SUNMI SMART-COLE ARTIST BEHIND A CAMERA AT 75

 

“He turned his camera into a medium of dialogue between Man and Nature, between Man and his social milieu but also as an interventionist which is where photography becomes Art.”
Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka.

Professor Soyinka’s comment can be found at the back of an album which must be a rare collection of artworks presented as photography. It takes one to know one; and Soyinka, an incomparable artist himself, is the sort of person to appreciate genius in an artist operating in another medium. The album is titled SUNMI’s LENS – medium BETWEEN MAN AND NATURE; and I have a copy on account of despair and idleness.

Thursday, September 22, 2016, would have been an ordinary day but on that day my mechanic had  told me that my car’s problems had set me back N300,000. That is money hard to find in this recession which the CBN just renamed stagflation. I don’t have it.  So, that was the end of that until further notice.  I received the bad news on my way to an appointment with Uncle Sam, where I was sure of getting a free bottle of beer and to indulge in my idleness. A bottle destroyed and Uncle Sam announced he was going to the office. I begged to be dropped at the Anthony Taxi stand to take a cab home. On the way, Uncle Sam announced that he was stopping at Yaba before going to the office. That was a stroke of good luck for me. It would save me a few naira in taxi fare. When you have one foot in the grave and a N300,000 bill to pay every kobo saved is like having your life prolonged.

Still on the way, Uncle Sam further disclosed that he was going to see Sunmi Smart-Cole. That did it! Here was an opportunity to see once again the artist whom I have always regarded as a genius behind those cameras. I had watched Egbon Smart-Cole at close range on three occasions taking pictures. Each time, he was so painstaking in his preparations and approach that he always reminded me of another great artist and genius operating in another medium – music. I strongly believe that Smart-Cole is motivated by the same desire for perfection which made Giuseppe Verdi, 1813-1910, the Italian composer, to say: “All my life as a musician, I have striven for perfection. It has always eluded me. I surely had an obligation to make one more try.” One cannot avoid the impression that making one more try at achieving perfection is what had kept Sunmi going until he had taken several thousand photographs – many of then individual works of art.

Courtesy and gratitude demand that I should disclose that minutes after Uncle Sam and I entered his sitting room, one of my heroes was autographing a copy of the album which he gave to me as a gift. Henceforth, whoever says only “the Devil finds work for idle hands” will have an argument with me. I would gladly have paid one million naira for that album – if I had the money. But, the God that “in the middle of the utmost adversity…created and brings forth a new and greater glory and more auspicious circumstances for people that suffer” (to quote Babangida one of Sunmi’s favourite subjects) had turned my misery and idleness to good fortune. I left my home with a frown on my face and returned with a glowing smile that would last me for years on account of the album. People at home thought I had won the lottery. I had. That album is worth to me ten cars and it will last longer with me – possibly until death will part us. The car can go to blazes. Millions of people have cars. This is immeasurable treasure few people can have.

I started going through it immediately; sometimes looking at a particular picture for half an hour or more; trying to imagine what must have been going through the Master’s mind when he took it. Virtually every picture was a work of art; everyone was commentary or historical. Even the family portraits told their own stories and he was generous with his abundant talents with his friends. It is impossible to go through the album without asking for more. There were pictures from around the globe; some from places difficult to understand how he got there and what he was doing there. So now we know what Alfred De Musset, 1810-1857, meant when he pronounced that “Great artists have no country.” Sunmi Smart-Cole was obviously at home in any country and functioned well under any circumstances.

Only one question remains to be asked. Is it because of our disdain for history that several books have not been written on the art of Sunmi Smart-Cole? Lesser artists in other countries have been celebrated by biographers. But, here in Nigeria we seem contented to know that “Every artist writes his own autobiography.” (Henry Havelock Ellis, 1859-1939). But, must we leave them alone? Great writers, sculptors, architects, musicians, fine artists, carvers etc have passed through this land only once and uncelebrated. Why can’t we break with the past? Why can’t somebody sponsor a biography for the only genius of photography Nigeria has produced? We will not be doing him a favour; we will be celebrating ourselves for producing one of the best artists behind a camera that the world has known.

LAST LINE. Egbon, I sincerely mean that part about the happiness you brought into my life that day. Only God can repay; but rest assured that each day I see that album will remind me of my good fortune spending a few minutes with a genius. This is to wish you a happy birthday and as many happy returns as  God will grant you before you land at the Almighty’s harbour of peace and eternal rest.

APPEAL TO NIGERIA’S GREAT ACHIEVERS: WRITE YOUR BIOGRAPHY.

“Lives of great men remind us/that we can make our lives sublime/and departing leave behind us/footprints on the sands of time.
Longfellow, 1807-1882. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p137.

Most of our greatest achievers in this country have probably never heard the saying: “If you want to live five years buy shares; if thirty plant a tree. But if you want to live forever, write a book” – or have one written for you or about you. If you have some money, the best advice I can give you is either to write your own life history, an autobiography, or, have someone else write it for you. The second is called a biography. In that case, you engage a good writer, provide him/her with as much materials as you can gather, sit for interviews and get the book published. Don’t go for money because you are seeking immortality. Any money made is an extra dividend. If you love Daddy, Mummy, your political or business godfather, the man who gave you a big break in life, then forget buying them a Benz for the 70th 0r 80th birthday. The Lexus will rot; the book will last for ever.

One of the greatest Nigerians alive, and on his way to the grave, had resisted having his biography written while alive – he says “wait till I die”. He thinks it is a good joke. But, the joke is on him. I have started gathering materials for his biography. That is my way of saying “I love and respect you sir. I want to appreciate you for ever.” No material gift – not even the biggest diamond — can say that.

Contrary to what most people think, it does not cost much to engage a biographer. And he/she doesn’t even have to know or like the subject. All you need is a good writer with demonstrated habit of delivering scripts on time; he must also be a diligent researcher. In my own experience, most clients don’t provide sufficient background information to make the book interesting. The biographer must do that.

Early in this month, the death was announced of Olorogun Michael Ibru, CFR, the head of the Ibru family – which incidentally should have at least three biographies – one for Michael, one for Felix and one for Alex. Now that universities have been asked to add entrepreneurship to their curriculum and we are pressing our kids to learn to be self-reliant, Michael Ibru’s life story would have served as starring example for those embarking on those perilous but rewarding journeys. The trials and tribulations of a pioneer’s life, well captured, will teach our young ones three vital lessons: pain, perseverance and ultimately prosperity. The other two have different lessons to teach with their lives.

Given a chance, there are at least two to three dozen Nigerians I would love to chronicle their lives, three better than had been done before. The list includes great businessmen (BUA Executive Chair, Arik Chairman, Chief Igbiniedon, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Dangote, Otunba Subomi), Political leaders (Alhaji Shehu Shagari, late Sola Saraki, late Alhaji Adedibu, Atiku, Tinubu, Sen T. Orji, and above all, IBB! IBB!! IBB!!), traditional rulers (Emir of Ilorin, Oba of Lagos, Awujale of Ijebu-Ode, Obi of Onitsha, Dein of Agbor and Olu of Warri etc). Representing education will be: Chief Afe Babalola, Chief Ade Ajayi, Professor Jibril Aminu, Professor Okebukola, Professor Ayo Bamgbose etc); and for media (name withheld for my first candidate, Raymond Dokpesi, John, Momoh and Haruna Mohammed – that engaging, courageous and sometimes infuriating syndicated columnist – the unflinching voice of the North and Islam in a Nigerian print media sector dominated by Southerners and Christians. Just in case you think some of these have been done before, let me tell you something. Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill,  Adolf Hitler, Shakespeare, Marx, Lenin, Stalin among others  already had more than sixty (60) books written about each of them when I started the research for the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS in the USA in 1967. If the life is big enough; then one book is never enough. Wait and see what will happen when Obama steps out. An avalanche of books will follow.

