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Opinions of Sunday, 24 May 2015

Columnist: Muhammad Ajah

Nigerians plead for clemency or bail bargaining

To err is human. It is only human to make mistakes. But as humans, forgiving and forgetting which should go together is hard. It is very difficult for a human to forgive someone. It takes a divinity or a divine being, i.e., God to truly forgive. Another proverb says: “Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves, to get well and move on”.

In Nigeria, politicians commit severe crimes against Nigerians and seek for forgiveness. They are never punished. Since Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960, Nigerians have been oppressed except for negligible periods at intervals. The military juntas dragged the people’s fortunes to gallows. The democratic dispensations have witnessed massive looting of Nigeria’s monies and properties with utmost impunity. Most recallable are the three democracies of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the leaderships of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. From available records, it is yet to be proved otherwise that the periods between 2010 and 2015 have been the worst experience for Nigeria as a nation. And now, they are seeking for clemency!

President Goodluck Jonathan at his “last day of worship” with the Chapel in Aso Rock appealed to Nigerians to forgive him, in any way he erred. “No system is perfect. Every human system must have an element of imperfection. So for the eight that one has been there, definitely one is not perfect. We have certainly done things that probably we wouldn’t have done that way, but we didn’t do things deliberately. So for those who we have offended, it was not deliberate, it was circumstances of the office. So we also plead that those people should forgive, we think we have done our best. You can do your best and your friends may misunderstand you. Today we are talking about leaving. It is only God that knows why things go the way they do”, he said.

Following suit, Vice President Muhammad Namadi Sambo and his wife, Amina, urged those they offended to forgive them. Speaking to newsmen shortly after a valedictory meeting with his supporting members of staff, at Aguda House, Abuja, “We pray that all those that we have offended during this period, we beg for their forgiveness and we forgive all those that have done anything wrong to us.’’

Maybe sooner or later, other politicians who have dealt badly with Nigerians will come in the open to seek for our forgiveness. Notwithstanding the broadmindedness of Nigerians in tolerance and forgiveness, the important bond of any genuine forgiveness pact should be the return of the bone of contention which is our looted treasury. Our looted money has to be retuned back to us so that we can have the free mind to forgive and try to forget. I prefer to say “try to forget”, because history is a documentary. Some smart Nigerians have written the best they can from the events and occurrences throughout these periods in question. And for me, the philosophy of putting the past behind is not compatible with democracies and governance in Nigeria, say Africa at large. We cannot just forget the past.

The Federal Government under President Jonathan is said to have squandered the monies transferred to it by its predecessor, and started borrowing to the tune of N5.04tn from the domestic debt market. Within the same period, the domestic debts of the state governments across the country rose by $5.85bn or 116.83 per cent in dollar terms. Between February 10, 2010 when Jonathan was acting president and May 6, 2010 when he was sworn in as substantive president, records at the Debt Management Office showed that the domestic debt of the Federal Government stood at about N3.47trillion as of March 31, 2010. Debt statistics from the DMO at March 31, 2015 showed that the domestic debt had risen to about N8.51trillion, a debt profile growth by 157.48 per cent. We can recall that the state governors demanded the sharing of the foreign reserved funds because the federal government was squandering it without consultations or justifiable reasons.

“The country’s debt slowed down the development of capital projects across the country”, said a former President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Samuel Nzekwe, said. “Much of the borrowings were spent on recurrent expenses. It does not make sense to me to borrow to pay salaries. The amount of money being spent in Nigeria to run government is not right. I know that democracy is costly but a lot could have been done through financial discipline”, the Chairman, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, Abuja District, Adewale Gbakinro, opined, accusing the Federal Government of borrowing as much as N5trillion in the last five years when oil sold for more than $100 per barrel for most of the period under review.

Added to these, there are strong indications that workers in at least 18 states may begin an indefinite strike over unpaid salaries, according to the General Secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, who said that the congress had sent its task force team set up by the National Administrative Council of the Congress on March 19, 2015 to various geo-political zones of the country to pursue payment of salary arrears owed workers by some state governments.

Vice President-elect, Professor Yemi Osinbaji at a 2-Day Policy Dialogue on the Implementation of the Agenda for Change on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 observed that the figures of extreme poverty in Nigeria – 110 million by current estimates – makes it clear that the biggest national problem was the extreme poverty of the majority. Abject poverty amidst riches! “We are concerned that our economy is currently in perhaps its worst moment in history. Local and international debt stands at US$60 billion. Our Debt servicing bill for 2015 is N953.6 billion, 21% of our Budget. On account of severely dwindled resources, over two-thirds of the states in Nigeria owe salaries. Federal institutions are not in much better shape. Today, the nation borrows to fund recurrent expenditure. This is also against the backdrop of a highly unequal society in which, by some reckoning, the largest chunk of the benefits of our national wealth accrues to a small percentage of our population.”

