Former vice president and perennial presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar was at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on Wednesday, hoping to burnish his reputation as the capable hands Nigeria needs at the helm in these unstable times. But instead of looking like a stand-up leader, he fell flat on his face.
Atiku, who was VP from 1999-2007 under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, was speaking on “the importance of strengthening states’ economic management” and his focus was on the current fad of “restructuring”.
Watch the speech below:
His speech was the usual self-justifying claptrap, but it started badly for a man who has turned political prostitution into an art. In less than 10 years, he has left the PDP for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), returned to the PDP, left again for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and returned again to the PDP last year – all in a desperate bid to be president. He was also not that successful working the monitor for his prepared text. A former special assistant for ex president Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri came on stage to fix the monitor for Atiku. Omokri was most likely the author of speech. It explained why a questioner towards the end said he had heard it all before and there was nothing new in what Atiku said. It was the same recycled nonsense, same as the speaker.
Atiku said he was a widely-travelled man. His travels can’t include the United States because he may be arrested on fraud charges.
He claimed credit for the debt “relief” deal under the Obasanjo administration. Patrick Bond in his book “Looting Africa” called that deal a “scam”:
The particular case of Nigeria is worth contemplating, in the wake of its October 2005 agreement with the following Paris Club countries, which were owed $30 billion: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and US. As the IMF explained,
The agreement envisages a phased approach, in which Nigeria would clear its arrears in full, receive a debt write-off up to Naples terms, and buy back the remainder of its debt. The agreement is conditional on a favorable review of its macroeconomic and structural policies supported by the Fund under a nonfinancial arrangement. The underlying agenda came to fruition on October 20. Nigeria, $6.3 billion in arrears, would first pay $12.4 billion in up-front payments.
As Rob Weissman of Multinational Monitor reported,
You can celebrate this deal, as the Paris Club does, if you ignore the fact that creditors generally write down bad debts as a matter of course (not charity), the billions over principle that Nigeria has already sent out of the country, the fact that the deal imposes IMF conditionality on Nigeria (even though the IMF isn’t providing credit to the country), and the reality of the severe poverty in Nigeria.
According to the leader of Nigeria’s Jubilee network, Rev. David Ugolor,
The Paris Club cannot expect Nigeria, freed from over 30 years of military rule, to muster $12.4 billion to pay off interest and penalties incurred by the military. Since the debt, by President Obasanjo’s own admission, is of dubious origin, the issues of the responsibilities of the creditors must be put on the table at the Paris Club. As desirable as an exit from debt peonage is, it is scandalous for a poor debt distressed country, which cannot afford to pay $2 billion in annual debt service payments, to part with $6 billion up front or $12 billion in three months or even one year.
Similarly, remarked the Global AIDS Alliance,
The creditors should be ashamed of themselves if they simply take this money [$12.4 billion]. These creditors often knew that the money would be siphoned off by dictators and deposited in western banks, and the resulting debt is morally illegitimate. They bear a moral obligation to think more creatively about how to use this money. Nigeria has already paid these creditors $11.6 billion in debt service since 1985.
The next step in the scam was for president Obasanjo to agree to a reimposition of neoliberal policies by the IMF, under the rubric of the new ‘Policy Support Instrument’ (PSI). That instrument also deserves further consideration. According to Jubilee Africa’s Soren Ambrose,
The Paris Club requires that countries applying for relief be under an IMF program, but the prospect of agreeing to one is political dynamite in Nigeria. The Paris Club was however under great pressure to complete a landmark deal with Nigeria, where the legislature had threatened to simply repudiate the debts, so the PSI was deemed an acceptable alternative. Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters on May 18 that ‘the IMF makes sure it is as stringent as an upper credit tranche programme and then monitors it like a regular program, but the difference is that you develop it and you own it.
Indeed, the core message of the PSI document released by the IMF is its desire to retain effective control of African countries’ macroeconomic policies, on behalf of ‘donor’ countries (i.e., its shareholders):
Around 40% of donors expressed a need for on/off signals, and a majority for multidimensional assessments. According to the survey, the Fund is expected to assess, first and foremost, macroeconomic performance and policies. Like low-income members, donors consider a quantified medium term macroeconomic framework—with quarterly or semi-annual targets—to be essential for the assessment of policies and progress made. Most also expect the Fund to assess structural reforms that are either macroeconomically critical, or within the Fund’s core areas (e.g., tax system, exchange system, financial sector).
This represents, simply, the expansion of the existing system of control of debtor countries, to those countries which won’t be so indebted in a formal sense, and hence which need more IMF ‘signaling’ to donors than is feasible with the standard annual Article IV surveillance reports. What the Nigerian case illustrates is that the IMF is pulling strings on behalf of the G8 ‘donor’ countries, and that the G8 will continue to support the IMF if such functions benefit northern countries.
Atiku, Obasanjo and Okojo-Iweala are grateful that many Nigerians do not pay attention to the details. Next for him was to big up privatisations during his spell as VP. Another VP, Namadi Sambo, said that 80% of privatisations in Nigeria had failed. Many of the former public companies were sold to cronies at knockdown prices.
Atiku claimed he was a successful businessman who set up a new enterprise every year to employ Nigerians. He was silent about how he made the billions in the first place. He worked in the Nigerian Customs Service, one of the country’s most corrupt agencies, for 20 years. That was the primary source of his wealth. When he spoke about restructuring he said the federal government controlled too much, without addressing how he became a fat cat from feasting on a federal agency.
He repeated the same banality about restructuring with claims about “true federalism”, “competition among federating units” and how all this was great during Nigeria’s First Republic. For someone who claimed later that he advocated the return of history to the schools’ curriculum, his ignorance of Nigeria’s history was in full glare. The claims about a successful form of regionalism during the First Republic were exposed as hollow here:
The Q&A session afterwards was far more interesting and showed how unprepared Atiku was for the presidency, despite his eight years as VP. In fact, his unpreparedness was reminiscent of the man he is seeking to replace. Like Buhari when he was a candidate, Atiku couldn’t adequately address questions such as the human factor being a problem in the country and not the structure. He failed to show how he could deliver the government’s part of the “social contract” with the citizens in terms of basic services, only saying anyone that didn’t deliver should be voted out.
After claiming that nobody should be voted for if they had no plans to deliver and that “slogans can’t take the place of plans”, there was a lot sloganeering in his pitch. When he was asked about specifics, he said “I will not tell you how I will deal with it”, “we will look at it when we get there”, and so on. He couldn’t even answer a question closer to home for him – would he run as an independent if he failed to secure the PDP nomination. He said “wait until until that time”.
Questioned on Buhari’s comment that women belonged in the kitchen, Atiku said he ran a micro-finance bank where he instructed the staff to give 80% of the loans to women. He said women would always pay back but you never knew with men, suggesting men were fraudulent. He must have been thinking all men were like him.
In the audience was Peter Obi, a former two-term governor of Anambra State. Obi has a lot in common with Atiku – corruption, carpet-crossing and the lecturing about governance covering stuff they chose not to do while in office. As the questioner in the audience alluded, these people have nothing to offer but more of the same.