If you ask ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo to identify two of his major achievements in the past eight years, chances are he would say, without blinking an eye that he has successfully turned around Nigeria‘s image in the international community, as well as the living conditions of the people. It is a claim that would be heavily contested by just about anybody who is not a direct beneficiary of his government’s financial generosity. Unfortunately not many Nigerians believe the economic conditions are much better now than they were before Obasanjo’s emergence in the political scene in 1999.


While in the past 20 years, Africa has consistently been a net-exporter of capital to the West, a trend that has been accentuated by the debilitating consequences of Africa‘s servicing of its so-called “debt” to the West. Then in 1981, Africa recorded a net capital export of US$5.3 billion to the West. In 1985, this transfer jumped to US$21.5 billion and three years later it was US$36 billion or US$100 million per day. In 2000, Africa‘s net capital transfer to the coffers of the West stood at US$150 billion…. Nigeria’s ex-president Obasanjo could not but admit that in the past six years he went round the world, he did not get anything… he went round the countries in Europe, twice over,  he went to Japan, to America, to Canada and got good words… but no action at all. Yet, if the the president continued his rate of travel overseas in the remaining those months of his presidency, he would make a further 30 trips with the whooping cost of US$6 million to Nigeria‘s forlorn economy. These visits could be cancelled to alternative savings invested in the collapsing primary schools of the country to enable millions of Nigerian children have a better future than is presently the case. Those who advise ex-president Obasanjo should for once show responsibility.


The Obasanjo regime had spent almost US$22 million of scarce national resources on four years of travel in pursuit of an illusory but calamitous enterprise of “gazing across the seas” for Western “goodies” to salvage an economy that his leadership (twice: 1976-1979, 1999- May 2003, then 2003-2007)  which  others have virtually destroyed in the past 40 years. The gross insensitivity of the lifestyle that encapsulates these junkets at a time when the overwhelming majority of Nigerians have been reduced to dire straits of existence is particularly obscene.  Also, the proceedings and outcome of the G8 June 2002 and 2007 conference and all the formulations about NEPAD sum up the West’s contempt for the African leaders, including Obasanjo himself, who left with nothing concrete to show from their hosts except promises of a modest increase in the overall Western “aid budget” to Africa.The Us is again tempting with Africom.


 In diplomatic offices in Lagos and Abuja, Nigerians voting with their feet, subjected themselves to all manner of indignities, in their desperate quest for visas to travel overseas. There must be something fundamentally wrong in a country in which majorities of the people are eager to leave in search of better life overseas. If the economic conditions have improved significantly, as ex-president Obasanjo and his erstwhile ministers and special assistants had argued, why is the country experiencing an exodus of some of the best brains? The questions the federal government would have to address are: why are so many people, skilled and unskilled workers, professional and unprofessional workers, keen to leave the country? Why are so many Nigerians engaged in criminal activities? Are economic difficulties the catalyst for criminal activities? If so, is Nigeria the only country that is currently experiencing hard times?


Among the army of young boys, girls, middle aged men and women seeking exit visas from foreign embassies and high commission in Abuja and Lagos, there is the misleading belief that the worst conditions overseas must be better than an average condition at home. I have heard some people say in desperation that they wouldn’t mind putting up tent under a bridge in a foreign country, if they were granted entry into such countries as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, or anywhere outside Africa. Not only are these assumptions misleading, they also do not take into account the hazards of inclement wintry weather and the daily hassles of trying to survive in a foreign land, in which, unfortunately, many Nigerians are treated as second class citizens. Life overseas is simply not built on the epicurean philosophy – eat, drink and be merry. Life in a typical western country is built on hard work. As someone once joked, if the “white” man pays you one dollar, you can be sure he would extract from you more than a dollar’s worth of work. In fact, nothing is free in the west. You must pay your bills – rent, electricity, telephone, water, rates (for home owners), refuse collection, etc – and promptly too.

The current situation at home would have been reversed if the political leaders had been committed to a genuine program of economic development.


 In Nigeria we have the natural resources to power the country to greatness but the country is cursed with bad leaders and incompetent managers. In Nigeria, we have political leaders who engage in long speeches rather than spend time working to provide the basic amenities to the people who voted them into office. Our political leaders are more interested in working out how to entrench themselves in political office, by fair or foul means. Rather than work to improve the living conditions of the people, our political leaders expect us to do things for them. They are the kings. We are the servants working in their palaces to keep them happy. The difference between Nigerian politicians and their counterparts in some African countries is that our political leaders talk about what they plan to do while their colleagues in other African countries talk about what they did for their people.

