To understand the profligacy, indiscretion and misplaced priority in the purchase of N1.14bn ($2.7m)-worth 10 luxury vehicles by the Muhammadu Buhari government for neighbouring Niger Republic, ostensibly to shore up that country’s security, at a time when there is excruciating hunger in the land and terrorists are probably a mile away from the Aso Villa seat of government, you have to go way back to the year 1972 or so, to the reply of the late President of Niger Republic, Ahmadu Diori, when asked why Niger supported Nigeria as against the secessionist Biafra in the Nigerian Civil War. According to Diori, as quoted by Temitope Ola in ‘Nigeria’s assistance to African states: What are the benefits?’ in International Journal of Development and Sustainability, Niger depended on Nigeria for her economic survival. In his direct words, made in French, Diori had said ‘quand le Nigeria etermue, le Niger fact plus qu’attraper la grippe, il se trouvedeja a l’hopital’ meaning, “when Nigeria sneezes, Niger not only catches cold, it is already on admission in the hospital.”
While government justifies the vehicle purchase as continuation of Nigeria’s national foreign policy, with its central focus on Africa, this has afforded Nigerians the opportunity to dig into the details of the so-called foreign policy. In the process, we found out that, as irresponsibly profligate as that Buhari government’s vehicle purchase is, at this time of national economic pains at home, profligacy and irresponsible spending have, since independence, hallmarked successive Nigerian governments’ national and foreign policies. This recklessness confirms the flipside of that popular aphorism that though Rome was not built in a day, Rome was also not destroyed in a day as well. Not only didn’t the prostrate and lamentable state that Nigeria currently finds herself begin today, Buhari, a known defender of his Fulani ethnicity, at the expense of Nigeria, was led into taking such a reprehensible action based on a Nigerian governmental pedigree of wastage.
According to a January 30, 1970 edition of The New York Times, even after a ruinous, brutal and destructive civil war, Nigeria’s economic structure and promise remained almost unscathed. Put at about $1billion spent on prosecuting the needless civil war, Nigeria must have been one of the few countries in the world which fought an intra-national war for three years without any known record of indebtedness. With an economy managed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, an astute manager of men and resources, Times reported that Nigeria adopted the “cash and carry” method for her arms and ammunition procurement. More astoundingly, she didn’t have to draw down on her foreign currency reserves which, pre-war, stood at $400 million. Oil, discovered just before the war and comfortably padded by a fairly widely spread export portfolio of cocoa, groundnuts, tin, rubber, timber and a “$30 million or so” which was in the hands of the marketing boards and private firms, kept the economy bubbling, even while the armaments of war zoomed in the air. With an oil production capacity which, as Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu declared secession in May, 1967, was soaring at 570,000 barrels a day, Nigeria literally didn’t touch her oil during the war so much that, by 1968, production had plummeted to 50 barrels a day. This rose to a record 550,000 barrels a day immediately after the war, with royalties and taxes netting an annual $100 million and which, in 1975, rose to $1 billion from oil companies.
Armed with a hugely humongous oil wealth, a vast population and the mantra that a Nigerian was in five blacks gathered anywhere in the world, as the street lingo says, these soon “entered Nigeria’s head,” and the thought that the country could be an African superpower became a near-national ideological obsession. Between 1967 and 1977, federal government revenue was said to have soared by 2,200 per cent. Nigeria’s economy was so strong that, on January 1, 1973, the country abandoned its pound sterling currency, a colonial relic, and created a Naira currency. Nigeria was managed by an exuberant crop of unaccountable military leaders who had scant leadership and economic training. The height of it was Gowon’s infamous statement abroad in 1973 that Nigeria’s problem was not money but how to spend it. The huge oil wealth was soon quashed on the altar of naivety, arrogance and knavery.
