OBJ to Buhari: Clear the mess, let us move forward

FORMER president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, on Wednesday, lashed out at President Muhammadu Buhari, asking him to stop dwelling on the past and concentrate on clearing the mess he inherited.

Obasanjo, delivering the keynote address at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture, objected to the repeated lumping of the country’s three previous administrations (including the one Obasanjo led) together and then accusing them of misgovernance.

“It is easier to win an election than to right the wrongs of a badly fouled situation. When you are outside, what you see and know are nothing compared with the reality.

“And yet once you are on seat, you have to clear the mess and put the nation on the path of rectitude, development and progress, leaving no group or section out of your plan, programme and policy and efforts. The longer it takes, the more intractable the problem may become.

“Now that we have had change because the actors and the situation needed to be changed, let us move forward to have progress through a comprehensive economic policy and programme that is intellectually, strategically and philosophically based,” he said.

Obasanjo noted that “President Buhari has always expressed concern for the plight of the common people but that concern must be translated to workable and result-oriented socio-economic policy and programme that will turn the economy round at the shortest time possible. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect things to change. That will be a miracle which normally doesn’t happen in normal national economies. We have people inside and outside who can be brought together to help device the right economic policy and programme to get us out of the pit before we fall over the precipice into a dark cave. Economy requires a great element of trust to get it out of the doldrums let alone out of negativity. That trust and confidence has to be created.

The former president vehemently opposed the plans by President Buhari to take about $30 billion loan, expressing the belief that going for a huge loan under any guise was inadvisable and it would amount to going the line of soft option, which would come to haunt the country in future.

“Adhocracy is not the answer but cold, hard headed planning that evinces confidence and trust. Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved.

“The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy, including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity. We must be careful and watchful of the danger of shortermism.

“Short-term may be the enemy of medium and long term. We must also make allowance for the lessons that most of us in democratic dispensation have learned and which the present administration seems to be just learning.

“I am sure that such a comprehensive policy and programme (that will move Nigeria forward) will not support borrowing $30 billion in less than three years. It will give us the short, medium and long-term picture,” he said.

The former president repeated his position about the National Assembly which, he said, stinks to high heavens and the Nigerian military, which he also said needed to be purged.

He desribed the National Assembly as a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.

“The National Assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time. Members of the National Assembly pay themselves allowances for staff and offices they do not have or maintain.

“Once you are a member, you are co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15 million a month for a senator and N10 million a month for a member of the House of Representatives,” Obasanjo stressed.

He said, “by our constitution, the Revenue Mobilisation, Fiscal and Allocation Commission should be responsible for fixing the remunerations of the executive and the legislative arms of the government. Any salary, allowance or perquisite not recommended by the commission should not be budgeted for; but crooks and crocked that most of the members of the National Assembly are, they will try to find other ways which must be blocked.”

On the raid of judges homes by the State Security Services (SSS), the former president supported the action, saying the action was necessary to cleanse the judiciary.

“Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’ I said a loud Amen,” Obasanjo said in the speech, entitled: “Nigeria Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Governance and Accountability.”

“Three weeks later, the process of saving the judiciary began. And if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers that may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the judiciary and for the nation.

“While one would not feel unconcerned for the method used, one should also ask if there was an alternative,” the former president said.

“In the absence of that alternative, we must all thank God for giving the president the wisdom, courage and audacity for giving the security agencies the leeway to act,” he said.

The former president said a drastic disease required a drastic treatment, adding that “when justice is only for sale and can only be purchased by the highest bidder, impunity and anarchy would be the order of the day and no one would be safe.

“A drastic action was needed to save the situation, albeit one would have preferred an alternative that would serve the same purpose, if there was one. In the absence of that alternative, we must all thank God for giving the president the wisdom, courage and audacity for giving the security agencies the leeway to act. And where a mistake was made in the action taken, correction must take place with an apology, if necessary.

“The National Judicial Council (NJC) would not do anything as it was all in-breeding. As now contained in our constitution, the president of Nigeria cannot influence or make any appointment to the judiciary at the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court level.

“He can only transmit the decision of the NJC to the Senate, even where Senate confirmation is required. The Constitution which was heavily influenced by the judiciary ensured that,” he added.

The former president also lambasted the Nigerian lawyers, saying that there would be virtually no corrupt judge without being aided by a member of the bar.

“The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has the responsibility to clean up its own house and help with the cleaning of the judiciary.

“It is heartening though that some members of the NBA have recently called for judicial reform. Such reform must be deep, comprehensive and entail constitutional amendments as appointment and disciplines of judges are concerned.

“May God continue to imbue the executive with the necessary wisdom and courage to clean the dirty stable of the judiciary and the bar for the progress and the image of our nation.

On the military, Obasanjo said “when the military is corrupt, it affects its fighting ability in many ways. Poor, used and inappropriate equipment and materials are purchased by the military for the military at the expense of the lives of fighting troops in the warfront.

“In some cases, nothing at all is purchased. How callous, for a General, an Air Marshal or a Naval Admiral to be so cruel and unpatriotic as to buy such inappropriate weapons, equipment, ammunition and materials for men facing the rigour and ruthlessness of an enemy force like the Boko Haram.

“It is more damnable for nothing to be bought and yet the money disappeared into their private personal pockets. I can only say to these officers that I am not proud of them, rather I am ashamed of them. Whether they are alive or dead, their family members should also be ashamed of them. And what is more, the blood of those men who died because of their nefarious and sordid acts and actions would be on their hands.