LAST LINE: Who will write a book for Stephen Keshi?

EFCC AND EX-PRESIDENT’S WIFE IN CAT AND MOUSE GAME.

“History is not like some individual person which uses men to achieve its ends. History is nothing but the actions of men [and women] in pursuit of their ends.” Karl Marx, 1803-1882, writing in 1845.

Karl Marx, the author of immortal “Communist Manifesto”, which set the world ablaze in the 19th and 20th centuries, wrote about more than economics. He was also a brilliant historian. His observation about individuals and history is pertinent when we turn our minds to the current legal confrontation between the former President’s wife and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Future historians, if there be any, of 2016 Nigerian political history might be scratching their heads pondering why the “mouse” having lost its “lunch” to the “cat” would want to openly challenge the latter in a bid to reclaim what was almost irretrievably lost — and, in the process risk becoming part of the “lunch”. But, those poor fellows will be forgiven by others who would also record that the years from 1999 to 2016 represented the period when Nigeria could be described as a lunatic asylum managed by the most deranged. Few of their actions made sense to reasonable people all over the world. That explains why the nation, assuming the pretentious titled of GIANT OF AFRICA, made no sustainable progress in any direction whatsoever.  The case of the ex- President’s wife and the EFCC illustrates all that was wrong with Nigeria during the era.

However, before going into the details of the case, a vital diversion is necessary. Shortly after the ex-President was sworn in as Acting President in 2010, an article appeared on these pages advising the newly sworn-in CEO of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to please keep his wife strictly at home because the nation’s constitution does not recognize the office of First Lady and she had very little official role to play. Even as the piece of advice was being given it was clear after twenty-six years of writing on these pages that it would land on deaf ears. It did. Anyone trying to advise Nigerian leaders, whose first priority is “the pursuit of their own ends”, must first of all practice talking to cows. They listen selectively and only to those who will help them in “the pursuit of their own ends”. Despite the well-worn appeal for “all hands on deck”, the only hands the leaders want on deck are those to help them achieve their ends. So, the ex-President failed to keep his wife at home.

On the contrary, either by permission or defiance of the ex-President, the ex-wife strode unto the political landscape in a manner last seen when another former Military President’s wife had the effrontery to lead Ministers, Governors and their wives around the country in search of an elusive “Better Life for Rural Women” from 1985 to 1993. But, it was during the presidential campaigns of 2014/2015 that the ex-President’s wife was shown in her true colours. A “First Lady” frequently using unladylike language, unrestrained by her husband, was a novelty to Nigerians and the international community listening to her. Like the Biblical Goliath, it never occurred to her, and her husband, that “David” might win and somebody would lose his/her head. Well, against all odds, in Africa at least, the underdog surprisingly won the contest in 2015 and it appears that heads will roll – literally.

Here again, wiser heads would have counseled keeping a very low profile, not provoking the victor who now holds the power of “life and death”. As Homer, 900 BC, wrote, “Foolhardy [woman]! Why provoke one whose temper is foul already”. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p205). Everybody with brains knows that the new Ogapatapata is not only vindictive, but he has a memory longer than that of an elephant. He neither forgives nor forgets. Any guy who still nurses a grudge from 1985 is the sort of person who, if he seizes your “meat” you voluntarily surrender your “rice” also. Otherwise you run the risk of going hungry and being beaten in addition. That is if the “lunch” is indisputably your own.

Unfortunately, the ex-Presidents wife is caught in a trap. She will find it extremely difficult to prove ownership. Was it not Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1832, who wrote: “O! what a tangled web we weave/ When first we practice to deceive.” (VBQ p 35). If the “lunch” was really her own, why did she have to set up a web of deceit to lodge it in a bank instead of just walking up to any bank and opening a domiciliary account in her own name? Why get others involved in breaking laws which her husband had sworn to protect and enforce? Why get a bank to break so many rules in order to accommodate the obviously illegal requests? And, why expose yourself and your “dear” husband to the ridicule that would follow the publicity that claiming the funds would entail? Would she have been feeding on bread and water if she walked away from the “lunch” instead of stubbornly trying to reclaim it? Questions, questions, and more questions for her. More of them later.

There are, however, a few for him – the ex-President – to answer. O. K, let’s reduce then to four. Was he aware that “Madam”, his loving wife, opened these accounts in these fraudulent manners? What step did he take as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of Nigeria – if he knew? Was he aware that she was going to sue the EFCC and expose the family to ridicule? What steps will he now take with regard to this mess as a collateral victim – assuming he was not an accomplice before the fact?

LAST LINE. To all Presidents, Governors and Local Government Chairpersons – Please keep your spouses at home.

PLAGIARISING BEGINS WITH THIS GOVERNMENT.

“Buhari orders sanctions for “Change begins with me” mix-up.”
THE NATION, September 17, 2016, p 1.

“Change begins with me”, CBWM, is the second major document released by the All Progressives Congress, APC, government, It is also the second to end up being embroiled in controversy, recriminations and the President threatening sanctions against an unnamed individual. The first document was the 2015 Budget. The controversies it generated continue unabated — even as the third quarter of the year draws to a close. It also brought the charge by Buhari that the budget was padded and the promise to punish those involved. But, since then, the Presidency had made an about-face and declared that the budget was not padded after all – while the National Assembly, NASS, which originally denied padding is now tied down to conflict on charges of padding. A lot of things have certainly changed since May 29, 2015.

The second document, CBWM, released in the third week of September, most probably to divert attention from the failures of the first, landed straight into controversy. Most Nigerians were in no mood for platitudes offered instead of plates of food to millions of starving people. That was bad enough for a government which had expected some political dividend from the idea. Value for money? Forget it.

Worse was to come. Just as eagle-eyed readers discovered that some portions of the 2016 Budget were lifted word for word from the 2015 appropriation bill, hawk-eyed observers discovered that the best parts of CBWM were plagiarized from President Obama’s address in 2008. Prior to that discovery, the Federal Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had been assailed by individuals claiming authorship of the document. The Minister had dismissed such claims by insisting that he was the sole author. But, that was when there was still a glimmer of hope that some credit would accrue to the President and Minister from the project – despite the overwhelming condemnation it received. With the taint of plagiarism, the inevitable embarrassment to Buhari and the nail on the coffin of CBWM, Buhari had reverted to his instincts. Somebody must be sanctioned.

The President’s spokesman hinted at the “speechwriter” being the likely scapegoat. If so, it would amount to gross injustice. Any speechwriter, and I write as one who had been engaged in that work, presents only a draft. The Minister or Commissioner must vet it before presenting it to the President or Governor – who must also read and approve before publication. Failure on their parts to take responsibility for what is published under their names cannot be blamed on the subordinate officer.

