THIS REPUBLIC By Shaka Momodu
It has portrayed the president as working very hard to correct the defects in the economic, governance and social structures bequeathed to it by past administrations, thereby laying a solid foundation for a new order. The APC has exalted President Muhammadu Buhari as a godsend to save Nigeria from the treasury-looting PDP and its supporters and to whom Nigerians must constantly express gratitude to. It is now the new mantra in a constantly evolving narrative of “true lies”, half-truths, propaganda and endless excuses for its gross inability to deliver on the promises upon which it rode to power. On the whole, it has been more talk, buck passing and less action on governance and the economy, as high expectations turn into despair; hopes of millions for a rebirth called change are crushed by its startling ineptitude and incompetence in governance particularly in the handling of the economy.
Even APC’s once loud and vivacious mob supporters, name-calling everyone else who tried to make them see they were betting on the wrong horse have become hoarse; their hauteur tamed by the daily suffering in long queues for fuel to move around and power their generators. They had helped to spread the numerous rumours/lies told by political shylocks with a narcissist desire for power; only lies made sense to them then. These accomplices of the tragedy we now have upon us now walk about looking forlorn, dejected, and angry at the let-down thus far, but are still in denial of the unfolding reality that the government cannot give what it does not have. It is very ironic that the majority of the APC fans have been hit hard by the economic crisis, a punishing fuel shortage, crippling power outages and a grinding cash crunch resulting from economic stagnation.
The once famous “body language” which was credited with every seeming little progress has disappeared from their lips. They are worried stiff over the government’s staggering lack of interest to apply the brakes to an economy that is racing to the bottom of the abyss. Or should one call it a lack of capacity on its part to chart a new path to the future it promised the people with electrifying fervour? There is no gainsaying the fact that the president’s warm embrace of command and control economic management is firmly rooted in his ultra-conservative nature and cannot change despite the lavish attempt to dangerously present him as a “born-again-phenomenon”. To boot, his disdain for a market-driven economy is rooted in the primitive belief that any hint of wealth stinks of corruption.
That, however, is not the thrust of this write-up. The thrust here is to interrogate the new narrative with facts and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is not a grain of truth in the headline, “The 16 years of rot”, the strapline for a new narrative. Even though I firmly believe Nigeria could have done far better and achieved far more than it did, but for the greed of a few visionless thieves in the corridors of power both at state and federal levels. However it will amount to sheer lunacy, purposeful dishonesty and a travesty beyond comprehension to dismiss the past 16 years on a wholesale as “waste” or “rot”. More so it is an irony that some of the early “body language” achievements joyously celebrated with fanfare were predicated on the foundation and successes of the “16 years of rot” left behind by the PDP. But now that things have faltered, they are back to their familiar blame game.
The questions are: was the rot not there when they were celebrating the powerful effect of Buhari’s “body language”? Is it not strange that all the policies they are currently implementing are products of the “16 years of rot”? The now celebrated TSA was introduced during the “16 years of rot”. And going by statements from the presidency, some of the items on Buhari’s trip to China were follow-ups on earlier agreements on some of the already initiated programmes of the last administration which are part of the “16 years of rot” left behind.
There is hardly a week that passes without the top echelon of the APC and their supporters not lamenting how the PDP “destroyed” Nigeria in 16 years. While this new campaign has sucked many in, especially considering the revelation of the mind-boggling corruption in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), however the evidence to support the recycled claim that the past 16 years have been a “total waste” under the PDP points to the contrary. There is a saying in the land of my fathers that stupidity is better hidden than displayed in the market place.
Who among us will claim not to remember the parlous and distressing state Nigeria was in 1999? Except for the thoroughly excitable teenagers of the internet age of today whose fascination and adrenalin rush comes from posting fiction on the social media. Interestingly, they know nothing about the history of their country but know not that they know nothing.
In 1999, when the military handed over power to President Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP, Nigeria was in a perilous situation – a broke country on the brink of economic collapse. The country was a pariah nation with a non-existent credit rating and massive debts owed to two giant international syndicates: the Paris Club and London Club of creditors. Our total foreign debt stood at $35.916 billion as at June 2005. The chunk of the debt – $31 billion was owed to 15 of the 19 creditor-countries of the Paris Club.
