Home Opinion Between Teflon Tony and Fuel Subsidy Removal: Some Lessons

Between Teflon Tony and Fuel Subsidy Removal: Some Lessons

by Isiyaku Ahmed
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By Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

According to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 44th Governor of the State of New York, 1929-1933 and 32nd US President, 1933-1945, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

That is why for those who can properly read and interpret diplomatic body language, the timing of the announcement of the US delegation that attended Nigeria’s presidential swearing-in ceremony on May 29 and the arrival of Tony Blair to Abuja against the backdrop of an ongoing judicial process challenging the very same Eagle Square event the American delegation under the leadership of Marcia Louise Fudge currently the 18th US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development attended remains very instructive.

There is a key takeaway in Stephen Ellis’ This Present Darkness: A History of Nigerian Organized Crime published a year after his death in 2016, “In 1975, a report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the shortage of petroleum products found that a lot of the petrol being imported into Nigeria (due to the inability of the Port-Harcourt refinery to meet local demand) was being smuggled to Chad and the Niger Republic.”

If the foregoing sounds familiar it is because “fuel subsidy” started in Nigeria in 1973 against the background of the Yom Kippur War when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Nations (OAPEC) declared an oil embargo that saw the cost of a barrel of crude oil catapult from $3 to $12. The subsidy was formalized under Price Control Decree officially gazette on January 13, 1977. The rest is as they say still living history with the continued inability of Nigeria to still meet its petroleum refining capacity – decades later!

Kind of curious, isn’t it?

Nigeria and Venezuela would eventually counter-lever the Arabs in OPEC. the moral here is that all politics is local but is oiled by recurring international interests even as far back as nearly 60 years ago as we shall later see when I shall briefly digress to 1966.

That is the chief lesson for fellow Nigerians.

JP Morgan Chase (JPM) is America’s largest bank. That behemoth needs no elaborate introduction here. Neither does Britain’s longest-serving Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007 Tony Blair also known as Teflon Tony, a “senior adviser” employed by the megabank – a fusion of JP Morgan & Co. and Chase National Bank respectively founded in 1871 and 1877. The latter was incorporated in Nigeria in the 1960s as Chase Manhattan Bank eventually becoming Continental Merchant Bank.

John Piedmont Morgan Sr. (1837-1913) was a certified “robber baron” whom many Americans loved to hate alongside his son, John Piedmont Morgan Jr. (1867-1943) particularly when both loaned $500 million to Britain and France to finance the First World War. They reportedly dragged the US into the conflict to guarantee their prompt repayment. By 1913, Father and Son initiated a political process at the US Congress that set up a central bank known as the Federal Reserve Bank to date.

According to Richard White, the author of It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A History of the American West (1991), “Robber barons depicted those standing for a Gilded Age of corruption, monopoly, and rampant individualism. Their corporations were the Octopus, devouring all in its path.”

It is therefore not surprising that JPM has a Political Action Committee (PAC) that offers generous funding as guaranteed by American law to a diverse array of politicians like Madam Fudge who until her appointment into the Biden cabinet represented Ohio’s 11th Congressional District at the US House of Representatives between 2008 and 2021.

Following the highly disputed 2020 presidential elections in the US, JP Morgan Chase suspended PAC’s activities but resumed making political donations in June 2021 specifically to those not opposed to President Biden after the January 6, 2021 attempt by supporters of Donald Trump to stop the US Congress from certifying Biden’s win.

See details in, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/04/jpmorgan-resumes-political-giving-freezes-out-republicans-who-contested-2020-election.html

Simply put, Joe Biden is JPM’s man in the White House. Is that bank’s acolyte now in the Aso Rock Villa also?

The Chagoury brothers’ obviously longstanding allies to the said acolyte respectively born at Lagos in 1946 and 1949 are Nigerians of Lebanese descent with proven political connections in high American places as widely reported, https://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/17/politics/clinton-foundation-chagoury-state-department/index.html

In 2010, Teflon Tony breezed into Abuja for an exclusive audience with former President Goodluck Jonathan. Since then, he has been coming to Nigeria whenever there is about to be a change of government as can clearly be discerned from the attached pictures of May 2015 and May 2023.

 Interestingly, both pictures were taken at the same hilltop Maitama venue, Defence House.

Did he wear the same tie during those visits?

That however is beside the point.

