THE president has come back from China where he had gone on a state visit. He came with what members of the cabinet would want to describe as a bag of goodies. When fully implemented, the goodies would do wonders for our economy. The American dollar will reach rock bottom in terms of exchange as trade between the two countries would be denominated in the Yuan, the Chinese currency, which would reduce the pressure on the dollars.
Former Lagos governor and Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola was the first to draw our attention to the many advantages of the trip. In a write up which he entitled, ‘PMB’s foreign trips, my take away’, the minister pointed out that the trips of PMB was to repair the damages done by the previous administration to the country’s reputation.
‘This is why PMB is traveling. To repair our reputation severely damaged by the last government’. As much as I agree on the need for the president to travel to secure international cooperation, I disagree with the minister on the demonization or singling out the immediate past administration as having damaged the reputation of our country. What about the administration before the Goodluck Jonathan’s? Did the minister single out that administration because the Jonathan administration bashing is trending and everybody must take a little bite from the hides of the immediate past government. What about former president Olusegun Obasanjo administration? Are we saying the country was well served during that era or that the country got the best deal? If I recall, it was during the Obasanjo era that a democratic government started dealing with the Chinese on rail projects. What do we have to show for it?
Was there no monumental corruption during that era too? The Abuja rail project to the Chinese company, Chinese Civil Engineering Company was awarded in 2007 by Obasanjo without an engineering design and an MOU while the former FCT minister and Kaduna governor, Malam Nasir el- Rufai signed off $841m on that project based on an uncalculated estimate. That same contract was alleged to have been inflated at $10m per kilometer. The length of the project which was about 60kms was reduced to 45kms with no refund of the money for that reduction. Thankfully, the House of Representative has instituted a probe into the rail contract and has directed about six companies to refund N2.5 billion.
Have we so soon forgotten the Transcorp deal, a shell company that was created during that administration and through which the former president was able to corner substantial shares through the Obasanjo holdings limited. Transcorp was awarded oil blocks, it also, with government support, acquired Nicon-Hilton hotel. What about the Obasanjo library project worth N7billion in which individuals and corporate organizations were forced to donate money? All these were challenged by the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi who sought to drag Obasanjo to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for using his position to acquire all the above. What about the Petroleum Trust Development Fund, (PTDF) scandal which indicted the former president and his personal aide, Adeyanju Bodunde. The former president was also alleged to have paid N250 million of PTDF money to a lawyer to register a company, Galaxy Backbone.
In 1999 shortly before his assumption of office, el-Rufai had revealed that the former president had only N20,000 in his bank account. The Obasanjo Farm was moribund and was going under, but the story changed when Obasanjo became president.
Nigerians have also forgotten that about $12billion was squandered on electricity for which we have nothing to show for it and for which Fashola can also attest to as he is grappling with the same problem today.
As much as I am not making any case for the Jonathan administration, it is only fair to jog our memory and remind the minister and some other people that corruption was not restricted to the Jonathan administration while damage to the nation’s reputation also predates that administration.
And that’s not even talking about what transpired during the military interregnum that brought in Gen Sani Abacha. I am not sure whether we have been able to put a figure to how much that dark-goggled, military dictator stole. Till date, the humongous amount stolen by Abacha is still being returned to the country. If that did not damage the country’s reputation, I wonder what did.
Back to the China trip, as much as I welcome the initiative of this administration, we should thread with caution. It is not in doubt that the country’s economy is in dire strait, but we should not put all our hopes on China offering a blanket solution to our problems. No country would open all its doors for you to take all the best out of that country. The law of self preservation does not allow that. Not only that, it is important to equally consider the industries that have been striving in this country and see how they can also benefit from the ‘economic revival’. What would be the benefit for our local industries? Would they thrive under this new found love for everything Chinese? I recall that one of the highlights of the China trip was discussion on the manufacture of prepaid meters, I am aware that a whole lot of massive investment had been made by local manufacturers in this regard. Some of them have taken bank loans to fund prepaid meter manufacture, what happens to these set of people? Where do they go when we start importing or bringing in prepaid meters from China? Are we not telling these people to go and commit suicide, both literally and figuratively?
What really is the economic blue print of this administration? Is the China trip part of that? Where do we go from there assuming things didn’t go as expected? I pray that it would not be so.
What about our traditional trading partners like the US and Britain? Where does this leave them? With eggs on their faces? How would that eventually affect relationship with those countries? These are things that have to be critically considered?