Meet Abudusalami Abubakar, Nigeria’s Transitional Leader
It was June 1998, I remember the night clearly. My Mum (Abiyamo Tooto), my siblings and I were at the place of one of our best family friends in the neighborhood, the Daniels. The children of both families were in one corner doing all their gisting while the mothers too took to their own chatting. It was some minutes to nine. Then the news came, and a clean-shaven man in well-ironed uniform came to address the Nigerian nation. He was the new Head of State, he spoke softly and my Mum and her friend, Mrs. Daniel, were really excited, they were totally full of hope in the soldier’s words. Abiyamo Tooto would later tell me that night that a new dawn had come for Nigeria, and that this man had promised to hand over to the alagbadas (civilians), and that would mean better life for us all. It was 1998. Today, I am quite sure my Mum and her good old friend must be pretty disappointed with the way it all turned out. I later learnt that the name of that soldier speaking that night was Abubakar Alhaji Abubakar, Nigeria’s transitional leader. And against all I was thinking, he is a Gwari man, same ethnic stock with IBB, the evil genius.
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Hailing from Minna, Niger State in North Central Nigeria, General Abdulsalami Abubakar was born on the 13th of June, 1942. It was a Saturday and his father was a respected Islamic scholar, Alhaji Abubakar Jibrin while his mother was Hajia Fati Kande Mohammed. His father, who also got some Western education, had migrated from Kano into the Wushishi area of Niger State.
Young Abdulsalami attended the Minna Native Authority Primary School (1950-1956) and later proceeded to the Government College, Bida, Niger State (1957-1962) for his high school education. When he finished, he was at the Kaduna Technical College from January – October 1963.
IN THE MILITARY
On the 3rd of October, 1963, Abdulsalami was enlisted into the Nigerian Air Force (not the Army) as an Officer Cadet. Later, he proceeded to Germany where he was trained as a Flying Pilot between June 1964 and July 1966. He returned to Nigeria in 1966 only to switch over and join the Army. So, he initially started out as an air force officer but later crossed over to become a soldier (I am not too sure if that is still possible today, this one wey ordinari admission into NDA hard like fish eyes…lol!).
Following his switch into the Army, he underwent series of training at the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), first as an Officer Cadet of the Emergency Combatant Short Service Course Two. Thereafter, upon finishing his cadet training in flying colours, he was commissioned on the 20th of October, 1967 as a Second Lieutenant and drafted to the infantry division (infantry is the unit of the army that consists of soldiers who fight on foot). Here is an overview of his rise in the Nigerian Army
-General Staff Officer, Second Garrison, 1967 – 1968.
-Commanding Officer, 92 Infantry Battalion, 1969 – 1974.
-Brigade Major, 7 Infantry Brigade, 1974 – 1975.
-Commanding Officer, 84 Infantry Battalion, 1975.
-Assistant Adjutant General, 3 Infantry Division, 1979.
-Commanding Officer, 145 Infantry Battalion (NIBATT II), United Nations Interim Force, Lebanon, 1978 – 1979.
-Chief Instructor, Nigerian Defence Academy, 1980 – 1982.
-Colonel, Administration and Quartering, 1 Mechanised Division, 1982 – 1984.
-Commander, 3 Mechanised Brigade, 1985 – 1986.
-Military Secretary of the Army, 1986 – 1988.
-Commander, Infantry Division, January – September 1990.
-General Officer Commanding, 1 Mechanised Division, September 1990 – 1991.
-Principal Staff Officer & Chief of Policy and Plans (Army), Defence Headquarters, 1991 -1993.
-Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), 1st December, 1993.
-General, Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, 9th June, 1998.
Throughout his career in the military, General Abdulsalami took various courses and these include:
-Infantry Officers Advanced Course, USA, 1975 – 1976
-Airborne Course, 1976.
-Command and General Staff Officer Course, USA, 1976 -1977.
-International Defence Management Course, USA, 1982.
-Senior Executive Course, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru, Plateau State.
BECOMING THE HEAD OF STATE
Abdulsalami was not the most senior military officer as at the time he became the Head of State, and he was even seen as an IBB man (he had to be hurriedly promoted a General). However, there were some other factors that worked in his favour: he was seen as a staunch loyalist of the late Abacha and widely perceived as a professional soldier with no ulterior political ambitions like some other generals who were clearly impatient vultures hovering over the seat of the late Kanuri general.
-HIS INAUGURAL ADDRESS, (as broadcast, 9th June, 1998):
The Provisional Ruling Council met at an extraordinary session yesterday following the sudden death of the Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Sanni Abacha, GCON and appointed me as the New Head of State, Commander-in-Chief.
Like other Nigerians, I received the sad news with great shock and, in accepting the burden of history now placed upon me as Head of State, I pray that Almighty God will give us the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
It is not in question that General Sanni Abacha died on very active and patriotic service of our beloved fatherland. We shall forever remember him for his innovative leadership and transparent stewardship to the nation at the most trying period of our nascent history.
We salute his honesty, resoluteness, fearlessness and total commitment to the preservation of Nigeria as a united, stable and prosperous entity. The most befitting way to honour his memory is for all Nigerians to uphold those ideals, ethos and lessons he tried to infuse into our national consciousness.
Fellow Nigerians, I enjoin you to bear this national tragedy with courage and faith in God. This is the time for reflection and national prayers. The Almighty God in His Infinite mercies and compassion will soothe our grief and strengthen our collective resolve and aspiration for peace, stability and socio-economic development of our country.
My fervent appeal also goes to the international community for their understanding and cooperation. Nigeria demands a fair hearing and constructive engagement and not isolation. We remain an important member of the international system through the framework of the United Nations, a veritable instrument of international cooperation and inter-dependence.
We shall honour all our international obligations and maintain our national commitment to international peace and security, especially in the West African sub-region. Similarly, we intend to continue to have friendly relations with all the nations of the world. However, in spite of the recent developments in the country, we shall resolutely defend our sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
Fellow Nigerians, we remain fully committed to the socio-political transition programme of General Sanni Abacha’s Administration and will do everything to ensure its full and successful implementation. In this regard, I am holding consultations with all relevant agencies at the highest level.
We shall need the full cooperation of all Nigerians to succeed in this sacred endeavour and wish to extend invitation to all those Nigerians in self-exile to return home to join the process of reconstruction, reconciliation and the conclusion of the transition programme.
One-month period of national mourning starting June 9, to July 7, 1998 has been declared to solemnise the occasion. In addition, Condolence Registers will be opened in strategic places in Abuja, State Capitals and Local Government Headquarters throughout the country.
Once again, may God Almighty inspire us and guide us to manage this national tragedy and pray that General Abacha’s gentle soul may rest in perfect peace. Amen.
If there was any Nigerian leader whose ascension to office was purely by chance and not with an atom of self-struggle, it was General Abdulsalami Abubakar. He was already due for retirement when the onus of responsibility fell on his Gwari shoulders to lead the nation. General Sani Abacha had just died suddenly in the company of prostitutes (al-Mustapha denies this) and since there was not supposed to be vacuum in power, it was agreed upon by the 15-member Provisional Ruling Council that Abdulsalami become the new Head of State. Reportedly, he was initially reluctant to take the mantle of leadership (one of his daughters remained inconsolable for two weeks upon hearing her dad was to become the new HOS) but he later agreed. He then declared 30 days of national mourning, yes o, oshu kan gbako, for the late General Sani Abacha and thereupon stated that after about 15 years of military rule, he would be handing over to the civilians.
-Major Hamza al-Mustapha stated that IBB was one of those that they consulted and advised them that Abdulsalami be made the new Head of State following Abacha’s demise. He narrated in his prison notes:
When I sensed that we would be contending with far more delicate issues than the one on ground, I talked to Generals Buba Marwa and Ibrahim Sabo who both promptly advised us – the junior officers – against any bloodshed. They advised we contact General Ibrahim Babangida (former Military President) who equally advised against any bloodshed but that we should support the most senior officer in the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) to be the new Head of State.
Since the words of our elders are words of wisdom, we agreed to support General Jeremiah Useni. Along the line, General Bamaiyi lampooned me saying, “Can’t you put two and two together to be four? Has it not occurred to you that General Useni who was the last man with the Head of State might have poisoned him, knowing full well that he was the most senior officer in the PRC?”
Naturally, I became furious with General Useni since General Abacha’s family had earlier on complained severally about the closeness of the two Generals; at that, a decision was taken to storm General Useni’s house with almost a battalion of soldiers to effect his arrest. Again, some heads of security units and agencies, including my wife, advised against the move.
The next most senior person and officer in government was General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was then the Chief of Defence Staff. We rejected the other Service Chief, who, we believed, was too ambitious and destructive. We settled for General Abubakar and about six of us called him inside a room in the Head of State’s residence to break the news of the death of General Abacha to him.
ACHIEVEMENTS AND EVENTS AS HEAD OF STATE
-In pursuance of his objective to hand over to Nigerians, his regime established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and ensured that it was ‘insulated from any interference’, to use his own words. Back in August 1998, INEC was appointed to conduct and oversee elections from the local government level to the Presidency.
-Abdulsalami implemented a pay rise for civil servants.
-In recovering the stolen assets from the Abacha family, General Abubakar Abdulsalami issued the Forfeiture of Assets, Etc (certain Persons) Decree No.53 of 26th May, 1999, just hours before he left office. The decree ordered that the real property and movable assets, as well as cash that have been held illegally by General Sani Abacha, key members of his government such as his National Security Adviser, Ismaila Gwarzo, his Finance Minister, Anthony Ani, his Power and Steel Minister, Bashir Dalhatu, family members as Mohammed Abacha, Abacha’s eldest son, Abdulkadir Abacha, Abacha’s brother and third parties like Abubakar Bagudu and Alhaji Abdulazeez Arisekola Alao be returned to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
-Under his command, there was the repeal or amendment of existing decrees, whose tenors were found to be incompatible with the 1999 Constitution (which was adopted on 5th May, 1999). For instance, during the valedictory session of the Provisional Ruling Council (process), there was the repeal of the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree 2 of 1984 (which was one of the most notorious decrees in Nigerian history), Treason and Other Offences (Special Military Tribunal) Decree No.1 of 1986 and the amended of the Failed Bank Decree No 18, to ensure that the jurisdiction of the existing tribunals was transferred to the Federal High Court. He also released other detainees like the leaders of the petroleum unions (Frank Kokori and Milton Dabibi) while the two decrees that removed elected leadership from the Nigeria Labour Congress and the oil workers’ unions were abolished. Amendments were also made to strengthen the autonomy of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He said:
This, we have done, out of conviction that an Independent Central Bank would be better placed to provide more efficient management of our monetary policies. We also divested the Central Bank of its commercial banking operations. The aim is to strengthen its supervisory and oversight role, in relation to the operation of other banks and financial institutions in the country.
–The Abdulsalami regime also normalized relations with other countries that had hitherto shunned Nigeria. The suspension from the Commonwealth was lifted while almost all the sanctions imposed by the European Union were lifted and relations with the United States strengthened, having reached an all-time low under General Sani Abacha. Abdulsalami later visited the United States and met former President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office where they held talks and had photo sessions (that was the first time a Nigerian leader would visit the White House in 20 years since Shagari). Later on, diplomatic relations eased, visa restrictions, direct flights between Abuja and Washington, defence cooperation and military support were all discussed with fruitful conclusions.
-In his capacity as the Head of State of the Nigerian nation, he attended the 12th NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa and the 9th Summit of the G-15, Montego Bay, Jamaica. He visited the United Kingdom where he was received by Prime Minister Tony Blair, France where he was received by President Jacques Chirac in Paris and was also in the United States where he addressed the 53rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
At the United Nations.
-Upon assuming office, Abubakar ordered the release of all (actually, almost all) political prisoners (including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo) clamped into jail by Abacha. In March 1999, Diya and 54 others were also released, same with the Ogoni 19. He also dismantled the three-year-old succession plan mapped out by Abacha, dissolved all the five political parties that had all adopted Abacha as their candidate and announced a fresh plan to return power to the civilians (the same civilians are now rubbing pepper in our eyes).
-His administration resuscitated the tradition of conferring National Honours and Awards, which had remained suspended since 1984. Because of the long break, more than 750 recipients were honoured.
-In November 1998, there was devastating pipeline blast in Warri, Delta State and over 700 lives were lost. People were scavenging fuel from a burst pipeline before the whole thing went up in flames. According to the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company which owned the pipelines, they were deliberately damaged. General Abdulsalami paid a visit to the area in a helicopter and his visit lasted for 15 minutes. He promised that the government would foot the medical bills but that there would be no compensation for the survivors.
-The 1999 budget, tagged ‘Budget of Realism’ was the last budget by the military. Here is General Abdulsalami’s 1999 budget speech:
FELLOW Nigerians, we are once again at the beginning of a new fiscal year, and it is with a deep sense of responsibility that I present to you the budget of the Federal Government for the year 1999. This is a unique budget. It is unique not only because it is the last budget by the military in the administration of our country for one and a half decades, but we have with great realism, taken into serious consideration the hard facts of our peculiar situation and come up with tough decisions on necessary policy actions that would launch our country into genuine economic greatness.
This administration is fully aware that midway through the life of the 1999 budget, the elected representatives of our people will take charge of the affairs of governance of this nation. We have therefore taken extra care to ensure that the incoming civilian administration is neither encumbered nor deluded by our policy decisions. Ours is a realistic budget. Some of the decisions we have taken are hard and they will be painful in the short run. However, in the medium and long-term, the national economy and ourselves would be better off.
Fiscal 1998 was a year of mixed economic blessings. Our foreign reserves at the end of November 1998 stood at US$7.6 billion. The year witnessed some measure of macro economic stability and consolidation of the economic gains attained in 1996 and 1997.
Significant progress was also recorded in implementing economic reforms. These include the removal of restrictions on competition as well as private sector participation in various sectors of the economy. Additional measures to address financial sector distress were adopted.
However, the economy suffered some set-backs which adversely affected the implementation of the 1998 budget and the realisation of the set targets. The global decline in the international crude oil prices, the reduction in our OPEC quota and the temporary closure of oil wells in the Niger-Delta led to a sharp reduction in government foreign exchange earnings from crude oil.
Consequently, the budgeted 1998 revenue of N216.336 billion from oil could not be realised. Indeed, by October 31, 1998, actual receipts from crude oil amounted to only N134.44 billion. Besides the decline in oil revenues, overall economic performance, including real sector growth, was stultified by erratic supply of petroleum products, epileptic power supply situation and persistent crumbling infrastructure. These diminished the potential for raising non-oil revenues.
