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Buhari, Abacha’s loot and the poor


Sani Abacha

As the administration of the President Muhammadu Buhari lurches into the twilight amid the fast-vanishing possibility of securing a second mandate, it flails in all directions in search of survival. It is striving currently to make the poor among us to accept as reality the illusion that it can ratchet up their fortunes in the remaining days.

It is an unrelieved illusion because since the administration has failed in three years to improve the lot of the people, it cannot in less than one year secure the acumen to accomplish this. Rather, the citizens should steel themselves for the prospect of their immiseration reaching its nadir in the remaining period of this administration.

Clearly, the plan by the Buhari government to pay N5,000 to each poor citizen cannot stave off this spectre. This amount is to be received by each poor citizen when the government shares the $322 million (about N98.2 billion) Abacha loot repatriated from Switzerland. This may appear to be a good idea that all citizens who are concerned about the wellbeing of the poor in our midst should support. Yet, this idea with all its seductive appeal should not make us lose sight of the crucial fact that the Buhari government’s plan rather amounts to self-indictment. For, we need not consider a N5,000 palliative now if the Buhari government had fulfilled its promise of improving the economy and making life buoyant for all. In fact, instead of life improving for the poor citizens since Buhari emerged as the president, it has worsened. Thus, the citizens are ready with a counter to the persistent claim of Buhari that the past government was an orgre sucking life out of them . Having come to terms with the fact that abundant life under Buhari is an illusion, all the citizens want is for the president and his officials to return them to the standard of living in the Jonathan era.

Yes, we appreciate the fact that the magic of perpetually eliminating the poorest of the poor from society is still elusive to mankind. Not even the self-styled socialist societies of yore nor the current pretenders to the throne of collective good have been able to banish poverty . But if the Buhari government had built on or retained the economy as bequeathed to it by the Jonathan government, there would be no need for this plan of giving pittances to the poor. The poor citizens would have been able to eke out a living no matter how hard it is. Hence, what the Buhari government has embarked upon is an indication of its lack of ideas on governance and the management of the economy .

Through this plan, the government has demonstrated its unabashed transformation of dilettantism into a staple of governance in the Buhari era. Here, we should remember Buhari’s proclivity for the canonisation of Abacha. Or have we forgotten that Buhari has consistently maintained that Abacha is only being pilloried by some misguided citizens who have failed to reckon with the great legacies of his good governance ? To Buhari, Abacha did not fit the mould of a kleptomaniac that roils the public imagination . But Buhari is yet to explain to us the fact of the recovery of Abacha’s loot that he would share to poor citizens. It thus becomes necessary that before Buhari even contemplates sharing the loot, he should discharge this moral burden. Buhari should apologise to the citizens for consistently afflicting them with the canard that Abacha was a moral exemplar who has only been maligned by his ever-increasing league of implacable traducers.

After this apology, the Buhari government should rethink its plan of sharing the recovered loot. In the first place, we are repulsed at the byzantine template through which the Buhari government has determined who are the poor among us. Since we cannot by any stretch of the imagination be persuaded that such a template privileges transparency and altruism, we are only left with the suspicion that the eventual destinations of the money are the private pockets of Buhari’s aides under the guise of giving it to the poor. Even if the money is really to be given out, it would only go to the supporters of the All Progressives Congress government as a down payment for votes in the next election. Again, if the money really gets to the poor among the citizens it would serve no purpose. It cannot improve their lives. What kind of business can N5,000 be used for ? This amount is not useful to a poor citizen who is contending with the challenges of food, shelter and the education of his or her children. If the Buhari government genuinely spares a thought for the poor, there is a better way of demonstrating this. The poor do not need handouts. They are aware that the nation is endowed with resources that could guarantee an abundant life for them. What they want is an equitable distribution of these resources. They want to be given the best medical attention like Buhari and his family when they are sick. It is not only Buhari and his son who should be flown abroad at the nation’s expense when they are sick. It is not only Buhari’s aides and lawmakers they should enjoy the abundance of the land. Does Buhari really expect an indigene of the Niger Delta to applaud him because he wants to give him or her N5,000 from the oil revenue Abacha stole from him or her? This citizen is already weighed down by sicknesses and diseases inflicted by oil companies. He or she chokes under blindness, cancer, bareness, etc. The N5,000 cannot take care of these sicknesses. While this is their lot, those who exploit the oil resources in their land are billionaires who are living life to the hilt.

What the poor need to improve their lot is more serious than the escapist idea of giving them N5,000 each. The government should rather think of real policies to improve their lives. The government should give them a secure environment. The farm of a poor beneficiary is not safe for him to return and deploy the money. If he or she uses the money to plant crops, Fulani herdsmen are waiting in the wings to unleash their cows on them. Also, a secure environment would attract investors who would provide employment opportunities for the poor. But how would investors come to the Nigerian environment that is riven with killings and official corruption?

Instead of the government making the recovered loot vulnerable to being re-looted, it could be deployed in ways that would redound to creative thinking and good governance. It should be used to prosecute a campaign of adult literacy. Or such a campaign could focus on removing our youths from their mobile phones and television sets and taking them back to the libraries. Our youths should be made to be more enamoured of the pleasures of reading a 500-page fictional or non-fictional work than dissipating their time and energies on selfies and inundating their minds with the drivel on their phones. The money could be used to improve or build a library each in the 774 local government areas of the country. About N126.88 million that would accrue to each local government out of the N98.2 billion is enough to achieve this.

Apart from the education of the youths and weaning them off anti-social predilections, such libraries could serve another purpose. Each could be called Sani Abacha Loot Library. Or the government could use the money to sponsor free cancer treatment for all citizens at the Universities of Lagos and Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University and University of Nigeria, Nsukka . The cancer centre in each of the universities should bear the name, Sani Abacha Loot Cancer Centre. Such a name would serve as a searing rebuke to the memory of the late thieving military dictator and a warning to the living that they could also have their names emblazoned in the hall of infamy if they take the kleptocratic route of Abacha while pretending to serve the citizens.

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