Friday, 19 August 2011

IBB, a fool at 70 –Obasanjo •Defends his role in privatization

OBJ
Former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday responded to General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s dismissal of his eight-year rule as a failure, describing the former military president as a fool at 70.

Babangida had on Tuesday in Minna, Niger State on the occasion of his 70th birthday, described Obasanjo as lacking in foresight and imagination.
Barely 48 hours after, Obasanjo replied him. He had conducted a team from the United States (US) round the Olusegun Obasanjo Library in Abeokuta,Ogun State. He told reporters that Babangida’s description of him as a failure was not only the ranting of a drowning man, but that of a fool at 70.

The ex- president, who was dressed in a blue guinea brocade and a cap to match, was initially hesitant when journalists who learnt of the inspection few hours earlier, asked him to react to Babangida’s comment.
His words: “I did not believe my ears when the news came to me until I read it in some national dailies.”

Quoting from the book of Proverbs chapter 26 verses 4 and 5, Obasanjo justified his reason for referring to Babangida as a fool, adding that the statements ascribed to the ex-military president were not well thought-out.
He added: “Well, normally when I read these things I don’t believe them. Yesterday (Wednesday), when somebody phoned me and said this was said, I said don’t believe it. He said check all the papers and I said get me all the papers. They got me the papers and I read. It’s a little bit unlike Babangida.

“But if Babangida had decided on becoming a septuagenarian that will be a fool, I think one should probably do what the Bible says in Proverbs chapter 26, verse 4. It says: ‘don’t answer a fool because you may also become like him.’

“When you go to the same Proverbs chapter 26, verse 5, it says, answer a fool so that he will not think he’s a wise man. So, I am now torn between which of the two verses I should follow in this respect. Some of the things he said, unfortunately, were not well thought-out.” According to Obasanjo, no successive government after he left as military Head of State in 1979 built any new dam to complement the ones at Jebba and Shiroro built under him except the Egbin Plant that he initiated and was later completed by the Shehu Shagari-led government.

He wondered why Babangida would describe his eight-year rule as wasted, explaining that he (Babangida) had the opportunity to build more power plants and dams when he was President, considering the amount of money the nation had in its coffers then. “When I was the military Head of State, I built Jebba dam; built Shiroro dam, I prepared the foundation of Egbin Plant, which President Shagari completed and commissioned. That time the money we were making was not up to the money Babangida was making annually for his eight years and yet, we built two dams. Because it was important, you know that power is the driving force for development and for any developing country.

“But since the building of Egbin Power Plant, until I came back in 1999, there was not any generating plant for almost 20 years and Babangida spent eight years out of that. Now, he has the audacity to talk about anybody. I think that is unfortunate.” Obasanjo stressed that Babangida’s comment on his tenure as a civilian president between 1999 and 2007 was unfortunate, adding that rather than being angry, he felt the former military president deserved sympathy.

“I also read where he said in his time, he gave the dividends of democracy and at the same time he regretted. When I read that, well, I said, Babangida should be pitied and shown sympathy rather than anger or condemnation because the old saying which says a fool at 40 is a fool forever and I would say a regret at 70 is regret too late. Well, a regret at 70 is a regret to the grave.”

On el-Rufai’s allegations at the just-concluded probe of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Obasanjo confirmed that he actually blocked the privatization of the Nigeria Airways which he said was deliberate, considering the heavy burden the sale of the Airways would put on the country. Obasanjo recalled that during his regime as military ruler, Nigeria Airways had 32 aircraft, but had only one left by the time he returned as elected president, 20 years later.

His words: “I blocked the sale of Nigeria Airways, not that I attempted to block the sale of Nigeria Airways. When I was military Head of State, Nigeria Airways had 32 aircraft, by the time I came back as elected president, Nigeria Airways had only one aircraft. “ One of the 32 was a wide body, they have all gone and the report on which we worked is here, the amount of money we will have to pay if Nigeria Airways was sold, what we would get out of it is less than 10 per cent of the debt we have to pay. That will be the debt Nigeria taxpayers will have to pay; that will not be the way to run the affairs of this country.

“I won’t run my own affairs that way, so, I opted for liquidation. So, it was bankrupt, it was liquidated; in which case whatever you gain from liquidation which is also a form of sale, it means the burden will be shared by all the creditors and everybody. So, if I owe you 10 dollars and what I sell when I am liquidated is two. That’s what you get.

“I did not allow normal privatization or sale because it would have put a very heavy burden on Nigeria. So, Nigerians should know that and in fact, my administration should be commended for that. It’s not that I did not allow that sale because the law establishing its sale and liquidation is also a form of sale.” Asked whether he would honour any invitation from the panel that investigated the BPE, Obasanjo said he was ready to appear before any panel, adding jokingly:  “I’m available.”

The erratic power supply in the country also attracted the attention of the former president, assuring Nigerians that if the Goodluck Jonathan administration continued with the trend of building power plants as being done in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, the country  by 2013, would be generating nothing less than 10,000 megawatts annually.
He said  that his civilian administration built Papalanto, Omotosho and two other power plants to boost power supply.

“Then as elected president, I built Papalanto, Omotosho and two others. I started five of what they called Independent Power Plants (IPP) which were stopped for two and a half years. Now the present administration has started building a new power project at Uyo.

“As a country, Nigeria should be adding nothing less than 1,500 megawatts annually. South Africa with a population of 50 million people generates 50,000 megawatts. Nigeria with a population of about 165 million, we are not generating. We, as at 1999 met 1,500 megawatts before we took it up to 4,000 megawatts. They have started building on what we initiated,” he concluded.

Culled from Sun onlinenews

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