When Presidents deliver addresses which are highly acclaimed, nobody knows or cares who wrote them. When problems arise, nobody should care who wrote the speech. If at all anybody deserves sanction, it is the Minister who had earlier claimed authorship. He would have been clinking glasses with his friends if it was a roaring success. He should feel the lash now that it had become a disaster.

ANOTHER FAILED BUDGET FOR 2016.

 
“We are releasing another N350 billion. There will also be the funding of about N60 billion in the social intervention programme…which will take our total capital release to date to N770 billion.”
 
Minister of Finance, NATION, September 17, 2016, p 6.
No budget had been fully implemented in the last sixteen years. Even when the price of crude oil exceeded the benchmark price used in budgeting, from 2000 to the third quarter of 2014, resulting in the vast sums in our Excess Crude Account, ECA, budgeting had been reduced to an annual ritual; Presidents signed them and promptly forgot them. But, at least all the other budgets but the 2016 appropriation bill had a chance if only Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan were not presiding over a nation which is only a little better than a Banana Republic in terms of budgetary responsibility by its elected officials. The National Assembly, NASS, is the body responsible for keeping the President honest. Unfortunately, Nigeria never had a NASS to speak of during the period under review. None of the Senate Presidents or Speakers left a legacy that even his kids can be proud of while in office.
 
Buhari’s budget was bound to fail – even before the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, was appointed and given the thankless job of becoming the scapegoat for an inevitable budgetary disaster. First, no country and no government, unless coming to office unexpectedly writes its annual budget in one month. The fiasco which trailed the exercise in futility till today is conclusive proof that it was a gross error of judgment to leave the appointment of Ministers until late October last year.
Second, the budget was based on one critical assumption which, given more time, might have been better considered. Nigerian leaders for now and the foreseeable future better understand that the price and volume of crude oil we actually export still determines our revenue and also our economic performance. The 2016 budget based on exporting 2.2 million barrels of crude per day was mere wishful thinking. Nigeria had not since 2012 exported 2.2 million barrels per day – even when there was no oil theft and no vandalism. It beats the imagination why this government, given the challenges in the Niger Delta and the glut in the global market, could have expected to achieve in 2016 what was a mission impossible in 2013 to 2015.
 
Once the crude oil revenue was wildly off target, everything else that followed was a waste of paper and everybody’s time. The errors began to show right from the first month or even the first day of the year. From January till today, Nigeria’s crude export had not reached 2 million per day. The best had been approximately 1.8 million; it was as low as 1.4 million. When a forecaster misses nine months in a row, there is no better proof of ineptitude. Now, as we come to the end of the third quarter, the magnitude of the mistake they have made is beginning to show. Obviously, nothing will happen in the last quarter to salvage a budget which should have been thrown into the dust bin earlier on. Surprisingly, even the promised review, if found necessary, was not undertaken. That should have been done by mid-year and the President should have addressed Nigerians to alert them to the adverse turn of events. At least, the citizenry would know that most of the promises made for the year will not be fulfilled – at least not this year.
Analysis of the announcement by Mrs Adeosun, Finance Minister, quoted above demonstrates that she does not grasp the enormity of the disaster she had made — almost casually. According to her N350 billion additional funds will be provided for capital projects – bringing the total to N770 billion. Was it on account of carelessness or an attempt to conceal the truth that she failed to mention that the capital budget is N1.8 trillion; and that what would have been released by end of September is a mere 43 per cent of the year’s budget with three months left to go? Is she aware that the obvious conclusion from that is the fact that only about 56 per cent of the year’s capital appropriations will be made available?
If the release for capital projects was disappointing, the allocation for “social intervention programme” must have been some sort of a joke. Against all advice to postpone the Social Welfare Programme for another year; to give itself more time to study the economic trends, especially gross revenue, went ahead and budgeted N500 billion this year. Rumours have it that another N500 billion is planned for 2017. Instead of N500 billion, only N60 billion or 12 per cent will be released in September. Just one million primary school kids being fed at N100 per day for twenty days will eat up N2 billion a month and exhaust N6 billion by December.
They promised to feed five million; so N10 billion will vanish in October alone and N30 billion on food for the kids.
 
She also reminded us of the promise to pay N5000 stipend to one million people. That removes another N5 billion in one month and N15 billion by end of year. But, these are not even the biggest money-guzzlers. There are 500,000 teachers to pay and tertiary institution students to sponsor and technical people to empower. Altogether N100 billion will be needed just to get us to December.
Yet, the fund requirements are not finished. So far, nobody had mentioned the cost of administering these programmes, monitoring, evaluating and reporting. Offices have to be provided for the officials in charge, vehicles bought etc. How much will these consume of the N60 billion released and how much will be left? Nobody can tell.
 
Clearly, the Federal government had pushed itself into a tight corner. Even now, nobody knows the criteria to be used to determine the beneficiaries of each of these programmes. That will make it extremely difficult to ensure that the programme, though under-funded is not corruption ridden.
The N500 billion welfare package was doomed, like the rest of the budget, from the start. The attempt to rescue the government from its folly by the Joint Committee of the NASS, headed by Senator Goje and Honourable Jibrin, was resisted by those hoping to benefitfrom the spoils of contracts. Speaking on behalf of the other members of the Committee, Goje had made the following observations. “
 
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY POSTPONES N500B SOCIAL PROGRAMME.
 
“There is no detailed and clear-cut structure being laid down for the implementation of this project because what we have in the budget is N300bn recurrent and N200bn capital. We had to push hard yesterday to get some details, which are not convincing. For instance, the explanation we got is that N5000 will be given to one million Nigerians. Who will choose the one million? What structures do you have in place to make sure you choose the right people?” Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation, Thursday, March 3, 2016.
 
The Committee then recommended excluding the request from the 2016 Budget. Pressures “from above” got the allocation restored.
 
A few weeks ago, a Committee of the House asked Mrs Uwais, wife of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, who is in charge for a progress report – especially the food programme. The poor lady stuck between the devil of telling the truth that she had not received a kobo and the deep sea meaning there was nothing substantial on the ground, pleaded for more time. More time in September to provide “details” for a programme which should have started in January if the authors were being honest with us. They were not.
 
At any rate, there will be no N500 billion for social intervention this year. The President will have a lot of explanations to make for not providing up to half of what he promised. On that score alone the 2015 has already failed to achieve its objectives. It started out as a triumph of politics over economics. It is ending as a political setback for the President. Change hjad better start from that area.
Will the 2017 Budget suffer the same fate? Most likely. The framers of this one have learnt nothing apparently. Otherwise, why start with the assumption of 2.2 million barrels a day of crude exports?

