Nuhu Ribadu, former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) now Nigeria’s National Security Adviser has been very vocal lately and there may well be many out there who may be wondering why the NSA, effectively the country’s official “father of secrets” should be so loud in the public arena. The NSA in any country is an ultra-senior adviser to the President, counsellor and confidant on both domestic and foreign policies. He is also a coordinator of the country’s security network. But there is no manual as to the style or method that any NSA brings to the office. It is simply a matter of character and choice. A National Security Adviser may choose to be in the background or opt to be vocal like Zbigniew Brzezinski of the United States, and Henry Kissinger who was both NSA and Secretary of State in his time. Kissinger was so public and vocal, he often appeared as if he was sharing power with President Richard Nixon. It looks like Nuhu Ribadu, the current National Security Adviser of Nigeria has chosen to be up-front and centre-stage and we must pay attention to what he says. In the last week alone, he has spoken twice and his statements are pungent. First, on November 13, at the annual Conference of the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Ribadu disclosed that Tinubu inherited “a bankrupt country.” The theme of the Conference was “Leveraging Defence Democracy and Regional Collaboration and Enhanced National Security”. He told his audience: “We are facing very serious budgetary constraints. It is okay for me to tell you. It is fine for you to know. We have a very serious situation… We have inherited a very difficult country, a bankrupt country to the extent that we are paying back what was taken. It is serious.”
Ribadu repeated more or less the same concerns, a few days later at the 19th Annual Conference of All Nigeria Editors in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State where in addressing the theme: “Stimulating Economic Growth, Technological Advancement: Role of the Media”, he called for the support of all Nigerians in eliminating all forms of insecurity. Earlier, at the Defence Chiefs Conference, he had praised the military for their patriotism which had led to a reduction in the spate of violent deaths, (from 1, 200 to less than 100 deaths), and increase in crude oil production – from 900, 000 barrels per day under Buhari to 1.7 million barrels per day under President Tinubu. He further said that the Bola Tinubu administration is committed to tackling the challenges that Nigeria faces.
It was intriguing to see Nuhu Ribadu, a former Chairman of the EFCC in the role of a social critic. But he wasn’t saying anything new or original. As far back as August 2016, Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had raised the alarm that the Buhari administration was running the Nigerian economy aground. He even gave six recommendations which the government of the day ignored. Seven years ago, Sanusi II also warned the government about the dangers of using foreign reserves to keep the exchange rate at its official level in the market. He said the policy would never work! Nobody listened. In more recent days, he has since reminded everyone how Buhari mismanaged Nigeria. Like Sanusi II, President Olusegun Obasanjo in the last seven years has also consistently accused the Buhari administration of spending recklessly and terribly lacking the understanding of economics. Obasanjo has not changed his mind that indeed Buhari caused Nigeria’s current economic woes due to sheer recklessness. Obasanjo and Sanusi II are not alone. In August, Senator Adams Oshiomhole also said the same thing. Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy told us, also in August, that the Tinubu administration inherited a “bad” economy with an unacceptable high rate of unemployment and inflation: “We met a bad economy and the promise of Mr. President is to make it better,” he said.
The question to ask is where was Ribadu between 2015 and 2023 under Buhari? Where was Wale Edun? Or Adams Oshiomhole, and all the self-styled economists now advising this administration? In 2019, Nuhu Ribadu was in fact the Director of Field Operations for the APC Presidential Campaign. He helped to bring Buhari back to power. Oshiomhole also campaigned for him. Were they deaf then to the protests by Sanusi II and Obasanjo that Buhari and his team were destroying Nigeria’s economy? What Ribadu, Edun, Oshiomhole and other APC figures now criticizing Buhari are doing amounts to self-indictment. They were part of the problem. And since Ribadu insists that the truth must be told: at what point did he discover the truth by the way?, let it be known that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu lacks the right to moralize over the failure of the Buhari government. Did he not boast in the domain of the man he called the Eleyi of Ogun State (Governor Dapo Abiodun) that he, Tinubu was the Godfather who re-discovered Buhari, told him to stop crying, and made him President. Where was he when his chosen President was mismanaging the economy? What did he do? Now that he has taken back what he believes rightly belongs to him, he now blames the APC “John the Baptist” at the Presidential Villa.