The main issue is that when Teflon Tony came calling at Abuja in 2015 he openly solicited then President-elect Buhari, “You have more goodwill and authority now to do the most difficult things in the beginning than in the end. Take advantage of that goodwill that comes with being elected to take difficult decisions that may inflict immediate pain but in the long-term interest of the country and government.”

Mr. Blair was, of course, alluding to the removal of the Fuel Subsidy as he went on, “There is something wrong going on in a country like this, with such extraordinary resources of oil and amazing supply of energy, yet power generation is not happening the way it should; people are having to wait hours on end in queues for petrol and end up with huge subsidies that could be invested in long-term good of the country, infrastructure, and fundamentals, like human capital, education system and skills for young people.”

Noticeably, Buhari did not heed Teflon Tony’s admonition because the British investigative journalist, Tom Bower in his 2016 book entitled Broken Vows: Tony Blair and the Tragedy of Power writes, “Buhari emerged from the meeting looking noticeably disgruntled.”

More importantly, Mr. Bower gave an insight on how on a prior visit to Abuja in 2010 Teflon Tony things played out, “He (Tony Blair) asked for a one-on-one with the then Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan ostensibly to offer the services of African Governance Initiative (AGI) and Faith Foundation to help reconcile the country’s Muslims and Christians.

Again, he was given an intelligence briefing by the British embassy in advance.

But having charmed the president and – in the words of Jonathan’s staff – satisfied his ego, Blair then introduced him to J.P. Morgan chief Jamie Dimon.

The banker offered to manage Nigeria’s sovereign wealth fund – and Jonathan agreed. No other bank in the world was asked to tender for this profitable work.

From Nigeria, Blair flew with Dimon to Liberia, where he already had a charity AGI team in place to advise the president.

The upshot?

J.P. Morgan invested in a commercial project in Liberia.”

A million Naira question remains: what was the upshot in Nigeria under former President Buhari?

A follow-up question is on the present role of President Tinubu in such “continuity”?

Perhaps, regardless of local dynamics, the removal of the Fuel subsidy is also good business for JP Morgan Chase as Tony Blair reportedly told Mr. President at their recent Defence House meeting ahead of Tinubu’s swearing-in, “We would like to help in any way with your administration. We need to know what the leadership priorities are and help in how to actualize them.”

Lest we forget back in 2015, Teflon Tony reminded Buhari, “What a government does in its first hundred days is important. It would send a strong message to the people that the government is courageous and decisive.”

And what did the now outgone President do that time?

He couldn’t even name his cabinet, that’s what!

Jamie Dimon, an American of Greek descent who has been running JPM since 2005 was recently tipped to run for the presidency in 2024. It is currently one of the best-kept open secrets in the United States for the banker whose 2022 salary was $34.5 million.

Can’t just help wondering if Mr. Dimon’s compensation would have been that humongous without Nigeria’s sovereign fund.

Anyway, on July 29, 1966, Alhaji Aliyu Attah who later became IGP, 1990-1993 was an ASP attached to the Police College at Ikeja. He recounts in his memoirs entitled Joy of Service, “One early morning we heard gunshots from the 2nd Battalion next to us and soldiers were seen running helter-skelter. The British Commandant of the college, Mr. R.V. Jones was able to send a message to the coup leaders who replied that they would not attack us. At about 9.00 a.m., two high-grade cars drove in. One of them, flying the American flag, conveyed the American Ambassador, and the other car which flew the British flag, conveyed the British High Commissioner….”

Dr. Nowa Omoigui elsewhere goes on that it was not just a coup that had played out but an attempt by the North to opt out of Nigeria, “The British and American diplomats (Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce and Albert Matthews respectively) were effective at convincing Middle Belt officers that the North would have most to lose from a break up of Nigeria since they would lose access to the sea, become landlocked, and be cut off from federal revenues accrued in the South. Lt-Colonel Gowon was the first to become convinced by this line of argument.”

Prof. Alkasum Abba recounts the role of Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko Yusufu (1931-2015) who was eventually Nigeria’s 3rd IGP, 1975-1979 played on that fateful day;

“The break up (of Nigeria) was prevented by among others, the unanimous decision of federal Permanent Secretaries who met the coup leaders at the Ikeja cantonment and showed them why the planned break-up was bad. In spite of this, they prepared a document for the formal dissolution of Nigeria and were looking for a lawyer to check it for them. Yusufu, who was then Chief Intelligence Officer of Nigeria, told me that Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon invited him to attend their meeting at the Ikeja Cantonment and he refused; he told him that “when Soldiers get angry, the Police keep away from them.” He said he then asked him, what do you want? Gowon said they were looking for a lawyer to look at their document.

