PATH TO NIGERIAN GREATNESS: Under The New Dispensation On man’s injustice to man

• Address delivered on Sunday, 27 January, 1980, at the luncheon arranged by the Tribune Group to mark the Silver Anniversary of the introduction of Free Universal Primary Education in the former Western Region of Nigeria.

THE reasons given for rejecting both Chief Williams and Justice Udoma irresistibly lead to the inconvenient but valid inference that what General Obasanjo and Alhaji Shagari wanted frantically for a new Chief Justice of Nigeria was someone who was known to have held the view that two-thirds of nineteen was twelve two-thirds and who, at the same time, was not at all friendly to Awolowo.

The fourth question then is: was Shagari’s preference, in any way, influenced by Justice Fatayi-Williams’ past sympathy for the NNDP, an ally of the NPC of which Alhaji Shagari was a leader? Or was it influenced by a fulsome letter of congratulations, yet unpublished, already addressed to him by Justice Fatayi- Williams between 16-8-79 and 20-8-79 in the same eulogistic and ecstatic tenor as the one he wrote fifteen years ago to Chief S. L. Akintola?

General Obasanjo wanted an immediate appointment to the vacant post of Chief Justice of Nigeria, in which Justice Fatayi-Williams was acting, in view of the weighty issues of law which might arise between then and October 1. This raises the fifth question: was it the case that Justice Fatayi- Williams as acting CJN. could not tackle these weighty issues of law? In other words, must he be elevated to the post of Chief Justice of Nigeria in order that he might effectively tackle weighty issues of law? What magical or special transformation does elevation or preferment bring to an Acting Chief Justice in his know-ledge of law?

Again, we now know that the weighty issues of law, which Justice Fatayi- Williams was expected to tackle on his elevation, are those that arose in the case of Awolowo v. Shagari.

In view of the foregoing observations; in view of the unanswered questions set out above; and in view of Justice Fatayi Williams’ well-known antecedent extraordinary partisan political sympathy, he himself ought to realise that only very few persons, in political parties other than that or those led by Alhaji Shehu Shagari, will be able to muster the required confidence and equanimity to come before his throne of justice.

The greatest service he can render, therefore, to preserve the dignity, sacredness, and veneration of the Supreme Court Bench in particular, and of Nigeria’s Judiciary as a whole, is for Justice Fatayi-Williams to remove his entire corpus influence from the Supreme Court by resigning his post as Chief Justice of Nigeria now.

Since October 1 this year, Alhaji Shehu Shagari has been telling us, directly and indirectly through all the news and information media, the story of his achievements after one year in office. There is no sphere of our public activities in which he does not claim one kind of success or another. It is not possible in one address to deal with all his claims. But I do want us to examine critically and fairly the more silent ones.

On the state of the economy he makes two statements, among others, in his Budget speech as follows:

  1. … We have succeeded in increasing our external reserves from N3 billion in October, 1979 to N5.5 billion in October, 1980. However it will be dangerous to lure ourselves into a false sense of security, because our monthly import bill which stood at a level of. about N600 million at the beginning of this administration now runs at an average of N1 billion per month …
  2. The prospects for the economy in 1981 are good. The successes will, I believe constitute a launching pad for further achievements …

These are very bold statements indeed to make. But he has no doubt been induced to make them by misguided advisers who are labouring under macro-economic illusions. Some of the macro-economic statistics, looked at in isolation and unrelated to the stark realities of our micro-economic state of affairs, are quite impressive.

Our growth rate remains steady and high. The volume of our external trade has risen both ways. Industrial production is on the increase. Though there is a slight slowing down in the physical output of our minerals, yet whatever is lost in physical output is more than compensated for the actual earnings from petroleum. Some of our agricultural export commodities – benniseed, cocoa, cotton lint, rubber, and coffee – are earning prices which are well above those for the 1974 base year. The prices of our agricultural commodities for domestic consumption are very high – much higher than we had ever experienced in the past. And so on, and so forth.

In spite of all these, we still do not produce enough food to feed ourselves. In 1978, we produced, approximately, 22 million tons of food and consumed 34 million tons. The gap has widened ever since, as more and more farmers abandon farming.

We all know that the 34 million tons consumed in 1978 were far from being adequate, as most of our people could hardly afford even two meagre meals a day. The peasants and the working classes throughout the country are depressed. While a few comparatively giant concerns, especially those in the construction business, are waxing strong, a number of factories are closing down thereby adding to the already high unemployed and under-employed Nigerian population.

The cost of living has more than doubled what it was in 1975. While some of our agricultural export commodities such as benniseed, cocoa, cotton lint, etc., are doing very well, others like groundnut cake, palm kernel, etc., are doing very poorly; they are on their way out. When we say some commodities are doing well, we mean in terms of earnings only. In terms of quantities, they are not doing well at all. Perhaps this is not unhelpful, having regard to the way unregulated market forces react, in terms of price to large volume of supply.

To be continued