ANOTHER FAILED BUDGET FOR 2016. “We are releasing another N350 billion. There will also be the funding of about N60 billion in the social intervention programme…which will take our total capital release to date to N770 billion.” Minister of Finance, NATION, September 17, 2016, p 6. No budget had been fully implemented in the last sixteen years. Even when the price of crude oil exceeded the benchmark price used in budgeting, from 2000 to the third quarter of 2014, resulting in the vast sums in our Excess Crude Account, ECA, budgeting had been reduced to an annual ritual; Presidents signed them and promptly forgot them. But, at least all the other budgets but the 2016 appropriation bill had a chance if only Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan were not presiding over a nation which is only a little better than a Banana Republic in terms of budgetary responsibility by its elected officials. The National Assembly, NASS, is the body responsible for keeping the President honest. Unfortunately, Nigeria never had a NASS to speak of during the period under review. None of the Senate Presidents or Speakers left a legacy that even his kids can be proud of while in office. Buhari’s budget was bound to fail – even before the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, was appointed and given the thankless job of becoming the scapegoat for an inevitable budgetary disaster. First, no country and no government, unless coming to office unexpectedly writes its annual budget in one month. The fiasco which trailed the exercise in futility till today is conclusive proof that it was a gross error of judgment to leave the appointment of Ministers until late October last year. Second, the budget was based on one critical assumption which, given more time, might have been better considered. Nigerian leaders for now and the foreseeable future better understand that the price and volume of crude oil we actually export still determines our revenue and also our economic performance. The 2016 budget based on exporting 2.2 million barrels of crude per day was mere wishful thinking. Nigeria had not since 2012 exported 2.2 million barrels per day – even when there was no oil theft and no vandalism. It beats the imagination why this government, given the challenges in the Niger Delta and the glut in the global market, could have expected to achieve in 2016 what was a mission impossible in 2013 to 2015. Once the crude oil revenue was wildly off target, everything else that followed was a waste of paper and everybody’s time. The errors began to show right from the first month or even the first day of the year. From January till today, Nigeria’s crude export had not reached 2 million per day. The best had been approximately 1.8 million; it was as low as 1.4 million. When a forecaster misses nine months in a row, there is no better proof of ineptitude. Now, as we come to the end of the third quarter, the magnitude of the mistake they have made is beginning to show. Obviously, nothing will happen in the last quarter to salvage a budget which should have been thrown into the dust bin earlier on. Surprisingly, even the promised review, if found necessary, was not undertaken. That should have been done by mid-year and the President should have addressed Nigerians to alert them to the adverse turn of events. At least, the citizenry would know that most of the promises made for the year will not be fulfilled – at least not this year. Analysis of the announcement by Mrs Adeosun, Finance Minister, quoted above demonstrates that she does not grasp the enormity of the disaster she had made — almost casually. According to her N350 billion additional funds will be provided for capital projects – bringing the total to N770 billion. Was it on account of carelessness or an attempt to conceal the truth that she failed to mention that the capital budget is N1.8 trillion; and that what would have been released by end of September is a mere 43 per cent of the year’s budget with three months left to go? Is she aware that the obvious conclusion from that is the fact that only about 56 per cent of the year’s capital appropriations will be made available? If the release for capital projects was disappointing, the allocation for “social intervention programme” must have been some sort of a joke. Against all advice to postpone the Social Welfare Programme for another year; to give itself more time to study the economic trends, especially gross revenue, went ahead and budgeted N500 billion this year. Rumours have it that another N500 billion is planned for 2017. Instead of N500 billion, only N60 billion or 12 per cent will be released in September. Just one million primary school kids being fed at N100 per day for twenty days will eat up N2 billion a month and exhaust N6 billion by December. They promised to feed five million; so N10 billion will vanish in October alone and N30 billion on food for the kids. She also reminded us of the promise to pay N5000 stipend to one million people. That removes another N5 billion in one month and N15 billion by end of year. But, these are not even the biggest money-guzzlers. There are 500,000 teachers to pay and tertiary institution students to sponsor and technical people to empower. Altogether N100 billion will be needed just to get us to December. Yet, the fund requirements are not finished. So far, nobody had mentioned the cost of administering these programmes, monitoring, evaluating and reporting. Offices have to be provided for the officials in charge, vehicles bought etc. How much will these consume of the N60 billion released and how much will be left? Nobody can tell. Clearly, the Federal government had pushed itself into a tight corner. Even now, nobody knows the criteria to be used to determine the beneficiaries of each of these programmes. That will make it extremely difficult to ensure that the programme, though under-funded is not corruption ridden. The N500 billion welfare package was doomed, like the rest of the budget, from the start. The attempt to rescue the government from its folly by the Joint Committee of the NASS, headed by Senator Goje and Honourable Jibrin, was resisted by those hoping to benefitfrom the spoils of contracts. Speaking on behalf of the other members of the Committee, Goje had made the following observations. “ NATIONAL ASSEMBLY POSTPONES N500B SOCIAL PROGRAMME. “There is no detailed and clear-cut structure being laid down for the implementation of this project because what we have in the budget is N300bn recurrent and N200bn capital. We had to push hard yesterday to get some details, which are not convincing. For instance, the explanation we got is that N5000 will be given to one million Nigerians. Who will choose the one million? What structures do you have in place to make sure you choose the right people?” Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation, Thursday, March 3, 2016. The Committee then recommended excluding the request from the 2016 Budget. Pressures “from above” got the allocation restored. A few weeks ago, a Committee of the House asked Mrs Uwais, wife of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, who is in charge for a progress report – especially the food programme. The poor lady stuck between the devil of telling the truth that she had not received a kobo and the deep sea meaning there was nothing substantial on the ground, pleaded for more time. More time in September to provide “details” for a programme which should have started in January if the authors were being honest with us. They were not. At any rate, there will be no N500 billion for social intervention this year. The President will have a lot of explanations to make for not providing up to half of what he promised. On that score alone the 2015 has already failed to achieve its objectives. It started out as a triumph of politics over economics. It is ending as a political setback for the President. Change hjad better start from that area. Will the 2017 Budget suffer the same fate? Most likely. The framers of this one have learnt nothing apparently. Otherwise, why start with the assumption of 2.2 million barrels a day of crude exports?

SKYE BANK AS A METAPHOR FOR BANKING IN NIGERIA.

 
“Diezani’s ally, Omokore returns N200m to govt.”
PUNCH, September 18, 2016, p 1.
 
Last month, when the Central Bank of Nigeria took out advertisements in several national newspapers to disclaim the “rumour” that Skye Bank was not distressed, an article appeared on this page titled WHY CBN AND LAGOS STATE MIGHT FAIL IN THEIR EFFORT TO SAVE SKYE BANK. In it, the point was made that contrary to the position of the CBN and despite the vital interest of Lagos State in saving the bank, the efforts might end in failure because the bank had been undermined by its directors and managers in many ways, not just financial, which will make any rescue effort difficult – if not impossible. By then a compilation of the list of cases heading for the courts and involving the bank had been made. It was frightening to observe how one bank could have so got itself involved in so many shady deals.
 
In fact, the current cases involving the bank and Mrs Jonathan is a throw-back to banking in the late 1990s. Writing in 2004 in an article titled BANKING: LEGALISED ROBBERY OR SWINDLE IN NIGERIA, the point had been made that despite the Failed Bank Decree of 1997/8 under which many Nigerian bankers were arrested by the Abacha administration, Nigerian bankers had soon returned to their tricks which led to their being described as “robbers in designer suits”. Since then, hardly would six years elapse before another banking crisis is experienced in this country.
 