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) in a statement issued by its Director, Professor Ishaq Akintola, is worried about the state of Nigeria and seeks explanations from the outgoing government over many national matters marred by corruption and insincerity. “Nigerians know better. Most of the recent sacks, appointments, location and relocation of projects few days to the administration’s exit were motivated by bitterness, malice as well as a deep sense of frustration over election loss. Nigerians need to brace up because Jonathan is leading us to terra incognito”, Professor Akintola insisted. MURIC alerted the international community that President Jonathan’s latest foot-dragging antics exposed him as a bad loser and revealed that his concession of defeat was merely an outward show designed to portray him as a democracy-compliant African leader.

On this note and like many minds, a former Governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, has described the President Goodluck Jonathan administration as the most corrupt in the country’s history and asked the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, to launch a comprehensive probe of the administration after his inauguration on May 29. Despite his opposition to Buhari’s 2015 presidential ambition, he proclaimed, “In terms of fighting corruption, Buhari should not spare President Goodluck Jonathan. His anti-corruption agenda should not be selective. The Jonathan administration is the worst in terms of corruption in this country, maybe because the administration had so much money to spend”, Musa, who is the National Chairman of the Peoples Redemption Party averred. Recently, a Borno-based Pastor Kallamu Musa-Dikwa, Executive Director, Voice of Northern Christian Movement, recently alleged that pastors were actually bribed with N7 billion by the president during his effort to retain power. Dikwa alleged that the said money was channeled through the Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

Governor-elect of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, while on a visit to the dilapidated Arewa Textile Industry in the state stressed that the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, would ask all those who have looted the country to refund their loots. El-Rufai lamented the huge debt burden the Buhari administration would be inheriting adding that people must be called to refund what they have stolen. “Looters will be asked to refund money include those in the state and federal levels. We will ask those who stole government money to return the funds," he fumed.

The founder and National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP) and also the founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Chekwas Okorie believes that the incoming government must step on toes tin order to succeed. “The president-elect has been credited as saying that he would also look into the missing 20billion dollars NNPC funds. We agree on that. There was a recent recovery of N307 looted by Sani Abacha. So you can imagine the amount of our money in private hands. It has been so but our government didn’t seem to be interested, maybe because of those who are involved. Buhari administration shouldn’t toe the same line”, Okorie noted, adding, “I personally trust Buhari to be capable to step on any toes including those who funded his campaign. He has that moral standing, strength to do that. He can do it. If he fails to do it, he would have failed the whole country because part of what gave him the presidency is respect and admiration for his high moral rectitude.”

As for the human rights activist and former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, looters of Nigerian’s treasury must be prosecuted and jailed. He said, “You cannot change everything in four years but when Nigerians start seeing little changes in three to six months and then in one year and you see people being prosecuted and jailed for stealing public funds, and the government ensures that all the funds that were taken overseas are recovered, there is no way the needed change will not come. Why should Nigeria have up to $250bn in stolen funds abroad and only $35bn in our foreign reserves? The international community is aware of this and the incoming government is not foolish. Anybody that thinks he has stolen and will go scot free must be deceiving himself because if any thief goes scot free, then the All Progressives Congress-led government is not serious.”

A national daily reported that President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice-President Namadi Sambo and many ministers have concluded plans to travel abroad shortly after the May 29 inauguration. Sambo is planning to travel to London on May 31, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had concluded plans to return to the US, Petroleum Resources Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, has already travelled out of the country, the Minister of Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, also planned to travel abroad, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Musiliu Obanikoro, plans to travel to Ghana or South Africa or the United States to take “a deserved rest.”. But Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Suleiman, said there was nothing wrong for members of Jonathan’s cabinet to travel abroad after the May 29 inauguration to rest.

“Nigerian looters are on the run. Diezani has jetted out of the country. Jonathan, Sambo, Ngozi and other looting ministers will follow soon. Like I said before, they can run away if they want, but they can never hide. This is a small world, Nigeria will find and bring them back to the country to face justice”, a Nigerian patriot Kayode, posted online.

Engr. Rotimi Fabiyi from Lagos state posted on facebook, “Obasanjo and Yar’Adua did not leave any debt for Nigeria but rather left huge sums of money as national reserve for Nigeria. Jonathan mistakenly became President in May 2010 and by May 2015, it was discovered that Jonathan has accrued a debt of $60 billion US dollars for Nigeria; $1=N228 and 60 billion dollars × 228 = N13.7 trillion (interest excluded). This means that if Nigeria pays back 5 billion naira every month, the debt will be cleared in 2740 months = 228 years. This clearly means that our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren will still pay what Jonathan owed. Now, who says Jonathan is not badluck?”

With all these revelations, assertions and facts, Nigerians can take the wise decision to forgive and forget without the return of their looted monies. They can seek for full recovery of their monies and persecution of the offenders/sinners. Or at least, they can bargain for part payment for their damaged national image, national properties, as well as the national economy.

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja E-mail: