By Emmanuel Nduka
Just recently in November, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Nuhu Ribadu lamented that his principal – President Bola Tinubu inherited a thoroughly looted and bankrupt country from former President Muhammadu Buhari, and that the revenue currently being generated by the new administration, is being used to service what was taken from the country. President Tinubu himself was quoted as saying: “I inherited serious liabilities, but also assets”.
But Buhari did not necessarily plunder the country of his own will. His Cabinet Members were at the vanguard of the economic wreckage. The level of rot left behind by Buhari’s administration was a complete reverse of expectations, especially as his selling point in 2015 prior to his emergence as President, was his seeming zero tolerance for corruption.
Local newspaper BusinessDay quoted Segun Adeniyi of the Baze University as saying that Nigeria found itself in the situation that Buhari and co left it due to “several years of consistent poor management of resources and corruption”. Under the Buhari administration, Nigeria witnessed the lowest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in history. It fell woefully from $2.2bn in 2014 to $0.47bn in 2022.
Borrowing, Taxing Nigerians To Recoup
On August 8, President Tinubu inaugurated the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, headed by Taiwo Oyedele, with a mandate to generate revenue and achieve an 18 percent tax-to-GDP ratio within three years.
Recent statistics from Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) showed that the country’s public debt reached N87.91 trillion by the end of the third quarter of 2023. This was a 0.61 percent increase from the June 2023 figure of N87.38 trillion. Already, Tinubu is poised to borrow $7 billion. Last month, he sought the National Assembly’s approval to borrow the said amount to develop “infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, security and employment, as well as financial management reforms”.
Tinubu and his clique are now junketing from country to country, begging for funds. One of such trips was his recent voyage to Saudi Arabia, where he sought a multi-billion fund from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to “finance infrastructure”.
At the recently concluded COP28 Summit held in the UAE, Nigeria’s President made history by becoming one of the top five countries that attended with the largest contingent (1,411, out of which he argued that he only sponsored 422 delegates) again, with their main agenda being to look for funds.
Buhari’s Economic Wreckage
Late Isa Funtua, a foremost journalist, in-law and ally to Buhari, was rumored to be among the three musketeers whose cabal wielded enormous power and held the country to hostage. In 2020, a trending picture of his appeared on social media, where it appeared as if embattled former CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele was obediently taking instructions from him. That was how powerful Funtua was under Buhari’s nose.
Around the end of Buhari’s first tenure in 2019, bank statements obtained by Peoples Gazette revealed that Funtua using his Company Bulet International Nigeria Limited, fraudulently received N840 million in four tranches between March and June 2019. He was purported to have died from anxiety of too much favour meted at him by Buhari.
There was also a semi-smart Tunde Sabiu Yusuf, a nephew and personal secretary to Buhari, whose doings was shrouded in controversy and secrecy. The son of Buhari’s niece, Tunde was named after the renowned Tunde Idiagbon who served Buhari as Chief of Staff during his first stint as Nigeria’s military ruler between 1983 and 1985. It is said that both share similar traits.
The recently released report by Jim Obaze, Tinubu’s special investigator on the CBN and related entities, fingered Yusuf as the initiator of the redesign of the naira notes prior to the February 25 and March 11 polls. He was said to have birthed the idea, and suggested it to Emefiele during his visit to the Presidential Villa in September last year.
His influence was such that the naira redesign idea was sold to Buhari at his instance, and was executed without the approval of the CBN board, the Obaze report stated. And now Emefiele is being dragged neck, hands and legs as the sacrificial lamb.
As per Abubakar Malami, Buhari’s Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, The Cable exclusively reported in July this year that he will be questioned over at least five suspicious transactions during his time in office.
“The mysterious payment of $496 million to Global Steel Holdings Ltd (GSHL) as settlement for the termination of the Ajaokuta Steel concession nine years after the Indian company had waved all claims for compensation.
“His handling of the sale of assets worth billions of naira forfeited to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by politically exposed persons.
