Once again, the process of trying to resolve the Niger issue has kicked off with the swearing in of a forty five member NDTC by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. The Committee is a body set up by the Federal Government to collate, review and distil all previous reports, suggestions and recommendations on the Niger Delta, and come up with plausible recommendations on how best to resolve the Niger Delta crisis. The implication of this is that most of the members are supposed to be knowledgeable enough about the challenges facing the region. They would therefore rely on past experiences and recommendations from previous works right from Wilkins’ Commission of 1958 to the Ogomudia report of 2005 to arriving at their recommendations, which will assist the Government to holistically deal with the Niger delta issue.
Inaugurating the Committee yesterday at Abuja , Vice President Goodluck Jonathan said that the work of the Committee would not accommodate any jamboree in form of endless field trips and it has ten days to submit its report. Niger Deltans unanimously rejected the jettisoned Niger Delta Summit and demanded that a technical committee be put in place to synthesize previous reports for implementation. This is exactly what the Government has done. All stakeholders should give peace a chance and subsume personal ego for the overall interest of Niger Delta.
Several youths’ organizations and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have argued that the NDTC was not representative enough of the Niger Delta extraction, especially the youths who are the full bearers of the crunch of the economic banditry foisted on the region by successive governments, militancy, unemployment, and the social and environmental degradation of the region from oil exploration activities over the years. This is a genuine concern for all those who feel aleniated from the composition because of the previous experience of marginalization and non implementation of committee recommendations.
The youths should not feel left out because they are virtually in control of the rein of governance in the Niger Delta. If they are united and speak with one voice, the youths have the capacity to turn things round in the Niger delta. One can safely posit that this is the era of youths in governance in the Niger Delta. For the avoidance of doubts, all the Niger Delta Governors, majority of their Commissioners and members of the Niger Delta Houses of Assembly could be said to be youths.
Several other groups have also expressed pessimism about the genuineness of this initiative because of the lack of trust and confidence in previous efforts. This again is germain because of the ways the previous governments have treated the issues of the Niger Delta. Several Committees and Commissions have sat over this same topic. Yet nothing tangible has been achieved. I am sure that this Committee will be confronted with trailers’ load of reports on the Niger Delta crises. So, the problem is not the dearth of recommendations but lack of the political will in the past to implement the recommendations of the various committees. We have spent almost half a century unravelling, collating analysing and making series of recommendations on how to resolve the Niger Delta issue. Yet, with the huge sums said to have been expended, no appreciable development has taken place in the region. This does not show sincerity of purpose and every rational human would feel frustrated.
Howbeit, there is no substitute for dialogue. I have the belief that President Yar’Adua by his actions is genuine and also supports the fight for the emancipation of Niger Deltans from the claws of deprivation, hunger and disease that pervade the entire landscape. Please, give him a chance even if it means giving him time lines to bring to fruition the blue print planned for the region.
From the outset, the choice of Ledum Mitee as the Chairman of that Committee is a radical departure from the past. Ledum Mitee is a Niger Deltan and a product of the struggle for the emancipation of the Ogoni people. He has been deprived, incarcerated and harassed by the agents of the State. So, he knows the colour of poverty, deprivation and suffering. For such a man, all anyone owes him is to give him maximum support to succeed in this onerous task. In the NDTC; there is Tonye Princewill, a focused, well articulated and respectable personality. He has been in the forefront of the agitation for the good of the Niger delta people. In this train also is Tony Uranta, who is also an avowed loyalist in the genuine struggle of the Niger delta people. If we cannot trust these people who are fighters for the emancipation of the Niger Delta people from misgovernance, who then should we trust?, Ledum cannot afford to disappoint all those who genuinely strive for the good of the Niger delta people. Let us not by our actions or pronouncements send wrong signals that will make the enemies of the region believe that indeed the struggle has been turned into a bread and butter platform for personal aggrandizement. It will amount to cutting our nostrils to spite our faces.
I want to believe that this distillation process will give rise to a larger stakeholders’ forum where all the ethnic nationalities will be represented. Therefore, the aggrieved should come forward with inputs that will assist the NDTC to deliver on their terms of reference. Ten days is just around the corner.
