By Akin Osuntokun
“If you reflect on the 16 years of the PDP, I think, it was 16 years of disaster, especially economically and security wise”
– President-elect Mohammadu Buhari, Sunday Trust, May 25th 2015
The growth and development of multi-party democracy in Nigeria received a boost from the conduct of the 2015 general elections-or so it seems. More critical observers have argued that Nigerian political parties are little more than mere platforms for seeking power and patronage; and are neither ideologically differentiated nor representative of functional democratic pluralism. Their identity boundaries are as fluid and permeable as the concept of Africa without borders.
The PDP of yesterday is fifty per cent of today’s APC. It matters not how long you have been in PDP-you are canonised a progressive saint the minute you cross over to the latter party.
I once wrote of the differences between the two as akin to that between six and half a dozen. Yet as the Chinese wisecrack goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step; from the tender little shoot does the mighty oak sprout, and so we must not lose sight of the potential and opportunity inherent in the 2015 elections for the growth of the multi-party system in Nigeria.
Understandably, there is the eagerness on the part of APC to distinguish itself from the PDP, not in terms of ideology but by reintroducing the other party as the embodiment of all that is wrong with Nigeria. At the level of rhetoric and polemics this tenuous selling point is guaranteed-to a considerable extent, to score a convincing goal, after all, the APC has not had the opportunity to disappoint Nigerians.
As far as national governance goes, the capacity and competence of the party can be sold as perfection and the ideal in waiting. But as the reality and challenge of the May 29th inauguration day dawns, it has begun to anticipate the phenomenon of ‘the revolution of rising expectations giving rise to the revolution of rising frustration’ among the Nigerian electorate-seeking prior extenuation with frenetic emphasis on the villainous culpability of the PDP.
In the contemporary game of issuing this caveat emptor, the Vice-President elect, Yemi Osinbajo baited the PDP thus “We are concerned that our economy is currently in, perhaps, its worst moment in history. Local and international debts stand at US$ 60 billion. Our debt servicing bill for 2015 is N953.6 billion, 21 per cent of our budget. On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the states in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape. Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure.”
In the event, he was more circumspect and restrained than his principal who spoke in the absolute terms of finding no redeeming feature in the totality of PDP governance “If you reflect on the 16 years of the PDP, I think, it was 16 years of disaster, especially economically and security wise” .
The PDP would take offence at this demonization but beyond the negativity is the utility of accepting this scapegoating and grandstanding as invitation to accountability. More so, as many Nigerians-thoroughly impacted by propaganda and the partly globally induced economic strictures, have aligned themselves with the view that it is impossible to exaggerate the malfeasance of PDP governance and are baying for the blood of any PDP figure in close proximity, especially the present embodiment of PDP, President Goodluck Jonathan.
A few weeks ago, when, in the spirit of perceived protégé and mentor relationship, the President paid a goodwill-solidarity visit to General Theophilus Danjuma, he would have doubted the proclivity of his host to publicly chastise him and rouse the indignation of the incoming President towards holding him accountable for the humongous over 60 billion dollars national debt.
Said Danjuma “It is disheartening to know that the incoming government of Buhari will have to contend with a debt of over $60billion and there is nothing to show for this huge debt, Well, we would know what happened to these monies, because I believe that the Buhari administration has to, and should, in national interest, investigate the administration so that we would know what happened.”
The blessing in the guise of this disappointment for Jonathan is the studied and vigorous response (in the spirit of public accountability) it has elicited from the finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
“Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME) and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Saturday put the nation’s total debt stock at $63.7 billion, which encompasses multilateral as well as domestic loans by successive federal and state governments since 1960. She said that of this figure, $21.8 billion was incurred under the outgoing government of President Goodluck Jonathan. she said it was wrong to blame the Jonathan administration for the huge debt stock which she said was accumulated over a long period of time by several administrations. Giving insight into the $21.8 billion debts incurred under the Jonathan government the minister said the debts were made up of $18 billion domestic component and $3.7 billion external component.”