The peculiar case of Skye Bank should not be regarded as an exception. Rather, it should be a wake-up call to the CBN that all might not be well with the sector. In over twenty years of observing the sector, one lesson has been learnt borrowing from the life of cockroaches. By the time you see a cockroach in your house, you can be sure there are several hundreds in the crevices. The same is true with banking. By the time a bank is caught in a trap, others are also in.
 
 
Given the steady drip of money alleged to have been returned to the Federal Government by several individuals and organizations, since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, started probing various transactions last year, the return of N200 million should not prove so startling. What made the report very significant was the name of the bank and the fact that eight accounts traced to the same person at the bank had been frozen in connection with alleged fraudulent deals involving him and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
 
The same bank is currently at the centre of probes into alleged shady accounts involving the wife of former President Jonathan – Mrs Patience Jonathan. Close to $30 million is supposed to be frozen in that alleged scam. Prior to that, virtually all the funds supposed to have been distributed by Mrs Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, passed through the same bank. In fact a comprehensive tally of all the individuals and organizations so far touched by the EFCC would reveal at least twenty whose accounts at the Skye Bank had been frozen. The amount involved will run into billions and the banks role in some of these deals could eventually cost millions of naira in penalties. In too many cases the officials of the bank deliberately violated all the sacred principles of professional banking. Deposits which should have been reported to the Central Bank and security agencies, routinely as required by regulations were not and the bank lent itself as a willing tool to those seeking to circumvent the laws of Nigeria.
 
Apart from its involvement in the messy deals involving “yesterday’s powerful people”, it had other issues to grapple with. Within weeks of the removal of the former board of directors and the appointment of a new one and the infusion of funds from the CBN, the bank was among the eight tossed out of the foreign exchange market for withholding $221 million Treasury Single Account, TSA, funds and ordered to pay immediately. Granted, the CBN later soft pedaled on the measure. But, the fact remains that $221 million or N88.4 billion would have to be raised soon to pay the Federal Government. Skye Bank is not alone in that predicament.
 
Dollar scarcity is savaging all the banks and as in all of life’s competitive situations, it is becoming a matter of the survival of the fittest. All the other banks which have funds frozen on account of involvement in questionable transactions face possible penalties – if not for anything else but for collusion in money laundering operations and failure to alert the regulatory authorities. Virtually all of them are exposed to the oil and gas, airlines, power companies and real estate sectors and the huge non-performing loans that have accumulated from those ventures. All are seating on assets worth billions of naira which they have seized from debtors but there are no buyers in sight. Entire estates are up for grabs in Lagos, Abuja, Portharcourt, Kaduna etc.It is safe bet that the cases heading for the courts from the EFCC alone will add more assets to the glut and no buyers. One bank manager disclosed that his bank is now afraid to press for liquidation because the assets on hand cannot be disposed of even at give-away prices.
 
As if that is not depressing enough, AMCON also holds billions of naira worth of properties, turned over by the banks with little hope of getting rid of them.
Finally, the real threat to Nigerian banks is the recession caused mainly by dollar scarcity – caused by low crude oil price. From all indications, the global glut will continue through 2017 because countries like Iran and Libya which had exported little in 2013-2015 are back in the market and they need all the dollars they can get – even if it means discounting the oil price. The outlook for a price increase appears bleak.
So where will the dollars come from to repay what is owed to TSA and pay fines?

SKYE BANK AS A METAPHOR FOR BANKING IN NIGERIA. “Diezani’s ally, Omokore returns N200m to govt.” PUNCH, September 18, 2016, p 1. Last month, when the Central Bank of Nigeria took out advertisements in several national newspapers to disclaim the “rumour” that Skye Bank was not distressed, an article appeared on this page titled WHY CBN AND LAGOS STATE MIGHT FAIL IN THEIR EFFORT TO SAVE SKYE BANK. In it, the point was made that contrary to the position of the CBN and despite the vital interest of Lagos State in saving the bank, the efforts might end in failure because the bank had been undermined by its directors and managers in many ways, not just financial, which will make any rescue effort difficult – if not impossible. By then a compilation of the list of cases heading for the courts and involving the bank had been made. It was frightening to observe how one bank could have so got itself involved in so many shady deals. In fact, the current cases involving the bank and Mrs Jonathan is a throw-back to banking in the late 1990s. Writing in 2004 in an article titled BANKING: LEGALISED ROBBERY OR SWINDLE IN NIGERIA, the point had been made that despite the Failed Bank Decree of 1997/8 under which many Nigerian bankers were arrested by the Abacha administration, Nigerian bankers had soon returned to their tricks which led to their being described as “robbers in designer suits”. Since then, hardly would six years elapse before another banking crisis is experienced in this country. The peculiar case of Skye Bank should not be regarded as an exception. Rather, it should be a wake-up call to the CBN that all might not be well with the sector. In over twenty years of observing the sector, one lesson has been learnt borrowing from the life of cockroaches. By the time you see a cockroach in your house, you can be sure there are several hundreds in the crevices. The same is true with banking. By the time a bank is caught in a trap, others are also in. Given the steady drip of money alleged to have been returned to the Federal Government by several individuals and organizations, since the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, started probing various transactions last year, the return of N200 million should not prove so startling. What made the report very significant was the name of the bank and the fact that eight accounts traced to the same person at the bank had been frozen in connection with alleged fraudulent deals involving him and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. The same bank is currently at the centre of probes into alleged shady accounts involving the wife of former President Jonathan – Mrs Patience Jonathan. Close to $30 million is supposed to be frozen in that alleged scam. Prior to that, virtually all the funds supposed to have been distributed by Mrs Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, passed through the same bank. In fact a comprehensive tally of all the individuals and organizations so far touched by the EFCC would reveal at least twenty whose accounts at the Skye Bank had been frozen. The amount involved will run into billions and the banks role in some of these deals could eventually cost millions of naira in penalties. In too many cases the officials of the bank deliberately violated all the sacred principles of professional banking. Deposits which should have been reported to the Central Bank and security agencies, routinely as required by regulations were not and the bank lent itself as a willing tool to those seeking to circumvent the laws of Nigeria. Apart from its involvement in the messy deals involving “yesterday’s powerful people”, it had other issues to grapple with. Within weeks of the removal of the former board of directors and the appointment of a new one and the infusion of funds from the CBN, the bank was among the eight tossed out of the foreign exchange market for withholding $221 million Treasury Single Account, TSA, funds and ordered to pay immediately. Granted, the CBN later soft pedaled on the measure. But, the fact remains that $221 million or N88.4 billion would have to be raised soon to pay the Federal Government. Skye Bank is not alone in that predicament. Dollar scarcity is savaging all the banks and as in all of life’s competitive situations, it is becoming a matter of the survival of the fittest. All the other banks which have funds frozen on account of involvement in questionable transactions face possible penalties – if not for anything else but for collusion in money laundering operations and failure to alert the regulatory authorities. Virtually all of them are exposed to the oil and gas, airlines, power companies and real estate sectors and the huge non-performing loans that have accumulated from those ventures. All are seating on assets worth billions of naira which they have seized from debtors but there are no buyers in sight. Entire estates are up for grabs in Lagos, Abuja, Portharcourt, Kaduna etc.It is safe bet that the cases heading for the courts from the EFCC alone will add more assets to the glut and no buyers. One bank manager disclosed that his bank is now afraid to press for liquidation because the assets on hand cannot be disposed of even at give-away prices. As if that is not depressing enough, AMCON also holds billions of naira worth of properties, turned over by the banks with little hope of getting rid of them. Finally, the real threat to Nigerian banks is the recession caused mainly by dollar scarcity – caused by low crude oil price. From all indications, the global glut will continue through 2017 because countries like Iran and Libya which had exported little in 2013-2015 are back in the market and they need all the dollars they can get – even if it means discounting the oil price. The outlook for a price increase appears bleak. So where will the dollars come from to repay what is owed to TSA and pay fines?

PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP FOR NATIONS IN DISTRESS.


It can be generally agreed that leadership, for nations in distress, is the ability to help frame the issues without aggravating the problems and inflaming passions. This is especially true in a multiparty democracy.

To begin with the President or Prime Minister must be aware of two indisputable facts. One, not all the citizenry are members of his or any other political party. The vast majority cast their votes and will be led by whoever emerges as the elected ruler. Second, once elections are over, the national leader is expected to shed a great deal of his partisanship and attempt to forge unity of purpose among the people – including his political opponents. This is imperative whenever the nation faces hardship. The leader as statesman must realize that the campaign was over on voting day and collective governance takes over from the minute he is sworn into office. Partisan rhetoric must be muted; party propaganda must be toned down and outright inexactitudes must be avoided. A national Chief Executive Officer, CEO, making statements which can easily be seen to be mostly false, belittles not only himself but the office he holds in today’s global village.

It is in this context that President Buhari’s statement on Sallah Day, at his home in Daura, can be regarded as most unfortunate. Buhari’s declaration that he inherited nothing from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, after sixteen years’ rule has stretched exaggeration to the breaking point. Apart from fellow Nigerians who were here during those sixteen years, there were large numbers of people from the international community who would have received that message as un-statesmanlike. A few examples will be sufficient to illustrate the damage the President did to his own credibility by that charge.

Jonathan’s administration left approximately US$38 billion in External Reserves, which had now been depleted to under US$29 billion since last year May. In addition, US$2.3 billion was left in the Excess Crude Account, ECA. Apart from financial legacies, Buhari recently flagged-off the Kaduna-Abuja rail line – which was not started in May last year. The Abuja Airport to Central Business District Expressway went from four lanes in May 1999 to what it is today and many of the physical structures along that route alone were not there in 1999.

Yar’Adua started the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway expansion now nearing completion and paid for some of the power plants now adding thousands on Mega Watts to our national grid among other additions he made to infrastructure in his short stay.

Obasanjo, like him or not, opened Nigeria to the global ICT network when he registered the first three GSM networks. It is inconceivable for Buhari to run government today if all the network service providers shut down at once. Not even a civil war can equal the tragedies that would occur if that occurs.

At the risk of being accused of pettiness, it is pertinent to note that Buhari was the inheritor of ten presidential aircraft left behind by Jonathan. One of them flew him to Katsina. But we need not list all Buhari inherited from the PDP to prove the point. Granted, there are serious questions about massive corruption and whether Nigerians received value for the trillions spent. But, that is another issue. Buhari cannot expect support from Nigerian on fighting corruption by making statements which call his own truthfulness into question. The President should watch his utterances before he brings his office to ridicule.

POLITICISING RECESSION AND THE UNFOLDING NATIONAL TRAGEDY.

Suddenly, the leaders of the All Progressive Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have something in common. They are both behaving irresponsibly by turning the unfolding national tragedy – prolonged recession – into a political game of mutual accusation. Apparently, none of their leaders seem to be aware that the vast majority of Nigerians are not card carrying members of the two political machines and cannot be fooled by the propaganda they dish out for public consumption.

The leaders of the APC, desperately sounding like broken records, have since the sobering last fifteen months attempted to heap all the blame for the current economic downturn on the PD administrations, which, since 1999 failed to diversify the economy, to save for the hard times we are now experiencing, and for unprecedented level of corruption. They are partly right; and partly being clever by half.

Yes, the PDP in the sixteen years had been mostly irresponsible, as charged. But, the APC today has among its members many of those who made the PDP the political monster that it is. Even when they are not card carrying members, they are sympathizers. The National Assembly controlled by the APC has as its top officials people who were for years in the PDP. From Sokoto, through Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Ogun etc, APC Governors who were members of PDP now occupy state government houses.

More to the point, the APC had totally disclaimed any responsibility for its failure to anticipate the economic crisis it was going to inherit – if elected. It had also failed to develop a comprehensive blueprint for the economy; the party assembled a poor team of managers and the President, by delaying the appointment of Ministers brought about the disaster we face with the 2016 budget.
Apparently not to be outclassed in telling half-truths and outright untruths, the PDP had launched its own rejoinder. The economy we are told was growing at 6% per annum; but, cleverly omitted was the fact that 6% was last achieved in 2013. By 2014, growth had slowed to under 4% and by 2015, it was less than 3%. Also left unsaid was the fact that Jonathan inherited External Reserves of US$47.5 billion from Yar’Adua, and despite crude oil price averaging US$110 per barrel, GEJ left less than US40 billion. Excess Crude Account, ECA, was also depleted from over US$42 billion to US$2.3 billion during the period under review. External debt rose from about US$2 billion to close to US$6 billion. And, till today, Nigerians don’t know what happened to US$13-16 billion the Obasanjo administration spent to increase power supply; yet Jonathan left on May 29, 2016 with power supply still less than 4000MW. They certainly have not told Nigerians why Service Chiefs under Jonathan converted money provided for arms to personal use; why the Office of the National Security Adviser became a subsidiary of the Central bank and conduit pipe for public funds transferred to private accounts. In short, they have not accounted for close to N12 trillion – more than sufficient money to get us out of the recession – if we can lay our hands on them.

Given the lack of responsible leadership on both sides, Nigerians are well-advised to disregard their utterances. None of them has a solution to our predicament. The truth is; the recession is likely to last beyond 2017 and not soon as the government will like us to believe. And, it would have been caused by our leaders, past and present since 1999.

THE TRUTHS ABOUT CURRENT RECESSION AND THE WAY OUT.

 

While the politicians trade blames and pronounce self-seeking half truths and falsehoods as facts, Nigerians meanwhile deserve the unblemished truth and more importantly they need to know the options available to us while the recently declared recession lasts. After all, it is our lives they are toying with.

One, Nigeria is not the only country experiencing recession, mild or severe, at this time. All the oil producing nations of the world are also experiencing economic reversal whose severity depends on whether they saved for the rainy day and how dependent the country is on crude oil for its annual budget. So, recession in Nigeria, troubling as it is, cannot be regarded as unique. Even the world’s largest exporter of crude, Saudi Arabia, is struggling with it; Venezuela, at the other end of the globe is almost overwhelmed by it.

