Elder Statesman and Ex- President, Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday while delivering the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos titled, “Nigeria yesterday, today and tomorrow: Governance and accountability,’’urged President Muhammadu Buhari to get on with the task of delivering the change he promised Nigerians during electoral campaign rather than focusing on the depth of the challenges he inherited from past administration. According to Obasanjo, it would have been needless for Nigerians to cry for a change of government if things were rosy in the country before Buhari took over. He therefore, advised the President Buhari to urgently fix the economy in order not to jeopardise the gains recorded so far in the fight against corruption and insurgency.
In the well attended lecture, the former President stated, “It is easier to win an election than to right the wrongs of a badly fouled situation. When you are outside, what you see and know are nothing compared with the reality. And yet once you are on seat, you have to clear the mess and put the nation on the path of rectitude, development and progress leaving no group or section out of your plan, programme and policy and efforts. The longer it takes, the more intractable the problem may become.
“I understand President Buhari’s frustration on the state of the economy inherited by him. It was the same reason and situation that brought about cry for change, otherwise there would be no need for change if it was all nice and rosy.
“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.’’
Ex President Obasanjo, also added his voice to the ones against the proposed plan by the the Federal Government to borrow $30bn in the next three years to stimulate the economy.
According to him,, “We immediately need loans to stabilise our foreign reserve and embark on some infrastructure development but surely not $30bn over a period of less than three years. That was about the magnitude of the cumulative debt of Nigeria which we worked and wiped out 10 years ago.
“Before that debt relief, we were spending almost $3bn to service our debt annually and the quantum of the debt was not going down. Rather, if we defaulted, we paid penalty which was added on. Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved.
“The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity. We must be careful and watchful of the danger of short-termism. Short-term may be the enemy of medium and long-term.’’
The National Assembly was not spared by the ex President as he described it as a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers, stinking, even worse than the judiciary.
In his words, “Once you are a member, you are co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15m a month for a senator and N10m a month for a member of the House of Representatives. The National Assembly is a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed robbers.’’
He continued, “If the judiciary is being cleaned, what of the National Assembly which stinks much worse than the judiciary? Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practice. Nobody should pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians. Ganging up to intimidate and threaten the life of a whistle-blower is deplorable and undemocratic.’’
He also accused the National Assembly of using ‘so-called constituency projects’ as a conduit for 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,” he said.
“Our lawmakers are lawbreakers. They are the accused, the prosecutor, the defenders and the judge in their own case. Most of them conduct themselves and believe that they are not answerable to anybody. They are blatant in their misbehaviour, cavalier in their misconduct and arrogant in the misuse of parliamentary immunity as a shield against reprisals for their irresponsible acts of malfeasance and/or outright banditry.’’
The ex-President praised the efforts of the current regime to cleanse the judiciary, stating that that when justice was only for sale and could only be purchased by the highest bidder, impunity and anarchy would be the order of the day.
According to Obasanjo, ‘‘There is virtually no corrupt judge without being aided by a member of the bar. The Nigerian Bar Association 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 reform. Such reform must be deep, comprehensive and entail constitutional amendments as appointment and disciplines of judges are concerned. 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 appealed to the Judiciary not to frustrate the efforts of the anti-graft agencies “through flimsy technicality and interminable adjournments.’’