Nigeria Matters

Yar’adua’s Regime: Getting Slow Or Getting Slog?

In addition, the Obasanjo second coming put into place programs to help the poorest of the people. One such program is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), funded by his regime and the oil companies to provide physical infrastructure in oil-producing areas. NDDC has been a partial success. Recent protests resulting in precautionary shut-ins have extracted more promises from the Yar’Adua’s regime concerning jobs, roads, electricity and water. The federal government has been promising to help the Niger Delta for decades. But successive government have come and gone with little progress. Peanuts payment compared to the problems of the Niger Delta as well as slow movement in the government is delaying much-needed new projects in the region.

Clearly, there is a long way to go before Nigerians can claim even a portion of the wealth that the government enjoys. The energy sector spends some $150 million each year on community relations projects, but this clearly is not enough. The industry must review its community relations memoranda; not only must it be politically correct, it must move beyond symbolism and the generally perceived lip-service to genuine sustainable development. Tackling youth unemployment, discouraging violence and encouraging pacifist ways are vital to finding enduring solutions.

The first year of President Yar’Adua’s administration has been about working to ensure fiscal responsibility, that state governments spend oil revenues in the way they are supposed to. According to the constitution, oil revenues – currently $12bn (£6bn) – have to be shared out among state governments. And governors are lobbying hard for the cash to be released. But if it remains potential for the government to risks inflation-driven economy, this regime should spend the money on power, schools or hospitals .From the constant power outages crippling its cities to oil pipeline bombings in the Niger Delta creeks, little appears to have changed in Nigeria after President Umaru Yar’Adua’s first year in office.

Sworn in last May 29 pledging respect for the rule of law, he was seen by many as a breath of fresh air after eight years of rule by Olusegun Obasanjo, an overbearing ex-military ruler with a penchant for disregarding court orders and legal detail. But with economic reforms grinding to a halt, the national power grid on the verge of total collapse, and militant attacks on the oil industry rumbling on, Nigerians are wondering whether Yar’Adua has the muscle he needs to lead their chaotic nation.Yar’Adua’s allies acknowledge that progress may seem slow, particularly to a population which endured three decades of almost continuous army dictatorship, when political decisions were fast, final and rarely subject to debate. But they say Yar’Adua’s mantra of due process and upholding the rule of law is vital if the world’s eighth biggest oil producer is to break a cycle of graft and cronyism which has left it ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Nigerians are used to the ‘immediate effect’ syndrome inherited from the military, but current emphasis on rule of law has created the impression that nothing is happening. But Nigeria is beginning to do things in a more planned and consistent way. Going by the ex-president Obasanjo’s “big man” style of politics may have been unpopular with some, but it allowed him to push through reforms which won international respect, a momentum which Yar’Adua’s critics say he has failed to maintain. The new leader, Nigeria‘s first to be university-educated, has set up committees to investigate corruption under Obasanjo’s rule but little tangible progress has been made with much-needed infrastructure and power projects. The unfortunate excesses of the last administration have probably rightly been staunched but what has followed in the wake of that has been a complete lack of action. In this sort of environment, with so many vested interests that oppose reform, if you stop you lose the momentum and you effectively have a vacuum at the centre where those vested interests will start to push back in.

Of particular concern is Yar’Adua’s ability to keep a tight control on spending of the country’s oil income, which has hit unprecedented levels with world crude prices at record highs. Nigeria saves oil revenues above a benchmark price in an excess crude account, a policy that has won plaudits from the International Monetary Fund and foreign investors. But it has caused tension at home, with powerful state governors saying the money is as much theirs as it is the federal governments and staking claims to their share. More than $7 billion have been withdrawn since Yar’Adua came to power to satisfy a newly-elected crop of governors who complained their treasuries were empty, and one economist predicted the next round of negotiations could be costly. Others were more optimistic. The most important thing is getting the governors to sign up to responsible management of the money, and he is doing that through dialogue, through peer pressure.

Yar’Adua moved swiftly after taking office to engage rebels in the Niger Delta, who have led a violent campaign of sabotage against the oil industry since 2006, freeing two jailed militant leaders and drawing up plans for formal talks. But the peace process has made little visible progress since then and one rebel faction, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), blew up a Shell Nigeria’s pipeline on Monday to mark Yar’Adua’s first year in power. The unrest in the Niger Delta has depressed Nigeria‘s oil output by a fifth and helped drive up world oil prices.

While opposition candidates demanded a re-run and appealed to the judiciary to overturn the result, it always seemed unlikely that the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate would be ousted from office. Nevertheless, the judges considered the pleas and duly announced: “Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan remain validly elected as president and vice-president of Nigeria.” It was argued that the opposition had failed to prove that the electoral violations were “substantial enough to invalidate the election result”. Judge Abdulkadir Abubakar Jega said: “The petitioners did not bring anything of substance to show that these breaches of the electoral act substantially altered the outcome of the election.” The judges also concluded that Yar’Adua had received an overwhelming 70% of the vote, against just 18% for Buhari and 7% for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.

However, the Tribunal and the Supreme courts have overruled the election of seven state governors and several senators. As in the presidential election, opposition politicians had claimed there had been widespread polling irregularities. Buhari’s appeal to the Supreme Court may not stand much chance of success but it will continue to cast a shadow over this administration. The ANPP claims that the serial numbers used to track ballot papers were missing on many returned papers; that 100% turnouts were recorded in areas where ballot papers did not arrive at polling stations before the election was over; and that evidence to be submitted to the judges in the original court case had been tampered with.

Paradoxically, When Yar’Adua emerged out of the political darkness as the presidential candidate of the PDP, the surprise of his candidature led some to label him immediately an Obasanjo ‘puppet’, a President in name but with the former President pulling the strings whilst he enjoyed a de facto ‘third term’. For others, Yar’Adua was simply an unknown quantity; and, as the former governor of a small State in Nigeria, the question was whether he was suited to run a fractious country of over 140 million people.

In time both worries may prove to have been unfounded. Ex-President Obasanjo intended to pick someone whom he believed would continue the reform programmes which he had started. The first indications are that Yar’Adua will not only continue but will expand and probably accelerate the reform programme, keeping the nation on the course set by the 1999-2007 administration. If so, the former President may do no more than make sure that the political machine of the PDP stands four square behind its President, thus removing the need for Yar’Adua to overly concern himself with micro-managing party politics as Obasanjo so often had to do. As for being an unknown quantity, the Umaru Yar’Adua can soon change that, internally and externally, although he may feel that he has less compelling reasons to tread the international stage than his predecessor.

There is no question that President Yar’Adua is very different from his predecessor, even if they share the same desire for reform. Ex-President Obasanjo was a combative leader, not always at home in the world of political compromise and at his best when being ‘action man’, a stance which often hid another, more thoughtful side. By contrast, Yar’Adua, the country’s first graduate President, is quiet, self-effacing, more academic and more inclusive in his approach. The style will be very different, even if the substance is not. Though he may begin his presidency operating under the shadow of the recent elections, President Yar’Adua should not be written off as an Obasanjo ‘clone’ or as a president stricken before his term has started.

If Yar’Adua can repeat his Katsina reforms on the larger set of Nigeria, he can bring a sense of coherence and economic well-being to the country. This will mean, among other things, improving the planning and conduct of elections, using his status as a Northern Muslim President to maintain the religious balance between Muslim and Christian and between North and South, and, with his Vice-President reaching a workable solution for the Niger Delta region. If he can achieve that, President Yar’Adua could turn out to be, not only the surprise package of Nigeria, but, in time perhaps, the surprise package of Africa.

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