Two, the country started sliding towards recession in 2013 when the price of crude oil began rolling downwards from US$118 per barrel. That process continued throughout 2014 – which was the first year since 1995 when average crude price fell below the benchmark used for the annual budget. As far back as 2013 VANGUARD had warned the nation that the Age of Oil was over but the ruling party took no notice or dismissed the caution as prophecy of doom.
Having failed to heed the warnings in 2013 through 2015, on account of the bid for the second term, Jonathan’s administration missed the opportunity to slow down the depletion of our External Reserves and the Excess Crude Account. The government also failed to gradually impose import restrictions on products which constituted a drain on our foreign exchange revenue and to impose a range of taxes – including luxury tax – which would have beefed up the internally generated revenue of governments and ease the pressure on dollar income.
Three, Buhari’s government came into office without the slightest idea of the magnitude of the problem it was facing. By May last year, it was clear to keen observers of the global market that crude oil prices would stay below US$50 per barrel for a long time. Furthermore, supply pegged at 2.2 million barrels per day would not be achieved for various reasons – vandalism, theft, and chiefly, a glut in the global market. Actual revenue would fall below projections by far and dollar scarcity was inevitable. Instead of taking prompt action to introduce fiscal measures to slow down the demand for foreign exchange, by allowing the exchange rate to be adjusted in 2015, the President refused to allow the Central bank to make the necessary adjustments – until it was almost unavoidable. By then, more dollars had taken flight from our shores and the measure required to reduce the negative impacts of recession were postponed. The absence of a Federal cabinet of Ministers and a credible Economic Management Team merely compounded the errors of judgment made.

It has become an axiom in economics that if you allow an untenable situation to continue for too long, suddenly there will be few, or no,  good options left. Delay in the introduction of an integrated fiscal and monetary policy package, so far, has made the situation worse since last year. Divestment from the Nigerian economy is taking place at a fast pace especially in the capital market where portfolio investment managers have almost all withdrawn from the Nigeria Stock Exchange – taking their dollars with them. By the time Buhari reluctantly agreed to devaluation of the currency, more damage had been done than if the measures were taken in 2015.
The fiscal policies are still not in place. Diversification of the economy remains a mirage because the will and the funds required to achieve it are not there. Until the Federal Government takes leadership and comes out with a coordinated package of fiscal and monetary policies that can get us out of recession, the nation will have to wait for another oil boom for recovery. Those suggesting that it might last until 2020 are being optimistic. The cardinal cause of our recession is dollar scarcity, on account of crude oil prices; until we devise a means to earn more dollars or spend less on imports, the recession will continue and become more severe. There is no alternative to that.

Government had adopted external borrowing as an option. That amounts to threading familiar paths. Back in 1980s, when the price of crude first plummeted for years, Nigeria adopted the “borrow-and-spend” option. Our creditors then were the Paris and London group of lenders because the West had the funds to invest. Today, economic power had shifted to the East and increasingly, we are looking to China, Japan, South Korea and the Middle East for loans. “Borrow and spend” is a viable option if there is cast iron guarantee that the funds will be invested in projects which would make the loans self-liquidating and very little is embezzled. It will become another debt trap if the funds are badly invested or they are used to fund consumption, for example, the Social Welfare Programme. Government has told us where the loans might come from. They have not explained to us the investment plan and how repayment is assured. Without that, borrowing will increase our hardship in the future. Unfortunately, as in the 1980s, another government down the line will have to grapple with the problem of repayment. This government would have mortgaged the future for next to nothing and departed the scene – leaving the nation in another debt-trap.

HAS PRESIDENT BUHARI CHANGED?

 

“Change starts with me”, President Buhari, September 8, 2016.
“When a government begins to fear the mob, it is as much as to say it fears itself.” John Fowles in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN.

Oddly enough, there are two answers to that question: yes and no. There is abundance evidence to prove that the President who launched another campaign to officially change Nigerian attitudes and values, and his accomplice in that regard, the Minister of Information and Culture, might not be the right people to be preaching to us –their Fellow Countrymen. To begin with, not all changes are beneficial to society. The change from a nation which had a diversified export base, up till the late 1960s to one which became enslaved to one product, crude oil, was largely brought about by long years of military rule – starting from 1966. Buhari was one of those who forced that change on us – without our consent. Now, the chicken had come home to roost. One of the major beneficiaries of government by armed robbers of peoples’ sovereignty is now faced with cleaning up the sh*t which he and his colleagues started. Nigerians are best advised to read the scripts prepared by the Ministry of Information and Culture with a great deal of caution. At the moment, the sincerity of its authors is seriously in doubt – on account of their individual and collective antecedents. A few examples, well documented, will illustrate the point being made here. Let’s start with some recent occurrences.

Back in 2014, when it was politically advantageous to the All Progressives Congress, APC, then out of power, to support the activities of the Bring Back Our Girls, BBOG, group, President Jonathan’s administration regarded them as, at best, a public nuisance, and at worst, a security risk. Each time their marches were disrupted by the Nigerian Police, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, speaking on behalf of the party and its presidential candidate, fired off public announcements condemning the GEJ government for violation of the fundamental human rights of the BBOG. Anyone reading those passionate defences of one of the basic rights of free people in a democracy would have been led to believe that Buhari and Mohammed actually believed in those principles. Today, the BBOG, and others who believed in their right to free association, and who voted for APC on account of that, had been swindled. Officially now, and under APC, BBOG has been labeled a “security risk”. Has Buhari changed? Certainly; but, it is a change for the worse for a democracy and it does very little  credit to a President trying to preach a change of attitude when he has been caught in a socially disruptive change of principles. A greater leader than he would ever turn out to be, Ghandi, had advised about the things that would destroy any society. One of them is “Politics without principles”.

Even if one wants to overlook that one, difficult as it is, how can one, given the economic recession ravaging the country, that the same Buhari blasted Jonathan for maintaining a large presidential fleet of aircrafts – which made Presidential Airlines the second largest in Nigeria and bigger that four private airlines put together. One would have expected that among the first Executive Orders given in May 2015 was the reduction in fleet size. On the day, Buhari and Mohammed were going through the song and dance about value-change, it was obvious that their values have taken another change for the worse. The cost of maintenance of the fleet, previously astronomical, had become killing because everything in the crafts must be imported at N425/US$1. The Buhari who campaigned in 2014/2015 has clearly changed right in front of our eyes and he is behaving more and more like Jonathan.

Unfortunately, for us, the man has not changed totally. Had he continued to adopt the wasteful habits of GEJ and ignoring calls to rescue the Chibok girls, we could have shrugged our shoulders and resigned ourselves to four years like the locust years under PDP. But, the Buhari of 2016 is in many respects like the Buhari of 1984/85 – who was summarily removed by his colleagues in a bloodless coup. It was bloodless because nobody was willing to lift a finger to save him. Why?

Start with nepotism and bigotry, personal defects which we mistakenly thought he had discarded once he opted for politics under democratic rule. In 1984/85, Buhari’s appointments to high office totally disregarded the principle of Federal Character and the religious diversity of Nigeria. Out of the first twenty-five appointments he made during that period, only seven were Southerners or Christians. Apart from the fact that he was a Northern Muslim, his Deputy, Tunde Idiagbon was also a Northern Muslim. The Governor of the Central Bank, Alhaji Ahmed, graduate of History, was a Muslim, so was his Deputy Alhaji Otiti. All the service Chiefs, except one, were Northerners and Muslims; so were the heads of security agencies except the Inspector General of Police. Bigotry could not have been better defined. His removal was widely hailed in the South because the General Babangida regime which followed his own was more equitable.

