29 May 2009

Nigeria: Decade of Broken Promises


Lagos — Ten years ago today, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, taking office as civilian President, made Nigerians head-spinning promises. Eight years after, President Umaru Yar'Adua succeeded him with his own litany of promises of goodies for the people.

As the nation crosses the 10-year threshold and begins the journey into a new decade of democratic governance today, what is apparent is that the last 10 years have been a decade of broken promises.

The most critical of the assurances were the promises to tackle infrastructural decay, especially the power problem and the dilapidated road network of the country, the promise to uproot corruption from its entrenched position and to resolve the Niger Delta crisis.

Of course, there were promises concerning the transformation of the health sector, the revamping of education, the reform of the electoral system, creation of jobs for the legion of unemployed and assurance of security of lives and property for Nigerians and foreigners living or doing business in the country.

The Obasanjo government gave the impression that the power problem would be fixed within months of its assumption of office, but the problem outlived it. Indeed, its last major offensive against the monster, the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) is still causing a stir, not because it succeeded but because after several billions of dollars had been pumped into it, the outcome was more darkness.

Indeed, no one can say for sure how much, between $5 billion and $16 billion, the project consumed. What is certain is that some Nigerians and their foreign collaborators feathered their nests at the expense of Nigerians.

The Yar'Adua government came with the promise of declaring a state of emergency in the power sector and many were encouraged. But two years into its tenure, the emergency is yet to be declared and the power situation is worse. A promise that the target of 6000 mega watts would be achieved before the end of the year is still where it is, a promise that may not be redeemed.

In-between, more allegations of scams in the power sector are being unveiled to reassure sceptics that they are right to disbelieve the promises being made concerning the power sector.

Due to the near total collapse of federal highways across the country, the people cried out and their lamentations led to the allocation of huge sums of money to the sector during the Obasanjo years. Reports have it that after about N300 billion had been voted for the rehabilitation of the high-ways, they remained death-traps and were inherited by Yar'Adua in that condition.

Since Yar'Adua came to office not much has changed. The administration has, however, embraced the option of concessioning some of the major highways and recently awarded contracts running into billions of Naira for the rehabilitation of roads across the country. The hope is that this time around, there would be a noticeable difference in the condition of the federal highways.

The Niger Delta question was already a major issue before Obasanjo was sworn in and he started consultations aimed at resolving the crisis even before entering Aso Rock. One of the earliest bills he sent to the National Assembly was the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) bill. In spite of the take-off of the NDDC, however, the crisis continued and, indeed, increased in ferocity during Obasanjo's tenure leading, among others, to the infamous Odi massacres.

Again, Yar'Adua inherited the monster and made the resolution of the crisis a priority. Rather than abate, however, it has assumed the scale of an undeclared war, with bombers, warships and other sophisticated weapons being used to hunt down equally well armed militants. Safety in the Delta region is now difficult to guarantee. Kidnapping for ransome is common place, gun battles between rivals groups and between militants and the Military Joint Task Force (JTF) are also now regular features of life in the Delta, resulting in some countries advising their nationals to withdraw from the area.

The question now is how best can this crisis be resolved? by force of arms or through dialogue? All eyes are on Yar'Adua who has the challenge of steering the country out of this logjam without causing a major human tragedy or allowing the nation's economy to be strangulated.

Ten years into the current democracy, what is clear is that the strategies deployed so far, including the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry, have failed, due largely, to what is perceived as government's insincerity and the displacement of genuine agitation by criminality represented by some of the militants that are into oil bunkering and kidnapping for ransom.

Another critical indicator of how well or otherwise the current civilian dispensation has fared is the anti-corruption war. Again, Obasanjo came promising to destroy the monster. He went ahead to put in place two institutions, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Allied Offences Commission (ICPC) to prosecute the war.

The ICPC has always posted a lack luster performance while the EFCC which was on rampage during the Obasanjo years was accused then of being used as a weapon against the then President's political opponents. Many however, believe that at least, it succeeded in instilling fear into some public office holders.

Since the coming of Yar'Adua, however, the agency has toned down considerably on its radicalism, a move which many interprete as meaning that the agency's wings have been clipped by the Presidency in a bid to shield its friends among the alleged corrupt governors from being prosecuted and convicted.

Although the President continues to insist that he would respect the rule of law as he tackles corruption, it is believed that corruption is still alive and well and rampant in government circles as well as in the private sector and is responsible for failure of efforts to revamp infrastructure, fix the economy, stimulate the manufacturing sector and create jobs for the army of unemployed youths. Because corruption has become entrenched and is fighting back, it is still to be seen what weapons Yar'Adua would use to uproot it completely from the polity.

The education sector has not recorded any major milestones in the past 10 years courtesy of policy sumersaults and refusal of government to honour agreements which has resulted in several strikes in the sector.

The health sector has fared no better. Hospitals are only a little better than "mere consulting clinics" and Nigerians are still dying from curable diseases because they cannot afford to pay hospital bills. A staggering percentage of the country's medical personnel are also still trooping abroad, leaving the health facilities in the country under manned.

Many may say that the last 10 years had been part of the learning process and that this would account for the near total failure of the legislature, but it is difficult to excuse the scandals that have been oozing out of that arm of government or the fact that they had scarcely been able to perform their oversight functions properly.

The judiciary exhibited some sparks of courage and brilliance which were, sadly, tainted by the activities of some corrupt or compromised judges.

Political parties still have not come of age. There is scarcely internal democracy within the parties while the concept of vibrant opposition is still alien to most of them who believe in the politics of the stomach.

However, it has not been altogether one long story of gloom and doom. There have been signs that if democracy is allowed to mature, the people would find their voice and begin to demand accountability and transparency and begin to wield, more decisively, their ultimate weapon of change, which is their votes.

If there is anything to celebrate, it is the fact that for the first time since it became a country, Nigeria is spending its 10th uninterrupted year of civilian rule and within that stretch of time, has held three successful elections, the last being the first transition from one civilian administration to another, in the 49 - year-history of this country.

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