Until the presidency brings out the relevant ministerial team to inform Nigerians on this issue, we are inclined to appreciate and believe Mrs. Ezekwesili. And that is morally in order in an open, inclusive, civilized and democratic society we aspire to be.
Oby Ezekwesili’s allegation that General Obasanjo’s administration left $67 billion savings in the country’s treasury in 2007 and that President Jonathan’ s administration has nothing to show for it has produced furious denials and counter denials across the aisle between members of Nigerian ruling elites. Both yesterday’s and today’s members of the ruling elites ought to know the truth because Mrs. Ezekwesili is a prominent member of the governing elites. She left General Obasanjo’s administration as the minister for education. Also, members of today’s governing elites which include Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister for our economy; Diezani Alison-Madueke, minister for petroleum; Mohammed Adoke, minister for Justice; Lamido Sanusi, Governor, Central Bank; Labaran Maku, minister for information; Doyin Okupe, senior assistant on public affairs; and Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on the media, ought to know
Looking at the issue and those involved, it shows that contrary to those who argue that the problems in our country is ethnic, the Oby Ezekwesili $67billion Obasanjo administration savings controversy happily puts a stop to that. It shows that our problem is not ethnic but that of social class that lacks basic ethics. Whoever wants to advance the ethnic as our main problem should please re-think and go for more serious argument. I maintain this position for the following reasons.
In the midst of the controversy, truth, ethics and arithmetic are the first line of casualties. So it is important to restate exactly what Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili said. She said “The present cycle of boom of the 2010s is however much more vexing than the other four that happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s…It is happening back to back with the squandering of the significant sum of $45 Billion in foreign reserve account and another $22Billion in the Excess Crude Account being direct savings from increased earnings from oil that the Obasanjo administration handed over to the successor government in 2007. One cannot but ask, what exactly does Nigeria seek to symbolize and convey with this level of brazen misappropriation of public resources? Where did all that money go? Where is the accountability for the use of both these resources plus the additional several billions of dollars realized from oil sale by the two administrations that have governed our nation in the last six years? How were these resources applied or more appropriately, misapplied?” (Premium Times, January 25, 2013).
In her submission, Mrs. Ezekwesili mentioned two figures-$45 billion in foreign reserve account, and $22 billion in Excess Crude Account. These are years, figures and subheads in basic accounting which are crucial to simple arithmetic as source of truth. Ordinarily, they ought not to be too difficult to understand.
But unfortunately, and sadly, the first thing members of the present governing elite led by President Jonathan needed to do but which they did not do is to deny (i) the year(s), (ii) the figures, (iii) the exact name of the subheads. Such denial or confirmation will be helpful for common folks who have to engage challenges of daily living and on whose behalf these monies were purportedly spent. But President Jonathan’s team has not given any rational rebuttal of these basic and simple elementary school arithmetic issue. It may be because they fail to properly conceptualize the issue, which they have wrongly engaged as the “president- image- in- the- media issue”.
It is very strange and therefore unacceptable that the attempted rebuttals are coming from the wrong quarters in the presidency- Labaran Maku, the tweets of Mr. Omokri, Mr. Okupe, and Mr. Abati who have jobs to launder the image of the present governing elite under President Jonathan. It has been a poor explanation and poor laundering from a poor and irrelevant team to a serious moral and truth issue. Thus, based on Abuja’s response, it seems President Jonathan is seeing the Mrs Ezekwesili’s assertion as a mere “image-in-the -media issue” that only needs to be managed in the media. This conception of the issue by the Presidency –whereby you deploy media men to manage a serious moral and truth issue— is a moral failure and failure of basic intellection in our presidency in Abuja. It is a shame-both intellectual and moral.
It is a shame precisely because contrary to the presidency’s conception of the challenge, Mrs Ezekwesili’s assertion is not an image-in-the-media issue even when the media is the public square where it was raised. It is a more serious truth and moral issue about our condition as a people. Even in modern civilized and inclusive society, which we aspire to become, the media is one important unit of the public square where we as citizens and tax payers can engage all the deals done by members of the ruling elite behind our backs and at close doors, serious issues of ethics and truth should not immediately be classified as the usual run of the mill and pedestrian “president-image-in-the-media issue”. When that is wrongly done, there is a moral deficit. We shortchange our moral and social vision and therefore a serious issue.
Thus Mrs. Ezekwesili’s assertion on the $67 billion savings at the hallowed ground of a respectable university’s convocation, which is part of our public square, is moral, legitimate, and sound. Her assertion reminds me of the sundry serious intellectual acts in Nigeria’s highly robust and healthy intellectual age in 1970s and 1980s in our dear country when Obafemi Awolowo would use his convocation address at the then University of Ife to deliver what usually passed as the address on state of the Nigerian union. It was an address every Nigerian expected annually. It was always breathtaking intellectually and morally. This is the way modern, civilized and democratic societies work. This is why Mrs. Ezekwesili should and must be saluted for using a legitimate Nigerian platform, the intellectual ground of a Nigerian institution-the 42nd Convocation of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka- to deliver what we ought to see as a state-of-the-union address on our condition. We must therefore encourage her example for this is the only tool of a modern, civilized, open and inclusive society. And we must adopt and laud this social instrument of a civil society.
But what has the presidency done? Rather than see a moral and intellectual challenge, the presidency again collapsed intellectually and morally. The presidency wrongly sees an “image and a media” issue rather than a moral and truth issue. Though, the presidency may be right for the wrong reason, but the Oby Ezekwesili’s assertion is not a pedestrian and silly (as it is being conceptualised in the presidency and the president’s today’s men), rather it is a moral and truth issue about our honour and dignity as a nation. To respond appropriately the following persons in the administration ought to have come out openly to inform Nigerian taxpayers and we Nigerians. We expect to have seen a publicly visible team led by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, Mr. Sanusi, Mrs Alison-Madueke, and Mohammed Adoke, Minister for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation(for questions of law and legality are involved) out in the open to respectfully offer we Nigerians explanation about a serious issue of ethics, law and truth.
These ministers know that this is how serious ethical and truth issues are handled in civilized societies. It is sad that they have not done this. Also, that President Jonathan has not seen this as an ethical issue and therefore has not put forward the relevant members in his administration to come forward and explain to we Nigerians what the issues are show that something is missing morally in this administration and about this issue. And this is morally unacceptable. The Presidency can go ahead and engage in the usual name-calling and call we Nigerians, who they purportedly serve, all kinds of names. That is fine. We Nigerians are used to our rulers abusing us. It is wrong but expected.
Until the presidency brings out the relevant ministerial team to inform Nigerians on this issue we are inclined to appreciate and believe Mrs. Ezekwesili. And that is morally in order in an open, inclusive, civilized and democratic society we aspire to be.
Adeolu Ademoyo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.