Despite that scathing criticism it was one of the boldest effort to adjust the country structurally, at least economically. Aligned to the economic programme was a political experiment that led to government-created parties with the curious ideological differentiation of “a little to the left and a little to the right”.
The Abacha regime had no time nor patience for intellectual discourse. Its Constitutional Conference, however, was exceptional in the composition and the intensity of the debates against the backdrop of June 12 and its aftermath.
General Abubakar implemented a single agenda of handover and together with his ruling council edited and promulgated the 1999 constitution.
In 1999, Peoples Democratic Party came to power with a promise of “power to the people” and Olusegun Obasanjo, fresh from Prison, as President. After successfully handing over power, Obasanjo had retired peacefully into commercial farming, but remained active in organising programmes aimed at promoting peace, understanding and diplomacy not only within Nigeria and African region, but the world at large.
That activism has led him to many intellectually exciting books on nation building and politics such as This Animal Called Man; Call to Duty; Speeches, Not My Will, A New Dawn; No Compromise With Apartheid; Towards Civil Rule and Africa in Perspectives. Others were A March of Progress; Nigeria and International Trade; Nzeogwu; Constitution For National Integration and Development; Africa Embattled; My Command: An Account of the Nigerian Civil War 1969-70 and I See Hope, among others.
African Leadership Forum is also another platform he founded in 1988 to help improve the current quality of leadership in Africa while at the same time helping to train the next generation of leaders for the continent in demonstration of his commitment to nation building efforts.
In 1999, Obasanjo’s party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) not only won the presidential election in the general elections, the party formed the majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The PDP turned out to be an ideologically fluid amalgam of strange bed fellows without an organising principle except to take-over from the military. No sooner had PDP assumed office that the first sign of stress surfaced. The issue of the choice of leadership in the two Chambers of the National Assembly dominated by elected representatives on the banner of the PDP proved divisive.
The handling of that crisis contributed in large part to the nature and susbsequent trajectory of the PDP. The co-option of the Alliance for Democracy in the effort to stop Senator Chuba Okadigbo effectively indicated the end of any ideological posturing of the political parties. I am sure there were many complexities to the story but President Obasanjo’s first term provided some indication on his position on the Nigerian question.
First, on the issue of corruption Obasanjo and the PDP took a position that the federal government can create institutions to fight corruption against the prevailing orthodoxy that crimes are state matters. In a legal sanctification of President Obasanjo’s position, in the case of Attorney-General of Ondo State V. Attorney-General of the Federation & 35 ors the Supreme court relied on Section 15 (5) of Chapter 2 of the constitution to justify the enactment of the ICPC Act. The court held that “therefore it is incidental or supplementary for the National Assembly to enact the law that will enable the ICPC to enforce the observance of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. This radical judgement suggest that we can indeed make provisions of Chapter two of our constitution justiciable.
The creation of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission erected the scaffold for the construction of an anti-corruption infrastructure at the federal level. Today it appears that there is national consensus on the issue of anti-corruption agencies.
Confronted by the question of derivation and onshore/offshore dichotomy decided by the Supreme Court President Obasanjo went for “political solution” leading to the enactment of the law abolishing the dichotomy in the application of the principle of derivation in 2004. On the issue of derivation Obasanjo and PDP saved the country from a brewing crisis but more importantly laid another historic foundation of giving legal teeth to the 13% derivation in the constitution through abolition of the dichotomy.
On sharia, the strategy of adopting a political solution was largely successful in calming frayed nerves and quelling a potentially catastrophic crisis. At the root of the strategy is the question of the role of the state in religion and extent of the use of the power of the federal government in resolving local issues.
In his second term, President Obasanjo, broke ranks with the ruling class and sought to define the philosophical underpinning of Nigeria, his government and his party. An avalanche of policies designed to reduce government included privatisatisation, concessioning, public private partnership, monetisation and sale of government houses.
Strong measures to improve service delivery and transparency led to coming into being of SERVICOM, a service delivery compact and the Bureau of Public Procurement, popularly called the Due Process Office.
An environment of free market-reforms led to strong economic regulation and clear support for a vibrant private sector saw policies like banking consolidation, insurance consolidation, downstream deregulations and pensions reforms.
Promoting fiscal responsibility led to the creation of the Debt Management Office, passage of Fiscal Responsibility bill, creation of Excess Crude Account and tight management of foreign reserves.