As a result of the decline in revenues, government effected a downward revision of the 1998 budget in October in order to avert major macroeconomic and fiscal imbalances. Our economic fortunes and experiences have once again exposed the major weaknesses of the Nigerian economy. The over reliance on oil as a source of government revenues and foreign exchange earnings, coupled with weak, import-dependent industrial base as well as low productivity in the agricultural sector rendered the economy extremely vulnerable to fiscal and macro economic imbalances. A major development goal for the country, therefore, is to diversify the productive, foreign exchange and revenue base of the economy. The National Rolling Plan for 1999-2001 and the budget for 1999 provide the basis for achieving this goal.
Outlook for 1999
In 1999, Nigeria will continue to face enormous challenges in its efforts to revive economic growth and improve living conditions. The downturn in the world oil market will result in large revenue and foreign exchange shortfalls which will in turn put pressure on the external, fiscal and financial situation of the country. In addition, growth prospects for 1999 will continue to be undermined by persistent structural problems in the economy.
Against the background highlighted above, overall fiscal deficits could reach unsustainable levels of up to N400 billion during the year and GDP growth will fall sharply unless bold corrective measures are undertaken. It is therefore imperative for us to respond to the challenges ahead in the context of the 1999 budget.
The National Rolling Plan 1999-2001
The 1999-2001 National Rolling Plan will continue to draw inspirations from the broad goals and objectives of the Vision 2010. Consequently, the main objectives of the 1999-2001 National Rolling Plan, will include the following:
- Diversification of the productive base of the economy through enhanced capacity utilization in industry, increase agricultural productivity, and accelerated development of the gas and solid minerals sectors;
- Promotion of sustainable economic growth through achievement of macro-economic, exchange rate and fiscal stability as well as prudent monetary policies;
- Raising income levels and reduction of the level of unemployment through enhanced economic growth and vigorous implementation of poverty alleviation programmes;
- Facilitating private sector-led growth through the creation of appropriate enabling environment, institutions, policies as well as legal and regulatory framework.
The focus and policy thrust of the 1999 budget
The main policy objectives, strategies, and programme priorities for the 1999 budget are as follows:
- Achieving at the minimum, a three per cent overall growth rate of GDP;
- Establishing institutional, legal and regulatory framework as well as
policy reforms necessary for economic growth and diversification;
- Maintaining appropriate fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies with a view to achieving overall macro-economic stability;
- Eliminating the dual exchange rate regime;
- Continuing the policy of privatisation of state owned enterprises;
- Sustaining the single digit inflation rate achieved for most of 1998 fiscal year;
- Enhancing efforts on capacity building and utilization;
- Sustaining prudent internal and external debt management systems;
- Reducing the level of unemployment;
- Expanding the existing revenue base by exploring new sources of income;
- Improving the internal security system to create a safe environment; and
- Developing and rehabilitating physical infrastructure to facilitate investments and economic activity.
At the beginning of 1998, the average selling price of crude oil was US$16-17 per barrel.
This dropped steadily during the year and by October 1998, the realisable price was US$12.8 per barrel, while the price for January 1999 deliveries is less than US$11.00 per barrel. In view of the slump in the global oil market, the price of US$9 per barrel has been adopted for the 1999 budget.
Based on an exchange rate of N86 to US$1, the sum of N453.7 billion is estimated to accrue as revenue from oil and gas sources in 1999. Non-oil revenue is estimated at N214 billion, bringing the projected total federally collected revenue from oil and non-oil sources in 1999 to N667.7 billion. Given the change in the exchange rate conversion factor, the estimated expected total revenue for 1999 has dropped in real terms by 54 per cent from its 1998 level. The Federal Government gross revenue for 1999 is therefore projected at N146.7 billion.
As a result of a very tight revenue profile, a sum of N88 billion has been provided for the Capital Development Programme of the Federal Government, compared with the sum of N122 billion in 1998. The focus of the capital budget is to complete some of the on-going projects such as the Federal Secretariat building, the Legislative Buildings and accommodation for our in-coming elected lawmakers. Some projects in the agriculture, health, education, roads, water supply and rural electrification sectors will also be implemented.
In order to further consolidate our efforts towards poverty alleviation and the development of the rural sector, the sum of N1 billion has been provided for FEAP in 1999. Similarly, N500 million has been earmarked for the Peoples Bank and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) for provision of soft loans and support services to cottage and small-scale industries.
- a) A provision of N100 billion has been made for personnel emoluments compared with N56 billion for 1998, to cater for the recent increase in public sector salaries and allowances, as well as the additional expenditures on members and staff of the National Assembly during the year. The provision for overhead expenditure in 1999 has been maintained at 1998 level of N61 billion. Provision for domestic debt in 1999 amounts to N39.0 billion. In addition, the sum of N1 billion is provided for settlement of debt owed to local contractors that have already been verified by the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC). The total recurrent expenditure for 1999 therefore amounts to N211 billion.
- b) The overall fiscal deficit for the Federal Government in 1999 is projected at N34.1 billion, representing 1.05 per cent of projected GDP. This deficit is arrived at after taking into consideration anticipated transfers, including draw-down from our external reserves. This year, the projected deficit has been estimated to avoid creating accounting distortions.
STATES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCES
In 1999 the Federation Account Revenue is estimated at N262.4 billion. The existing allocation formula will be maintained. Therefore, the Federal Government will receive N127.2 billion; States; N63 billion; Local Government Councils: N52.5 billion; the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) N2.6 billion and Special Funds: N17.1 billion.
In 1999, the estimated VAT amount is N50 billion. The projected increase derives from the fact that the base of VAT will be increased by the expansion of VATable items through reduction of the exemption list. New VAT offices will also be opened in the states to enhance collections. In line with the new VAT distribution formula introduced in this budget the actual allocation to the Federal Government will be reduced to N7.5 billion while that of the states and local governments will accordingly be increased for them to receive N25.0 billion and N17.5 billion respectively.
Fiscal policy in the last few years has been designed not only to increase revenue but also as an instrument to promote general economic development. This strategy will be reinforced and fine-tuned in 1999 to sharpen the policy instruments and enhance their value towards the attainment of set goals and objectives. In view of the revenue shortfall, all tiers of government must exercise greater budgetary discipline and concentrate their efforts at enhancing internally generated revenue.
REVIEW OF THE CUSTOMS & EXCISE TARIFF
Since the last tariff adjustment, many manufacturers have made representations on the adverse effects of some of the tariff measures and requested for further adjustments. Consequently, government has approved some adjustments to the customs and excise tariff. Government has also approved the restoration of excise duty on some items such as spirits, cigarettes, tobacco and their derivatives. In addition, a review of the import and export prohibition policies will be undertaken. In the same vein, with effect from January 1, 1999, Government hereby abolishes the 25 per cent import duty rebate introduced in August 1995 because after three and a half years of application, it can hardly be justified. Similarly, requests for non-statutory exemption from the payment of import duty will henceforth no longer be entertained.
Government appreciates that a number of industries are under considerable pressure from cheap imports which, it is suspected are being dumped in Nigeria. The Ministry of Finance will meet with concerned interest groups at the beginning of the year to discuss ways of addressing this issue. Meanwhile, an anti-dumping committee will be set up soon in the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism. This Committee is to handle cases and complaints relating to dumping, issues of subsidies and countervailing measures to protect Nigeria against unfair trade practices.