Going on foreign junkets became a pastime of the nouveau riche military elite and a consumerist pattern driven by obsession for foreign goods. This grossly contradicted a budding ideology of a people who professed African superpower. General Gowon, like Muhammadu Buhari, publicly known for his terse thirst for personal corruption, became a breeding pond for blood-of-the-country-sucking sharks dressed in military epaulettes. The governors began a mania of infrastructure driven more by opportunistic crave to collect kickback from contractors than need for development. It became so bad that in 1975, the Gowon government had placed accumulated order for 20 million tonnes of cement, paid for by Nigeria’s buoyant petro-dollars. The cost of the mind-boggling cement orders was put at about $2 billion, an amount which was a quarter of Nigeria’s oil revenue in 1975. This order was at the time more than the cement capacity of Europe and USSR combined. Apapa was thoroughly overwhelmed and shipping lines all over the world scurried to Nigeria to take a bite of the raw, mindless orgy of profligacy. Most of the shipments entered demurrage in what was infamously dubbed the Cement Armada. It was so bad that when Murtala Muhammed took over from Gowon in a sudden coup and set up a panel to investigate the 12 governors under him, only two of them and two other ministers were found to be blameless.
The petro-dollar El-Dorado was so hugely provoked that every rural dweller in Nigerian villages wanted to migrate to the city. Prostitution statistics rose tremendously, so did crimes. Girls became willing liaisons to soldiers in whose hands hid the famous dollars from oil exploration and their civil servant accomplices. Between 1970 and 1976, statistics revealed an upsurge in criminal activities due to the craze to take a bite of petro-dollars. An approximate 900-percent increase in incidences of armed robbery was recorded, with 12,153 reported cases in 1970. This figure soared to 105,859 in 1976. Executions of robbers, codified in federal and state laws, went on the upswing. The capital punishment for armed robbery could however not deter the spate of robberies because the petro-dollar gains accruable from the crime outweighed the risk of being caught.
It was easy for the exuberant military leaders, many of them in their 20s and 30s, some of whom were bachelors, like General Jack, the Head of State himself, to extend the spatial control mentality of military psychology into governance. They easily keyed into the African superpower near-national ideological obsession and began to spend like Father Christmas, in the service of a foreign policy they devised, which was woven round Africa as centre-piece. This cost Nigeria heavily.
Thus, in 1972, as reported by Ola, Nigeria signed a pact with Niger Republic to supply her 30,000 kilowatts of electricity, from the Kanji Dam hydroelectricity, even when local electricity needs were not met. Again in 1974, Nigeria donated millions of Naira-worth relief materials to same Niger when it was ravaged by drought. After the widespread Soweto massacre riots of 1976, Nigeria brought into the country hundreds of “Soweto kids” and several other South African Black youths and offered them scholarship to study in Nigerian universities. This continued to the end of apartheid. Nigeria also established a South Africa Relief Fund (SARF) in 1978 where Nigerians poured about $20 million of their hard-earned money into. In June 1976, according to Ola, Gen Obasanjo presented a cheque of $250,000 to the liberation forces of Rhodesia through Mozambiquan Foreign Minister, Joaquim Chissano in Mauritius during the OAU summit. Quoting General Joe Garba, Ola also reported that, on April 25, 1976, Obasanjo handed over to President Samora Machel of the newly independent state of Mozambique the sum of $1.6 million as development assistance.
Nigeria also did this Father Christmas in her negotiation with and sale of a concessionary 90-day crude oil to South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Niger and other Africa countries. Ghana and Togo owed the country over $30million from the exercise. The Big Father Xmas also constructed an expressway from Lagos to the outskirts of Cotonou with several millions of dollars, while spearheading the integration project of a regional gas pipeline for the sub-regional economic development. Nigeria equally established the Technical Aid Programme and created a Trust Fund at AfDB for Africans with a soft loan of $100 million it left in the bank to be lent to Least Developing African Countries.
