Obasanjo and Policy Articulation

09 Jan 2013

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Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was recently reported as saying that while his administration laid the foundation for democracy it should be the task of succeeding governments to revamp the decaying infrastructure all over the country.

Obasanjo probably made the statement while he was in a mood to look back and forward on the Nigerian condition. And in sympathy with the former President’s view you could reasonably argue that, come to think of it, no administration could solve all the problems of a country; after all, governance is a continuum.

However, the point is worth stressing that more than any other political personality, Obasanjo has doubtless had a greater historical opportunity (in cumulative terms) to give leadership in transforming the poor condition.  Not a few critics would disagree with his claim of laying foundation for democracy. In fact, this assertion by Obasanjo is eminently suitable for a seminar any day! In the same vein, the former President remains a target of criticisms for what his administration’s monumental failure to improve the nation’s infrastructure despite the unprecedented oil revenues that flowed into the treasury during his time.  Indeed, the criticisms may even become more severe now that Obasanjo is now donning the garb of a critic of his successors. 

By the way, this is not the first time Obasanjo would admit that a lot has been left undone regarding infrastructure. Towards the twilight of his eight-year administration, the former President was reported as saying that he was “ashamed of federal roads”. If he was ashamed of federal roads six years ago, he would probably be stupefied at the state of the roads today if he travels on them across the country as most Nigerians are bound to do. It would not be out of place to expect further reflections from him on why things are so derelict in many departments of national life. Now, just like former President Ibrahim Babangida’s regime is still regarded as a turning point for the nation’s political economy in the last quarter of a century or so, Obasanjo’s administration will continue to be held responsible what has happened since 1999. There cannot be a rigorous discussion of the dispensation without interrogating what Obasanjo did or failed to do.

It should not, therefore, be a surprise that Obasanjo remains a constant figure in recent interpretations of Nigeria’s history.
For instance, Obasanjo’s politics has inexorably got more than a mention in two new books. They are the autobiographical reflections of former Rivers State governor, Dr. Peter Odili, entitled: “Conscience and History: My Story” and a documentation by the ace media team of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar with the obviously triumphalist title: “Atiku Media Office: The Wars, The Victories”. Two years ago, Cambridge Professor of African History, John Illife, came up with a “provisional biography” of the former President entitled: ”Obasanjo, Nigeria and the World”.

Illife‘s work is a scholastic study of Obasanjo, which has strangely received very little attention. It is good for the intellectual health of the public sphere that more of such publications should be welcome. It could be a cure for the bouts of collective amnesia in the public sphere, which, in the inimitable diagnosis of Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah, was once likened to an organisation whose management as a rule does not refer to the minutes of the last meeting in its discussions. There is a collective duty of faithfully keeping the memory of what happened as the future is approached with optimism. The obvious reason is the lesson to be learnt from the mistakes of the past.

It is, therefore, a good coincidence in this season of retrospection that another book would be publicly presented later in the month to further enrich the discussion of what happened under Obasanjo. The neatly produced book is entitled “The President Explains: Olusegun Obasanjo (GCFR). 1999-2007”. According to the publishers - Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) and Sola Ojewusi & Associates - the publication is “a compendium” of Obasanjo’s ‘policy views and statements” on a Radio Nigeria ‘s live programme dubbed “The President Explains”. So, it is a conversion into text what the President said in the course of interaction with the public on radio in a programme that recognised  “no go areas”, according to Dr. Eddie Iroh who, as the Director - General of FRCN at the time, was the executive producer of the programme. The content of the book is essentially a remarkable effort at policy articulation. You cannot read the explanations of policies embodied in the book and fail to at least concede that the problem with the Obasanjo administration was not so much that of policy articulation. Perhaps, a caveat is necessary here. 

This column is not even an attempt to review the book, which the well-revered scholar of development, Professor Akin Mabogunje, has adjudged, with a good measure of justification, as a “must read” for  “political leaders, policy makers, civil servants and the public at large”.  To be sure, the purpose here is to draw attention to how much the explanations given by Obasanjo in the book speak loudly to the present condition of this repeatedly misgoverned country.  It is to underline a useful lesson for President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed the state

governors that to make a success of policy, while articulation is important those saddled with responsibility of governance must be serious and honest in implementing the policies in the interest of the people. As diligently recorded   in “The President Explains”, Obasanjo told the Nigerian public on radio what his government was doing in the various of areas of development including reforms, poverty alleviation, healthcare delivery, education, food security, non-oil export, productivity, the New Partnership for African Development, fighting corruption and, of course, democratic development.  The former President responded to callers’ questions and observations with his usual candour. He was as chatty as you could imagine. 

It is, however, a sad a commentary on the Obasanjo era that most of the eloquently articulated policies were never accomplished despite stupendous resources available to the administration.  The publication of the “The President Explains” ought to provoke a vigorous debate on the Obasanjo legacy as a timely advice to Jonathan in the pursuit of his “transformation agenda”. 

That is the purpose of history.  For instance, on page 301 of the book, Obasanjo said assuredly: “I have taken power and security as two issues on which we are not going to compromise this year and in the rest of the administrations”. You would be right if you take that to be Jonathan speaking today. But it was Obasanjo talking during the 13th edition of the radio programme on February 26, 2005. The former President was at his best articulating his catalogue of reforms. Eight years later power and security still remain the issues. So much for policy articulation!

Today, Jonathan is also articulating the policies that make up his “transformation agenda”. Women and men of repute in his administration are doing so much to sell the agenda. The way it is presented if the agenda is accomplished, even revolutionaries may have very little to ask for in addition in their dream for the society. After all, the goal of a revolution is to transformation. Looking back at the Obasanjo era, Jonathan should earnestly learn from the mistake of his predecessor: it is not enough to proclaim a policy.  Competence at implementation should also be demonstrated.

Ogun is for Industrial Growth

Yusuph Olaniyonu

I  read the December 9, 2012 edition of the Sunday delight by my colleague and friend, Mr. Simon Kolawole, with some reservations. While I appreciate the philosophy behind the article en titled ‘Killing Industry Softly, Steadily’, which is to highlight the difficulties that entrepreneurs face in establishing or operating businesses across the country, I believe he had been misinformed by the person whose complaints he used in the early paragraphs.

From the story of the fellow, which Mr. Kolawole narrated in the article, four things came to the fore. One, he bought land somewhere in Mowe, Ogun State, from land speculators aka Omo Onile before the present administration in Ogun State assumed office. Two, he had to erect his own transformer for electricity supply and still greased the palms of PHCN officials and omo onile to get it installed.

Three, some local government officials later told him the land is under state government acquisition and therefore he had to go through ratification process which involves payment of some money. Four, a bank refused him loan facility on the claim that “Ogun state Governor is not signing C of O and Governor’s Consent”.

It is good for readers of Mr. Kolawole’s column to know that a top official of the State Government had invited the man through Mr. Kolawole and listened to his story. The fellow who bought lands from Omo Onile had without knowing opened himself to manipulation by them. The phenomenon of Omo Onile is one that one cannot easily eliminate from a culture in which the Land Use Act equally recognises customary rights of ownership of land. It is however good for a purchaser to do the normal checks with the Land Registry so as to know the status and history of the parcel of land in question before concluding the transaction.

The gentleman claims that he conducted a search prior to the commencement of the transaction and was informed that the land was free from government acquisition, but the land was subsequently acquired by government.

Instead of simply re-possessing any land under government acquisition which an individual purchased from Omo Onile, the Ogun State government has graciously agreed to give the owner the opportunity to ratify his or her ownership. The Amosun administration has reviewed the ratification process with a view to making it easier for the people who require it.

The ratification process entails the payment of stamp duty to the Inland Revenue Service and also fees including premium and capital contribution to the Bureau of Lands and Survey. It is this latter fee that the gentleman in question seeks a waiver for, claiming that the governor announced ‘waivers’ at a forum that he attended in the UK earlier in the year. For the avoidance of doubt, Governor Ibikunle Amosun announced rebate on land allocations at its Investors’ Forum held in Abeokuta March 2012.

Several notable companies have since taken advantage of this incentive which applied to all allocations made till December 31st 2012. Acquired land for which ratification was sought did not qualify for the rebate since government is already technically losing on income that would ordinarily have accrued to it had it made a direct allocation of the land in question.

On his having to purchase transformer to serve his factory, that is a problem created by the Federal Government, owner of PHCN. Even then, the Amosun administration has positively intervened in ensuring that our people have access to electricity supply through the purchase and distribution of 500 transformers to various communities across the state last May. That was the largest number of transformers ever bought at once by any state government.

Again, nothing is far from the truth on the claim by the complainant that the Ogun State Governor is not signing C of O. Apart from the fact that Governor Ibikunle Amosun had signed many C of Os whose files he inherited from the previous administration, he had taken measures to liberalise the process. For the first time in the history of our state, two commissioners have now been mandated by the governor to exercise the delegated powers to sign C of Os on privately acquired land so as to speed up the process. Also, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice now exercise the delegated power to sign Governor’s consent.

Ogun State Government insists on due process being followed in all cases regardless of the status of an applicant and that if anyone is in doubt, the person should visit the offices of the relevant agencies or the Department of Trade and Investments under the Governor’s Office for guidance.
For real, Ogun State is Open for Business.

•Olaniyonu is Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Ogun State

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