According to the Minister, ‘between 2007 and 2011, a debt of $17.3 billion was recorded while between 2012 and 2015, the debt incurred stood at $18.1 billion. She explained that the leap in the debt profile between 2012 and 2015 was triggered off by the 53 per cent wage increase implemented by the late Umaru Yar’Adua administration in a fell swoop. This, she said, skyrocketed government’s borrowing from N524 billion to over N1 trillion in order to meet the salary increase, adding that the country’s domestic debt increased by $18.1 billion mainly because of the 53 per cent increase in the pay of civil and public servants’.
Beyond the contention on Jonathan, I am concerned-as all who served and identified with previous PDP governments should be, at the blanket and generalised condemnation of the party by President-elect Mohammadu Buhari to wit “If you reflect on the 16 years of the PDP, I think, it was 16 years of disaster, especially economically and security wise”. Consigned to the permissive and rancorous proportions of campaign soap box rhetoric, such loose talk shouldn’t invite critical attention, but then this was an assertion reiterated in a newspaper interview, long after the APC candidate had been elected President.
The 16 years of the PDP encompasses 8years of President Olusegun Obasanjo, over 3yrs of late President Umaru Yaradua and over 4 years of Jonathan. Given the well-publicised inclination of the incoming President to give priority attention to the counsel of his senior colleague including a recent celebrated delegation led by Professor Akin Mabogunje, it is difficult to reconcile his indictment of Obasanjo’s stewardship with his predisposition to tap from the knowledge and experience of the same personality.
Of his eight years in office, Obasanjo had this to say “When I came back in 1999, some people came to me and said I will be the last president of Nigeria. There were different groups at that time; there were the Egbesu Boys, the OPC and the Arewa. Some people thought the centre would not hold together. The need then again was how do we hold the people together and how do we pay off our debts?”
“Nigeria was a pariah state, which nobody wanted to touch. But by the time we left, Nigeria was the darling of the world. So I don’t think there was anything I wanted to achieve that I didn’t achieve. If I had had money, I would have started working on power earlier than we started. People have forgotten that when I came in, there was little funds to do much. But then we started the National Integrated Power Project and the oil companies that were supposed to assist us were not forthcoming. I think it was only Agip that built something,”.
Obasanjo said when he became President in 1999, Nigeria’s reserve was $3.7bn and the country was spending $3bn every year to pay interest on debts. “At the time we owed about $35bn. But by the time I left, our reserve was about $45bn. We had paid all our debts. Our debt sum, all that we owed was about $3bn. And we had about $35bn in what we call the excess crude account for a rainy day.
On the signal debt relief accomplishment, I call on General Yakubu Gowon, Dr Alex Ekwueme and Katsina Governor elect Aminu Bello Masari to bear witness and testimony.
“As we settle down to business, I am sure we should be elated at seeing the gains of some of our past and recent efforts already bearing fruits. The most recent is the decision of some of Nigeria ‘s creditors under the Paris Club to write off over $18 Billion of our foreign debt, amounting to 60 percent, with a further promise to increase the stake to 67 percent”
– HONOURABLE AMINU BELLO MASARI
SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Tribune, July 20, 2005
“Let’s hope that no government will ever again commit the future generation to such heavy burden of debt”
– GEN. YAKUBU GOWON (RTD)
“ I listened with pleasure last night to the news that the Paris Club of Nigeria’s creditors, has agreed to forgive Nigeria’s debt to the tune of US$18 billion or about 60 percent of the total indebtedness. This is obviously a welcome climax to your six years of unrelenting and persistent struggle for forgiveness of Nigeria ‘s debt which had hung as a heavy burden on the country’s shoulders impeding her full economic and social development”
– DR. ALEX Ekwueme, SECOND REPUBLIC VICE-PRESIDENT
Vanguard, July 18,2005
And in the words of Obasanjo himself “There is nothing like freedom-freedom from debt and the image that the debt relief and exit from Paris Club debt give to Nigeria . The debt relief has brought benefits to Nigerians and that it first represents a direct saving on debt-service repayment, interest, surcharges and other fees. It also improves the country’s worthiness in the global community and builds credible financial confidence for transactions. More investment would start to flow into Nigeria knowing we are no more classified as a bad and doubtful debt country. The debt relief is expected to create jobs and new wealth with new investments, which would translate into improved standard of living”
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Akin Osuntokun/Thisday