The new Atiku Abubakar and his old habits
By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Atiku will sell the NNPC. We know he will. They sold quite a lot the last time. So he didn’t need to swear he would do it.
Let his word learn to be his word. Privatization is good. Privatization of inefficient government companies would benefit the public.
But Atiku must speak with circumspection. We know he is born again. We know the Nigerian public has suffered bouts of amnesia. But old things haven’t quite passed away. They don’t pass away that quickly from the memory of the public.
Privatization is good if it is done for public good. It is done for public good when it is done transparently, with good faith, and to improve the economy and social service. But privatization could be the easiest way to steal the commonwealth of a nation.
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When scoundrels sell public assets to their friends and cronies to enrich them they would also claim privatization.
NEPA was sold a few years ago. The process was bereft of good faith. The assets fell into incompetent hands whose only qualification was their closeness to power. Rather than improve electricity, these wretched companies have worsened the plight of the public and left everyone with sufficient hopelessness.
Atiku will sell the NNPC. But he doesn’t have to create the impression that doing so would mean taking the bull by the horns. So he didn’t need to get all that dramatic. We don’t need a cowardly president. He didn’t need to tell us that he wouldn’t mind being killed for doing so. Why would anyone kill Atiku for selling the NNPC? There must be some entrenched interests that would throw tantrums and mourn the privatization of the NNPC.
But only a cowardly president fears for his life, and fears for it openly, when he takes hard decisions. It’s possible Atiku now imagines himself a freedom fighter.
We know that Atiku is rebranding. And it’s perhaps good to present himself as a crusader once in a while. But Atiku must be careful with his words. We know he is part of the system. He has benefited immensely from government patronage.
A man who lives off collecting taxes for government and pocketing his commissions can’t pretend too much about hating entrenched interests. Atiku would have improved credibility if the public sees him as a new convert—sinner struggling for holiness, rather than a blooming Pharisee.
Of late he has managed to find the courage to speak vehemently against corruption. He now says he will find and jail looters of the public treasury. That is heart warming. But he has to circumcise his tongue.
A few days ago while swearing that he would sell the NNPC, he was heard saying that there was nothing wrong with his friends becoming rich when he became president. He said his friends would also be entitled to be rich.
That’s the problem. He has to speak with candor but he must not leave people wondering whether he is the same old Atiku.
Those who fear an Atiku presidency fear a return to an ugly past. A past where those who had access to the president had access to money and to the juicy fruits of privatization. I know cronyism still lives today. But we remember a past where the presidency publicly rewarded its friends with public assets in the name of building a new Nigerian economy.
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Defecation may be dirty and is inevitable, but doing it in public is utterly obscene. Open defecation could cause epidemics. The normalization of open defecation is atrocious for another reason. It can cause quick moral decline.
Oby Ezekwesili revealed something nightmarish about Atiku recently. Atiku was the head of the Obasanjo Economic Team at some point. The team was championing revolutionary economic ideas. They were privatizing public assets and installing due process mechanisms. Atiku was taking some credit for tackling corruption. But behind the scenes, somebody was diligently throwing cogs in the wheel of the due process machinery.
Oby Ezekwesili said that Atiku was her biggest obstacle while she was establishing the Due process office and protocols. In other words, Atiku, contrary to posturing, actually preferred an economic space where opacity and arbitrariness ruled. Atiku has not contradicted Oby Ezekwesili’s revelations. Obasanjo had said similar things about Atiku in the past.
Those who dread an Atiku presidency dread a return to an era where opportunism didn’t just exist but was ordained from the top. The presidency could openly announce a Mr Fix it. And he would do odd things in secret and in public for the president. No one would pretend about any righteousness. Governors who oppose the president could be removed by one or two members of the House of Assembly. The courts would return after sufficient damage had been done.
No one wants a president who lacks moral fibre in 2019.
We may not have seen quite the change we hoped for. But a swift return to business -as-usual will be calamitous. One thing is certain, our population is growing at an alarming rate. We are bedeviled by a hemorrhagic insurgency. We cannot relapse into a state where no one can look up to the top for moral inspiration.
It’s bad enough that things like Abdulrasheed Maina have happened recently. We had thought they were impossible with any Buhari, even a toothless Buhari. We have seen the leprous hands of an amorphous cabal. We have been baffled by their power and sheer freedom. But we don’t want a president who may be crippled by new scandals from the past. And Wikkileaks are adept at causing such sorrows.
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We need moral regeneration. Many think that if Buhari rediscovers himself, his old self of 1984, we may sing Uhuru. But we don’t need a president who just can’t champion moral regeneration, who can’t simply make us hope.
Atiku has to show that old things have actually passed away. And that his presidency would not enrich his friends at the expense of the masses.