President Yar ‘Adua
Ever hopeful Nigerians are watching to see what direction the new government of Yar ‘Adua would take. One of the main indications of his intentions would be in the constitution of his cabinet as he selects his cabinet ministers and advisers. In real politics, one expects that political debts would be paid and favors granted his constituents. But the whole world is watching to see if his cabinet would be dominated by yesterday’s men or persons likely to make a difference. Being reputed to be a deliberative person, one expects that he is quite conscious of this fact and would screen his deputies to ensure that whatever the circumstance of their selection, they fit into his basic minimum requirement. It was also reported that the new president had said he would not interfere with law enforcement, specifically, the EFCC. Since it is an open secret that some of the president’s backers had run-ins with the EFCC, one hopes he does not try to rescue them or exert undue influence overtly or covertly to let them off the hook. How he handles this first pass would determine the flavor of his presidency. If many of his ministerial nominees are persons of questionable integrity, Nigerians would easily brand this new government, business as usual. Persons who are likely to change the rot in the Nigerian system are not likely to be the same men who made the mess; not discounting one or two who might have a ‘Damascus Experience’ of repentance. Nigeria yearns for new faces as policy-makers, the old having been tried and found wanting.
In a masterstroke, the invitation from Germany to attend the G8 was extended to President Yar ‘Adua, this happening, while the US and some were crying wolf over the controversial elections of April and their results. In diplomacy, Germany knows that politics brooks no vacuum, and for all concerned, while Democracy and good governance is an imperative, the issue of stability in Nigeria is currently paramount for political as well as economic reasons, more especially, oil prices. At this Summit, Diplomats would want to feel first-hand as to what manner of leadership we have in Nigeria and whether President Yar ‘Adua would seek to speak for sub-Saharan Africa as Obasanjo did. Their dossiers on Yar ‘Adua being thin, because of his taciturnity, diplomats may want through informal ways and means to see whether he would be open to wheeling and dealing and how malleable he could be in regard to their agenda in Africa. The issue of elections not being free or fair is not a matter for such gathering since the President was not in charge of the elections or its conduct; indeed he could also argue that he was a victim too.
Since the highly optimistic G8 Summit of Gleneagles Scotland, one is dismayed that while the rhetoric was good, the follow-up has been poor. In respect to the release of the funds promised, Africa has received aid in trickles. Then-President Obasanjo made a strong case for a holistic approach to Africa. He posited, and we agree with him, that Africa is not as much in need of aid as in need of partners who would invest in business ventures in the continent. Parties who are looking for obstacles quickly cite the lack of infrastructure. While the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were set up to re-develop Europe after the devastation of the Second World War, the institutions can modify themselves to development agents. This can be included in the agreements. The politics of aid has so many barriers that nascent economies find hard to surmount. For example USAID funds, the issue of capacity requirements for the qualification of even non-profits could be far too demanding upon the real agents of progress in Africa to qualify. What ends up happening is that monies budgeted for aid is walloped by Washington-based non-profits that know the nuances and politics of aid because they have long experience. What could have been a bridge, non-profits run by Africans in Diaspora, is ignored by the established system. The advantage of the use of Africans in Diaspora to help their kith and kin is that such persons have hands-on knowledge of the territory as well as the connections to influence policies in their home governments to achieve the stated goals. Additionally, most of the program money would be dispensed for programs rather than salaries of high-flying staff. Paying an African even such salaries benefit the continent as against others because of his/her nexus to the continent via repatriation of funds.
A Voice for Africa
By virtue of size, population and economy, Nigeria has been a recognized voice for Africa, and the new President would be expected to step into the diplomatic suit left behind by President Obasanjo. It is not by happenstance that Nigeria had intervened and mediated as a peace-maker in the rows since Apartheid South Africa, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Zimbabwe and now Darfur. Nigeria had spent precious lives, Billions of Dollars and equipment in aid of our brothers on the continent before approaching international organizations for help. So our presence at the table in international relations is not fortuitous. While we humbly sit at the table, we must remind the global powers that Africa had been aiding the world for centuries with our human and mineral resources, some of which were physically stolen in very ingenious ways. While we are harmonious and accommodating, Africa, could exercise the option to look for other partners outside the western hemisphere, or for the heck of it, remain insular, since we survive on the bare minimum. Someone has to make a strong case for Africa and that person can be President Yar ‘Adua. Of course, the validity of the elections has nothing to do with his moral authority to represent Africa, being an African should suffice. The issue of disease and poverty on the continent is to be made reason for removing some of the protective embargoes of the developed economies who reject imports from Africa.
Western commentators have erroneously posited that they had helped Africa in the past without much progress. While we are grateful for genuine help, most of the efforts had been without real conviction. To say that “The problem is, of course, that generation after generation thinks it has found the solution, and generation after generation is disappointed” is so disingenuous for the mere fact that no group until recently sat down to look for means to better the lot of Africa as an international global venture. On the contrary, what did occur was the Berlin Conference in historic Germany of 1884 where the issue was one of “The Scramble and Partition of Africa”. Colonial powers led by Great Britain, did with Africa as it pleased them until it became economically unviable to continue with the policy of colonization, and upon various agitations on the continent for independence, the powers, most of who would be in that group today known as G8, gave token flag independence to the colonies of Africa.
For too long, Africa had represented itself as a sick child needing medication, help and aid. While that may be some fish, we need to learn some fishing skills that may be more helpful to all concerned. Short term, aid may be important, but to get out of the circle of poverty would take trade, robust trade being promoted and carried through by all the participating nations. In this regard, Yar ‘Adua had a far-sighted predecessor in Obasanjo who had beaten that path. Trade, in whatever form, would be more beneficial and have a longer term as well as stable effect on the continent than any amount of aid in Billions.
While in Germany, President Yar ‘Adua needs to impress on the heads of the powerful nations that Nigeria is ready to receive their trade delegations, and this time, we trade in a mutually beneficial platform. Deals in the past that were skewed to benefit only the expatriates have to cease. The systematic plunder of Africa in the guise of business by conscienceless predators has to cease. To jump-start this new relationship, President Yar ‘Adua should offer as a matter of priority, land in Abuja to businessmen in any of the nations working with Nigerian partners to build an ultra-modern hospital with all gadgets and facilities as a short term mark of goodwill to obviate the need of government officials to jet out of Nigeria for the treatment of cough or ankle injuries. Business is completely voluntary but countries also expect their partners to indicate areas of priority. The emergency to be declared in Power can also be negotiated with serious business partners who are willing to step in with aid for a short term solution, while we go back to the drawing board in search of the one-time long term solution. Countries that are headquarters to the Oil Majors are also to be implored to talk as partners regarding the Niger Delta Master Plan and how each can contribute to our present development of the sector.
In conclusion, the speeches and rhetoric must be strong for sure, but evidence as to the real direction of this government would depend on the follow-up team and the successes shown as well as how soon after the Summit we begin to see results. Moving for a Marshall Plan for Africa would be the thing to do. When such Marshall Plan was made for Europe after the World War, conditions were not perfected as a condition-precedent. Plans were made in accordance with the prevailing circumstances. An all inclusive plan for Africa that takes into consideration the prevailing needs of the people is highly to be desired. Power, portable water, basic infrastructure of roads, hospitals and schools are not negotiable. Everyone benefits from a healthy and enlightened workforce with purchasing power. The era of government by media announcements is gone. Nigerians are fast becoming skeptics. With the internet, government cannot control all the media and information any longer. Nigerians are interested in seeing how much of a servant-leader President Yar ‘Adua would manifest at this first representation of Nigeria at the G8 Summit in Germany.