Unveiling Year 2008 Sandwich Before Yar'Adua

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

As Umaru Yar’Adua, a man with limited experience of the gruelling realities of Nigeria’s politics, was sworn in as the president , he inherited a range of problems threatening national stability.

Faced with a mounting insurgency in the oil producing Niger Delta, an electricity grid starved of power generation, and institutions hollowed out by decades of corruption, the devout Muslim is under pressure to deliver.

As the first civilian president to take over from another in Africa’s biggest oil producer and most populous nation, Mr Yar’Adua’s greatest challenge could be in reversing a political culture based on corrupt practices and patronage. Eight years after military rule ended, and with oil prices up several times over since then, many Nigerians are still waiting for their dividend.

During his election campaign Mr Yar’Adua promised that Nigeria, where an estimated two-thirds of people live on a dollar a day, would be among the top 20 global economies by 2020.

The country’s 140m population, split evenly between Christians and Muslims and divided along ethnic lines, is set to grow rapidly over the next decade. Amid such demographic pressure, the provision of public services and employment are crucial factors in a country used to bouts of politically motivated ethno-religious violence.

But with the vested interests of powerful political and business oligarchs entrenched during the eight-year regime of the outgoing president, Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr Yar’Adua may have to tread carefully.

Picked by Mr Obasanjo to contest elections that were marred by widespread fraud and violence, Mr Yar’Adua’s standing at home has already been undermined. Torn between his loyalty towards his political maker and his own agenda, Mr Yar’Adua is himself under pressure not to fall into the old trap of yielding to patronage politics to cement his own authority.

This month Mr Obasanjo authorised what opponents have called a “fire sale” of state assets to favoured cronies. This included the auction of new oil acreage, the award of 1,000 mining licences and the sale of two large state-owned oil refineries.Critics have said this could put off other long-term investors in Nigeria, and make it more difficult for Mr Yar’Adua to get the best results from his reform agenda.

“It is difficult to see where the economic benefit lies,” says Razia Khan, regional head of economics for Africa at Standard Chartered.

But Nasir el-Rufai, a top government official close to both the outgoing and incoming presidents, says the real job at hand is a more political one. He says Mr Yar’Adua could push for an amendment “very early on in his career” to tackle constitutional impunity for state governors. Nigeria’s 36 state governors wield enormous power, and are virtually unaccountable for mismanagement in their states.

If outgoing governors lost their immunity, the anti-corruption agency, once the linchpin of Mr Obasanjo’s own war on graft, could even issue arrest warrants for those governors who were close to the outgoing president. “How we handle the issues of governors in the short term will be a key test of whether we have the balls to follow through,” says Mr el-Rufai.

But doubts have surfaced in some quarters as to whether Mr Obasanjo’s management of the financial arms of government to date will make Mr Yar’Adua’s job any easier.

Mr Obasanjo, who is due to stay on as the chairman of the ruling party, has pushed through unpopular economic reforms such as a value added tax rise and a reduction in fuel subsidies in the past few days.

By contrast, fiscally prudent measures once worked on by Mr Obasanjo’s government to guarantee macro-economic stability have started to flag. Finance Ministry officials this week told the FT the 20 per cent year-on-year increase in the 2007 spending budget was already undermining stability.

They also expressed fears that a government account set up to hold billions of dollars of oil revenue savings in the name of fiscal prudence still did not have enough mechanisms to safeguard the money going forward. They said governors could try to take the government to court in a bid to secure a share of the funds.

Recent reported lopsided appointments by the incoming Yar’Adua government, especially into the security agencies in favor of the North, does not bode well for the Yar’Adua government, if not urgently addressed. It’s just too early for him to forget, if he will ever forget at all, that, like Obasanjo before him, it was not his people that put him in power but Nigerians from other ethnic groups. Yar’Adua lost most states in his own Northwest backyard, to Buhari, but swept the polls in the South/West save for Lagos state, and took the entire block of the South/South, and all but two states in the South/East.

Left to the North/West, Yar’Adua’s immediate constituency, he would have lost the election woefully and humiliatingly to Buhari. Therefore, just like Obasanjo resisted the parochial agenda of Afenifere, for which he was villified by his own people, Yar’Adua should and must resist and be seen to resist the parochial agenda of the Arewa tribal bigots, and run a truly nationalistic and patriotic government where every Nigerian would have a stake because the country belongs to all Nigerians in equal measures. No more no less. This is the very minimum standard required of him in a representative government and a categorical imperative that must be upheld at all times by any and all national governments in Nigeria.

Every true patriot would wish the Yar’Adua government a roaring success and this writer earnestly join them in wishing Yar’Adua a fruitful and eventful tenure.

You may also like

Leave a Comment