There is this traditional folk wisdom that says you can help a man to get a job, but you cannot help him to discharge the responsibilities that come with the office, how he goes about it is his responsibility. It is just that we are shocked to hear from NSA Ribadu that Buhari left an empty treasury and ran the country aground. Buhari met a country debt profile of N12.6 billion in 2015, he left behind N87 trillion debt in 2023! By May 29, 2023, Nigeria’s inflation rate was 24%, the country was left in such a stranglehold that by October, headline inflation had accelerated to 27.33%. Food inflation is now 31.52%, unemployment rate is over 50%. Buhari left behind a chaotic foreign exchange system, a weak, badly devalued national currency, a compromised, over-politicized Central Bank, a huge debt overhang with the debt service to revenue ratio at 98%. One of the major reasons Nigerians supported Buhari was out of the belief that as a retired Army General and a former military Head of State, he would be able to deal with the challenges of terrorism, insurgency and banditry head-long. Ribadu who is a policeman has disclosed that he did not make much difference. Buhari adopted the strategy of pacifying and appeasing terrorists. His administration gave criminals “aso ebi.” He served them pepper soup and jollof rice, under the guise of rehabilitation. Till the last moment, the Buhari administration blamed the Jonathan administration that preceded it for all its woes. Even when it became clear that the duty of every administration was to improve on the efforts of its predecessor, and that eight years was more than enough to make a difference, Buhari and his people continued to blame Jonathan.
But here is what Karma has served: in September, Mr Wale Edun said on record that the Jonathan administration stabilized the Nigerian economy, and that the last time the Nigerian economy functioned was under Jonathan. Since he left office, President Jonathan who marked his 66th birthday yesterday, has remained relevant. His example continues to endure as a gold standard for democratic conduct and sportsmanship. He did not play “do or die politics”. In the face of the desperation of APC politicians who were threatening to burn down the country in 2015, if they were not allowed to take power, he decided to walk away, and said Nigeria was more important than anyone’s individual ambition. Other African leaders have followed in his footsteps: John Mahama of Ghana and George Weah of Liberia. He is today one of the most sought-after former Presidents in the world – leading election observation missions and intervening in peace building processes. I doubt if any international organization would require President Buhari’s services any time soon.
I am in fact surprised that all the spokespersons of President Buhari who used to spit fire and brimstone have moved on. Notably. where is Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the former Minister of Information? He is now a Special Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). He has moved on. Femi Adesina, Presidential Spokesperson is now Vice Chairman of The Sun newspapers. He is a Pastor of the Foursquare Gospel Church. He has also taken a traditional chieftaincy title from his home town, Oluomo of Ipetumodu, in addition to chieftaincy titles he already had from Abia (Ugo Mba 1 of Isieketa) and Enugu (Nwanne di Namba of Nmaku). Pastor, multiple-Chief Femi Adesina has also moved on. In 2022, President Buhari, trying to show that he was determined to address the economic challenges that the country faced, decided to set up a Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC) to replace the Economic Management Team led by then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The committee was chaired by Dr. Doyin Salami of the Lagos Business School (LBS). Members included Bismarck Rewane, CEO Financial Derivatives, Chukwuma C. Soludo, former CBN Governor and now Governor of Anambra State, Professor Ode Ojowu, Dr Mohammed Sagagi, Dr Salisu Mohammed, Iyabo Masha: all first-class brains in economics and finance. In 2022, Salami was later made Chief Economic Adviser to the President. It took President Buhari four years to set up an Economic Advisory Council and seven years to appoint a Chief Economic Adviser. Obviously, he didn’t think the economy was important as Obasanjo alleged. Exactly what kind of advice did he receive? We may never know. His economic advisers have all melted into the folds of the Nigerian jungle where anything is possible. They are all probably waiting for the next Nigeria Economic Summit Group meeting where they can sound off about macroeconomics, scenarios, and those cliches with which textbook economics lobby for appointments. They too have moved on, in search of the next client. The only man who seems to be hanging around – our good friend Garba Shehu, also seems to have gone possum.