In 2006, Obasanjo successfully negotiated and paid off almost $20 billion to the two international syndicates after securing $18billion debt relief for the country from the creditors. It was an unprecedented global feat made possible by high oil prices because of the US/Iraq war of 2003, more prudent management of resources, deft diplomacy, and a savings culture by a determined president. That decision freed the country from the stranglehold of the foreign debt that was threatening to turn it into a junk nation, and opened it up to massive foreign investment inflows.
But before this, Obasanjo had taken some bold and sweeping decisions to secure the nation’s democracy by subordinating the military to civilian authority. Among other things, he purged it of all political soldiers and adventurers (soldiers who had held political appointments) and refocused the military on its core constitutional duty of protecting the territorial integrity of the country.
It is to the credit of former President Obasanjo that he understood the need to set Nigeria up for economic recovery and for it to fully embrace a free market, private sector-driven economy. He immediately set up the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) for the task of evaluating and privatising state-owned loss-incurring companies through a transparent and competitive bidding process. It is interesting to say that most of those privatised companies have been transformed into better managed entities and grown to prodigious status.
Let me remind those with short memories that 16 years ago, it was a luxury and a status symbol if you had a telephone line. There were no mobile phones existing in the country which from 1960 to 2000 had only 400,000 mostly fixed lines and a dismal 0.4 per cent tele-density. Except for a few super rich and famous who could afford expensive satellite phones. The revolution in the telecommunications industry which happened in the past 16 years has been unprecedented in the history of Africa. It has seen active mobile telephone lines by 2011 jump to 89.8 million; has since crossed the 100 million mark and is still growing. People no longer drive several kilometres to NITEL offices to queue just to make a phone call locally or internationally. Each time these rumour-mongers press a button on their cell phones to make a call or connect to their social media platforms via the internet, they should remember that it was made possible by the PDP within the 16 years of “rot”. In terms of growth, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Nigeria is ranked fastest-growing economy in Africa and among the 10 fastest-growing mobile telephony markets in the world. From a private sector investment of $50 million in 1999, it had attracted over $18 billion as at 2009. How can anyone in his right senses describe all that as waste? MTN, Globacom, Airtel, and Etisalat didn’t exist in 1999, or did they? These companies currently provide direct and indirect employment to thousands of people. What about the ancillary workers in this sector?
What about the banking consolidation that saw a mostly insolvent 89 banks converged to 25 mega banks that could finance big-ticket transactions that were hitherto far-fetched? The second phase of the consolidation of the sector took the transformation several notches higher such that Nigerian banks started featuring among the world’s top 500 banks. Do we describe this epochal rise of the financial sector as rot left behind? The introduction of the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was not in existence in the country 16 years ago, or was it? What about the introduction of the cashless economy that dramatically changed the way and manner we do business in Nigeria, (which came with Point of Sale, POS, terminal) – deepening banking penetration and financial inclusiveness on a scale never before seen in this country; and effectively putting the country on the world’s financial connectivity map. All these were made possible by the rapid progress in the telecoms platforms upon which these innovations and successes were achieved. It is a shame that we now describe this era as “rot and waste.”
Now, let’s look at the cement sector: the backward integration policy assiduously pursued in the past 16 years has seen the country grow from a net importer of cement to a cement exporting country; with the likes of Dangote Cement Plc assuming the commanding lead. The backward integration policy was a deliberate initiative to encourage the local manufacture and production of cement and discourage its importation. Who would say it has not worked? Wait a moment – imagine that we were still importing cement with the present forex problems attendant upon importation of goods into the country.
The Local Content law opened up opportunities to Nigerians’ participation in the oil and gas sector like never before. The multiplier effect of all these has been phenomenal.
What about the National Automotive Policy introduced by the federal government in October 2013 and was expected to run as a 10-year plan to be reviewed every five years. An integral part of the policy aims to replace imported vehicles with locally produced ones through the establishment of automotive clusters in three regions, which would enhance productivity and cost efficiency. The policy is expected to engender technology transfer, reverse engineering, and create at least 700,000 jobs, with 210,000 indirect jobs in the SMEs that would supply the assembly plants. At least 490,000 other jobs would also be created in the raw materials supply industries. Currently, 2,584 persons are directly employed by the assembly plants.
In addition, the policy would make brand new cars more affordable for Nigerians in the long-run. The policy eventually enhanced the status of automobile manufacturing companies such as the Innoson Group, and led to establishment of new assembly plants for Nissan and other vehicle brands in less than four years. Innoson just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian Air Force to manufacture spare parts for its fleet of Alfa jets. Fellow Nigerians, is this part of the “16 years of rot”?