EXPORT PROMOTION AND INCENTIVE SCHEMES
Government will continue to implement and streamline existing export incentive schemes and render them more effective. The various schemes and funds are being merged into a new Manufacture-in-Bond Scheme under which payment of cash incentives to exporters would be replaced with the introduction of Negotiable Duty Credit Certificates (NDCs). In addition to the above incentives, government hereby abolishes the prohibition list in order to encourage competitive pricing and to increase the income of the farmer.
ECOWAS TRADE LIBERALIZATION SCHEME
Nigerian enterprises will be encouraged in 1999 to take full advantage of the protocol on ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (TLS) which provides for the elimination of trade barriers including taxes and levies. Adequate arrangements will be made to ensure that the implementation of the scheme will not adversely affect our manufactured products.
Government in 1996 introduced some reforms at the ports. These included the expansion of mandatory pre-shipment inspection to cover all imports destined for Nigeria irrespective of value and the source of funding. In addition, the reforms provided for the involvement of Professional Import Duty Administrators (PIDA) in the cargo clearance process. The services of these Administrators, however, will cease with effect from June 30th, 1999. Problems have arisen in relating to the proliferation of too many agencies in the ports, which has constituted another bureaucratic bottleneck. Accordingly, only the following agencies will henceforth be retained at the ports under the overall supervision of the Nigerian Ports Authority:
- Nigeria Customs Service
b. The Ports Police
c. Nigeria Immigration Service and
d. Authorized Agents
Where the attention of a specialized agency such as SSS, NDLEA, or Plant Quarantine is required, they would be called from their offices within the Ports. These measures are required to make our ports more attractive to importers and instill sanity. Furthermore, facilities at the ports will be upgraded and modernized through the provision of new equipment and software.
Similarly, at the airports only the Customs and Immigration will be retained, under the general supervision of the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). Accordingly, security at our airports will be provided by FAAN.
Government has approved the replacement of pre-shipment inspection with destination inspection with effect from April 1, 1999. It has also approved that the services of pre-shipment export agents will cease with effect from April 1, 1999.
The tax policy measures in 1998 will continue in 1999. Given the current trends in global oil prices, measures that will ensure efficient tax administration in the country are essential in order to raise higher revenues from the non-oil tax resources. In 1999, efforts of government will be geared towards widening the VAT base through gradual phasing out of VAT exemptions and intensifying collection of all due taxes. Government will at the same time strengthen the tax authorities to be more effective in the collection of taxes from both individual and corporate taxpayers.
- Review of VAT Sharing Ratio. For State Governments to prosecute basic projects having greater impact on the lives of people at the grassroots, the present VAT sharing formula is to be adjusted in favour of the States and Local Governments.
- Incentives to the Oil and Gas Industry. The approved tax incentives in the 1997 and 1998 for the exploitation and utilization of associated gas are to continue in 1999. Most of the earlier incentives have been promulgated into laws. In 1999, all the incentives approved by government will be signed into laws to facilitate a stable tax regime in the country for investors.
- Production Sharing Contract (PSC). From 1999, all oil operators who signed the PSC Agreements for deep offshore oil exploration production with the Government in 1993 are to claim Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allowance as tax offset in accordance with the various agreements, until the contracts terminate. The NNPC is to compile a list of such companies for the Federal Inland Revenue Service to implement. However, such concession will not be extended to new contracts.
In addition, interest incurred on inter-company loans obtained under terms prevailing in the open market are to qualify as allowable deduction in arriving at taxable petroleum profits.
- a) Tax Treaties:- To consolidate the extensive tax incentives to foreign investors, Government will continue with the policy of concluding Double Taxation Agreements (DTA) with our trading partners who indicate their interest in 1999.
Further, as a concession to our treaty partners, government has approved a lower treaty rate of 7.5 per cent on dividends, interests, rent, and royalties when paid to a bona-fide
beneficial owner of a treaty country.
- b) Joint Venture Cash Calls:- Crude oil sales will continue to be our major source of revenue until the national economy is diversified. The funding of petroleum operations is therefore essential.
However, in the light of the poor state of our finances, government is currently exploring alternative sources of funding the government shares of the Joint Venture operations with a view to solving the cash call problem permanently. In the same vein, government will consider raising project-tied financing in respect of Joint Venture Projects aimed at encouraging exports in the oil and gas sectors of the economy.
- Incentives to Gas Sub Sector:- In 1998, Government invested US$300 billion as part of its capital contribution in the third train of the Liquefied Natural Gas project. Generous tax incentives have been given to companies that carry out the exploitation of natural gas and utilize the associated gas for commercial purposes. The incentives will continue in 1999 while details of additional incentives will be provided.
SOLID MINERALS SECTOR
This Administration strongly believes that if proper attention is given to the solid minerals sector, it is capable of generating substantial revenue and employment to supplement those derivable from the oil and non-oil sectors. In 1998 government approved the new Solid Mineral Policy. It also revised laws and regulations to make the sector competitive with those of other mineral-based economies as well as provide generous incentives for prospective investors.
In 1999, Government will continue to attach emphasis to this sector through exploring possibilities for Joint Venture programmes, production sharing and other strategic investments between Nigerian Mining Corporation and Private Investors to facilitate the exploration and exploitation of the country’s mineral deposits.
Government has no resources to continuously subsidize inefficient and loss making parastatals. Privatizing such investments has now become a cornerstone of government policy. In pursuing its privatization objectives, government has instituted procedures that are transport to ensure maximum return in the disposal of its assets.
A decree shall be promulgated expeditiously to give legal backing to the privatization programme. Work on the regulatory framework and institutions will also be accelerated. Competition and Deregulation. In 1998, Government repealed and amended 11 legislation that hitherto inhibited competition or conferred monopoly on public enterprises in petroleum, telecommunications, power and mineral sectors.
To further consollidate this policy, government has licensed a few private telecommunication companies. Government is encouraged by the response of the private sector so far to this policy reform. Our statutes are still being reviewed with the aim of elimination completely all outstanding sectors constraining competition in other sectors.
Elimination of Dual Exchange Rate
The application of the dual exchange rate continues to cause distortions in the economy and offers considerable incentive for round-tripping in our foreign exchange operations. Whereas, public expenditure is transacted at the autonomous rate, revenue is monetised at official rate giving rise to a mis-match between revenue and expenditure.
Moreover, economic viability of projects funded at official rate cannot be properly evaluated and may this encourage unprofitable projects. Abolition of the official exchange will remove a long-standing opportunity for personal gain at the expense of the public purse. Accordingly, the official exchange rate is hereby abolished with effect from 1st January, 1999.
Monetary and Credit Policy
The focus of monetary policy during 1999 will remain the maintenance of price stability while at the same time accommodating government’s efforts to stimulate output growth. The growth of monetary and credit aggregates will be contained at levels that will guarantee single digit inflation rate. The promotion of the stability of the exchange rate will also be a policy focus.
The CBN will continue to rely on treasury bill sales at market-determined, competitive interest rates, while the range of instruments available for mopping up excess liquidity in the system will be broadened to include issuance of development stocks and national savings certificates.
Government is concerned about the widening gap between savings, deposits and lending rates of Commercial and Merchant Banks. The Central Bank has been directed to discuss with the banks on how to narrow the margin so as to impact positively on bank customers.
Government will provide incentives to banks in 1999 to encourage the provision of medium and long-term facilities to the agricultural and solid minerals sectors as well as to small and medium enterprises. This will assist in the diversification of the economy and the development of non-oil sector in general.