In the foregoing, the happenings in the region today calls to question the sincerity of those who kill, maim and extort money from the people in the name of freedom fighting. In whose name or interest are they carrying out these kidnappings, and hostage taking? Is it irrational to be kidnapping Niger Deltans, toddlers, innocent workers who had no hand in what is happening in the Niger Delta and subject them to dehumanizing conditions? How can we rationalize that hostage taking for ransoms is part of the strategies to actualize the dreams of the Niger Delta people? We cannot be canvassing for the development of the Niger Delta region and in the same breath be acting as blockers to the dreams of the region. The few developmental projects going on have been stalled because of the harassment and hostage taking of the multinationals. There is no environment that can develop in this atmosphere of anarchy and lawlessness.
The modus operandi of the hostage takers and kidnappers demean and diminish the genuine struggle of the Niger Delta people who are undergoing the worst form of dehumanization in the history of world’s oil rich regions. The people of the Niger Delta region from where the oil wealth is gotten live in abject poverty and mosquito infested creeks, they have no access to drinking water, they drink from the same river that serves as their loo, electricity is a luxury and out of their reach, the youths are largely unemployed and uneducated. Yet, some persons are turning this regrettable and preventable misfortune to a money spinning venture that serves only their own selfish agenda. This must be discouraged. All the interest groups should condemn these acts because the happenings in the Niger Delta region is a man made social Gustav that will consume all of us except we play active roles in putting down this insurgency and selfish agenda. The genuine agitators for a better Niger Delta should continue with the systematized steps that would win the region the sympathy of the international community and all well meaning people. An environment that will allow those handling various projects owners to deliver on their targets should be created for the good of the people.
To the NDTC; this Committee cannot afford to fail. One thing the NDTC must do is to clearly spell out the quick wins like housing units built from oil money in the creeks of Niger Delta instead of the wooden structures on top of water, motorable inter and intra city roads in the entire region, bridges, livelihood empowerment programmes for both male and female folks, functional schools and hospitals etc.These are tangible and confidence building things that will make people buy-in to this renewed peace path.
To the government, this process must not fail. It must yield the desired fruits. It must be seasoned with trust and transparency. It must be laced with tangible dividends that will enable stakeholders buy into this process that has started and other future interventions. Any attempt to treat this process like any other political window dressing as done in the past will be disastrous. The Niger Delta issue is an accident waiting to happen. If allowed to happen, it will be a Tsunami of sorts and the impact will be catastrophic. Tangible and long lasting developmental processes must come alive with this process. Money appropriated for the development of the area must be released in full and judiciously committed for the good of all. All hands must be on deck to ensure that the resolution of the Niger delta crises puts all the actors on the positive side of history. The time to talk and walk the talk is now.
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OBASANJO AND THE SERMON ON DEMOCRACY
By Louis Brown Ogbeifun August 5, 2008
At the twilight of late General Abacha’s rule, former President Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and others were condemned to death for plotting to overthrow his government. By divine providence, OBJ was rescued from the valley of the shadow of death. When it was time to source for the man that could help to knit the political fabrics of Nigeria together, ex-military men and the powerful political class routed for Obasanjo in 1999. Several things perhaps informed their decision. These include:
Obasanjo’s capacity to de-militarize the polity.
To assuage the feelings of the South West on the annulment of June 12, 1993 elections.
Having gone to prison and saved by God from being killed, people thought that Obasanjo would rule with the fear of God.
As a man who criticized Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) as lacking human face in its implementation, those who lobbied for his enthronement thought he would use the human face theory to reform the economy.
Many saw him as a man who would be bold enough to tackle the issues of corruption and poverty.
First Military Head of State to voluntarily hand over power to a civilian administration.
This was how Obasanjo rode to the towering heights of Aso Rock as an elected Executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on a platter of gold. He started his second missionary journey on a cautious note. He told those that invested in his enthronement to see it as a sacrifice for the country rather than as a means of getting richer. Nigerians applauded this bold step. It was a signal that he would rid the political terrain of the country’s economic suckers, who make more money through the sponsoring of politicians for political offices. The various panels beaming the searchlight on the activities of governance under him proved that people got richer doing the wrong things.