What about the establishment of the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS? For the first time, Nigeria created a national health insurance platform similar to the NHS in Britain for workers. What about the contributory pension reform which led to the setting up of PENCOM? What about the 2007 reform of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS)? Are all these part of the “16 years of rot”? Needless to remind those hooked on this new narrative that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) were created during the “16 years of rot” of the PDP. Who will forget that “419” scam was rampant in the late 90s and early 2000s. The anti-graft bodies effectively neutralised it with the Money Laundering Act.
The railway sector is another area we must acknowledge no matter how much we hate the administrations that revived it. For three decades, rail transportation was allowed to decay. It was revived a few years ago by the very president, the APC derisively referred to as the Clueless One. Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, the Transportation Minister and a chieftain of the APC gushed amazement recently when he went on tour of his ministry that he never knew that the railway was functioning.
Now, recall that the former Governor of Lagos State and now Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola in a rare moment of honesty acknowledged the significant milestones recorded in the power sector reform. Also the Minister of State for Works, Adebayo Adeyeye, was reported to have also said that the last administration recorded more success in the provision of motorable roads than any other administration in the history of Nigeria. According to him, the country in 2011 had about 4,500 kilometres of fairly motorable roads, but the Jonathan administration left the country better with about 25,000 kilometres of very good roads. All these happened in the last “16 years of rot.” The energy deployed in promoting the “rot” and “waste” campaign leaves one with the impression that nothing positive took place in the last 16 years.
The last 16 years also witnessed the deepening of our democracy, the emergence of a truly independent INEC, and the opening up of the political space. That political space that expanded tremendously in the last 16 years and led to the rise of the APC is sadly now narrowing in just one year of the party in power. Is it not instructive that the four major elections conducted so far have been mischievously inconclusive?
The list of achievements is inexhaustive as one can go on and on, but for space constraint.
In the 16 years of ‘waste” and “rot”, Nigeria grew its economy from a pariah credit-risk status with foreign investors fleeing, to Africa’s biggest.
The APC had in reaction to the rebasing of the country’s GDP in 2014, described it as an orchestrated distraction and a mindless public relations gimmick. “The federal government has only succeeded in opening itself to ridicule. This is because if ever there was a clear play at oxymoron, this was it: the largest economy with the largest population of the poor, the largest economy with the largest population of unemployed, the largest economy with the largest population of citizens living in darkness, and the largest economy with the worst infrastructure,” the party concluded. I could hardly believe that statement when I read it. Even though the rebasing was based on facts and figures. It was about Nigeria’s progress and yet the APC was mocking it with such derogatory language just for political gains. What did its jarring supporters do? They celebrated and mocked the rebasement too.
In the last 15 years of the nation’s so-called “16 years of rot and waste,” the country’s GDP was on growth trajectory. Is it not ironic that it was in that period of “rot” that JP Morgan, one of the world’s biggest financial institutions, listed Nigeria on its key emerging markets bond index? Same as Barclay’s flagship bond index and Morgan Stanley frontier emerging markets index. In the last 10 months, two of these powerful financial institutions have evicted Nigeria from their indexes with the third set to follow suit.
One year after the party assumed office, all its statements are still emotive and sentimental devoid of reason and logic. Instead of settling down to work, it has chosen to continue on the path of playing politics with everything. It has blamed the PDP endlessly for the rot in the country. It has declared anyone with a contrary view from its own as corrupt or sponsored. Lai Mohammed responding to critics once said: “Sponsored articles have started appearing in the newspapers and on the social media while ‘Talking Heads’ have started making the rounds in the electronic media, all deriding the fight against corruption as well as this administration. Not stopping there, they have been creating distractions by sponsoring articles in both local and international media to deride the administration’s policies generally, tagging the president a budding dictator and even write off his 2016 budget.”
The question now is: when will the APC start taking responsibilities or accepting blame for its actions or inaction? It does not have an eternity to deliver on promises it made to the people. The “rot” mantra for 2019 will not work.
Let me remind the party of the time-tested aphorism: conscience is an open wound, only the truth can heal it, so said Uthsman Dan Fodio. The Bible also tells us that “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. Let the APC acknowledge and embrace the truth, and it shall be set free.