Transfer of Commercial Banking functions from the CBN to Commercial/Merchant Banks
Government has directed that the commercial banking functions presently performed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) be transferred to Commercial and Merchant Banks by the end of March, 1999. Ministries and Parastatals will be free to negotiate and reach agreement with Commercial and Merchant Banks subject to the usual clearance with the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
Conversion of Merchant Banks to Commercial Banks
Government has decided that any merchant bank that so wishes may convert to a commercial bank. This measure is being taken to remove the obvious disabilities presently suffered by merchant banks, especially as the equity base of the two types of banks is now the same. It will also help to deepen banking habits in the country. The CBN will publish the conditions and detailed guidelines for the conversion soon.
Restoration of CBN Autonomy: In recognition of the critical role which an independent central bank can play in the maintenance of price stability and sound economic management the government, after due consideration, has decided to grant the CBN autonomy in the formulation and implementation of monetary policies. The government is convinced that an independent CBN would serve the best interest of our national economy. The relevant law has already been amended.
Capital Market Reform: Government is fully convinced about the need for effective institutional arrangements that will engender stable and strong financial systems. Consequently a number of measures will be taken in 1999 pursuant to the on-going capital market reform, to strengthen the market infrastructure.
The Investment and Securities Decree, which will transform the Securities and Exchange Commission into a bigger, stronger and a more effective institution, will be finalized. Efforts will also be continued to ensure the early take-off of the Abuja Stock Exchange.
External Debt Management: For a number of years now the 2 billion US Dollars usually set aside for servicing Nigeria’s external debt has fallen below the requirement of our creditors. Even though this practice has resulted in the accumulation of substantial arrears, Government is only able to earmark the sum of 1.5 billion US Dollars for external debt service this year, due to resource constraints in 1999. It has therefore become imperative for us to explore options for reducing our debt service payments to affordable and sustainable levels.
Accordingly, efforts will be intensified to open up negotiations with the Paris Club, Bretton Woods Institutions and other creditors to seek debt reduction and debt relief. The Ministry of Finance will pursue vigorously the achievement of this goal. We have initiated discussion with the Bretton Woods institutions and the Secretariat of the Paris Club towards evolving a programme aimed at eventually attaining debt relief for the country. Government will also continue with the debt conversion programme as a vehicle for debt reduction and investment promotion.
Embargo on External Loans: In view of the projected deficit in the 1999 budget, there is a need for government to broaden the source of funding in order to close the financial gap in the budget. Accordingly, government has lifted the 1994 embargo placed on external borrowing particularly with respect to concessionary and project-tied loans and credits. Furthermore, financing of export-based projects, based on the assets and revenue flows of the enterprise, especially in the gas and oil sectors, will be considered.
Petroleum Products Pricing and Supply
The acute nationwide shortage of petroleum products in the country has become a cause of great concern to the nation. Public sector monopoly of petroleum products supply, along with the unscrupulous acts of unpatriotic citizens, has been the major contributory factor to the shortages.
To ensure a lasting solution to the problem, the importation of petroleum products has been deregulated. Government has also allocated sizeable amounts of funds for the turn-around maintenance and rehabilitation of the Kaduna, Port Harcourt and Warri refineries.
Government is not unaware of the reaction of our people to the recent increase in the price of petroleum products by the oil marketers. Government is thus encouraging the petroleum marketers to enter into discussions with consumer representatives with a view to moderating the prices to sustainable levels.
A comprehensive list of priority projects is being compiled. The debt component of these projects will be reviewed with a view to restructuring and rescheduling it in line with our cash flow realities.
About three months ago the Federal Government approved wage increases for public servants and directed state and local governments to negotiate appropriate wage adjustments with their respective employees, based on their financial strengths. Regrettably, with the dwindling government revenues caused by a sharp fall in oil prices, the payment of the recommended wage package has become insupportable and unsustainable for the federal, state and local governments.
As it is not our intention to bequeath the incoming civilian administration with unmanageable economic problems, we are compelled to review the wage increase to affordable and sustainable levels. In this regard, government has entered
into discussions with the labour unions with a view to arriving at acceptable wage levels.
This Administration will continue, in 1999, to pursue its policy of constructive engagement with other members of the international community. We are committed to ensuring that Nigeria takes its rightful place among the comity of nations
based on the principles of mutual respect and protection of our national interests. During the course of 1998, the international community responded positively to our posture of reaching out in accordance with these principles. We appreciate such warm responses and support, and hope the international community will continue to support Nigeria at
this crucial stage of our history not only in ensuring the successful implementation of our political transition but also our economic reform programmes.
The global economic recession we are all witnessing of recent in many parts of the world calls for serious concern. Nigeria belongs to an integrated, inter-linked world economy. Given the already existing structural weaknesses of our national economy, we are not immune to the problems ravaging national economies in other parts of the world. To reduce our vulnerability, Nigeria requires substantial capital inflow to complement domestic resources in order to revamp the economy.
Government would, therefore, vigorously pursue economic diplomacy to mobilize the support of the international community for Nigeria’s policy reform. This would enable the country to attract foreign investments as well as provide the enabling environment for a more favourable consideration for Nigeria’s request for external debt relief. Bilateral talks between Nigeria and other countries and multi-lateral institutions will also emphasize the issue of trade and development.
National Honours and Awards
This year, government has decided to resuscitate the tradition of conferring National Honours and Awards which has been suspended since 1984. The National Honours and Awards is to honour deserving Nigerians, who have rendered special and outstanding services in their various fields of specialization to the benefit and progress of the nation. As a result of the long break, over 750 recipients will be honoured. The award will be conferred during the early part of the year. It is our hope that the revival of this tradition will motivate the nation’s citizens to greater accomplishment.
I am happy to note that the democratization programme has been on course. The success of the local government elections and the enthusiasm that Nigerians exhibited in choosing those to govern them demonstrate the efficacy of the democratization programme.
The Report of the Constitution Debate Coordinating Committee has been submitted to Government on schedule.
Government will review this report and take a decision on the Committee’s submission early in the year. As the military prepares to hand-over the reigns of governance on May 29, 1999, I urge all of us to join hands in ensuring the success of the remaining elections. I once again call on our politicians to play the game according to the rules and eschew the politics of bitterness and unnecessary accusations.
This administration has repeatedly stressed its determination to combat corruption and improve the governance of our nation. This reflects our firm belief that sound macro-economic policies and structural reforms alone will not be enough
to put Nigeria on the path of sustainable growth. We must, therefore, also tackle the pervasive corruption and the deterioration in the rule of law which stand in the way of a great nation.
It is in this light that the funding of the Judiciary and the Nigeria Police Force will be enhanced to adequate and sustainable levels. The administration has also approved the appointment of additional Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, while their retirement age and that of Chief Judges of the State High Courts has been extended to 70 years.
Budgetary and National Discipline
My dear country men and women, let me at this juncture draw your attention to the sacrifice and discipline required for the successful implementation of the 1999 budget. Given the uncertain and dwindling nature of our revenue from oil upon which we are heavily dependent, there must be great prudence in government expenditures. Public officers in ministries and extra-ministerial departments must ensure that expenditures are incurred for only essential purposes, in order to control overhead costs. The Ministry of Finance, in conjunction with the Office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation will put in place necessary measures to control costs and wasteful expenditures. This calls for cooperation and sacrifice on the part of all government employees.
This administration is, of course, fully aware of the sacrifices already being made by its workers. Indeed, we are painfully aware of the sacrifices all Nigerians have been making these past years. This is why we are anxious to put in place policy measures designed to bring long-lasting relief to our citizens.
