The June 12 anniversary has come and gone, and as usual, the NADECO
characteristic trademark of vilifying Abacha’s legacy was on display. My focus therefore, in this article is to highlight Abacha’s positive contributions to Nigeria’s development and progress, which his June 12 enemies pretended not to take notice.
Call Abacha a dictator or whatever label that suits your prejudice, but it is impossible to overlook his contributions to our development, including the former Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), the most efficient management of the proceeds of the petroleum subsidy withdrawal. The substance of government is more important than its form, and that is why the military dictator label cannot diminish his impressive record from the National Hospital in Abuja and the Gwarinpa Housing project, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa.
The railway system is one of the oldest and cheapest modes of transportation, and despite the changes of modern times, the system has remained relevant in the life of the people around the world. In countries like India, China, even in Europe and elsewhere, the railway system is still playing a critical role in their transport systems. In fact, until the early and late 80s, railway system was functioning effectively during the First Republic in Nigeria. However, with the discovery of oil and with too much money in the coffers of Nigeria, the railway system lost its relevance with more emphasis being placed on other forms of modern transportation.
The rapid decline of the railway system didn’t help the ordinary Nigerian in the least. This is because the railway system is relatively affordable to the ordinary citizens. It is the first choice of the poor Nigerians. Carried away by oil wealth, Nigerian leaders started putting more emphasis on grandiosity rather than relevance in the execution of projects. No developing country should plan its transport policies without due consideration to the railway system.
For several years, the railway system in Nigeria had suffered relative neglect, until the coming of the late General Sani Abacha to office in November 1993. He invited the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction
Company to revive the Nigerian railway system, which was virtually dead. After years of abandonment, General Abacha introduced an admirable policy of railway rehabilitation and modernization policy.
The success of any policy is as good as the commitment of the leader of the country. And to his credit, General Abacha demonstrated incredible zeal in the implementation of the railway rehabilitation and modernization policy. In no time, the projects took off and were making remarkable progress across the country. The relevance of any projects is determined by how far they can positively impact on the lives of the people. And there is no doubt that the rehabilitation of Nigerian railway system was one of the most indelible legacies of the late General Abacha administration.
Hate him or love him, General Abacha was always decisive and aggressive in the implementation of his policies. His railway projects ranked among the most important programmes he had ever initiated for Nigeria. These projects would have by now been completed, but they were frustrated by former President Obasanjo’s petty politics. His whims and caprices became his official policy.
As soon as he was sworn into office in May 1999, Obasanjo stopped the railway rehabilitation projects because he didn’t want anything that would give credit to the memory of the late General Sani Abacha. In fact, if he had his way, he would have ordered the demolition of the former Family Support Hospital (now the National Hospital, Abuja), which is one of the existing evidences of Abacha’s legacies. The worst he could do was to rename the Hospital.
Was there any reason why former President Obasanjo should halt the railway projects started by Abacha at a point they were making impressive progressive across the country? His only reason was petty politics and private malice against Abacha. It is utterly ridiculous undermining projects of great benefits to Nigerians for petty reasons.
Thanks to Obasanjo’s pettiness, the projects could have been completed
long ago. As he suspended the railway projects started by Abacha, little did Obasanjo probably realize that he was hurting the larger interests of Nigerians. As the projects remained suspended, a good policy was thus frustrated by the private malice of a petty president. Shamelessly, towards the end of his tenure in 2007, former President Obasanjo re-awarded the
same railway projects he had suspended at a more staggering cost to Nigeria. That was how pettiness frustrated good and relevant projects.
When the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua succeeded Obasanjo, he found himself overburdened with the heavy costs of the projects. This could have been avoided if Obasanjo had demonstrated more open-minded attitude to the railway projects initiated by Abacha. He re-awarded the projects at the eleventh hour at a cost Yar’adua found too financially burdensome. It is sad how some leaders ignore the higher public interest to sacrifice good projects. Despite his perception of statesmanship, Obasanjo found it impossible to rise above pettiness.
Unfortunately, the country is always the loser. No matter how anybody hates Abacha, you cannot obliterate public memory of his legacies, which live after him.
Gusau, an advocate of good governance and democracy, lives at No. 79 Yahaya Road, Kaduna