As a person, I am convinced that at the inception of his administration in 1999, he had a great vision for Nigeria and her unity. Unfortunately, he got drowned in the field of politics and misdirected the powers conferred on him by the paraphernalia of executive presidency. Irrespective of the arrogance and gross abuse of office by some of the members of his economic team, the team worked hard to bring respect to Nigeria in the economic front. OBJ was doing relatively well until he mounted the pulpit as an anointed man of God, which he was not. In some instances, he played God at the expense of the reason he came into the presidential villa. He saw himself as the Solomon of our time and refused to listen to those who genuinely meant well for Nigeria. At other times, he equated himself with the State. All these led to the distractions that swayed him from a well articulated agenda, which would have brought succour to the masses. To make matters worse the sycophants and praise singers made him believe that without him, Nigeria will crumble. This led him to the mother of all mistakes in the name of the third term project, which was to elongate his tenure and the man lost his dignity and respect.
Going through the pages of newspapers in recent times, one can discern the anger and frustration in Nigerians against the legacy he left behind especially in the energy sector. If he had continued to fix the problems associated with power generation, creation of quality jobs and staying steadfastly to his initial vision, he would have been one of the greatest Presidents of our time. Unfortunately, he allowed a few cabal to hold him hostage. He deviated too sharply to negativity due to selfish interest and greed as typified by the third term agenda that fatally diminished his rule. By the time he left office in 2007, the followings were some of the negative appraisals of the Obasanjo administration:
Decay in the infrastructural facilities in the educational and health sectors. Tertiary institutions were shut for more days than they were opened for studies during his era.
Worsening states of the roads across the country despite the billions of naira sunk into the sector.
Almost all national assets were sold to government acolytes in very questionable manner.
The energy sector was left worse than he met it in spite of the huge investments in the sector. Nigeria has become a dumping ground for generators.
He came into office and left with shortages in petroleum products. He was unable to fully deal with the structural reforms needed to galvanize the sector to enviable heights.
Heightened insecurity across the nation.
Increase in petroleum pipelines vandalism and its attendant negative effects.
The manufacturing sector was less than 25% capacity utilization before he left office.
Job losses from 1999-2007 were the worse ever in Nigerian history.
Brazen abuse of judicial processes.
Increase in unresolved assassinations and murders of high profile Nigerians.
Formation of militias across the country, which was a sign of total loss of confidence in the central government.
Youths’ restiveness and militancy reached its crescendo in the last days of his administration.
Vessels implicated in illegal bunkering under protective custody disappeared like exposed spirit.
The politics of do-or-die perpetrated led to electoral fraud of unimaginable proportion.
The Local Government councils were turned into mere clearing houses for sharing of monthly allocations.
Political thuggery and amala politics became the rule rather than the exception in some parts of the country.
Manipulation of the constitutional review to perpetuate his tenure extension.
Lack of respect for elders and constituted authorities by himself and some of his appointees.
Turning the National Assembly to an extension of Aso Rock. This was partially reversed when the third term project died.
Niger Delta disaster.
The above led to the calls for the probe of his administration, which is indirectly going on through various probe panels currently probing several sectors of the economy.
I have watched, read and listened to the tongue lashing of OBJ both in the media and social circles. It cuts across all ethnic groups, ages and gender. For a man who left power in a little than a year ago, one would have thought that OBJ will still wield so much power to counter any attack from any quarters. Even IBB who left power long ago has die hard loyalists who are daily defending him and wanting to make us believe that the general is a democrat in spite of the June 12 disaster. But for OBJ, it’s a different stroke.
