President Muhammadu Buhari has recently assured Nigerians that loot recovery efforts would be extended to 1999. That is good news. It would be foolish to pretend the Abacha loot was the only case of corruption ever recorded. It is also foolish to pretend that the election of Obasanjo in 1999 marked the end of corruption in Nigeria. It is funny that Obasanjo’s loot recovery efforts were virtually focused on Abacha’s stolen funds.
The frequency with which former President Obasnjo attacks and vilifies the memory of the late military Head of State, General Sani Abacha, borders on the ridiculous. In fact, it is nauseating for any reasonable person to be attacking the memory of a dead man who cannot defend himself. Former President Obasanjo always presents the Abacha loot as the trophy of his so-called anti-corruption war. He should stop throwing dust in our eyes and exaggerating his moral credentials and performance record.
In the words of America statesman, Bernard Baruch, “every man is entitled to his opinion, but no man is entitled to be wrong in his facts.” Therefore, I owe it a duty to subject Obasanjo’s record to scrutiny, so that his selective memory and duplicity will be nailed to the counter. Nobody has a monopoly of hypocrisy. Besides, Nigerians don’t need Obasanjo’s prompting to assess General Abacha.
Objectivity demands that we don’t twist facts to suit our prejudice, which has always been Obasanjo’s habit. He cannot distort record and succeed because we are living witnesses to his own performance in office. Hate Abacha or admire him, nobody can deny that, under Abacha, the naira enjoyed a more favourable exchange rate with the dollar and other hard currencies than it was the case under Obasanjo’s government. It is also on record that, despite increasing fuel price to 75 naira per liter, Obasanjo had nothing to show for the removal of subsidy on petroleum. On the other hand, General Abacha increased fuel price to only 20 naira, but he achieved better results with the proceeds of subsidy withdrawal.
Before the introduction of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), public infrastructure was in pathetic state across the country. However, with the PTF intervention, our roads, schools, hospital and other critical areas of social services had witnessed remarkable and impressive improvements. Nigerians had access to qualitative, safe and affordable drugs in public hospitals. The PTF was allocated only N60 billion throughout its short existence, but it had achieved more results than Obasanjo management of the proceeds of subsidy withdrawal. The impact of Obasanjo’s petroleum subsidy withdrawal policy was only on paper.
Under Obasanjo, Nigeria’s foreign reserve rose to 64 billion dollars, but the quality of social services and public infrastructure didn’t show any relative improvements. By contrast, under Abacha, Nigeria’s foreign reserve rose from about four billion dollars to 10 billion dollars. Despite the fact that Abacha’s revenue earnings were significantly lower than Obasanjo’s, the demised military Head of State achieved better results through important projects like the railway rehabilitation, the Gwarimpa Housing Estate the National Hospital, the dredging of River Niger and other projects.
Paradoxically, while Obasanjo was earning more revenues than any previous administrations, poverty and corruption were accelerating dramatically under his government. In fact, in 2001, his government was awarded the dubious distinction of Nigeria being ranked the most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International. That rating was the biggest moral blow to Obasanjo’s sanctimonious pretensions.
Despite Obasanjo’s anti-corruption crusade, corruption grew on larger scale in Nigeria than we have ever witnessed. In fact, corruption was thriving astronomically under Obasanjo. Therefore, if Abacha was the “epitome” of corruption, why didn’t corruption stop in Nigeria with the election of Obasanjo in 1999? During eight years of his rule, Obasanjo had been so demystified that he can no longer deceive Nigerians about attacking the character and record of Abacha. More money was stolen under Obasanjo than we have ever known.
Former President Obasanjo can only fool gullible Nigerians who have no idea about his record in office. He left office as a billionaire, and Nigerians may wonder whether Obasanjo won a jackpot! Retired General T.Y Danjuma told the Guardian newspaper in 2008 that “Obasanjo was stone-broke when he came out of jail in 1998” and that he was one of the few friends that economically rehabilitated the Ota-farmer. The Ota farmer is today a multi-billionaire with a private university of his own in addition to other extensive investments. How did Obasanjo become a billionaire within eight years of holding public office? Was it from his salary and allowances? Why didn’t he declare his assets publicly after his eight years tenure, even though the constitution doesn’t make it binding? He should have waived the constitutional provision of declaring assets in camera to prove that he would defend the sources of his new incredible wealth. It is high time Obasanjo stop insulting our intelligence with his fake moral posturing by his frequent attacks on Abacha’s memory.
I welcome President Buhari’s pledge to extend loot recovery efforts to 1999. We should not pretend that corruption began and ended with Abacha. We should not pretend either that the election of Obasanjo as President in 1999 marked the end of corruption in Nigeria. Such assumption, if it ever existed in the mind of any Nigerians, has been debunked by reality.
Karaye is of No. 58, Monrovia Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja