Better late than never

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal leaving the office of the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo shortly after the announcement of his suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja.

In one of his usually emotions-arousing speeches, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the slain African American Methodist preacher and civil rights activist, said, “When elderly black men and women straighten their backs up, you know they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent;” a graphically powerful expression that is worthy of Cicero, the great Greek orator. The recent presidential decision to suspend and investigate the allegations of impropriety leveled against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayodele Oke, suggests our avuncular president is finally straightening his back up. No more free rides for presidential hijackers (?) That decision had been in the offing for a goodly while, amply supplying Nigeria’s ever-busy rumour mills with veritable grist. Though some commentators say the decision is late, but l would say “better late than never;” also, the decision would serve as a litmus test for Buhari’s “I belong to nobody, and I belong to every body” Eagle Square declaration, a month shy of two years ago. These are indeed interesting times in Nigeria.

The suspended SGF is alleged to have caused a grass-cutting contract to be awarded to a company in which he has a stake. The contract is said to be worth over 200 million naira! By the by, the exclamation here is for a pleasant reason; no sarcasm intended. Hitherto, l had been anxious that we were fast approaching the hazards of a nation-wide desertification, what with the Agriculture Minister’s proposal to import grass for cattle grazing, and the unnerving invasion of private farms across the country by AK-47 wielding herdsmen in search of grass. It is therefore music to the ears to hear from an authoritative source that Nigeria still has grass in abundance within her borders, thanks to the suspended SGF’s mega grass-cutting contract.

Ambassador Ayodele Oke is reportedly temporarily relieved of his DG position because of NIA’s complicity in the USD43.4million and sundry sums “discovered” in a luxury apartment in the Ikoyi district of Lagos. At a conservative exchange rate of 300 naira to USD1, USD43.4 million is approximately 13 billion naira. How does this figure relate to NIA’s annual budgetary allocation? Does NIA get its budgetary releases in foreign currencies? How was it that such huge sums wound up in one of NIA’s luxury apartments, instead of in a bank’s vault? Suffice it to say that NIA and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have many a revealing story to tell Nigerian tax payers. These are indeed very interesting times in Nigeria.

In an uncanny sort of way, the USD43.4million “discovery” saga is yet another vindication of the point I made in an earlier article in this newspaper, (Naira cannot appreciate under market forces). I had said then that some persons in privileged position in the economy have massively appropriated, as some persons are still appropriating disproportionately huge sums of foreign currencies, primarily for speculation purposes. In my view, this is one of the valid reasons the naira cannot appreciate under market forces. The point to always bear in mind here is, for every “discovered loot” traceable to a source, chances are that there are multiple more “undiscovered loots” to the same source. The real challenge of looted funds lay in how to abate the growth-inhibiting effects of the unrecoverable billions of hard currencies. The National Economic Council (NEC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) certainly have not cudgeled their brains enough on the crucial issue of a growth-stimulating naira/USD exchange rate.

Another elderly Nigerian, albeit not so avuncular, also straightened his back up recently. Pro-democracy activist ex-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba, is reported to have instituted a suit in a Federal High Court in Enugu, seeking one trillion naira compensation from the Federal Government on behalf of the Southeast for post-war neglect of the region. Again, many objective Nigerians would agree that this action had been long in the offing. The facts stare us in the face: the Federal Government’s much publicised Reconciliation-Rehabilitation-and-Reconstruction (so-called 3Rs) programme following the 1967-70 Civil War was an embarrassing failure; not for lack of means, it needs be stated. Recall that Nigeria at the time had enough current-account surplus to underwrite the civil service bills of other countries. Indeed, the then Head of State was famously reported to have said money wasn’t Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it. So the cumulative post-war neglect of the Southeast could be said to be deliberate; perhaps to spite the citizens of the region for daring to stand up to an overbearing Federal Government; or, differently phrased, for daring to be republican?

Meanwhile, it’s an established fact that the Southeast region has republicanism in its DNA. Here we find the greatest tragic-irony of the Nigerian state. That republican spirit for which the citizens of the Southeast are openly dreaded, and latently persecuted, is the one cement that has held Nigeria together since the First Republic. Being republican merely means that political processes are driven more by collective reason than sectional emotions. For the republican, the part is always less than the whole. Though non-republicans generally feel ill-at-ease with republican politics because its exacting nature threatens sectional self-interests, but the republican selfless disposition greatly appeals to them when they seek coalition partners to satisfy constitutional requirements. That is the reason the Southeast region has remained the most “beautiful political bride” in Nigeria.

The Southeast had been the senior partner in the Southeastern/Northern coalition in the First Republic, but selflessly relinquished the prime ministerial position to the North to preserve Nigeria’s unity. Again, when Nigeria verged on the brink of disintegration, consequent on the controversial general and western regional elections of 1964 and 1965 respectively, it was self-same republican spirit that had impelled a young Southeastern army officer to do the needful to preserve Nigeria’s unity.

Tragically, the resultant January 1966 coup d’etat miscarried due to its leader’s notorious incompetence. Self-seeking groups had as soon given convenient interpretations to the failed coup d’etat. Citizens of the Southeast were subsequently murdered in their numbers across the country. The consequent Civil War annihilated the Southeast infrastructure. But for the innate enterprising spirit of the Southeast the region would have remained dysfunctional to this day, because the Federal Government didn’t back up its 3Rs programme with a concrete road map.

Therefore, rather than dread the irrepressible spirit of the Southeast, the Nigerian State must hold itself eternally beholden to the people of the region for picking up the tab of Nigeria’s extant republican form of governments. However, the one glaring downside of republicanism is its diminished capacity for self-advocacy. This is why, in spite of the Southeast’s endless list of resourceful lawyers, it took nearly half a century to commence the legal process of instituting a well-deserved “Marshall Plan” for its region. Oh well, better late than never.



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