Unfortunately, however, as in treating malignant diseases, curative measures bring pain first before the desired relief. Our economy has long been in a malignant state. We do urge our fellow countrymen to appreciate this. We are confident that before long, our remedial policy actions would bring relief to our homes.
This administration is also aware of the dissatisfaction among certain segments of our population arising from certain government actions or inactions in the past. Genuine as such grievances may be, we cannot allow the continued reckless expression of such feelings. The developments in the oil producing areas of Niger-Delta region is a case in point. While we appreciate the feelings of the people in the area over their sad condition, this administration notes with great displeasure the disruptions of the activities of oil companies government and private enterprises by rampaging youths.
Seizure of oil wells, rigs and platforms as well as hostage-taking and vehicular-hijacking, all in the name of expressing grievances are totally unacceptable to this administration. We are no doubt committed to freedom of expression, the right to dissent, and all other basic freedoms and rights that are the hallmarks of a decent, civilized open society. The recent activities in the Niger-Delta region are a flagrant abuse of our commitment to such rights and freedoms. This administration will not allow lawlessness and anarchy to camouflage as right or freedom. We will not accept brazen challenge to the State authority under threat of violence as recently happened in the Niger-Delta region. Government has a responsibility to safeguard the State and the security of life and property of all its citizens and those of foreign nations on our soil carrying out their legitimate pre-occupations.
This administration is resolved to do just that.
I will, therefore appeal to all those that have been engaged in the unacceptable excesses of the recent past in the region to stop such actions henceforth, in the interest of peace and decency. This administration is convinced that the Niger-Delta region stands to reap tremendous dividend by dissent through dialogue rather than dissent through violence Such is the path to a civilized and great society which we are all striving to build.
Finally, I must express sincere and heartfelt appreciation to all and sundry for the very warm support and cooperation they have accorded this administration since our assumption of office last June. This has constituted the bedrock upon which the success of the democratization programme has been constructed. It is my hope and expectation that we can continue to rely on your goodwill, support and prayers as we march towards the emergence of democratic governance in the country.
I wish you a happy and prosperous 1999 and a happy Eid el-Fitr in advance.
Thank you and God bless us all.
-HIS LAST ADDRESS TO NIGERIANS AS HEAD OF STATE:
It was delivered on a Friday, the 28th of May, 1999, and it was tagged ‘Time to Break Cycle of Instability and Mistrust’. It read thus:
I thank the Almighty God that I am able to address you today. This will be my last address to you as Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. But it is especially gratifying, that it should take place on the eve of a great national triumph. In a matter of hours, the inauguration of a democratically elected president, would have been held. And the process of restoration of civil rule to our beloved country would have been completed.
Even though the time has been short, we have, indeed, come a long way. The event that we are about to celebrate, represents for us, profound achievement. When others doubted us, we knew we would come through. Together as Nigerians, diverse but one, united and sharing the same vision to this present height. Our success attests to our indomitable and resolute will and unswerving faith in the promise of our future that is limitless. It is this strong sense of who we are; it is this determination to move this country forward, that indicates, more than anything else, that the dream of a great Nigeria, secure of its place in an increasingly competitive world, is truly within our grasp.
My fellow Nigerians, you may recall the fateful event that thrust the leadership of our nation on me, in June last year. Prior to that tragic event, our country was in the depth of despair. We were buffeted from within, by divisions and a frightening uncertainty about the direction we were headed. From the outside world, our country faced near total isolation, even from traditional friends and allies.
Thus, from the moment of its inception, this administration was faced with immediate, clear and grave challenges. We accepted the challenge. We accepted our responsibility, even though we recognised that time, resources and profound distrust were major constraints. Even in those difficult times, service to the nation was, to us, a matter of honour and privilege. In my first major address to the nation on 20th July 1998, I set out the administration’s broad policy agenda. We were determined to open up the political process and return our country to democratic rule in the shortest possible time. We were determined to put in place, measures that would lead to the social and economic regeneration of the country. We were determined to foster dialogue and national reconciliation among our peoples. We were particularly determined that the civil liberties and the human rights of our citizens would receive our fullest attention.
On the external front, we committed ourselves to re-establish relations with all nations, on the basis of equality and mutual respect. We were determined that Nigeria should regain its traditional pride of place in the comity of nations. My fellow Nigerians, our approach to governance has been marked by accountability, transparency and openness. Equally, it has been marked by a willingness to listen to all views and shades of opinion. Thus, broad consultations with the citizens of this country, preceded the transition programme which we carefully formulated. This reflected our determination that the political process should be democratic and all-inclusive.
It was important that the institutions that would manage the process, should not only be independent but must be seen to be so. We, therefore, established the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and insulated it from any interference. We gave it all the resources that it required to ensure its integrity and the credibility of its actions. INEC has been truly independent, in words and in deed. I am proud that it has justified the confidence of our people. We are proud that its performance has brought honour and respect for our country. It was equally important that the political parties themselves, should evolve from the people, reflecting their hopes and aspirations for a strong, virile and united country. The Administration’s only interest lay in ensuring an even playing field for all who aspired to lead the nation at all levels. Our predominant concern, was to ensure the unity of our country. This was our resolve and no more.
All we asked for, was your trust, as well as your co-operation. We wanted you to give us a chance. And you did. With your wise counsel and overwhelming support, the administration mapped its political programme, with a promise to have a democratically-elected president sworn-in on 29th May, 1999. I am grateful to you all that you have made this possible.
My fellow Nigerians, right from the start, the administration took steps that would help create an environment in which democracy could thrive. In opening up the political process, we promised to release all political detainees and others convicted of political offences. We did so.
We promised to drop all politically-related charges against our countrymen on self-exile. We did so. We urged them to return home, guaranteeing them safe and unmolested return. And they did so. We promised to abrogate legal provisions and statues that inhibited political debate and interaction. Again, we did so. We promised to protect freedom of speech. We did so. We sought to expand the boundaries and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The administration also fully kept its word on this.
In this respect, I am happy to say that during its valedictory session held on the 26th May, 1999, the PRC approved the consequential repeal or amendment of existing decrees, whose tenors are incompatible with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. Among the decrees repealed is Decree No.2 of 1984. Similarly, the Failed Bank Decree No 18, has been amended to transfer the jurisdiction of the existing tribunals to the Federal High Court, which has constitutional authority to adjudicate over these matters.
Fellow Nigerians, while the country’s political situation, naturally, was a primary focus of the administration’s attention, we also recognised the serious economic and social problems which we faced. We, therefore, took steps to upgrade and modernise our infrastructures and public facilities.
The objective was to provide an environment in which the economy could profitably receive and utilise investments. In order to ensure effective management of our external debts, we entered into dialogue with the creditor countries and relevant multilateral financial institutions. To remove distortions in the allocation of foreign exchange, we eliminated the dual exchange rate of the naira. We believe that this was necessary for serious and long-term investments in the country.
We re-examined the legal framework guiding the operations of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). We made amendments that have strengthened the autonomy of the nation’s apex bank. This, we have done, out of conviction that an Independent Central Bank would be better placed to provide more efficient management of our monetary policies. We also divested the Central Bank of its commercial banking operations. The aim is to strengthen its supervisory and oversight role, in relation to the operation of other banks and financial institutions in the country. While some of our economic policies and actions were designed to bring medium and long term relief to the nation, our salaries and wages policy was intended to bring immediate financial relief to workers. Despite the regrettable reaction that the implementation of the policy generated, the administration stands by the honest principle that informed its decision to review salaries and wages upward. Still on the economic front, we did our best to turn-around the oil industry as the engine of development. For a long time, we went through the pains of long queues at petrol stations. This was truly embarrassing, but you demonstrated exemplary patience. Happily, the situation has since vastly improved. Not only have the queues shortened considerably, it is gladdening to note that all the four refineries in the country, have resumed production.
On the socio-political and economic fronts, we have endeavoured to do our best, given the enormous constraints which we faced. Never in the history of this nation, was an administration expected to do so much in so short a period. Nevertheless, with your unflinching support and cooperation, we are satisfied that we have made our contributions, however modest, in moving our country forward. But we recognise that there is still much distance to cover. We recognise that there is still a lot to be done, for instance, in the area of continuing rehabilitation and maintenance of our infrastructures; in the area of fighting crimes and poverty; in the area of promoting social justice and in the area of modernising our industries and revamping our economy.
My fellow Nigerians, a key objective of our foreign policy in the last one year, has been the re-integration of Nigeria into the mainstream of international affairs. We have done this, by cultivating new friends, while retaining old friends and development partners. I am pleased to state, in this regard, that we have achieved considerable success. Out of a state of near-total isolation, Nigeria is, once again, a proud and respected member of the international community.
Our relations with the United States and major countries of the world, have never been better. Our misunderstanding with the Commonwealth has been resolved, with the lifting of suspension from the association. Our relations with the European Union are being restored to their traditionally robust state. The European Union has lifted most of the sanctions it imposed on our countryFor the past three years, Nigeria has been the subject to criticism at the United Nations’ Commission for Human Rights in Geneva. This is no longer the case. Indeed, only this April, the mandate of the Special Country Rapporteur, charged with monitoring and investigating the situation of human rights in Nigeria, was terminated. This is in recognition of our achievements in the area of human rights. What is more, as vote of confidence, Nigeria has been elected member of the commission.
Within the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of developing countries (G-15), our voice is once again heard, loud and clear. I participated at the 12th NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa and the 9th Summit of the G-15, in Montego Bay, Jamaica, as a demonstration of our commitment to South-South co-operation and solidarity. We have remained firm and resolute in our commitment to the peace, security and stability of our sub-region. In the process, we have made sacrifices and called on our resources in men and materials. We have willingly done so, not only because it is the right thing to do, as good neighbours, but also because it is in our enlightened self interest. A sub-region that is at peace and thriving, is in the interest of our economic growth and stability.
Fellow Nigerians, at this unique moment in our national history, it is only right, that I should say a word or two to the officers, men and women of our Armed Forces and Police. Yours, has been a noble calling and you have performed gloriously. You have played important roles in the life of our nation. In moments of great national crises, you have been the anchor on which the very survival of our fatherland had rested. You have been in the forefront in forging and defending the unity of our nation. And, at times, you have paid the supreme sacrifices for your endeavours and in the performance of duty. I commend you. The nation commends you for your bravery and patriotism.
Abroad, you equally have projected a proud image of our nation through your exemplary and active participation in peace-keeping operations in the sub-region, Africa and in many parts of the world. You are, indeed, first rate peace-keepers and peace makers. But, just as we work for peace in our sub-region and in the world, we also must be ready to meet any threats to our nation’s security. You must continue to be the guarantors of our security and peace through commitment to professionalism.
Now, therefore, is the time for the military to return to its constitutional role of defending the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We must, forever, resist and renounce the seduction and temptation of political power and office. We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. it is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast, changing world, in which new political and social values are transcendent. Fellow Nigerians, every segment of our society has a vital role to play, as we face the daunting challenges of national integration and development. Whether as members of the media, the judiciary, the private sector, the clergy, or as public servants, academics, youths and, indeed, as plain ordinary Nigerians, we have a role to play in the building of this country. All hands must be on deck. We must not allow any dichotomy between the rulers and the people.
I challenge all Nigerians, irrespective of what we are and who we are, not to abandon the values and traditions around which our rebirth will be attained and sustained. I challenge all of us to continue to show fidelity to and rededicate ourselves to those values, of honour, courage, right conduct and belief in family and God, on which our society and republic are built. We must remember too, that it is how honest and principled we are, that will determine whether Nigeria attains that true greatness for which we all yearn.
My fellow Nigerians, today we are at the dawn of a new and exciting era. To us all, beckons the historic opportunity to break, once and for all, the cycle of instability and mistrust that have wracked our political life since independence. In this enterprise, our politicians who are taking over the reins of government, have a vital role to play. On them, devolve the duty and responsibility of making a success of our collective efforts. Our constitution which has just been promulgated, is the embodiment of our yearnings for democratic governance, under the rule of law. They must, in word and deed, make it work. I am confident that they will not betray the hopes and aspirations of our people. I am confident that they will be agents of dialogue and national unity. I am confident that they can rise to this challenge. I am confident that they will be bridges of understanding and, with consummate skill, help to conciliate the varying viewpoints in the country.
There is nothing wrong in having differences. It is how we manage the differences that is important. Democracy, it must be said, is not a gathering of people with the same views. It is not about uniformity of ideas, about the governance of the state. Democracy is about the resolution of differences that exist in society, in such a manner, that the state retains its focus and strength and is able to move forward to attain greater heights. Democracy is about working for the people and respecting their will and the rights of others. Democracy is about accountability, about decency and elevating conduct. That is what democracy is all about.
My fellow Nigerians, in the next few hours, the ceremony heralding the return of democratic and constitutional rule in our country, will take place. But we must also understand that democratisation, as a process, is a continuous and unfinished business. It is a journey, not a destination that has been reached. In this next phase of the journey, we will be led, happily for the nation, by an experienced, patriotic and tested man. He had, in an earlier era, after assumming the leadership of this nation, readily bequeathed it, in that democratic spirit. We are fortunate that, at this critical point in our history, providence has again entrusted to him, the stewardship of our country. No country can ask for more.
While we turn-over the running of our nation to a new crop of leaders, it remains for me to wish them the very best. But, I cannot end this address without paying tribute to those dedicated men and women who served with me during the brief period. I pay tribute to those who served in visible positions of government. I also pay deserved tribute to all those who served behind the scene, giving us support and encouragement at every stage.
But above all, I wish to pay special tribute to you, the ordinary men and women of this country, who gave your unflinching support that enabled us to achieve the little that has made it possible to turn around the fortune of our nation.
While I say good-bye to you, my fellow Nigerians, I wish you the best and I wish our country continued peace and prosperity. Our best days are yet to come.
Thank you and God bless Nigeria.
The next day, he handed over to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
LOVE, MARRIAGE AND FAMILY
Hajia Justice Fati Lami Abubakar is the love of General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s life. His only wife, they both have six children together, one of whom is a medical doctor, and another an architect. His children are known to be very reserved, bordering on extreme reservedness…lol!
And let me chip in something here, one his children, Fatima, is married to Prince Abdulazeez Adewale ‘Wallosh’ Oshinusi, a Yoruba man and son of the Turaki Adinni of Nigeria, Alhaji Kamal Oshinusi (see pictures). She was given out in marriage by Architect Namadi Sambo, the Vice President of Nigeria (see pictures) in June 2013. Dignitaries at the wedding fatiha at the Minna Central Mosque include the Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and the Chief Imam of the mosque, Mallam Isa Fari.
