Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

Buhari and the masses

"We are paying our debts and we are no longer begging anybody..." — Mallam Muhammadu Buhari
There is no gainsaying the fact that most of the crimes said to have been committed by the Second Republic politicians were all legacies of the past administrations which, fortunately or unfortunately, were all military administrations. Take, for instance, the country's inability to provide food to feed its teeming population. It is a fact that before Nigeria's first military coup in 1966, agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. At the verge of the country's independence in 1958/59, agriculture accounted for about 66 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This figure fell to 53 per cent in 1966/67 and to 41 per cent in 1971/72. And by 1974/75, agri- culture accounted for a mere 28 percent of the GDP. In the end, after all the years of military dictatorship, agri- culture had been completely relegated to the background. It was then that Nigeria went into a frenzy with the importation of consumer goods that were meant to satisfy the demands of a burgeoning urban-educated elite.

There is again the crime of squander-mania and contract-mania which started with the "oil boom" years of 1969-1975. Reflecting on those years, an expert on Nigeria's political development echoed that: "Under military rule, with no constituents to conciliate and no electorate to be accountable to, the effect of the oil boom was to convert the military political decision-makers into a new property-owning, rentier class, working in close and direct collabora- tion with foreign business interests with the sole aim of expropriating the surpluses derived from oil for their private and personal benefit... The collaboration took a variety of forms, one of which was to ensure that a particular foreign interest won a valuable government construction or distribution or supplying contract for which a suitable reward (kickback or percentage) was then made to the military officials who were in a position to influence the award of such contracts...

Specific examples are worth highlighting here. Take Obasanjo's Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) farce (later, Nigerians bitterly called it "Obasanjo Fools the Nation"). The regime said it was time for Nigeria to revert to the agricultural days of the early sixties, and in subsequent budgets, large sums of money got allocated to agriculture. The irony is that the money was later distributed among the ruling military leaders who then went on to establish large acres of personal and private farms in their own villages. Obasanjo himself is believed to have invested more than five million Naira in his own farm at Abeokuta, and there is Yar Adu'a and Buhari's Funtua farm, Idiagbon's estates all over Borno state, his foreign account in London's 25 Northumberland Avenue as well as T.Y. Danjuma's vast shipping lines. Today, virtually every military officer from Captain up is either a landlord or a farm-owner. Most of them are both. And most of them operate foreign accounts outside of Nigeria. The 'oil boom' years, disastrous and catastrophic as they were in their effects to the rural population (it neglected agriculture and brought shortage of food, encouraged rural migration and created urban slums, made room for armed robbery and the standard of living became very expensive), can only be described as "manna from heaven" for the military political leaders, opening up oppor- tunities of wealth and ostentatious life- style few of them could have dreamed of. Most of them who retired or were retired from the army went on to start a new career in large-scale farming, the oil industry or some other profitable thieving-millionaires!

The civilian administration of 1979-83 came when Nigeria's 'oil boom' had turned to 'oil doom'. There was the global oil-glut and the world economic recession. Worst still, they had the ill-fortune of inheriting a virtually empty treasury from their erstwhile military predecessors. But unlike the soldiers, the politicians had constituencies to conciliate and elector- ates to be accountable to. And in their campaigns, all the five political parties in 1979 promised to abolish school fees and all forms of taxation. The UPN and the PRP controlled-states stuck religiously to their promise of free education. The NPN, GNPP and NPP states abolished school fees only partially, promising, however, that by 1983 the abolition was going to be total. As far as the 'Haraji' and 'Jangali' taxes are concerned, they were abolished throughout the Federation by all the political parties. Such measures were received with sighs of relief by the rural population who, in- cidentally, constituted the bulk of the electorate, and the bulk of the country, and in this regard, the politicians were seen as caring and compassionate, often spreading their largesse to the hinterland.

It is against this background that one views with suspicion, based on his present policies, Buhari's avowed promise on the day of the coup to "ensure that the difficult and degrad- ing conditions under which we are living are ameliorated". Unless, of course, if by "We" Buhari meant his colleagues in the army. It has to be, because since Buhari came into the scene, only soldiers and their relations and a few sycophants and opportunists have benefitted or gained anything from the regime. For the ordinary Nigerian, it has been torture. With "immediate effect" school fees were introduced in all schools throughout the country. In his budget speech, Buhari said the government was paying its debts and not begging anybody. Yes, a man with a gun has no need to beg, he only has to grab and that is precisely what the regime is doing. It has brought back taxation and it is forcefully and brutally collecting a compulsory levy of fifty naira every month from the dregs of the populace. And there is the compulsory levy of one hundred naira to be paid at airports before one is allowed to travel out of the country. Buhari talks of patriotism and all that blab, yet the rush to pay debts is to be able to build a credit account in the country's foreign reserve earnings for the importation of goods that end up only at the Barracks thus increasing the country's complete dependence on those he says he is not begging from.

Agriculture has been allocated a large sum of money in the 1985 budget. So did Obasanjo one time or the other, and there was no visible benefit for the real Nigerian farmer. Almost all the members of the Supreme Military Council have their own private farms. This could be another golden opportunity for them to increase their acres or start cultivating new ones before their retirement. There are whispers too that as Buhari did when he was petroleum minister in the Obasanjo regime, crude oil contracts are already being allocated to senior military officers and some few of their civilian collaborators. Is a stage being set now for another transfer of power and an empty treasury to another crop of politicians? This time along nobody is going to be foolish.

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