Less than a year after leaving office, almost all his policies have been reversed. His party men have enterered the ring, sparring to give him a technical knockout to strip him of his Board Of Trustees (BOT) championship belt he won through the manipulation of the constitution of PDP. It is just a matter of time for this to happen because the National Exective Council of Peoples’ democratic Party (PDP) has reversed the clauses that made him the only qualified candidate for the BOT position. The happenings around him have not made things easier. Soon after his exit from Aso Villa, he was accused of having inappropriate relationship with his son’s wife. Soon afterwards, his beloved daughter was in EFCC’s net. Who would have believed that Iyabo, the apple of Baba’s eyes could not attend senate sittings for the fear of arrest by EFCC? Many of the governors he unilaterally imposed on the party turned against him to choose someone outside his candidate for PDP’s chairmanship position. The Speaker he foisted on his party men in the person of Madam Speaker Etteh was removed without qualms. In such a short period, the almighty OBJ became so ordinary.
The only analogy that could be drawn here is the Marcus Antonius speech to the gathering of people around the corpse of Julius Caesar; “Oh mighty Caesar! Doth thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils, shrunk to this little measure? Fare thee well.” Marcus did not imagine that the almighty Caesar could lie so low and unable to move any part of his body while everyone stood over his corpse nor was he able to command his army to destroy those that betrayed his trust in death. The EFCC that arrested IBB’s son during his rule came for OBJ’s daughter too. This aptly agrees with the words of Marcus Antonius that “ The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar………………..Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral. He was my friend and just to me”.
In Obasanjo’s case, the sordid silence of his acolytes and the 1999-2007 billionaires that he made during his service years baffles me. I thought I would find in Obasanjo loyalists, a Wada Nas, a Marcus Antonius or an Afegbua. Wada Nas was the diehard friend of the Abachas just like Marcus was to Julius Caesar and Afegbua to Babangida. Even in death Marcus and Nas stood in the gap for their friends. For Afegbua, he has been very constant in defending Babangida even when every other person was castigating him over the June 12 1993 election issue. These are courageous men who stood for what they believed in. I have been wondering what has happened to the arrays of special advisers and the egg heads like Nweke Jnr, el-Rufai, Chief Femi Fani Kayode who virtually insulted everybody that dared criticized Obasanjo’s policies in the past.
During his years in office, OBJ did the direct opposite of his purposed ideals and sermons. The examples are legion. Before he became the President, he advised IBB during the latter’s rule as Head of State to show human face in the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) because Nigerians were going through harrowing times. When he started with his own reforms the human face theory disappeared. He treated Nigerians with so much disrespect and disdain.
Obasanjo once appealed to Generals Babangida, Abdusalam Abubakar, Buhari and others to appear before Oputa Panel for the sake of their names and that of their families. Yet, the same Obasanjo refused to honor the invitation of the National Assembly to clear his name over the non-adherence to due process in the award of several contracts in the power sector. When OBJ was invited to the House of Representatives to defend his role in the power probe, he sent in a written brief. In that letter, he fell short of calling the honourable members dishonourable as he noted that the way he was invited was disrespectful to elders. He reminded the honourable members that they have forgotten so soon that he symbolized the grower and nourisher of democracy.
If a democrat as expressed, when IBB annulled June 12 1993 elections which was acclaimed as the best elections ever organized in Nigeria’s political history, he would have teamed up with the progressives to actualize the dream of true democrats in the restoration of the June 12 mandate. What was his reaction? He said that Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, his own kin’s man was not the messiah Nigerians were looking for and thus justified the annulment of June 12, 1993. He rather supported putting in place an Interim National Government as a way of easing IBB out of office. He forgot that June 12 was not about Abiola. It was about the dashed hope of a people who voted for a Muslim-Muslim ticket, a people that refused the tribal coloration during the elections; it was about subversion of the constitution and the will of the people, it was about a process mismanaged and it was a betrayal of the trust of the same people that General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida swore to defend.
One of the key attributes of a democrat is tolerance of the opposition but OBJ as a civilian President was very intolerant of the opposition. He cunningly and deceitfully destroyed AD in the south west. I have attended conferences where OBJ told people to shut up. He openly commanded his aides to take microphones from those not singing his tunes. He called labour leaders who were criticizing his policies of deregulation and privatization programs dissidents and saboteurs. One of his ministers, Mallam el-Rufai told labour leaders to go and form their political parties if they must have a say on policy issues. He also reminded the entire senate that silence was the best answer for a fool. Obasanjo did not condemn this act of insolence to a constituted authority.
