After ten years of uninterrupted ‘democratic’ rule in Nigeria, many in and out of the country still wonder if anything has changed? Not a lot has really. I remember very vividly where I was in 1998, when Nigeria was handed a good hand. I was at home in Lagos, and then Head of State, General Abdusallami Abubakar announced the release of several high profile political prisoners. This was just after Sani Abacha had mysteriously died and a weary and grateful nation breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps the most known of the many prisoners released was one Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then serving a life sentence in Nigerian prisons.
I was more than pleased on learning of Obasanjo’s subsequent release. My belief then was that he would be a suitable leader for this new and emerging Nigeria. I remember sharing these thoughts with my sister, Nse. My argument was simply; the history books had been favourable to Obasanjo, who as a Military Head of State and had shown his commitment to democracy when he successfully conducted elections and transferred power to a civilian government in 1979. As a civilian and private citizen, Obasanjo remained relevant in the public forum. He openly disagreed with and criticized subsequent military rulers who seized power one after the other, putting the nation through its worst periods. Obasanjo was also well known internationally and I thought he was the man for the moment. After his eventually release, he contested and won the election to become Nigeria’s 2nd Elected President in 39 years. On the day of his inauguration (May 29, 1999), he declared May 29 as “Democracy Day in Nigeria”. This is yesterdays story.
Today, a decade after that declaration and two years after Obasanjo completed two 4–year terms as President of Africa’s most populous nation, the country yet finds itself in an unsure place. To put it quite clearly, the many troubles Obasanjo inherited, he merely packaged and 8 years later passed them on to his handpicked successor Umaru Yar’adua. I was never optimistic of Yar’dua’s candidacy, but I was very interested in seeing a hand over to a new government. [The whole country (and I included) had grown weary of Obasanjo’s strangle hold on power; his political bully-ish attitude and the antics of his friends in government.] As a matter of fact the only thing I found comforting was the very elemental fact that Yar’adua was going to be Nigeria’s first Commander-in-Chief with a Bachelors Degree (at least he is civilized, I thought) and like me he was a Chemist. For sure, Yar’adua was not power hungry: I mean, the guy had just spent 8 years as Governor of his State and was on his way back to his teaching job at one of Nigeria’s foremost Universities when he was persuaded by Obasanjo to run for President.
To say that I (like most Nigerians) am disappointed in the progress Yar’adua has made would be an understatement. While Obasanjo was just Baba, the Nigeria media has tagged President Yar’adua as Baba Go Slow; pointing to the slow pace of work and progress achieved under his leadership. Routine duties like cabinet appointments seem to take an eternity and it increasingly looks like Yar’adua did not have a game plan when he moved into Aso Rock Villa two years ago.
Nigeria seems to have slipped into coma of sorts. The same worn out policies, ideas and ideals are still being recycled and thrust on the people. Poverty is increasing, many especially the young and the brightest are leaving the country in droves and there is a general sense of apathy everywhere. Although I have not been in Nigeria in three years, I feel a sense that the momentum Nigeria gained in 1999 when Obasanjo swept into power and criss-crossed the globe in his bid to re-establish a presence for Nigeria has been lost by this present administration. That swing, the mojo is gone. It really seems like the government is playing a wait and see game.
There are still many burning issues in Nigeria; just look at the Niger Delta region, it is literally on fire. The Yar’adua government after promising a new approach and engagement in no holds barred conversations that would lead to a successful resolution of the Niger Delta crisis has instead now resorted to the use of military force. Perhaps, Yar’adua is not to blame for this. The Niger-Delta has become lawless with kidnappings and bombings becoming more prevalent in the last decade. Whether he is responsible or not is not relevant, today he is President and the buck stops with him. It does seem however, that Yar’adua has concluded like his predecessor Obasanjo that the issue of Resource Control cannot be addressed satisfactorily. To use football terms, Yar’adua has decided to ‘pass’ on this and instead fight the militants. Sadly, this approach will not work. What will work is a coming together in the real sense of the word to address truthfully all the issues raised by the Niger Delta people. Why does no one have an appetite for this frank conversation? The reasons are simple: there are too many government officials and citizens reaping blood money and benefiting from the current malaise. It is sickening!!!
The resolution of this Niger Delta standoff will have to include redrawing and reformulating what the people of the region (or any region in Nigeria) receive in terms of resources mined from their backyards. The Nigerian government will have to put the health and welfare of its citizens first before those of multinational companies and foreign interests. The international community, which has aided this contemptible treatment of the Niger Delta people, will move on if the situation persists and continues to show them in bad light. Already, many ‘friends’ have snubbed Nigeria. The government does not command the respect of its international peers. Just after 1999 (and the new democracy), Nigeria enjoyed tremendous goodwill internationally that this is not so today. Ghana and South Africa continue to shine to Nigeria’s detriment. Nigerians have and should complain, but it will be better if they speak up at the polls.
A dearth of infrastructure continues to plaque the country and it seems the Government has no plans for addressing this quagmire. There are not enough hospitals, schools, teachers, or power. Nigeria continues to be a uni-product economy, dependent only on the sale of crude oil. Trends around the world suggest that in the future, fossil fuels will continue to have less of an economic impact internationally as many countries are developing and moving towards so called ‘green’ energy alternatives like wind, solar and electricity. What will happen to Nigeria then? With no eyes or thoughts on the future, this country will be in a worse place than it is today.
The panacea? The Yar’adua government must begin to lead. He has 2 years left in his first term to begin constructively rebuilding this nation. For god’s sakes, Umaru Yar’adua, don’t just create another Ministry to solve the Niger Delta problem, tackle resource control once and for all. What’s fair is fair. Do away with all the bureaucratic nightmarish government plans and focus on meaningful and targeted power generation. There is really no need to put down ambitious agendas when there is no will to see them to fruition. It is simply a waste of time. President Yar’adua must devise and begin planning on how to wean Nigeria off its addiction to petrol-dollars. This effort must start now. Lastly, the biggest problem in Nigeria is the political system and parties e.g. the PDP. The President’s party (the PDP) is a bastion of the most corrupt and vile Nigerians. This party should be re-structured and its archaic principles separated from the policies of the Government of the People of Nigeria.
For Nigeria to resume the walk from its ‘abyss-ical’ past, these relevant national questions must be addressed and dealt with now. No sweeping under the rug here. Nigeria as an independent nation will be 50 years old in October; frankly, there is no time to continue this walk to nowhere.