted. Ribadu's EFCC recorded about 200 criminal convictions, a record that is far ahead of the total record of the police in its 147 years of existence, and far ahead of the Attorney-General's office in the 49 years of the country's post-colonial history. In 2007, Ribadu rejected a $15 million bribe and offer of a house abroad from James Ibori, a former Delta State Governor and principal funder of the election that brought the Yar'Adua-Jonathan ticket to power.
As a result of Ribadu's efforts, Nigeria, which hitherto was a pariah, got admitted into the prestigious Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units and was delisted from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) List of Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories. EFCC attracted donor support from the European Union (EU), UNODC, UNDP, World Bank, and a host of others running into millions of US dollars, and also built an effective collaborative effort with the FBI, SOCA [UK], Metropolitan Police [UK], Dutch Police, German Police, South African Police and a host of other law enforcement agencies world-wide. Under Ribadu's watch, EFCC also built the Crimes Training and Research Institute now much venerated in the West African sub-region. Some of these gains are already being eroded as a result of the inaction of the post-Ribadu leadership of the EFCC. FATF has already indicated its intention to relist Nigeria and 10 others as non-cooperative countries if certain deficiencies are not corrected by June 2011.The courage, integrity, commitment and vision that Ribadu brought to bear on his assignment at EFCC is, unfortunately, a rarity in Nigeria. It was thus not surprising that the Yar'Adua government felt uncomfortable enough to 'rotate' him out of the agency.
In this election cycle, Ribadu underlined his seriousness about Project New Nigeria when he chose Mr. Fola Adeola as his running mate. Adeola the pioneer Managing Director and co-founder of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), ran the bank for 12 years during which time he turned the bank into the gold standard of banking in Nigeria. Such was the reputation of GTB that the Harvard Business School's faculty of Organizational Behavior formulated a case study based on the bank's growth experience 'to explore the culture and value system of a successful and responsible enterprise operating in Nigeria, a country plagued with high levels of corruption.' By the time Adeola voluntarily stepped down in August 2002 after 12 years in the saddle as GTB's Managing Director, he had grown the bank's net shareholding from N25m to about N2 billion, and its asset base from N172 million to N16.7 billion. The bank grew beyond Nigeria to operate in Ghana, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the United Kingdom. He bequeathed a highly ethical institution which has never been associated with the multiple malfeasances that necessitated the Failed Banks Tribunal which operated from 1994 to 1999, recovering some N4.3 billion in depositors' funds. Incidentally, Ribadu was a core member of the Failed Banks Tribunal as a representative. Upon retirement from GTB, Adeola dedicated himself to the task of developing novel solutions to the people deficit in Nigeria's approach to development. He pursued a research fellowship at the non-profit Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) in Washington DC, working on poverty reduction using financial services products, as platforms, pension reform and entrepreneurship development. He subsequently served as part-time chairman of the National Pension Commission which helped midwife the Pension Reform Act of 2004.Earlier in 2000, he took a one-year sabbatical from GTB to conduct research on job creation and economic development at the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS).
A Chartered Accountant, Mr. Adeola, 57, is currently the chairman of Main One Cable Company Limited which is building a submarine cable system for broadband connectivity between Africa and Europe as well as Fate Foundation, a non-profit organization he founded for indigenous wealth creation and entrepreneurship. To date the Fate Foundation has helped no less than 5000 young entrepreneurs find their feet through mentoring, training and financial support. Like Ribadu, Adeola is respected internationally. He was one of 25 business leaders invited for the Aspen Institute ISIB Annual Business Leaders Dialogue in Aspen, Colorado in 2001. He was one of 9 African Commissioners appointed by former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, into the 17-member Commission set up to examine the African condition and formulate strategies to put Africa on the path to growth and prosperity during Britain's presidency of the European Union.
If anything, it is certain that the Ribadu-Adeola ticket represents the only new and fresh platform for Nigerians desirous of a final break with business as usual. The influential international newsmagazine, The Economist, described them as the 'progressive choice' in this election for good reason. They are not a recycled, rebranded or repackaged outgrowth of the same 50-plus year old trajectory of visionless, incompetent, decadent and unrepentantly corrupt but deceitful leadership that the other tickets represent in varying degrees. To adapt Mr. Adeola's analogy, what we have are a fresh and untainted pairs of eyes to look at the Nigerian situation from a new perspective; a new lens that will see possibilities and opportunities for national advancement rather than problems and potentials for private profit. Nuhu is ready to annihilate corruption; Ribadu cannot wait to rid Nigeria of nepotism; Fola will foil incompetence while Adeola will identify and deliver real dividends of democracy. I firmly believe that the Ribadu-Adeola ticket will dare to be different. They will usher an era of vision, integrity, competence and nationalism to create the new Nigeria of our dreams. So let's go out and do our part by voting right and doing everything to protect our votes in the next three Saturdays. The time for Nigeria to spring forward is now!
Dr. Yinka Tella, Counselor at Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, is an award-winning Nigerian journalist, and author of The Post-9/11 Syndrome: International Education in an Era of Homeland Insecurity- Perspectives from the Florida frontline