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But government privatisations are corruption and theft on a huge scale
By a Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) member, Lagos
Some Nigerians may consider President Obasanjo’s regime current anti-corruption posture as serious, particularly as a handful of government officials were publicly exposed and sacked for being corrupt, and some were arraigned in the court of law for possible prosecution on corruption charges.
The list of the scapegoats in the latest anti-corruption publicity stunt by Obasanjo, the grand master of corruption himself, includes Tafa Balogun, (ex-Inspector General of Police forced to retire over N13 billion naira (US$ 98 million), illegally acquired wealth), Mrs. Bola Osomo, former Housing Minister dismissed over a federal government property sale scandal, Professor Fabian Osuji and Chief Adolphus Wabara, former Education Minister and Senate President, respectively, who lost their positions after facing corruption charges involving N55 million (US$ 417,000), in a Senate bribery to increase the budgetary allocation to the education ministry.
Previously, the Obsanjo regime also arraigned in court some of its top figures, including the deceased former Internal Affairs Minister, Sunday Afolabi, and two dismissed ministers over a national identity card scam worth US$242 million. However, nothing is heard any longer about this case after the demise of the principal culprit, Sunday Afolabi, who was earlier reported to have confessed that a substantial part of the stolen money was used to “capture” southwest Nigeria from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP).
As expected, the press is awash with praises by government officials, from all levels, who are themselves corrupt, for the anti-corruption stance of Obasanjo. This is done to try to deceive the public when, in actual fact, huge corruption continues unabated in the system and in the corridors of power. The whole national drama is a public relations stunt to deceive the so called ‘international community’, the much vaunted foreign investors, and ‘Transparency International’, the organisation that last year rated Nigeria the third most corrupt nation in the world!
Privatisation was the main thrust of the Obasanjo regime’s neo-liberal economic policies, since its inception, in 1999, apart from devaluation, commercialisation and cuts in government expenditure on social services. Which are all anti-poor economic policies determined by IMF/World Bank.
By design, the privatisation programme is to transfer ownership of public properties and investment to mega-rich, privileged private individuals and corporate bodies at give-away prices. The beneficiaries of these transactions are mostly government officials, their fronts and foreign partners. The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and the National Council of Privatisation (NCP) are the government’s octopus bodies perfected to hand over public property to private hands. Recently, the past activities of the bureau under El-Rufai, have been called into question, even from unexpected quarters – for example, the National Assembly with respect to the privatisation scandal in Nitel -Pentascope deal, the Ajaokuta Steel debt buy back, and Sheraton Hotels, which ran into billions of naira. Yet today, El-Rufai is the apple of the presidency’s eye.
The same regime has conveniently looked the other way against all cries that the former Works Minister, Tony Anenih, should be probed for squandering over 300 naira billion (US$ 2.25 billion) meant for federal road construction and maintenance. With nothing to justify the huge sum, the former minister and a close confidant of the president, rather than being investigated, was promoted to Chairman of the ruling party’s (PDP) board of trustees.
In the recent exposure of the fraudulent sales of 207 choice properties of federal government at Ikoyi, Lagos, five of the beneficiaries were direct relations (brothers, sisters and in-laws) of Stella Obasanjo, among other top government officials, including serving ministers, governors and senators.
The Ikoyi house sale scandal is a vivid example of what privatisation means in the true sense - legalised stealing of public wealth. Quoting ‘The Guardian’ (Sunday April 17, 2005, page 10) one of the affected occupants of the sold houses, a woman who resides at 25, Ilabere Street, called Ikoyi, has an agonizing tale to tell: “I am one of the victims. My house was sold. My husband, a Colonel, is still in service. As far back as 3rd of February, some guys came to inspect our house. They said that my house has been sold along with my neighbour’s house. They said they have documents from the ministry of Housing to back up their claims. They didn’t allow me to read the letter…I asked him who bought the house? He said it is a directive from the presidency, that an official in the presidency bought the two houses”.
