By Lasisi Olagunju
Nigerian governors are wise flies; they don’t follow the corpses of their victims into the grave. They leave the dead to disintegrate on their own, ignoring their natural openings and antemortem wounds. When a president fails and falls, our governors move on like evil spirits to possess the next president.
We have seen it twice with Umaru YarA’dua and Goodluck Jonathan. Those were helpless captives of some rapacious governors who used and left them. It is scary that even those two were not as possessed as the current high priest.
This one gives and gives anything with suspicious devotion to his possessors. There is an incestuous relationship going on between Abuja and the state capitals. Incest is romantic relationship outside socially permitted circles. It is a taboo in many cultures but Abuja, right from the beginning, loves taboos. It enjoys breaking conventions. So, it is just normal that today’s Abuja also does seedy things with the small gods in the state capitals. They play ping pong (give me, I give you) with the common patrimony of the land. And they tell the people it is in their interest to so do.
The president (or the presidency) that we have today romances state governors too much in the dark to arouse suspicions. Governors know now that staying in Abuja 20 out of the 30 days of the month is the new wisdom. They take turns to occupy Abuja giving no space for deep, probing questions from the presidency. And the smart ones among the governors no longer have to think and sweat to get money. They know that Abuja plays ball with minimal fore acts.
Between these two blurred divides, there has been an enrichment of Nigeria’s politico-economic dictionary. Before Buhari, we never heard (or had) cryptic phrases such as “Budget support,” “Paris Club loan refund”, “Commercial loan restructuring.” These are ATM phrases that ensure states (and their unknown consultants) get credit alerts regularly. They are constructs that have made acute the hunger of the unpaid government worker. There are many more phrases designed to confuse the poor on what the powerful do with the commonwealth. Now, the hungry states have upped their game of cash. They met and decided to reciprocate the various gestures of President Muhammadu Buhari. Last week, they dashed the almighty Federal Government $1billion from the Excess Crude Account. “The NGF decided to support the presidency just as it had been supporting states on their own problems…Lack of unity between the presidency and governors in the past led to poor governance.”
That was Abdulaziz Yari, chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF)’s explanation for the uncommon generosity. He didn’t say if there was a presidential demand before the governors decided to supply the dollars. Now, when you have a defective federation as Nigeria and you have a president and governors doing collaborative sharing and spending, you should be alert and alarmed.
The president turned 75 yesterday. Enemies and friends serenaded him. Dogs of power fawned over him; even the Nigerian sheep bleated testimonies of his uniqueness. I congratulate him that none of his enemies has, so far, described this $1billion war chest as a birthday present. Some three, four years ago, it would have been so described if the president of that era was celebrating his date of birth. But 75-year-old Buhari needs prayers. I fear if he is not careful, the governors will soon make a Goodluck Jonathan of him. No one who sits on a pedestal of integrity acts so casually de bonne foi (in good faith) with persons who know not the colour or the facial marks of good faith. It doesn’t take a long time for a lion to turn into a pig. All that is needed for the elegant big cat to be dirty and to stink is to swim in the cesspit of pigs. History is good, especially if the student is ready to learn. And Buhari is the student here. He needs to know the story of that account where multi-billion dollars are always available to fund suspect projects.
The ECA from where our current champions yanked off $1billion is a product of intense Cold War between the presidency and the governors. Olusegun Obasanjo created the account amidst muffled resentment by the governors. It was against the law and tenets of federalism. That was the inaudible argument of the governors and their foot soldiers in the legislature. The noise was countered with dreadful silence by the patriarchal president in the Villa then. He had his way, grew the account, spent from it to fund his power projects and moved out of power. By the time Obasanjo was leaving in May 2007, the account reportedly had a balance of above $9.574 billion. Then a president installed by the governors came in. The clamour to share the money grew among these new gods who now had one of them in the Villa. And the sharing commenced. Umaru YarAdua, who inherited $9.574 billion left $4.93 billion three years later. His successor, Jonathan, reports say, grew the account balance to $8.7 billion but handed over $2.07 billion to Buhari. He claims that the governors forced him to draw down the accounts. It is from that $2 billion he left behind that Buhari’s Change presidency has been blessed with $1 billion by the appreciative state governors.
Nigerian governors are like deserts. They think it is their sole destiny to take; they don’t normally give. Jonathan listened to them and got wrecked and abandoned. Now, the habitual taker is giving out a billion US dollars freely to an ascetic patriarch. When a consummate greedy miser offers you his meal, think more than twice before you take it. Soon (and that soon will be very), Buhari will have to reciprocate this uncommon love from the governors. The time to slap a king is that moment when a fly perches on his cheek. The miserable balance in that account will soon be needed by the governors to fund their fancies. Buhari won’t have a choice; he must rub the back of those rubbing his own now. Every leader writes his own history.
Boko Haram has the colour and scent of dollars. This latest $1 billion is needed to fight the Boko Haram war. That is the claim of the governors. Jonathan also took a loan of $1 billion to fight Boko Haram. His National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, has been in detention for three years because his office took $2.1 billion to fight Boko Haram. Every year, we budget billions to fight Boko Haram. It looks like this is a war that will finish Nigeria. The goal of all wars is to kill the enemy. It, however, appears almost certain this war is primed to sink Nigeria, murder its economy. The Boko Haram war may never end, especially when it looks like it is cool business for some people. A carnivore says: “Where there is blood, there is plenty of food.” This war may end when another is invented by those whose vintage wine is blood. Really, most wars, says Jeb Sharp, “don’t have neat, triumphant endings; they are far messier and more inconclusive than we imagine them to be.” I’m afraid that precisely is what we have with this Boko Haram war. It is a peculiar mess. The more we are told it has ended, the more it kills and consumes billions of dollars that should feed the living.
The United Nations in March this year put the Boko Haram damage since its start in 2009 at about $9 billion – that is about N3.3 trillion. And we are not done yet with the losses- we are still counting. As we count the damages, we also chalk up spendings in billions of dollars. The government said early this year that the country (over the years) had spent $4 billion to defeat the insurgents. Since that statement was made, a lot more has been spent and a lot more will go into that pit. The latest is the $1 billion our governors are dashing Buhari’s presidency to fight the insurgency. Buhari will take it; he won’t look at the law. He won’t ask what the real owners have to say. But then, you and I must not stop asking — what is happening here?