Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to stop blaming past administrations for the current economic woes and focus on implementing result-oriented policies and programmes that will turn the economy around.
He equally cautioned that if Buhari fails to fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the “gains of fighting the insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance”.
The former president, who said this yesterday while delivering the keynote address at the first Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos, said no administration can, nor should be comfortable with the excruciating pain of a debilitating and crushing economy.
“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.
“I am sure that such a comprehensive policy and programme will not support borrowing US$30 billion in less than three years. It will give us the short, medium, and long-term picture.
“Businesses are closing, jobs are being lost and people are suffering. I know 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 policies and programmes 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 policies and programmes to get us out of the pit before we fall over the precipice into a dark cave.
“The 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,” Obasanjo said.
Continuing, the former president noted that it is easier to win an election than to right the wrongs of a badly fouled situation, adding: “When you are outside, what you see and know are nothing compared with the reality.”
Also commenting on current issues in the polity, Obasanjo supported the action of the federal government on the alleged corrupt judges.
“If what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two scores 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 about the method used, one should also ask if there was an alternative. The National Judicial Council (NJC) would not do anything, as it was all in-breeding.
“As 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. And yet a drastic disease requires drastic treatment.
“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.
“In this regard, 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. There is 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 reforms. Such reforms must be deep, comprehensive and entail constitutional amendments as far as the 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.
“It must also be said that the good eggs within the judiciary must be proud of themselves and we must not only be proud of them but also protect them and their integrity,” he said.
Obasanjo also beamed his focus on the National Assembly which he said stinks more than the judiciary.
According to him, “Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practice. Nobody should pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians.
“Ganging up to intimidate and threaten the life of a whistle blower is deplorable and undemocratic. What of the so-called constituency projects which is a veritable source of corruption?
“These constituency projects are spread over the budget for members of the National Assembly for which they are the initiators and the contractors directly or by proxy and money would be fully drawn with the project only partially executed or not executed at all.
“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 rot 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.
“The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers. Like the judiciary, the National Assembly cannot clean itself. Look at how the recurrent budget of the National Assembly with the so-called constituency projects has ballooned since the inception of this democratic dispensation.
“What were their budgets in the 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015? The revelation was both alarming and scandalous. Once, when I was president, I asked outside auditors, both normal and forensic, to audit the account of the National Assembly, they frustrated it on the basis of separation of powers.
“They claimed they had oversight responsibility for their corruption and misdemeanour and nothing could be done. It is like asking a thief to watch over himself. There must be full disclosure of all relevant fiscal information in a timely and systematic manner at all levels.”
He insisted that the National Assembly stinks and stinks to high heavens. “It needs to be purged. With appropriate measures, the budget of the National Assembly can be brought down to less than 50 per cent of what it is today. God will help Nigeria, but we must begin by helping ourselves,” he maintained.
Also, he expressed displeasure over the fact that in the last seven or eight years, the military had experienced a decline.
“It is sickening! 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 at the warfront. In some cases, nothing at all is purchased.
“How callous, for a General, an Air Marshall 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 disappears 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,” Obasanjo said.
He said the military procurement system needed to be streamlined and taken back to what it used to be.
The former president also supported the goal by the federal government to secure foreign loans, saying they are necessary to stabilise foreign reserves and embark on infrastructure development, warning, however, that borrowing $30 billion over a period of less than three years could be counter-productive.
“That was about the magnitude of cumulative debt of Nigeria which we worked and wiped out 10 years ago. Before that debt relief, we were spending almost $3 billion to service our debt annually and the quantum of the debt was not going down.
“Rather, if we defaulted, we paid a penalty which was added on. The projects listed for borrowing are all necessary in the medium and long-term for our economy but we have to prioritise.
“Railway is a necessary service but it is not profit-making anywhere in the world today. We need steady and continuous but manageable funding on the railway project.
“The Mambilla hydro project is the same; necessary but it cannot pay itself, especially with the global energy sector of shale revolution, hydrogen fuel and increasingly cheap renewable energy such as solar energy.
“OPEC itself has projected that the price of oil will be hovering in the region of $50 per barrel for the next 15 years or so. So the argument of concessional mixed with commercial loans does not hold water.
“When the concessional and the non-concessional borrowings are put together, interests alone will be in the region of 3% to 4%. The bunching of debt service will be a problem to confront other administrations in future.
“If we do not fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the gains of fighting the insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance.
“All in all, everybody must be held accountable. There should be no sacred cow or witch-hunts or untenable excuses to let the camel through the needle’s eye,” he added.