When, in 1994, the late General Sani Abacha, invited former Head of State, Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari to serve as head of the newly created Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF), the latter gave one condition for this acceptance: He must be given the title of Executive Chairman, and he must have a free hand to run the Fund as he saw fit, without any interference from anyone.
The PTF was itself a child of controversy. Abacha had, in 1994, increased the price which Nigerians had to pay for petrol, diesel and kerosene. The Nigerian populace vehemently opposed the hike, both because the increase was exorbitant, and because most Nigerians were certain that the windfall from the price hike would find its way into the hands of a few highly placed Nigerians.
To assuage this fear, Abacha summoned Gen. Buhari from retirement, to administer a new Trust Fund into which all excess income from the price increase would be paid, and from which the Fund would intervene in critical areas of the economy in such a manner as to directly benefit ordinary Nigerians. Buhari’s main qualification was that he was considered to be both a strict disciplinarian and an incorruptible man. And he was for this reason expected to ensure that the fund was properly used, and that it would not become another avenue from which public funds were simply carted away by a handful of well-placed Nigerians. That was the expectation. But the reality, in the end, was a story of massive and cynical looting of the public treasury under the watchful eyes of General Buhari –an ineptitude leader. Many years later, the same Major General Muhammadu Buhari now the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the audacity to say that his “integrity is intact”.
How the Fund Became a Funnel
Gen. Buhari was Executive Chairman of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund from its inception in 1994, to its disbandment by the Obasanjo administration in 1999. According to the report of the Interim Management Committee, which was set up in that year to investigate the affairs of the Fund, the total income accruing to the Fund from mid-1994 to July 1999 was in excess of N181 billion. There were six major areas in which the PTF intervened directly during the period. They were: roads and waterways; supply of educational materials and rehabilitation of educational infrastructure; food supply; health; water supply; and what was curiously termed other projects.
The management structure of the Fund was so capricious, from start, as in retrospect to suggest that the executive chairman was far more impressed by his position as an alternate Head of State, an Interventionist Czar who was answerable to no one, not even the Head of State himself, than anything else. First, he unilaterally appointed a single consultant, Afri-Projects Consortium, as the sole adviser to the Fund. Then he delegated virtually all his powers to this agency. Afri-Projects Consortium was given the exclusive power to initiate projects, assess their probable cost, approve the costs, execute the projects, and assess the quality of execution, all alone. The Consortium’s decisions could not be questioned by anyone outside the Fund. Even the statutory members of the Fund’s Board of Trustees found themselves helplessly watching as huge sums of money were paid out for questionable projects. And not surprisingly, the three professional management firms recruited by the Interim Management Committee to audit the performance of Afri-Projects Consortium came up with the unanimous conclusion that APC had over-charged the Fund for its services to the tune of over N2 billion.
The Rural Telecommunications Development Scheme was another such scheme from which money was cynically carted away by favoured clients. The scheme was designed in two parts: a Pilot Phase, and the Main Phase. The Pilot programme was intended to determine the viability of the project. But this did not deter PFF, under Gen. Buhari, to award contracts for the main programme to the tune of N1.6 billion, without any contracts signed, and before any conclusions could be drawn from the Pilot project.
It is a horrendous story of criminal negligence, cynical fraud, and unprecedented disregard for all civilised standards of prudence and transparency in the disbursement of public funds. In the end, the independent consultants concluded that of the N181 billion that accrued to PTF in the four and a half years of its existence between July 1994 and July 1999, as much as N25 billion was either stolen or improperly expended. Gen. Buhari was Executive Chairman of the Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund from its inception in 1994, to its disbandment by Obasanjo administration in 1999.
The Great Man’s Defence
Sources from within the PTF Interim Management Committee assert that when Gen. Buhari was invited to comment on the findings of the committee’s consultants regarding the conduct of the empire over which he presided, he coyly retorted that he was not aware that such massive fraud went on his watch, but that in any event, he could not have benefited personally from the hideous purloining of the treasury. .
That may be true, but it does not detract from the fact that he delegated to this outfit the sole and exclusive power to initiate projects, assess those submitted by other companies, approve variations on contract sums, and determine the quality of work done. He also, by his own admission, according to our sources, approved in writing all recommended payments from the Fund. But he did not know, he claimed, that those to whom he had delegated virtually all his powers were stealing the country blind. And no one has a right to call him to account, since to do so would be to question his famous reputation.
Remember Former President Shehu Shagari was kept in jail for nearly one and a half years by Buhari, and almost lost his sight, when Buhari seized power on December 31, 1983, not because he was found guilty of any criminal offence, certainly not for abuse of his office. Shagari’s only crime, it appeared, was that Buhari was convinced that the buck stopped at his desk, for as President, he had to pay vicariously for the purported crimes of his lieutenants. Umaru Dikko, Shagari’s ubiquitous Minister of Transport, almost died in a crate, contrived by Buhari, that was en route from London to Nigeria, where he no doubt would have suffered worse than Shagari’s fate. Some state governors were jailed for 200 years and more, because they could not account for how they spent their security votes (which were often no more than N20 million).
According to the report of the Interim Management Committee, which was set up in that year to investigate the affairs of the Fund, the total income accruing to the Fund from mid-1994 to July 1999 was in excess of N181 billion. There were six major areas in which the PTF intervened directly during the period. They were: roads and waterways; supply of educational materials and rehabilitation of educational infrastructure; food supply; health; water supply; and what was curiously termed other projects. Shockingly, Buhari ensured that over 70% of the projects in the 6 categories were done in the north. What a fair-minded officer and gentleman. A nationalist indeed who was voted in 2015 to bring the change we all desire! And now he wants to be re-elected for another four years.