In that same response to the National Assembly, he admonished the members that as Africans, they must respect, elders, age and authority. He forgot that he never respected elders or men in authority when he was the President. He once told Nigerians about the senility of a world class economist, Prof Sam Aluko. The climax of these misguided missiles was when he also referred to Reverend Yakubu Pam, the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Plateau State as “a big fool and Reverend my foot” His aides followed his footsteps by routinely abusing former Heads of State and elder statesmen at the slightest opportunity. Not even Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, General Yakubu Gowon and Senator Ken Nnamani, who are old enough to parent them or at the worst senior uncles were spared in the circus of abuses and debasement that characterized their years of service.
He went further to lecture the House members on the qualities of a good leader, which includes transparency, accountability and due process through adherence to the rule of law. Please, spare me your Excellency! Under him, his aides turned the privatization exercises to the spoils of war that should be shared among associates and loyalists. The power sector probes showed disrespect for due process. The Minister of FCT took a land allocated to Universal basic Education, a public concern and gave it to Big Boss Man. Still under him, houses and lands were taken from people in the name of sitting on sewage lines and had them reallocated to themselves or their associates. The panel probing the allocation of land and houses in FCDA has been awash with sad tales of hypocrisy, tribalism and share wickedness. The Abuja demolition exercises never followed due process or honour the human face theory. The committee that was supposed to be in place to review cases of illegal structures was circumvented and never constituted. Revelations of the panel of FCT revealed how lands confiscated were either bought by the same officers or given to their friends. The same Minister handled the PENTASCOPE deals in which Nigeria lost billions of Naira.
From the above and looking back at what he was worth before 1999, and the stupendous wealth that he amassed in the last eight years, would OBJ still see himself as a democrat, a respecter of elders and authority, a transparent and accountable leader?.
However, despite the above minuses, his administration has certain pluses that cannot be wished away. Some of the things that would remain on his political balance sheet, which this administration must build on include:
Removing Nigeria from the list of highly indebted nations.
Nigeria was gradually brought back into the main stream of world politics.
The establishment of EFCC to combat money laundering and related economic crimes. Never mind the cry of selectivity in its operations. Those hounded should prove their innocence in courts of law. Like I said before, once Obasanjo left office, EFCC will come after him and his people. We have seen this happen. By the time Yar’Adua leaves office, it will also do its house cleaning job and Nigeria remains the beneficiary at the end of the day.
The National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) that has reduced fake drugs to less than 17%.
The consolidation of banks, which has made it possible for people to walk into banks to transact businesses with much ease. The operations could however be made more efficient because interest rates are still at double digit level.
Access to mortgage facilities.
The capital market came to an all time high.
The refurbishing of the refineries between 2004 and 2005 for the first time in more than a decade. Unfortunately, the mismanagement of the Niger Delta crises thwarted the efforts of the optimization of the refineries.
Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) has brought respect to the country as Nigeria has been acknowledged to be genuinely and positively fighting the drug war as against the use of the organization against those opposed to the military junta during the military era.
The Oil and Gas Reform Implementation Committee (OGIC) reforms.
Nigeria’s foreign reserve stood at well over $42 billion as at the time he left office.
Establishment of Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (NEITI) which has since conducted the financial, physical and process audits of the oil and gas sector.
The turnaround in communication and aviation industry.
Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) exploits in the prosecution of corrupt public officers.
One big lesson that resonates from all the above is that leaders in positions of authority must rule with the fear of God and ensure that the mandate of the people is not betrayed. Do those things that are right, just and fair. Only the good deeds will speak in their favour long after they have left the scene. Just like life, governace is a stage for show casing skills of leadership and service. OBJ has played his own part, the audience are appraising him and nothing can be done to turn the hand of the clock back in his favour if he did not do things right in some areas. It is just a matter of time for us to read the verdict of history on him and his administration.
Meanwhile, the focus is on the present administration under Yar’Adua. He should be mindful of the flaws of the last administration, avoid them and build on the positive areas of the foundation so that at the end, he would have made a difference by ensuring that the people are dignified in labour.