The incoming Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo recently said that Nigeria was indebted by as much as $60 billion. To put it in stark perspective, we have never owed this much as a country. When you put this fact against our depleted foreign reserve – the lowest in a decade – and the Excess Crude Account that has since disappeared, you would be able to establish one fact: the Goodluck Jonathan administration did not lack money to spend, how it spent is the point of debate.
That is where the Buhari administration comes in. The administration is already burdened with a $60 billion debt – I know it will take many administrations to pay this off -, a dwindling naira, a war on terrorism, a big inefficient federal civil service, an economy that seems to be growing without creating real jobs, a divided nation and a country with as many children out of school almost the entire population of Senegal. The outgoing administration had a lot of money to play with, Nigeria did not earn as much as it did in the five years of the Jonathan administration than at any other five year period in its entire history. In contrast, the incoming administration will find cash hard to come by. Something has to give!
That is why talks of a “soft landing” for corrupt public officers under the Jonathan administration cannot stand against common sense, moral sense, economic necessity or justice. Apart from the fact that Nigerians did not trust Mohammadu Buhari with the next four years of their lives just so he can become a “soft landing” airport for thieves to safely land on. Nigerians voted him for the direct opposite of that; so that he can come recover our stolen wealth and then make it difficult, if not impossible, for such to never happen again by setting up institutions and processes that’d help prevent that, long after his administration is gone.
The antics of minister of petroleum Alison Diezani getting herself on a flight with President-elect Mohammadu Buhari last Friday explains many things, one of which is that she certainly has a case to answer. It is important that the president-elect and his team do not make these corruption issues “an elite thing” where they all come together and settle everything “behind closed doors.” When Nigeria’s poor people steal, they are made to suffer. But that poor people in our country often get punished for their crimes has not stopped us from being deemed a very corrupt country. The reason is because the cost of corruption and stealing by the rich is why our country is the mess that it is today. The combined total of what armed robbers and poor people steal in this country is less than what an average big thief steals. There must be no “soft landing” for anyone who has stolen Nigeria’s money under the Jonathan administration.
There will be shouts by naysayers for the incoming administration to extend its searchlight beyond the administration it succeeds but that eventually helps the government to lose focus. The Jonathan administration has been in charge for five years, if it felt that certain people had committed crimes before it came, it should have gone after them. Some of the most critical voices against the Jonathan administration have dared his government to probe them, some of been repeatedly probed and charged to court e.g. Nasir El-Rufai, Bola Tinubu with the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Bukola Saraki who was finally given a clean slate by the Attorney General of the Federation and several others. If the government, despite their hardline opposition to it could not find them guilty, it would not be the business of a new administration to be so bothered to start where these ones have failed.
The Buhari administration will start where the government it succeeded started from; there are major suspects like the FCT Minister Mallam Bala Mohammed, the minister of Petroleum Alison Diezani and the NNPC, the Ecological Fund and those who mismanaged it, the Excess Crude Account and our reserves, the ministry of Aviation especially under the “N255 million naira for two cars” Princess Stella Oduah amongst others. The subsidy regime that had us move from less than N300 billion/year to about N1.6 trillion, the SURE-P scam and other scams like it, all of these must be conclusively probed. And culprits brought to book.
The reason for this is simple enough; the government needs money, it can raise billions of dollars by recovering some of the loot. Punishing people for crimes committed will deter the new guys at the helm from doing same. If every time people hemorrhage our country, they get a soft landing, there’d be no need to make claims about change. Change can only begin where people are punished for crimes committed and rewarded for their good deeds.
© Japheth J Omojuwa @omojuwa