He told him that Justice Muhammed Bello (later CJN) was around and that they could bring the document to him to look at. Three of them (along with then Captain Joseph Nanven Garba) came with the document; Justice Bello was staying in a building overlooking the Central Bank of Nigeria (at Tinubu Square). He looked at the document, effected corrections, and then asked them a simple question. “When you go back to Kaduna, how are you going to pay your soldiers’ salary after two months?”

While they were staring at each other, he pointed out to them that the entire money Nigeria had, was in the (CBN) building and they cannot take it to Kaduna. He then advised them to take over the (federal) government instead of dismantling the country.”

From the foregoing, international intervention and local dynamics actively played out in our political affairs back in those heady days. Note the convergence of thought process between Messrs. Cumming-Bruce and Matthews on one side and the federal permanent secretaries (many who later came to be known as “Super Perm Secs” in our political lexicon) on the other.

Does it not imply the existence of some of form power-brokering loose mechanism that umpires political developments in our nation?

The obvious answer is another lesson.

For this writer, President Tinubu in the office is beyond the still disputed votes cast for him on February 25 because grand strategy is a function of vision of those with neither permanent friends nor enemies in Nigeria but have permanent interests here.

The timing of the outbreak of the Six-Day War in the Middle East and the Nigerian Civil War in 1967 remains too much of a coincidence.

Perhaps, the same could be said of the timing of the visits by Madam Fudge and Teflon Tony to Nigeria but without doubt, the historic meeting of Sir Francis Cumming-Bruce and Ambassador Albert Matthews with Nigeria’s future military rulers at the Police College at Ikeja was not unconnected with the petroleum resources supply chain;

“Nigerian oil was particularly important to Britain at the time given the disruptions in the Middle East. Although extra oil was available in the Persian Gulf at the time, this could not be lifted because of the shortage of tankers. This was the consequence of the blockade of the Suez Canal and the need to go around the Cape.

The importance of Nigerian oil was perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that while it took only 20 days for a round trip from Britain to Nigeria, a round trip from Britain to the Persian Gulf took 68 days. The British position was further complicated by the fact that the Arab oil ban on UK destinations effectively eliminated potential supplies from two possible short-haul sources in the Southern Mediterranean: Libya and Algeria.”

The bottom line was that;

“The British establishment did not like Ironsi as a person. He was considered to be, “cunning, strongly anti-British, and fantastically conceited”. Following this perception, the British authorities tried unsuccessfully to prevent his appointment as the first Nigerian General Officer Commanding the Nigerian Army.

Later, British government officials changed their attitude and greatly assisted him to take over the reins of power. This was perhaps because the British government reasoned that an established military hierarchy rather than unknown coup plotters, would better protect its interests in Nigeria.

Given the nature of the above change, the British government immediately realized that it was unlikely to retain its high level of influence in the affairs of Nigeria under the new (Ironsi) leadership.”

(Oil, British Interests and the Nigerian Civil War (2008) by Prof. Chibuike Uche formerly of the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus now at African Studies Center of Leiden University, The Netherlands)

Was it therefore surprising that Britain was publicly accused by Jean-Claude Fortuit, a French Gaullist parliamentarian of having inspired the July 1966 Coup in Nigeria?

See the details in the United Kingdom newspaper, Sunday Telegraph edition of 9 February 1969;

“Unfortunately, archival evidence that may have helped unravel the extent of possible British complicity in the murder of Ironsi has since been destroyed. Specifically, two important Foreign and Commonwealth Office reports, ‘The Nigerian Revolution: The First Hundred Days and ‘Nigeria: The Military Government’s Record’, were removed and destroyed by J. R. Green of the Prime Minister’s Office on 8 March 1996. This was shortly before the documents were to be made public. These reports, dated 6 and 7 June 1966, respectively, were produced shortly after the promulgation of the ‘Unification Decree’ and before the overthrow of General Ironsi (PR0/PREM/13/1040)”

In conclusion, what happens when the international community likes you as a person in Nigeria’s political game?

Apparently, you assume office under full diplomatic cover while your opponents are still in court.

Another very important lesson.

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