The management structure of the Fund reflected how Buhari ran the affairs of the country as head of state, when he abdicated all responsibilities to Tunde Idiagbon. He was just satisfied with being the executive chairman, as he was with being called head of state and c-in-c. And, without being accountable to anybody, at the PFT, Buhari exuded the impression he was an alternate Head of State. The same way he kowtowed to Idiagbon was the same way he handed over PTF to a single consultant, Afri-Projects Consortium (APC), as the sole adviser to the Fund. This agency- Afri-Projects Consortium – was given the exclusive power to initiate projects, assess their probable cost, approve the costs, execute the projects, and assesses the quality of execution, all alone by Buhari. Nobody questioned their actions and legality of the powers they exercised. After all, puritan Buhari was watching.
The same way General Buhari ran his government and even the PTF under Late General Abacha is the same way our unrepentant president has handed over the destiny of all Nigerians and their unborn generations to the “CABAL” in ASO ROCK today.
Since Buhari was not accountable to even Abacha who appointed him and board set up to supervise the PTF was supplanted by APC at the behest of Buhari, it meant the PTF functioned like a parallel government. The submission of Afenifere to the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission (HRVIC) led by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa gives an incredible insight into Buhari’s biased and nepotic disposition to the other parts of country. Afenifere noted at the Oputa Panel that nothing else typifies the marginalisation of the Yoruba nay the south than the lopsidedness of the projects carried out by the PTF. Figures from PTF Situation Reports (Vol. 2 Dec. 98) show that the PTF carried on as if there was no Southern Nigeria, as well over 70% of projects were shamelessly taken to the north by Buhari.
The same is happening today to the lopsidedness in the appointment of the heads of government, agencies, security agencies and other federal appointments. Federal Character does not matter anymore in Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari.
For the avoidance of doubt, let us attempt sector by sector analysis here. Of all the roads rehabilitated by the PTF, only 1984.5 kms of roads representing 24% were carried out in the entire South; from where the bulk of the PTF revenue came since the south consumes over 70% of refined petroleum products. Out of this paltry figure, South West got 10.5% while South east and south south combined, got only 13.5% of all the roads, despite being ravaged by erosion and swamps. What this means is that all the Southern States had 4,440.43 kms or 24 per cent of road rehabilitation as against 13,870.47 kms or 76 per cent in the Northern States.
The North-West States of Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara had a lion share of 5020 kms or 27.42% because the Fund’s Chairman, puritan Buhari and the military dictator Sani Abacha were from there; The North-East States of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe picked 23.48 per cent. This is the zone where Salihijo Ahmed, the late Chief Executive of Afri-Project Consortium APC, the sole consultants that supervised all PTF projects came from.
Afenifere submission showed further the Figures in other sectors were even more callous. For instance, under the National Health and Educational Rehabilitation Programme (NHERP), the entire south had zero allocation in the tertiary programme, while the North picked 100 per cent. In the vocational programme, the entire South had 3% while the North had 97%. In the primary area, the South recorded 12% as against 88% for the North and in the secondary area, it was 14% for the entire South and 86% for the North, again courtesy of the fair-minded general who the APC says will bring the change we need.
The health sector is also similar. For the Teaching Hospitals, the South had 38% while the North had 62%. For the Specialist Hospitals, it was 29% for the South and 71 per cent for the North; in General/State Hospitals the south had 44% while the North had 56%. For health clinics, it was zero for the entire South against the North’s 100 per cent. Under the food supply summary, the South had 17% compared with 83% for the North, Buhari’s zone having 60.54 per cent to itself. Figures do not lie. Why should a fair-minded nationalist run the PTF in such lopsided manner? Is he seeking votes to return to power to wreck more underdevelopment to the southern Nigeria?
On the massive fraud discovered when PTF was disbanded in 1999, the prudent, puritan general only defence was that he was not aware that such massive frauds went on his watch, but that in any event, he could not have benefited personally. What manner of defence! And of cause he has remained poor ever after and had to take a loan from banks to purchase nomination forms. Buhari must believe Nigerians are a bunch of idiots to tell such a story, despite driving a fleet of armored jeeps even when his convoy was attack at Kawo Kaduna by a bomber.
In the end, the independent consultants concluded that of the N181 billion that accrued to PTF in the four and a half years of its existence between July 1994 and July 1999, as much as N25 billion was either stolen or improperly expended, under our anti-corruption crusader!
For a moment let us accept that Buhari was not aware of the massive frauds at the PTF and dis-empowerment of the entire southern Nigeria in his PTF days. This poses even a greater danger because it means a cabal would naturally run the country if he becomes President. If a much younger Buhari could not stop fraud and dis-empowerment of the entire southern Nigeria in the PTF, can an octogenarian Buhari do any better?
The tragedy of the PTF recounted clearly shows that Buhari is an unrepentant dictator who is not prepared to listen to anybody. This explains why he told Achacha he would not account to anyone as Chairman of PTF. Can this same Buhari who ran a parallel Government with PTF, be subjected to democratic practices and ethos, like allowing the Legislature and Judiciary to run as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution?
Is the quintessential principle of separation of powers, which govern democracy be possible in a Buhari Presidency? Aside torpedoing democracy in 1983 for no just cause and being an unapologetic Islamic fundamentalist, Buhari is, by nature and training, anti-democratic. He abhors the press and press freedom. He just cannot bear the fact that all human beings are born equal. To him, there are blue-bloods and talakawas whose place in life is hewing wood and drawing water. The world has moved from such atavism and Nigeria should not be further dragged back to it in fulfillment of Buhari’s inordinate ambition beyond 2019 May.