Better Leadership: Vice President Atiku’s Promise to Nigerians

by Oyeyemi Olodo

As supporters of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar celebrated their 12th victorious court judgment on the subject of the constitutional interpretation of Section 142(1) on Tuesday 20 February 2007, Atiku delivered his speech on “Challenges for Nigeria after the election” at Chatham House, London.

The Director of Research at the Chatham House, Dr Rosemary Hollis introduced the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar who spoke for about 45 minutes before answering questions from journalists.

The Integrity Magazine gives you, the full transcript of the Vice President speech entitled: Challenges for Nigeria after the elections.


Vice President, Atiku Abubakar: Good evening distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It is, indeed, an honour to be present with you here today. Some of you may know that I had first intended to deliver a speech at this renowned Institute in October 2005 before rather unpredictable political events, events that continue to unfold even as I speak, conspired to disrupt my intention of coming here at that time. It has, however, always been my wish to have the privilege of addressing this Institute and to come and exchange ideas and views with you. Once again, thank you for honouring me by taking time out to come and hear me speak here today.

The focus of my address this evening will be the challenges facing my nation, Nigeria, in this very important year where elections are scheduled to hold in April and how these may impact our attempts to build a strong, virile and prosperous country with a thriving economy, driven by an educated, skilled, and motivated workforce. I will also speak about our quest to enthrone a free, just and equitable society anchored on the principles and ethos of democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law in the face of numerous man-made obstacles that have been placed in the path of this quest.

At the end of my discussion, I will be glad to answer any questions you may have for me.

You will recall that, after many years of military dictatorship and autocratic rule, Nigeria returned to a democratic system of government in May 1999 with the election into office of President Olusegun Obasanjo, and my humble self, as President and Vice-President, respectively. At the time, our citizens and, indeed, our friends all over the world, expected that the return of democracy would deliver a better life for the people of Nigeria; we all expected that democracy itself would be deepened and institutionalised, and Nigeria would return to its pride of place in the comity of nations, and remain a shining example and a beacon of democracy and good governance in Africa.

Today, however, the realities on the ground contrast sharply with the expectations we had when we commenced on this democratic path in May 1999. Today, the Nigerian state is not functioning properly and is in grave danger of failing as a nation-state. There has been a prolonged and sustained assault on Nigeria’s young democracy, its political structures, and the very institutions that support and nurture democracy, including the judiciary and the press. Concerted efforts have been underway, for some time now, to return the country to full-blown autocracy and dictatorship. Sadly, these efforts appear to be succeeding, in spite of the best efforts of some of us.

We are witnesses to the intrigues, the subterfuge, and the machinations that have been employed in the run up to the April elections. We are confronted with a situation where our president, whose term of office will expire in May of this year, has called the upcoming elections ‘a do-or-die affair’ for him and his political party rather than a free contest or a test of the acceptability of his party by Nigerians in the unfettered exercise of their constitutionally granted right to freely elect their leaders. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, what more evidence do we need that the April elections are not intended to be free or fair?

Today, we are witnesses to a very bizarre order of things in the political, social and economic spheres of our polity. In the economic sphere, for example, the well conceived and well intentioned privatization programme which was designed to transparently transfer state owned assets to private hands to ensure better service delivery has gradually been personalised and our prized economic assets and choice enterprises have been cornered and auctioned off to a tiny cabal of private sector interests closely associated, or in full partnership with, those in the corridors of power, with little or no pretence at due process or transparency. The very same people who wrongfully and maliciously accuse innocent people of wrongdoing in order to settle personal and political scores have turned around and used the privatization programme to auction our crown jewels to themselves at rock-bottom prices.

Similarly, the much-hyped economic reform programme has been turned on its head and has now become a weapon to inflict maximum anguish and suffering on the generality of Nigerians. An otherwise nationally beneficial programme that was devised to re-structure our economy and turn our fortunes around, has now being turned into a convenient tool of demagoguery and promoted as an article of faith, any variation from which is official apostasy.

In the political sphere of things, the picture is murkier, ominous, and pathetic. Unfairness, injustice, desperation, blatant manipulation and intolerance are the philosophy of the day. The political space has been so fraudulently rigged and forcefully constricted that comparisons with the worst forms of military dictatorship now come to look very charitable. Those considered potential or real adversaries have been systematically and illegally purged from the ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party, or from the political space completely. Everything foul and unfair has been done to stifle opposition within the party, whether such opposition was real or imagined. Candidates who are perceived to challenge the vested political interests of powerful persons and candidates who were lawfully nominated in their constituencies in fulfillment of due constitutional provisions have been branded as corrupt and are blackmailed with the odious toga of corruption. Those who are considered to be of no threat or are willing accomplices to the imposition of dictatorship are hailed as innocent. Opposition party politicians are not spared either.

As if this brazen and illegal charade were not enough, some candidates will be publicly branded as corrupt and declared to be ineligible to contest the April elections one evening, only to emerge with the immaculate garb of innocence the next morning, all after very dubious backroom negotiations. Conversely, some politicians who have never held public office in their lives are publicly branded as corrupt and declared to be ineligible to contest the elections simply because they happen to express their desire to contest on the platform of parties other than a particular party, or they seek to run against certain candidates who have been anointed by the powers that be, or candidates who are family members of powerful elements in the ruling cabal. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, this is the kind of ‘do-or-die’ democracy that someone insists must be imposed on our beloved country!

In a nutshell, therefore, the greatest challenge facing Nigeria today in the run-up to the April elections is the looming dictatorship confronting

us head-on. Unless we redouble our efforts to save our democracy and install a new kind of leadership, a listening leadership, a leadership that respects and holds sacrosanct the wishes and aspirations of all Nigerians, our country is clearly at a significant risk of a general breakdown of law and order and serious internal conflict. Most of us here are familiar with the debilitating crises that have befallen many an African country where people have been denied their sovereign right to choose whom to govern their affairs. We have seen in countries as varied as the Democratic Republic of Congo where a constitutional crisis between President Joseph Kassabuvu and Patrice Lumumba led to the emergence of Joseph Mobutu as temporary president for a 90 day term that became 32 years; Or Rwanda, where the reckless shooting down of 2 Hutu presidents triggered the most horrendous genocide witnessed in modern times; Or Ivory Coast, where the forced disqualification of Alhassan Ouattara from contesting the presidency has brought the once prosperous Ivory Coast, the icon of economic and cultural development in Africa to its present sorry state of near anarchy. All of these have resulted in one common phenomenon: the violent and explosive release of pent-up frustrations related to ethnicity, poverty and under-development, leading to a needless and senseless loss of lives and the stagnation and continued under-development of Africa. Little wonder, therefore, that Africa is the only continent that has become poorer in the last 25 years – all related to bad government and destructive politics.

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