Fear and Loathing in Nigeria

Nigerians seem to have relatively short memories. We forget the atrocities committed by public officials almost as soon as they leave office. However, every administration has had hate figures that were resented for one reason or another. In the First Republic, it was the minister of finance, the late Festus Okotie Eboh, largely on account of his lifestyle.

Under General Gowon, super-permanent secretaries like Alison Ayida, Ahmed Joda and Philip Asiodu held sway, though Gen Olusegun Obasanjo, as federal commissioner of works, had a number of misadventures.
In the Second Republic, it was President Shagari’s minister of transport, Umaru Dikko, mainly on claims of his egotism and insensitivity. Under Gen. Babangida, the mastermind of SAP, Kalu Idika Kalu, stood out. Under Abacha, Ebenezer Babatope was roundly vilified for serving as transport minister.
Michael Agbamuche, Dan Etete and Tom Ikimi as Abacha’s justice, petroleum and foreign ministers respectively, were also detested for different reasons.

Under Obasanjo, Sule Lamido, who was foreign affairs minister, had the temerity to back the American invasion of Iraq and drew strong opprobrium; though it was Fabian Osuji and Husseini Akwanga who got themselves sacked. Many thought they hated Nasir El-Rufai who was FCT minister – only to realise the value of his work after he left office. Frank Nweke, as chief propagandist for Obsanjo’s life presidency bid, attracted his fair share of flak, as did Tony Anenih, the failed fixer.

Eventually and typically, Obasanjo did not allow any minister to take the shine off him, no matter how dubious the honour. As minister of petroleum for most of his eight-year tenure, he left office as his administration’s most hated minister and also as the most disliked president. Under President Yar’Adua, this doubtful distinction fell to the minister of justice and attorney general of the federation, Michael Aondokaa, who enjoyed savaging the very laws he swore to protect. He rode roughshod over the judiciary and reports from more than one source claim that he ferried the millions of dollars allegedly used to bribe justices of the Supreme Court to ensure that his paymaster emerged victorious (that is a story for another day).

No past government has had more than two or three thoroughly reviled ministers. Until now. And the problem with President Goodluck Jonathan’s ministers is not which one to hate, but which one not to. The revulsion is not partisan, but purely on account of their failure to deliver on good governance while displaying outrageous insensitivity to the feelings of Nigerians.
As the harbinger of bad news and irrational propaganda, Labaran Maku is first in the line of fire. As a student unionist, journalist, commissioner and deputy governor, this former ‘comrade’ seemed to genuinely care for the masses. But, like other information ministers before him, he has since become the mouthpiece of a corrupt and out of touch government.

In the past few weeks, the multi-billion naira mansion in Abuja reportedly owned by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Peter Orubebe, has drawn public ire. At a time when millions are struggling to feed, pay house rents, school fees and other bills, that a serving minister should display such conspicuous contempt is grossly insensitive and thoughtless. Where and how did he get the funds to put up such a behemoth of luxury?
She may have a pretty face, but what most Nigerians see in Diezani Allison-Madueke, the minister of petroleum, is a very dark heart. This lady hasabsolutely no appreciation of the suffering Nigerians are going throughsimply to survive. She seems determined to remove the claimed subsidy on petroleum imports, or, that failing, run Nigeria to the ground by paying trillions of naira in bogus claims and to grab as much power as possible in her version of the Petroleum Industry Bill.

Bala Mohammed, until a few years ago, was an ordinary civil servant. Then he found himself elected senator. And for moving the motion that paved way for then Vice President Jonathan to become acting president, was rewarded with minister of the FCT. Apart from ministering over the decay of Abuja, this close ally of the president has been accused of wrongdoings that would have led to his resignation. But before that scandal could run out, he shut Nigerians up by announcing a new N2.2bn presidential banquet hall contract.
They told us Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was a genius. As finance minister under Obasanjo, she helped Nigeria (controversially) pay off its debts. But now, she has returned Nigeria back into the debt trap: Jonathan’s government has borrowed more than N2.57tn, and Nigeria’s debt was N6.75tn at the end of June 2012. Today, we borrow about $1bn monthly. Worse still, how can she justify spending 70% of Nigeria’s budget to run government when capital projects that can create jobs and improve the lives of millions of Nigerians remained untouched?

In the end, like their benefactor under whom a staggering $31bn has been stolen in 30 months, not one minister in this government has been able to rise above the pall of theft, ineptitude and callousness to the plight of ordinary Nigerians. Like master, like ministers.