After President Buhari left office on May 29, Garba Shehu stayed back to help manage communications. He was Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to President Buhari. He continues to function in that capacity in the private sphere, playing the role of an attacking midfielder in the Buhari team. Each time anybody tries to attack the Buhari record, he pounces, and provides an alternative view. One of the first pieces he wrote after May 29 was “One Hundred Days After Buhari”- an innovation in presidential communications. He has also had cause to tell us that Buhari brought Nigeria out of economic hardship, why Buhari could not remove fuel subsidy and that his boss is not responsible for Nigeria’s high inflation rate. When Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice said in an interview with Adesua Giwa-Osagie that the Buhari administration was “the most incompetent in Nigerian history led by a set of political morons”, Shehu was quick to go after Adoke with expletives. But why has Garba Shehu not responded to NSA Nuhu Ribadu who has in fact outrightly accused the Buhari administration of theft? It has been a week since Ribadu delivered his double bombshell, and we have not heard from Garba Shehu. Is Shehu afraid of the NSA? Is he also aware that former Minister of Communications under Buhari, Adebayo Shittu has said on Channels TV: “In Buhari’s government, if you don’t go and meet him for the next four years, he would probably would not ask of you.” Engr. Shittu, he probably was not aware of your existence! Deal with that, please. However, I have seen, as of the time of this writing, a statement by Mallam Shehu on X (formerly Twitter) to the effect that President Muhammadu Buhari himself would appear on NTA Network, Monday, in an interview session titled “A Conversation with History.” The interviewer should ask him: how and why did he bankrupt Nigeria? His handlers should advise him not to come up with the jaded, contrived, response that he inherited a bad economy, which has been exposed as a blatant lie by those who should know.
This is where the Tinubu administration seems to be different. Whereas the Tinubu team has been saying that Buhari ruined the Nigerian economy because he was the perfect clueless leader, they have also been forthright in saying that Tinubu is determined to correct whatever may have gone wrong. That is leadership. That is accountability. That is courage. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a week ago, Tinubu said yes, he inherited liabilities but he also inherited assets. But “we do not make any excuses”. That is what Nigerians want – a leader who would “not make any excuses”. Buhari and his team spent eight years giving one excuse or the other. Throughout, they blamed President Jonathan, and hounded his team. At other times it was COVID-19. Or the President’s health. Or the Russia-Ukraine war. They even blamed the weather! Meanwhile, they abused Ways and Means and broke the law. Tinubu says he will make a difference. We expect him to do so.
It is not enough however, for the National Security Adviser to tell us that Nigerians “face a serious situation” and that “we are paying back what was taken”. If indeed, it is fine for us to know as he says, then he has to come out with the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The country’s NSA cannot afford to sound like a social media commentator. He must back his claims with concrete evidence. For acknowledging the right of the people to know, can he please tell us: who took what away? How much was taken away? How much are we paying back? How much have we paid back so far? Who are those persons responsible for bankrupting Nigeria? By making the statements he made in Abuja and Uyo, he faces the test of transparency and accountability. Full disclosure cannot be a threat to national security. Having brought the matter to the public domain, the NSA is obliged to tell us more.
The major thing we know for now is the repeated disclosure by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy that Nigeria can no longer borrow to fund budget deficit, and that it would be unwise to borrow more when debt service to revenue ratio is 98%, and the budget as a percentage of GDP is 10%. Edun thinks the country should focus more on revenue generation through infrastructure. He was accompanied to the Joint Senate Committee by Zach Adedeji, Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service and Ms. Patience Oniha, Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO). Patience Oniha? Yes, the same Ms. Oniha who used to tell us that there is nothing wrong with borrowing. Madam has started singing a new song…Oh la la…
- Abati is a columnist and scholar