Posted by News Express | 28 November 2021 | 1,075 times
•Dr. Sylvester Ugoh
Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, Harvard-trained economist and former Minister of Science and Technology, is among those that can be said to have seen it all in politics and economy.
With participation in the Second Republic, General Ibrahim Babangida’s transition and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he discusses the politics of Nigeria with relative ease.
With the same candour, he talks on the Central Bank of Biafra, where he was the governor, explaining how he ran the two-man director institution for the 30 months the civil war lasted. Ugoh also dissects other issues in the land, identifying where the drift in the current democratic experiment commenced, as well as way out of the crisis.
The last time many Nigerians heard about you was during the PDP Convention of 1999. Since then, you have literally been off the scene. Why?
My wife was ill in the United States of America (U.S.), and my children, who were there, felt that I should come and stay with her because, usually, in the morning when they would have gone to work, she would be alone. It was not an easy decision for me to make. But considering her situation and how highly we regarded her, I decided to abandon everything here and move to the U.S. to stay with her and nurse her. That was how, I, more or less, disappeared from the scene in Nigeria.
Now that it is presumed that you are back, what do we expect from you?
Strictly speaking, nothing; because I am merely visiting. My wife did not survive the sickness. She eventually died in 2010 and my children insisted that I must remain in the U.S. I have been there since then. I visit Nigeria once a while. So, I am merely on a visit. I don’t intend to get involved at this time in anything happening in the country.
Accept our sympathy, sir.
Is it not curious that given your status as an elder statesman, you are saying that you do not want to get involved, even with the way things are going?
Yes, things are bad; but I cannot make any difference, if I were to be active. Many times, I have even wondered whether the service I rendered in this country did any good at all. But that is gone. Our situation is very serious. I don’t think a Sylvester Ugoh playing any part in Nigeria today can, alone, change anything. It is really not worth my while to spend any time here trying to correct the ills of the society.
How bad is the situation that you see and why do you think you can’t make any difference?
I my view, things are worse today than they were 20 years ago. In other words, whereas other countries are moving forward, if you check any area of our endeavour, you will discover that we are moving backwards. I don’t think we are successfully tackling the situation. So, being just one man, as I said, I don’t think I can change much, even if I were to put in the best that I have to offer.
You are a founding member of PDP. Do you still recognise the PDP that you people founded in 1998?
Things are worse today than they were when we founded the party. The party we founded is not the same today. It is the same in name; but the philosophy, the values and the commitment are not the same. Many people are in the party for what they can get out of it, and not for what service they can render to the country. That, I think, is what makes the difference.
Have you, in any way, expressed this concern to the leadership of the party?
No, I haven’t; but I don’t think they need my comment to know that the situation is grave. Any of them who is discerning would accept what I am saying to be true.
Olusegun Obasanjo was not part of those that founded PDP. To what extent do you think his emergence as presidential candidate of the party in 1999 contributed to the decline of the value system you talked about?
Strictly speaking, Obasanjo was imposed on the party. When the party was being formed, he was not available because he was not around. But the retired Army Generals felt that he would give them the security which they thought they needed and, so, imposed him on the party. As far as I am concerned, he ran the party as if it were a military organisation. From that day, the party started to decline, and one can hardly recognise it as what we had in mind when we were running around to form the party.
At that point of imposition, what did you, the civilians, do?
The civilians could not do much because, whether you like it or not, the military has a strong hold on Nigeria. Look at the people selected for the national conference. How many Generals do you have there? That gives you an idea of the strong hold the military has on the country.
Do you then see much coming out from the conference?
I don’t think the conference, as such, can solve our basic problems. This is because our basic problem, really, is not the constitution but the people who operate the constitution. I don’t think the conference is going to discuss the value system; or the fact that one can commit all sorts of crimes and get away with them. You don’t see any of the people committing these crimes being prosecuted and jailed as deterrent to others. So, many people in Nigeria believe that they can do anything and get away with it. That is the tragedy of the country.
During the General Ibrahim Babangida transition, you were the vice presidential candidate of the then National Republican Convention (NRC). Given the insinuations that the transition was programmed to fail, do you think your efforts were worth the engagement?
Of course, not! Babangida had no idea of handing over power. He maradona-erd every Nigerian to believe that he was going to hand over power, when he had no intention of doing that. So we were all sucked in. There was no doubt that that exercise was really futile because it didn’t lead us to anything, except that there was a swell of disgruntlement and disappointment that made the military to ask Babangida to “step aside”. That was the only thing it achieved and not much else. But then, (General Sani) Abacha was not better than Babangida. It was a continuation of the same old military junta running the country as if it were their private estate.
Though you have not been in the country, from what you have heard and read, how would you assess the current administration?
I have not been around. But the current administration is bedeviled with so many problems. Its authority is even questioned in some parts of the country; some of its intentions are, to many people, suspect. So, it has all these negative issues to deal with. Of course, as I had said, the incidence of people committing all sorts of crimes without being prosecuted, has continued.
That hasn’t helped them. This is in addition to the fact that since 1999, when Obasanjo promised us that within the end of his first year, we would have uninterrupted supply of power. From that day till date, we still do not have uninterrupted supply of power. Without regular supply of power, the economy cannot move. So, the current administration has too many problems, and I don’t think it is making much progress in solving them.
Do you think it is due to lack of capacity or political will?
I don’t know what is responsible. All I know is that from what I see, not much is being done to solve our basic problems. Whether it is because of lack of capacity or lack of will, I don’t know. I am not close enough to know the reason. All I know is that I can see the evidence of lack of progress.
Obasanjo comes around today to pontificate and make comments, even passing judgment on those that succeeded him. Given what he did or failed to do in eight years he was in the saddle, do you think he has the moral right to criticise others?
In my view, he should just do what (former President) Shehu Shagari did – go home and keep quiet; ‘sidon look’ as he would say. But coming out to pontificate is merely exposing himself because he did worse things than his successors, though much was expected of him.
Let us go back a little. You were the governor of the Central Bank of Biafra. How did you run the economy of that obviously besieged nation for three years, yet Biafra did not have the problem we are encountering now?
It was a different situation. Practically, most people in Biafra were interested in the success of the war. They were not interested in amassing wealth. So, the commitment was stronger than it is today. The people were prepared to make sacrifices which, today, people are not prepared to make. So, the situation is different. That, I think, explains your observation.
What did you do, practically, to run that economy?
I did not really run the economy as such. What I did was that, with the withdrawal of the Nigerian currency from Biafra, we had to try to create a money system that could be used to substitute for the Nigerian Pound, to facilitate buying and selling of goods and services.
So, my primary attention as governor of Central Bank of Biafra was really to make sure that we had enough currency to facilitate the running of the economy. That was the only thing we did because we were in a war situation and could not engage in other activities that a Central Bank ordinarily undertakes.