“His role in the $419 million judgment debt awarded to consultants who claimed to have facilitated the Paris Club refunds to the states.
“The strange agreement to pay Sunrise Power $200 million compensation in its dispute with the federal government over the Mambilla power project.
“The duplicated legal fees in the transfer of $321 million Abacha loot from Switzerland to Nigeria,” The Cable listed.
In June this year, President Tinubu suspended another of Buhari’s boy, Abdulrasheed Bawa, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and ordered an investigation into his dealings in office, following “weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against” him.
About the time he was released in October this year after spending four months in incarceration, Sahara Reporters published that Nigeria’s Secret Police had retrieved nearly N600 million from the former Chairman of Nigeria’s anti-corruption body. Sahara Reporters also reported, quoting sources, that Bawa was also accused of “shielding former Governor of Zamfara, Abdullaziz Yari, while helping him to hunt down his opponents”.
On his part, Hadi Sirika, Buhari’s Aviation Minister, scammed Nigerians in broad day light. He was one of the closest ministers to Buhari, thus he could easily get the egg head’s nod in the affirmative to every suggestion on the fraud-riddled Nigeria Air misadventure.
Heritage Times HT had exclusively reported how Sirika was in a hurry to unveil what has not even been given the operating license to fly, just on the eve of his exit from office. He allegedly paid $600,000 to a firm in Bahrain to design the Nigeria Air logo. He later denied paying such humungous amount, but failed to disclose what it actually cost the nation to engage a foreign company to design a logo that many Nigerian companies could have done even better.
Sirika’s unveiling of Nigeria Air started with theatrics and ended with even more theatrics bordering on convoluted corruption with all the shades of financial fraud, international embarrassment and national image battering. The story of Nigeria Air scripted by Sirika embodied everything that is wrong with Nigeria as regards public funds administration, fiscal prudence and impunity of public office holders.
In the aftermath of the noise generated by the Sirika show of shame, Nigeria’s Parliament urged President Tinubu to constitute a high-level Presidential Committee to undertake a holistic review of the processes of the Nigeria Air project. Lawmaker Nnolim Nnaji who chaired the Committee on Aviation said: “We want to put on record, that the Committee and indeed the National Assembly had no role in the purported launch of Nigeria Air or anything related thereof”. He expressed the displeasure of the Committee at the desperation of Sirika in going ahead to flag off the operations of Nigeria Air in spite of a standing court injunction against such.
The verdict of the Committee was that the exercise was “highly opaque, shrouded in secrecy, shoddy and capable of ridiculing and tarnishing the image of Nigeria before the international community. “The Committee and indeed the Parliament is not opposed to Nigeria having a National Carrier, as a matter of fact having a National Carrier is highly desirable to us as a people and Nigeria, as a nation,” the lawmaker said.
The Committee consequently directed the Federal Ministry of Aviation and its partners in the Nigeria Air project to immediately suspend flight operations and every other action with respect to Nigeria Air. “Looking at the total amount required to fully start the airline which is put at $250 million, the Nigerian government and its citizenry can raise these funds without necessarily subjecting itself to the ridicule we have been exposed to by this recent episode,” the Committee said.
The Last Woman Standing
Hadjiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, Buhari’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, was linked to a N2.67bn school feeding fraud uncovered by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). She has since denied her involvement in the saga.
She was also accused of diverting intervention funds earmarked to rebuild infrastructure and institutions in Nigeria’s Northeast region in the aftermath of destructive activities of Boko Haram. The former minister was accused of turning both the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) to “her Automated Teller Machines, where funds are taken at her conveniences,” as per Sahara Reporters citing ministry sources.
For the sins of all these disciples of Buhari and many others, Emefiele is being dragged in public shame and humiliation. He is the official national scape goat. While he is not also with clean hands, Emefiele’s case is that of selective justice in the temple of morals.
At least the Obaze findings has shown that there were clear indications of a conspiracy of wrecking the country. But maybe Emefiele is singled out to pay for his sins and those of others because he is a southerner, while the others walk freely because they share same ancestral lineage with the former President.