Speaking in the United States last Sunday, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo queried how Nigerian leaders since Ibrahim Babangida squandered $982.8bn they received in oil revenues.
He gave the following breakdown of the revenues as obtained from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries: Ibrahim Babangida/Sani Abacha, $199.8bn; Olusegun Obasanjo/Umaru Yar’Adua, $401.1bn; Goodluck Jonathan, $381.9bn.
Although IBB ruled Nigeria from 1985, the figures given cover the 1990-2014. According to Laolu Akande, the Vice-President’s spokesman, Mr. Osinbajo lamented that there is no infrastructure to show for the vast revenues.
In contrast to the funds that those administrations had at their disposal, Osinbajo said his government was doing more with considerably less, spending more on infrastructure than any government since 1990 despite earning only $94bn until 2017.
Is he correct on that point? Let us just say that it is normally when a government is out of office that we find out what kind of animal it really was. To pronounce is not to accomplish, and to budget is neither to spend on that project nor to complete it.
But what happened to the $982.8bn from oil?
The answer is simple: most of it disappeared in the hypocrisy and complicity of Nigeria’s leaders.
Remember, the path back to civilian rule began right after the Muhammadu Buhari coup in December 1983, as Nigerians, despite their despondency about the Second Republic, realized that a military despot was not the answer.
In his first speech, General Buhari lamented that the preceding election had been rigged.
“This conclusively proves to us that the parties have not developed confidence in the presidential system of government on which the nation invested so much material and human resources…” he said. “The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership in the last four years has been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society.”
Two years later, his band of military explorers was succeeded by another one, led by Babangida (IBB). Announcing their seizure of power, Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro, repudiated the pretense that the slow pace of action of the government Buhari was due to the enormity of the problems left by the civilian administration.
He said the government had distanced itself from the people and that the initial objectives and programmes of action had been betrayed and discarded.
Taking control as military president, IBB put into play the most manipulative and corrupt administration in history. So deeply did it rot, and so out-of-control did it travel, that in a famous interview with TELL magazine in April 1993, Obasanjo characterized Babangida as Nigeria’s biggest problem, and his leadership as an “administration in deficit.”
Nigeria was “in the grip of a grave national crisis” that he described partly as follows: “Deficit budgeting, deficit financing, deficit trading but more importantly, we have an administration that is deficit in credibility…It is deficit in honesty, deficit in honour and deficit in truth. The only thing it has in surplus is saying something and doing something else.”
He begged IBB “not to mistake the silence of our people for acquiescence or weakness and the sycophancy of the greedy and opportunistic people who parade the corridors of power as representative of the true feelings of our people…”
As we all know, IBB eventually escaped by the back door, leaving to die in the ruins of his “a-little-to-the-right” and “a-little-to-the-left” political crime scene, Moshood Abiola, who had won the 1992 election.
Sani Abacha, who was cited along with IBB by Mr. Osinbajo, eventually seized control and created a new category of manipulation and fleecing of Nigeria that Obasanjo would take advantage of upon his return to power in 1999.
In his eight years, Obasanjo had the opportunity to right the wrongs he identified after he handed power to Shehu Shagari in 1979. They included those for which he lambasted IBB in that November 1992 letter, and together with Chief Anthony Enahoro formed the “Coalition for Democracy and Good Governance,” the precursor of the “Coalition for Nigeria” he formed against Buhari recently.
Obasanjo embarked on a worldwide hunt for the funds looted by Abacha, who had famously incarcerated him. But he was not essentially a different animal from IBB, and his government became the new embodiment of the deficit of credibility and integrity he accused IBB of.
And like IBB in 1993, he eventually departed office in sorry circumstances in 2007 after failing to beg, borrow or buy a third term, then single-handedly inflicting on Nigeria the Yar’adua/ Jonathan contraption he later declared a dud.
That $982.8bn disappeared into that bottomless canyon of insincerity, ego and manipulation of these so-called leaders.
The generation has been characterized by each of them being very wise and clear while out of office, but not taking advantage of power when in control to serve Nigeria with commitment or compassion.
And so, most of the $982.8bn-and hundreds of billions from other sources, foreign and domestic-was looted, and when found and returned, sometimes re-looted.
Leaders have taken, or looked the other way knowing their underlings and friends were taking. IBB engaged in “settlement,” as Obasanjo pointed out in his letter; Obasanjo was more corrupt than Abacha, said his EFCC chief, Nuhu Ribadu.
But the problem is not the past, but the present.
Buhari claims not to be corrupt, but his standards of accountability are laughable. For instance, he can neither find the courage to offend looters by publishing the authentic list of looters demanded by the courts, nor conduct a transparent anti-corruption campaign.
Where is the $982.8bn? Government and party officials have taken. Parties have taken. Legislators. Privileged friends and businessmen and women. Without any investment, they became “wealthy.” They bought luxury jets and cars or flew First Class while Nigeria rotted.
That $982.8bn went into making Nigeria a massive cemetery. We bury talent and hopes and dreams, and children and communities. But if you are in the right political party, you are forgiven.
That is why, in June 2018, the Brookings Institution announced Nigeria to be the new poverty capital of the world, replacing India. Worse still, “extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute,” it said, “while poverty in India continues to fall…”
On a visit to Africa itself last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May restated that Nigeria is “home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.”
But the worst may be to come. Speaking at an anti-corruption summit in London in May 2016, Buhari repeated his faith in the rule of law, saying: “I am committed to applying the rule of law and to respecting human rights. I also require our security agencies to do the same.”
But last week at the NBA conference, he declared the rule of law to be inferior to something he called “the nation’s security and national interest.”
We recognize that monster which, in the past, has led to critics, political opponents and journalists being seized or killed for defending Nigeria over power.
Lip-service to the national cause is exactly how we lost nearly one trillion dollars on our way to the pit of the world. We have spilled the petrol; we ought to be careful not to strike the match.