However, as the statement by award-winning novelist, Chinua Achebe, suggests, Nigeria’s history has been plagued by troubles of many sorts. On the day of Obasanjo’s inauguration, most observers focused on the fact that the country had been ruled by the military for more than half of its 39 years as an independent country. And, despite its oil and other natural resources, the average Nigerian was worse off than in 1960 when the country gained its independence.

Obasanjo himself was the object of much of the attention. Though himself once a military ruler of the country in the 1970s, he had become one of the continent’s leading advocates for reform and democracy in the 20 years after he had turned over power to the civilian second republic. Indeed, he had been so outspoken in his criticism of the outgoing military regime that, like Mandela, he had been put in prison for treason and had faced the death penalty.

Nigeria’s sorry history had reached a new low after 1993. That year, then-military strongman Ibrahim Babangida refused to accept the results of an election that apparently had been won by the business executive, Moshood Abiola, who was subsequently arrested. Babangida stepped aside, but he was replaced shortly thereafter by the far more ruthless and corrupt General Sani Abacha, who treated the country as all but his personal fiefdom. The regime cracked down on dissidents—real and imagined—culminating in the execution of the author and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1996. The government gained some international support for sending its troops to neighboring countries on peacekeeping missions, but took more criticism for its human rights and economic policies. It got to the point that one joke put it that Abacha’s Nigeria’s exported what it didn’t have (pro-democratic troops) and imported what it already had (oil).


While Nigeria appears at the moment to be stuck to a dead end, like a ship marooned on a desolate island, lacking direction and effective leadership, economic problems cannot serve as an excuse for the state of anomie that has befallen the country. Nigeria is not the only country that is experiencing harsh economic times. It is the inability of our political leaders to commit to tackling our socioeconomic problems that creates the climate of insecurity and alienation, which also fosters criminal activities, such as the advance fee fraud (419 scam). Not too long ago, Ghanaians were the butt of popular jokes in Nigeria because they used to flock to Lagos to shop for the most basic of items such as soap, milk, salt, beverages, toothpicks, detergent, and toothpaste and so on. Today Ghana is a model of democracy. It is also a model of a country that rose from the ashes of grinding economic hardships and has now overtaken other countries previously regarded as economic elephants in the continent. The adverse conditions that drove Ghanaians to Nigeria in the 1980s are now the reasons that are pushing Nigerians to Ghana and other relatively stable African and western countries.


Many Nigerians residing overseas would be happy and willing to return home if the conditions at home were just average, if insecurity of life and property has not become a major issue. The least we expect from our political leaders is an unwavering spirit of commitment to socio-economic development of the country, a spirit guided by concrete ideas built into official policy. The Obasanjo administration looks in danger of undoing much of the good work it has done in terms of political stability, in the face of the inevitable replacement of the president.  But, if the political leaders do not make efforts, if they are unwilling to make sacrifices, if they adopt half-hearted measures, the country will continue to move in circles. One of the ways to attract skilled professionals working overseas is to create an enabling environment, in terms of ensuring that life and property would be safe. A country in which the Justice Minister could be murdered and no one successfully prosecuted after three years is not a country that many ordinary people would be rushing to return to. If a federal minister could be assassinated in his home just like that, what guarantees are there that ordinary people would not be slaughtered like goats if they should return home to serve their fatherland? Patriotism is an ennobling battle cry but there is a point at which one must weigh ideals against reality.


 Ex-president Obasanjo can argue that he has used his innumerable foreign trips to change the way Nigerians are perceived and treated abroad. However, there is a difference between perception and the situation on the ground. Advance fee fraud masters continue to dispatch their nasty letters to every street and office address in every corner of the world. This enduring criminal activity is the greatest challenge facing Nigeria’s crime fighters and the international police organization in the 21st century. Without a significant drop in the number of advance fee fraud cases, ex-president Obasanjo’s efforts to improve the image of Nigeria would be in vain. Nigeria is now known in every nook and cranny of the world as the country that manufactures the “419” scam. The international community does not want to know that it is not every Nigerian that engages in this despicable act.


There are different ways to measure the effectiveness of ex-president Obasanjo’s claims that his foreign trips have improved the way the international community perceives Nigeria. For example, has the nation witnessed a rise in the number of foreign investors casting their fishing nets in Nigerian business waters as a result of ex-president Obasanjo’s foreign trips and meetings with world leaders? Has there been a significant drop in the number of advance fee fraud cases emanating from Nigeria? Has there been a reduction in the bureaucratic processes that Nigerian visa applicants are subjected to by foreign diplomatic missions in the country? Has there been an increase in the number of foreigners rushing to apply for Nigerian citizenship or residency? If the answers to these questions are not in the affirmative, ex-president Obasanjo’s claims must be dismissed.