May 2015 presented Buhari an opportunity to demonstrate that he had shed both nepotism and bigotry. Recently, Dr Junaid Mohammed introduced some of the top appointees made since then. Any change? Certainly not. Of the first ten or so, the two southern names appearing were Femi Adesina and Ita Enang. These two were followed by another dozen or so from the North. Lately, after distributing the plum jobs unfairly, he had started to “compensate” the South by sweeping crumbs from the “Masters’ tables”. The job of Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, was given to someone who could not have applied for the job of a departmental Supervisor and be accepted. That is still his sense of fairness. That is the sort of change he and Mohammed want us to adopt in this hypocritical crusade.

Was the budget padded or not? Buhari was the first to announce abroad that it was and vowed to punish the culprits. Now Honourable Jibrin had taken up the refrain, shouting at the top of his lungs that the budget was indeed padded. Suddenly, it is Buhari’s presidency which is now denying that the budget was padded. What sort of value-change can occur when the presidency cannot tell the people the truth and stick to it?

Permit me to end where I started. No parent in Nigeria, who loves his kids, can fail to share the agony of the parents of the Chibok girls. We cannot all join the marches in Abuja; but we can offer then moral support and encouragement. As the father of six girls, I probably would have gone mad if one of them is a captive of Boko Haram. No government which regards the agitators as security risk can ever preach any sermon to which I will listen.

EVERY RECESSION CREATES JOBS; NOT THOSE GOVERNMENTS WANT.

 

“I assure you we are going to get out of our economic problems..we are going to make Nigeria great again…Our size, our resources will not be for nothing”. President Buhari, during campaign at Edo State on behalf of Obaseki, candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
“Men make history, but not just as they please.” Karl Marx,1803-1882.

It is really true that it is almost impossible to practice politics as a vocation and be honest. There is something about the politician, when pushed to the wall, that forces him/her to reach for deliberate misstatements of facts. Buhari’s address to a partisan APC crowd in Edo State was a clear case in point.  Watching the event on television, one could only feel pity for a President who had nothing better than hackneyed rhetoric to deliver to the people of Nigeria; and utter contempt for those who clapped when he promised to “make Nigeria great again”.

An economic recovery programme which is bottomed on a historical fallacy is already a cause for concern – if not outright alarm. The first interrogation is directed at Nigeria’s vaunted “greatness”. Buhari would not be the first former military ruler, later elected, who would proclaim that historical untruth. Obasanjo, in 1999, promised “to make Nigeria great again” and people clapped then also. OBJ spent eight years and his party sixteen without achieving anything close to greatness – except in grand larceny by its top officials and their wives. The question is: when was Nigeria ever numbered among the great nations of the world? A brief summary of our history will help us.

Certainly, no nation can be considered great if its people were enslaved by another nation. That was our situation from 1914 to 1960. Six years of civilian rule followed independence – which was terminated by the first military coup on account of pervasive corruption. Was Nigeria great then? The second coup followed almost immediately when Northern soldiers seized power with one Yoruba figurehead Head of State, Obasanjo serving three of the thirteen years under the reign of satraps? Was Nigeria great then and who regarded us as such? Four years and three months of Shagari administration was terminated by another coup which brought Buhari to power the first time. If as Buhari told Nigerians during his maiden broadcast, “Nigeria had been adrift”, obviously there was no greatness then.

Buhari’s own twenty months – 1984-85 – is best forgotten. The only lasting legacies are brutality, bigotry and people chasing essential commodities. No greatness. Buhari, still smarting till today from the coup which removed him from office, would be the last to credit Babangida’s 1985-1993 administration with achieving greatness. At least IBB was more modest in his claim when he said: “at various points in our history, we have experienced a sense of what true greatness could be to Nigeria.” (IBB, October 26, 1985, at NIPSS). Today 2016, eighteen years after his friend Abacha divinely left office, Nigeria is still begging foreign nations to return the loot that kleptomania exported to other lands. Buhari would be at the United Nations to beg for our money stolen during that period when greatness eluded us. Abubakar’s rule was too short to record any meaningful achievement.

That government was followed by OBJ, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. Who among them achieved the greatness which Buhari was promising the mob at the APC rally to restore? Who?
By focusing on delivering untruths, the President missed the opportunity to address the main reason why insecurity has assumed emergency proportions – joblessness in a deepening recession. Here again, Buhari and his economic and political advisers have failed to take a historical perspective regarding the nature of employment in a recession. This government needs a historian in residence.

The truth is, recession is as old as n time itself. The seven fat years, followed by the seven lean years under King Pharaoh, which brought Joseph (Yusuph) to prominence, was nothing but economic recession brought about mainly by prolonged drought in an economy that was mostly agrarian. Every economist has learnt about business cycles; they know that no economic expansion lasts for ever. An example would illustrate what happened centuries ago when the Industrial Revolution savaged England. It was the first time machines were pitted against manual labourers and it was at first devastating to the nation.
Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, the immortal author of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, easily one of the world’s greatest books, described the society in the heart-breaking words:  “the vast majority of our people are compelled to seek their livelihood by begging, robbing, stealing, cheating, pimping, forswearing, flattering, ..forging, gaming, lying, fawning, hectoring, voting, ..whoring..libelling..” That was Great Britain during one of its most aggressive expansions as the world’s leading global power.

Today, with the recession in Nigeria, which of those means of “employment” have people not adopted as a method of seeking their livelihood? To those means of employment, we have added the following: kidnapping (which is our fastest growing employer of labour), cyber-crimes, and armed robbery disguised as militancy (Boko Haram troops and Avengers are brothers under the skin; they rob or extort money and resources to fund their operations). Lastly, we have legalized raised robbing the public purse by elected officials as no other nation. Official grand larceny earns more money than any other job. In which other aspect of our lives can a driver have millions of dollars credited to his account for no work done or the wife or son of a Service Chief become the owner of a N500 million mansion overnight?

Unlike the present Nigerian government, other nations worked their way out of recession by making sure that crime does not pay not by listing on the pages of newspapers hundreds of arrests which are not followed by speedy prosecution and punishment. This government had been in office for over fifteen months, yet, the Halliburton cases which had been concluded elsewhere had not been brought to court in Nigeria – whose money was stolen. Buhari would cut a sorry figure at the UN if he berates other nations for not returning our loot when he failed to take action on the ones returned.

Recession will not abate soon because Buhari and Osinbajo say so. The reversal will start when government officials stop deceiving themselves and Nigerians. All they have on the drawing board is the “borrow-and-spend” strategy which will lead us to another debt trap without addressing the problem of recession. The Nigerian recession is creating the wrong jobs; they are all crime related!! At the moment close to forty per cent of Nigerians, apart from farmers, live on one crime or another.

LAST LINE. In June 2008, three former military Heads of State, Buhari included, went to pay a courtesy call on Mrs Maryam Abacha, on the tenth anniversary of Abacha’s death. Coming out, they announced that “Abacha was not a looter as being alleged”. Can Buhari expect to be taken seriously when asking other nations to speed up the return of funds he once said were not stolen?