“This administration has no desire whatsoever to succeed itself. It is clear that Nigerians want a country where fairness, justice and equity are not mere slogans. Nigerians want true democracy.” -July 20, 1998 while addressing the nation.
-In support of amnesty for Boko Haram: “Anything that can bring peace in the country to the people needs to be studied and to see the merit and demerit of such an action. Yes there are a lot of people for and against Boko Haram; we should situate our position to the people who are getting the blunt of all these activities. People are made homeless; they are made orphans; they are widows; so if amnesty to this people will bring peace and bring succour to our country, why not.” He said this in March 2013 at the African Union Secretariat in New York, United States.
-While leaving office: We (the military) must forever resist and renounce the seduction and temptation of political power and office. We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. It is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast-changing world in which the new political and social values are transcendent.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT HIM
When General Abdulsalami promised to handover, not a few doubted him. Olisa Agbakoba, one of Nigeria’s most famous human rights activist, said: “We’ve seen these kinds of statements before, in 1985, in 1992 and in 1993, when Abacha came into office. Simply put, there is no way the military can manage a genuine transfer of authority to civilian society.”
-It has been a good start and General Abubakar has won the support of Nigerian people. They have seen enough broken promises and faded hopes to justify skepticism, but they are giving him benefit of doubt. So are we. -Robin Cook, British Secretary of Defence.
INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT GENERAL ABDULSALAMI
-He is an author of a number of books and these include:
–Nigeria: A New Beginning (1998).
–The Challenges of Security in a Democratic Nigeria (National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, 2004).
–Nigeria, a New Beginning: The Maiden and Three Successive National Broadcasts of the Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Abdulsalami Abubakar. (Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, 1998).
–In October 1979 when Obasanjo was handing over to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, Abdulsalami was the Commandant who called upon Obasanjo to inspect the Guard of Honour during the ceremony.
-When General Abdulsalami was asked why May 29 was selected as the Democracy Day since it did not really have any historical significance in the country, he replied that it was just ‘a matter of expediency and convenience.’
-General Abdulsalami spent 355 days in power and was able to usher the nation into the democracy that we are all now ‘enjoying’.
-In his maiden world press conference on Monday, 7th September, 1998, he managed to charm reporters and journalists by allowing them free access to the Presidential Villa, something almost unthinkable under Abacha, especially for the ‘rebellious’ reporters. That day, he was full of smiles and confidence, chatting freely with the journalists, once regarded as destructive elements by the same military. Suddenly, General Abubakar Abdulsalami did not look like a brutal military dictator…lol!
CRITICISM AND CONTROVERSIES
-MKO Abiola’s death: That the winner of the 1993 presidential elections, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola died on the 7th of July, 1998, shortly before he was to be released from detention, under questionable circumstances have made many Nigerians to view Abdulsalami permanently with suspicion.
-Although General Abdulsalami is widely respected for handing over power to civilians, critics point out the fact that he was part and parcel of one of the most destructive regimes in Nigeria -the Abacha junta. He displayed unalloyed loyalty to the late Abacha and even formed the special military tribunal that held the trial of Lt. General Oladipo Diya and condemned him to death. However, in fairness to General Abdulsalami, it must be stated clearly that he was one the few in the regime that called for a rapid end to the military rule in Nigeria even before his boss, Abacha died suddenly. Even while Abacha was Head of State, Abdulsalami once stated shortly before his death, publicly at a function to celebrate the Nigerian Navy Week that: ‘the survival of the country depends on a rapid and peaceful transition to a lasting democracy.’ But something interesting strikes me here: Abacha himself was interested in perpetuating himself in power, so I am not sure whether our dear General was subtly supporting an Abacha presidency or just calling for an end to the military rule. We need to however, bear in mind that he was also due for retirement at that time. When he later delivered a lecture at the Chicago State University, Illinois, USA, he was criticized for supporting the Abacha regime and its flagrant abuses of human rights and pronounced guilty by association. General Abdulsalami was not allowed to defend himself at the event.
-Relationship with IBB: General Abdulsalami and the evil genius and Nigeria’s only military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida are close buddies and many Nigerians decry this relationship. Both of them are from Niger State and are of the same Gwari ethnic group. Both attended the same school in Bida, and were even classmates, and in Minna, their houses are not far apart. For many, IBB clearly stands out as the most corrupt leader ever to come out of Nigeria and for Abdulsalami to associate himself with him raises some eyebrows. When Abacha died, IBB was one of the loudest voices in support of Abdulsalami becoming the new military dictator.
-When Abacha died, his Chief Security Officer, Major Hamza al-Mustapha said he was so enraged when Abdulsalami sat on the late Commander-in-Chief’s seat that he could have gunned him down at that moment. In his testimony during his incarceration, al-Mustapha said:
The next most senior person and officer in government was General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who was then the Chief of Defence Staff. We rejected the other Service Chief, who, we believed, was too ambitious and destructive. We settled for General Abubakar and about six of us called him inside a room in the Head of State’s residence to break the news of the death of General Abacha to him.
As a General with vast experience, Abdulsalami Abubakar, humbly requested to see and pray for the soul of General Abacha which we allowed. Do we consider this a mistake? Because right there, he – Abubakar – went and sat on the seat of the late Head of State. Again, I was very furious. Like I said at the Oputa Panel, if caution was not applied, I would have gunned him down.
–Corruption allegations: Like most other Nigerian leaders too, allegations of grand corruption have also been flung in General Abdulsalami’s face. In 2001, before the Oputa Panel, petitions were sent in in respect to this. Also, in November 2012, Sahara Reporters published that Abdulsalami received a Halliburton contract kickback of $37.5 million which was wired to his accounts in the United States. Construction giant, Julius Berger was allegedly used as the conduit for the bribes.
-In October 2012, the Punch reported that Integrated Energy Distribution and Marketing Services Limited, of which General Abdulsalami is the chairman of board, was in the lead to acquire three of the ‘juiciest’ electricity distribution companies in Nigeria: Eko, Ikeja and Ibadan. Not a few Nigerians questioned the transparency of the bidding process as organized by the Bureau of Public Enterprises. How it all later ended I do not know but what I am very sure of is that Nigerians are still living in blinding darkness and we are tired of the so so blackness.
APPOINTMENTS, AWARDS, HONOURS AND LAURELS
Over the years, in and out of military service, General Abdulsalami has bagged a number of accolades:
-Forces Services Star (FSS).
-Meritorious Service Star (MSS).
-Chairman, Commonwealth Observer Group.
-Special Envoy to the United Nations Secretary General.
-Mediator for Liberia Peace Talks.
-Special Envoy to Chairman of African Union.
He is also a recipient of the following, in addition to numerous honorary doctorate degrees:
-Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR, Nigeria’s highest national honour. Obasanjo’s first official act as President was to honour Abubakar with the GCFR.
-Companion of the Order of the Star of Ghana, GSG.
-Medal of Grand Officer, France.
-Grand Order of Monor of Togo.
-National Distribution in the Order of the Pioneers, Liberia.
-Rainbow/Push Coalition Peace Prize.
-He was also appointed by the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to lead the United Nations Mission to Congo (MONUC).
-The Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute of Peace and Sustainable Development Studies (AAIPSDS), Minna, Niger State was established in 2002 and he is the Chairman of the Governing Council.
GENERAL ABDULSALAMI TODAY
Today, the General is regarded and respected as a statesman. His role has Nigeria’s transitional leader has earned him a great deal of respect and honour, within the country and in the international community. He has served as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Observer Group during the parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe in 2000