The strong policy and thought leadership of the Obasanjo administration produced great results. Prof. Soludo recounted it succinctly recently, the PDP handed over a $550 billion economy (largest in Africa and 26th in the world), with 7.5% unemployment rate (better than European Union, France, Sweden, Belgium, etc although the underemployment figure is much higher); a stock of reserves of $30 billion; GDP growth rate averaging 6% over last 12 years; a relatively more diversified economy, with ICT penetration from 0.2% to over 60%.
President Obasanjo left a new contributory pension scheme now with trillions of Naira in pension fund. Our external debt is down although total debt stock is escalating. Our Gini coefficient (degree of inequality) is not different from China’s. Nigeria has consolidated and stronger banking system that currently finances both government debt and the private sector, with a relatively vibrant capital market. The capitalization of the Nigerian Stock Exchange grew from less than N1 trillion to N12 trillion as at handover. For the first time, Nigerian economy is now rated by credit rating agencies (Fitch, and Standard and Poor’s).
The success story notwithstanding President Umaru Yar’Adua on succeeding Obasanjo showed little or no interest in the ideological adjustment of the Nigerian state around the Washington consensus and the reform of the PDP from a successful election vehicle to an agenda shaping institution that Obasanjo had initiated. The lack of interest was symptomatic of deep ideological divide that our leaders have not paid attention to. The reversal of some of the Obasanjo policies brings us back to the fundamental issue of absence of ideology in our political system.
To chart a way forward I believe we need to first define the reason for our existence as a nation. Amalgamated for British administrative convenience and bound by geography we need to move beyond unity, progress, peace and freedom to more philosophical precepts that reflects our national hopes, speaks to our fears and projects a sense of collective destiny and a shared future.
The chapter two of the 1999 constitution aptly named Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in 24 sections made effort to capture the objectives and directive principles reflect our areas of agreement and what the drafters considered as the organising principle of the Nigerian state but regrettably made it non-justiciable.
I however, propose that all our former Heads of State, their Deputies, former Senate Presidents and their Deputies, former Speakers of House of Reps and their Deputies, Former Heads of service and Secretaries to Government of the federation, heads of all ethnic associations, heads of professional bodies, retired Service chiefs and Inspectors General should meet and draft a new charter for Nigeria. The Charter shall contain the reason for our union, the purpose of the union and the guarantee of the basic rights, privileges and obligations of citizens. This charter shall be presented to the National Assembly as bill to amend the constitution and if passed would replace chapter 2 of 1999 constitution and would be justiciable.
The choice of the older generation in drafting this charter is to ensure that our collective experience as a nation is not lost. The National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly would provide opportunity for inter-generational dialogue and create the legitimacy required for the document. President Obasanjo I beseech you let this generation not pass before this shall come to pass.
The defining quality of our country in the past 45 years has been the distributional politics fuelled by oil revenue. This revenue stream, that may be impaired by developments in alternative energy, should be the seed capital to develop the manpower and infrastructure for a post oil economy. This thinking can be the basis of a new covenant that places the Nigerian at the center of governance and guarantees him irreducible minimums that aids him in the struggle for daily bread.
Our political parties can then build their ideologies around the strategies for achieving our national goals.
As I end this lecture today, the question every Nigerian should pose to our office seekers and elected officials should be:
On critical national questions, where do you stand?
On the role of government in the economy, where do you stand?
On Federal government devolving more powers to the States, where do you stand?
On fiscal federalism, where do you stand?
On transparency and compliance to due process, where do you stand?
On increased derivation in revenue sharing, where do you stand?
On reducing the size of government, where do you stand?
On Local Government autonomy, where do you stand?
Do not let any political party or aspirant deceive you with promises of bridges where there is no river, insist that the existential questions confronting our nation must be answered by those who seek to lead us.
On this note I rest my case and hope that I have earned the lunch that I will eat from Baba who despite his reputation for stinginess, has given me so much. He gave me the benefit of his experiences, which he shares freely with me and also of his resources, whether you believe it or not. Some of my colleagues always wondered what I did to him to unlock his Araldite hands.
Baba, thank you for this opportunity and may the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library continue to serve as a fulcrum for ideas that promotes a Nigeria founded on timeless values.
Text of a paper presented by Osita Chidoka OFR, NPOM (Ike Obosi) on the occasion of the public lecture organised by the Youth Development Centre of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library at the conference hall of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidential library Abeokuta, Ogun State on Sunday, 28 May 2017.