The cancellation of the deal by the president was not a self-righteous step but a pre-emptive one, hurriedly taken to forestall embarrassment the deal would have caused him with the involvement of his household. Stella Obasanjo, using fronts, has her fingers in many blue chip companies. Her business involvement, and that of Gbenga Obasanjo, the President’s son in other shady deals, remains un-investigated.
The major face of corruption in the government is the privatisation programme, which sees government officials rush to buy under-valued public property with stolen public money. These properties/establishments are, in most cases, re-sold at exorbitant prices, while workers and residents are thrown out in order to maximize profit.
Obasanjo’s regime has made over N10 trillion, mainly from oil, in its six years in office, yet there is no visible development in infrastructure or standard of living of the poor masses. The lot of the people is unemployment, mass retrenchment, and insecurity of life and property. So, while government makes more money than ever before in the history of the country, life has become more miserable for the poor working masses.
According to the United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO), about $107 billion of Nigerian money is held in private accounts in Europe and the US. With the country’s fictitious foreign debt quoted at $35 billion, the World Bank says the country is now poorer in terms of income levels than Bangladesh.
The Department For International Development (DFID), says over 70% of Nigerians live on US$1 daily. Between 80 and 90 million are living in absolute poverty, while 29 percent of the country’s children are underweight. Yet, government embarks on wasteful spending on ‘white elephant’ projects, such as the 8th All-African Games (COJA), which swallowed N3 billion on official figures. The President has spent, as at the time of going to press, 512 days outside Nigeria, since coming to power, at a cost yet to be determined. Before the end of this year, another twenty one government establishments, including Nigerian Ports Authority, are to be sold off cheaply, to corrupt government officials and their business associates. The effect will be mass retrenchment of workers in those establishments, adding to country’s misery. The regime is united in corruption against the poor working masses.
The tough image against corruption being depicted by Obasanjo is mere political bravado. Nobody should be deceived. The regime is a child of corruption. The elections that brought Obasanjo and the ruling PDP to power were a monumental fraud. Apart from collecting money from dubious characters, including 419 fraudulent politicians and government officials to execute the elections, Obasanjo’s election in his home state, Ogun, was declared an electoral fraud by a court of law. Obasanjo was also an accomplice to several electoral frauds in different states.
It is not a hidden fact that before Obasanjo was sworn-in, in May 1999, the Obasanjo Otta Farm Project was completely abandoned. Where then did the resources come from that revamped the farm to a state where, according to Fani Kayode, it now generates N30 million as monthly profit?
Presently, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Iweala, earns a whooping sum of US$247,000 (not paid in naira!) per annum. On top of this, her housing, food, transportation, telephone, education and healthcare expenses and for her family, are completely borne by the government. This takes place in a country where the minimum wage is 5,500 naira and where tens of millions are jobless and without any social security payment.
If the regime is serious about fighting corruption all the political/ public office holders should first declare their assets and give periodic assessments; earn average wages of skilled workers; government should give adequate funding of social services and amenities like education, health, transportation, security, electricity etc. But the regime will never do this. On the contrary, public office holders earn fabulous salaries and allowances, with some receiving their salaries in dollars, inflating contracts, etc. This is combined with the policy of privatisations and the commercialisation of public utilities. This allows a handful of rich people to steal, via business fronts, to grab properties at give away prices, at the expense of the poor majority. In this kind of situation, the regime’s ‘crusade’ against corruption is a farce.
Under this capitalist regime, with its anti-worker, neo-liberal policies, the suffering of the workers and poor masses will continue. Things will get worse for Nigerian people. The coming period will witness more stealing of public fund by government officials, as they get ready to contest elections in 2007. The anti-people programmes of the regime means more jobs cuts, grinding poverty, starvation and homelessness for the poor working masses.
The only way forward is for the masses to rely on their own strength, and to mobilise, organise and build a movement that will struggle against the system. Such a movement needs the vision of replacing this unjust government with a working class-based government that will nationalise the commanding heights of the economy so that working people can begin to democratically plan the economy for common good. This can be achieved when workers, youth, farmers and the poor masses organise into a mass working class party with socialist perspective, programmes and ideas.
From a special May Day edition of ‘Socialist Democracy’, paper of the DSM, Nigeria
Committee for a Workers' International
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