When the oil boom of the 1970s came to an end in the early 1980s, Nigeria’s failure to bring domestic and foreign expenditures in line with its lower income led to a rapid buildup of internal and external deficits. Nigeria deferred payments on its large foreign debt, adopted austerity measures, scaled back ambitious development plans, and introduced a foreign exchange auction system that devalued the naira. These policies had a positive effect and from 1986 to 1990 real GDP grew at a 5.4% average annual rate.


Still, Nigeria’s track record of corruption and political patronage may, ironically, spare it from spiraling into a cataclysm of violence. The run-up to the vote was marked by an attack on a police station by Islamist militants in the north and an attempt to blow up the election commission headquarters with a petrol tanker. And in violence directly related to the electoral contest, a total of 65 people were killed. Now, opposition candidates have rejected the vote and may call their supporters onto the streets. That augurs badly for peace, as do threats by militants operating in the oil fields in the Niger Delta region to bring the country to its knees unless they are given a fairer split of oil revenues.

 Nigeria’s newly elected government presides over an economy with vast oil wealth and plentiful labour and skills. But it also inherits a stricken giant. For Africa’s second largest economy to realize its full potential, its new leaders need to tackle a host of difficult and complex challenges: encouraging broader-based wealth creation, improving basic infrastructure and services, combating corruption, and avoiding crippling sectarian political disputes. Besides more efficient domestic resource mobilization, they also must secure greater external financing and debt relief and attract more foreign investment to sectors other than oil.


Given the proximity of the general elections, there are discernible downside risks to our short term political ratings. But while there are non-negligible fears that the polls will not be fair and transparent, and concerns about gerrymandering – as reflected in the disqualification of opposition candidates on the basis of corruption – we remain relatively sanguine. However, the ongoing turmoil in the Niger delta, with a seemingly relentless continuation of kidnappings and sabotage, is a real source of concern and a sharp illustration of the challenges that faces any coming administration.


High oil revenues continue to boost the economy, but a fiscal deficit remains likely this year. To maximize revenue, the government should continue to push for a higher OPEC quota, but will urge the cartel to restrain supply in order to maintain price.

Nigeria’s failure to achieve and sustain meaningful development and economic growth rates has been attributed to inefficient management of the nation’s abundant resources by past leaders. The inability of Nigeria to break away from the class of the world’s poorest nations and from the shackles of poverty despite her rich natural and human endowments is due largely to inefficient management of our enormous resources. Nigeria has failed to achieve and sustain meaningful development and economic growth rates that are commensurate with her rich resources and great potentials. The single most limiting factor to our achieving rapid social, economic, political and technology development commensurate with our rich resources endowment in Nigeria was poor leadership at all level of our national life. There is a need to move the federal structure towards a true fiscal federalism. This, if embraced would ensure that the nation’s natural resources were properly harnessed, reduced the level of corruption in the country and ultimately develop the nation’s economy. With true federalism, the helmsmen at the three ties of government could be challenged by the electorates to account for the amount of inflow from the federation account. Such a system would enthrone a situation whereby the various tiers of government could function independently and sufficiently, creatively using resources within their domain. Such a set up would ensure an economy that was less focused on sharing and more on baking.

Besides, for the scraping of god-fatherism in the nation’s polity (which often results in leadership of mediocre), should the full benefits of the nation’s resources were to be effectively harnessed and efficiently utilized, this nation would bounce back economy-wise. The success recorded in the various reforms of our government could only be sustained by a tough and visionary leader that could withstand pressures from supposed godfathers. Nigeria needs Yar’Adua’s kind of leadership with a clear and shared vision with a tough and no nonsense leadership style. Such a person must be prepared to be crucified and be prepared to die physically if need be because to defenders of the status quo and their collaborators, whose interest will be threatened by him, will be out to liquidate him.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should be cautioned not to allow any person or group of person to politicize its activities. To allow this, would make the commission lose its objectivity and credibility, which might affect its acceptance and effectiveness? To sustain the present reform effectively, there is the need to reinstate the autonomy of such organs as the judiciary and the National Electoral Commission, this is crucial to the socio-economic and political developed of Nigeria. The starting point would be to appoint members of the electoral body with refined and proven integrity according to constitutional requirements.

If we were to realize our goals of eradicating extreme poverty, the hope of having uninterrupted supply of electricity, the hope of achieving security of life and property, the hope of ensuring gainful employment for a large proportion of the population, and the hope of improving the living standards of Nigerians, Nigeria must be governed by people who are driven more by vision to tackle these goals and objectives and less by the dictates of some godfathers who want to recoup their investments at all cost.