In 1989, upon the paralysis of Beninoise government by a bludgeoning workers’ strike occasioned by its inability to pay salaries, Nigeria, under Babangida, offset the salaries while also donating 12,000 tonnes of petroleum products to the government. The year before, Babangida’s Nigeria funded the Ibrahim Babangida School of International Studies in Liberia and donated seven Nigerian academics to its institution while Nigeria constructed the Trans-African Highway and bought over Liberia’s debt valued at $30 million. There must have been a-thousand-and-one other frittering off of the Nigerian wealth which took place under cover which are not open to the rest of the world, all in the name of foreign policy. For instance, as at 2009, Nigeria had sent about 3000 troops to Darfur for the AU peacekeeping force. President Obasanjo also sent 5000 Nigerian soldiers on peacekeeping operations. Also, Nigeria’s mediation and conciliation efforts in Angola, Chad, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Lebanon, etc ate deep into the country’s treasury.
There have been several arguments from international relations scholars who aver that, not being an island unto herself, Nigeria cannot but assist other nations, especially the ones that surround her. This argument is further bolstered by the fact that Nigeria herself receives huge assistances from developed countries of the world. However, Nigeria’s foreign policy has been left so much to the whims of the executive arm of government which then drives it according to the personal mindset of the head of the arm. It is why a cronyist like Buhari will capitalize on this unwholesome pedigree of Nigerian leadership to fritter money abroad in building a road into his Niger ancestral home, spend billions of Nigerian money on the tiny African country and legitimize it by citing Nigeria’s national foreign policy. President Obasanjo and General Babangida, for instance, squandered Nigeria’s national wealth so unconscionably during their stay in office on what will appear a mythical brotherhood relations policy, without corresponding benefits accruable to the country. Many of those countries on whom Nigeria squandered her national resources that could have been saved to build a today for her children demonize Nigeria and Nigerians today on account of the social and economic calamities that result, partly from such mindless donations and investments in their countries that were made decades ago. Nigerians today face xenophobic attacks from South Africans, for whose today we cleaned our treasury yesterday.
Almost as if it was perforating the thesis I have been sermonizing about since the beginning of this piece, on the scene emerged an alumnus of the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, MBBS Class of 1985, Dr Philip Ozuah who donated the sum of $1,000,000 to a hostel building fund project of the college last week. The news nearly blocked the social media airwave. In an earlier discussion of Nigeria’s Father Christmas role in Africa that I had with some persons, I was asked that, put beside Ozuah’s gesture, what difference exists between Nigeria and Dr. Ozuah, both having helped their needy ecosystem?
In some way, you could also throw Tobi Amusan into this mix. Amusan is the 25-year old athlete who made history last week by winning the 100 metres hurdles gold at the World Athletics Championship.
Rather than counterpoise Nigeria in terms of similarity, I think what both Ozuah and Amusan did for Nigeria is what Leo Tolstoy called Loss as the elder brother of Gain. I explain: At a time, we thought our Loss was the national morale that had sagged badly in Nigeria, both in individual Nigerians’ willingness to intervene in the affairs of the other person or intervention in matters that affect the collective. Also, at a time that we thought that the name of Nigeria could never inspire anything good in the world, Amusan and Ozuah dismantled this mindset by presenting themselves as our Gain. In the words of Bob Marley, in his Trenchtown track, Ozuah and Amusan both made Nigeria/Nigerians to find “our (national) bread in desolate places,” among a world that asked, “can anything good come out Of (Nigeria) Trench Town?”
However, Ozuah and Amusan haven’t totally erased the fact that Nigeria is still a desolate place. If you listened to the maiden Channels TV interview granted by Festus Keyamo, National Publicity Secretary of the APC and his haughty pee on the graves of Nigerians who died and are still dying as a result of Buhari’s effeminate fight of terrorists, or his cavalier dismissal as inconsequential and the over-simplification of the almost half a year stay at home by our university children, you cannot but conclude that though brains similar to Keyamo’s, since 1960, have profligately driven Nigeria back, the Amusan and Ozuahs demonstrate that even inside the tunnel, we can have the light shine.
*Dr Festus Adedayo, journalist, biographer, lawyer, and public affairs analyst, writes from Ibadan