The American epic crime movie, The Godfather, released in 1972 by Francis Ford Coppola was a must-watch for the young generation in the late 70s and early 80s. I can recollect vividly, graphically most of the scenes from the three-part blockbuster of a movie. Family wealth, inheritance, the heir to the wealth, and all the blood baths that followed made the movie very intriguing and spell-bounding then, and perhaps even, till now.
The godfather never sleeps. So, the saying goes in local parlance. They come in various taxonomy. Leader. Mentor. General Overseer. Chairman.
However, they all surreptitiously, playing the role of a godfather. The followers or believers worship them. The more power and influence the position of the godfather occupies, the intensity of the god worshipping. From Church Offices, Board Rooms, to political groupings, it is the same all over. Even in sporting circles.
Of all our leaders, here in Nigeria, past, and present, late Gen. Sani Abacha (GCFR) appeared the least equipped or naturally endowed to play a godfather’s role. He simply lacked the personality and the aura necessary for such an epic role. He was never known to be vivacious. Not a man of many words. And worst, he carried this cold personality and an air of egotism around him.
I also can recollect my first and only meeting and interaction with him. I was a cub reporter with the Ibadan Regional Office of the National Concord newspapers. The 2nd Mechanized Division of the Nigeria Army which he headed as the GOC organized a shooting competition for its soldiers and on the closing ceremony media men were invited to witness their shooting skills. After the ceremony, the Division hosted the media guys at the Officers’ Mess. An opportunity to take the General on some threading national issues. We thought we prepared our questions. We cross-checked with each other to make sure there were no conflicts. We sat leisurely on the couch. There were lots to eat and drink. The then Military President, Gen. IBB was showily moving from chair to chair, table to table throwing banters with everyone around. We had planned to ambush the two Generals separately. We were successful with IBB. As he was leaving he detailed his Military Attaché to bid us farewell. We were delighted. Mow our next target, the host GOC. Big front-page stories loading, I chuckled. But alas, Sani Abacha when we moved towards him, he turned coldly, with an expressionless face, sized us all up, and maybe took a count of us. He brought an envelope and tossed it to us. ‘Go and write about the competition and the winners. If you like, include your launch and drink’. He said coldly, entered his car and zoomed off. Ever since then, the General never impressed me at all. I never saw any positives in his loathsome regime. But of late, I started having a rethink about the late General. If one is to believe his CSO, Major El Mustapha, Gen. Abacha as Head of State had several foreign accounts in Europe and United States and had in an unorthodox way moved several billions of US dollars into these foreign accounts. Aim? Saving towards a day or time like this. Like the Yoruba people of South West, Nigeria would say: He fetched water before thirst would come!
The ‘withdrawal’ from this wild unorthodox savings have been the oil that has been powering both the political and economic engine of the country since 1999. The first inkling of this unbudgeted largesse was during the Gen. Abdulsalami regime. He was able to ‘withdraw’ 750 USD in 1999. Then came the Fourth Republic with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo at the helms of affairs. By the year 2002, the regime retrieved 1.2 billion USD. With this largesse, the regime just abandoned all other areas of generating revenues. It concentrated on ‘withdrawing’ from the surreptitious accounts. This left gaping holes in the system. Public Officeholders were thus left in a free reign of lootings. Free money was come from the late goggled General’s accounts and so no need bothering about what happened locally. By 2003, another 149 million USD came in. This was followed in 2004 by another handsome 500 million USD. The regime became hysterical. It totally went into blind and crazy spending. As unwise as it sounds, an odious agenda of the Third Term was introduced. The economy was on a quicksand, no many took notice. Money, free money was all over the place. Nobody cared about anything. Before the regime drained the 500 million USD ‘withdrawal’ another ‘withdrawal’ of 458 million USD flowed in.
The bottomless pit was there. The next government never learned from past profligacies. The first ‘withdrawal’ made by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was a hefty 1.2 billion USD. This was in 2012. Then the regime became eccentric. Free money flew in with no plans in mind. It went on a blind spending spree. Come in 2013, another 380 million USD came in and this was followed in quick succession by the ‘withdrawals’ of 227 million USD and 68 million USD respectively in 2014.
Sadly, the nation more, or less wasted all these humongous free funds saved for the raining days by our ‘godfather’. No one could, with all certainty point to one project executed with the funds. The people ate good Thailand and Indian rice, ate Turkey, and drank good wines. Sadly, that was all! Then wasted them all via the latrines (toilet).
By 2015, the nation’s economy was showing signs of a virus attack. It became very sick. It was this almost prostrate economy that was handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari. At a point, the President was also infected by the virus. The country was almost comatose. Then the ‘godfather’ smiled on the country. After all, “The godfather never sleeps”. In 2017, 322 million USD was ‘withdrawn’ from one of the hidden accounts the ‘godfather’ had opened for the country. The economy regained some strength, so also was the ailing President. A cure or is it a vaccine has been found for the virus attack. By 2019, another 308 million USD was withdrawn to fund the nebulous Social Intervention Program. And just now that oil prices have plummeted in the world market, another manna of 312 million USD fell from another account.
In total, the successive governments have withdrawn so far, a total sum of 5.342 billion USD from the late General Sani Abacha Special Intervention Saving Funds accounts. This is, however, less the several billions of USD and other assets the family forfeited to the government of Goodluck after a plea bargain agreement was reached in 2014.
Whatever the language used to describe this largesse, if you like call it ‘loots’, if you like, call it ‘assets, my own is that it is an unintentional divine saving, a Special Intervention Saving Funds that God in His infinite wisdom prepared the late dark-goggled General to save for a season like this. Therefore, late Gen. Abacha has been faithful, without failing, playing this unusual role of a godfather to the country since 1999. The nation ought to be grateful. That is on one side. The other side is the need to ask ourselves what we have done with the 5.432 billion USD which will in today’s exchange rate be 1,992,73.00 Trillion Naira so far withdrawn from these Special Intervention Saving Funds accounts.
I doubt if anyone has a faint knowledge of the total amount of monies stashed in these accounts. Perhaps, we might have just ‘withdrawn’ the last penny, perhaps, not. No one can pointedly tell. A sensible government will act as if every ‘withdrawal’ is the last and that anything that comes later, shall be treated as a bonus. We can use whatever comes in now to plug the gaping holes in the economy.
I read the Garba Shehu, Presidential Spokesman’s release on how 10 million USD will be given to Kano State to fight COVID-19 pandemic, currently ravaging the State. How Lagos/Ibadan, Kaduna/Kano Expressways, and the 2nd Niger Bridge shall gulp the rest. I am least impressed by this, at all. Agreed, Oil prices have plummeted at World Oil markets and that there is low or zero demands, although this morning there is cheery news of Crude price rising to 30 USD per barrel in the news. Still, I am not converted that this largesse, assets or loots, should be used to find these marked projects. We do not need a soothsayer or a marabout to tell us that the economy may soon enter another recession. The signs are ominous enough for a discerning mind to see. The COVID-19 pandemic is still not out of sight. Our major concern now as a nation should be how to grow the economy back to buoyancy and not any political spending.
Except the government has some privileged information about some other ‘godfathers’ who may just be around the corner and may start making free, unearned ‘assets’, ‘loots’, into the economy, all hands must be on deck to save the ‘sinking ship of the nation’s economy’, if I am permitted to use the words of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his letter to President Shehu Shagari in August of 1981.
Afolayan Adebiyi, writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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