Posted by By TOPE ADEBOBOYE on
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua mounted the presidential saddle wearing a sombre brow, peddling promises of a fresh beginning. At the inauguration of his administration on May 29, 2007, he told an expectant nation that he was going to embark on immediate policy ventures that would, in no distant future, ameliorate Nigerians’ precarious socio-economic condition.
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua mounted the presidential saddle wearing a sombre brow, peddling promises of a fresh beginning. At the inauguration of his administration on May 29, 2007, he told an expectant nation that he was going to embark on immediate policy ventures that would, in no distant future, ameliorate Nigerians’ precarious socio-economic condition. Sadly, one clear year into the administration of the erstwhile governor of Katsina State, Yar’Adua’s promises of a better nation have remained what they were – mere promises – even as the president seems continually hamstrung by the legitimacy crisis haunting his government.
Expectedly, many Nigerians are glaringly displaying a large measure of apathy towards the president and the sluggishness of his government towards confronting the nation’s problems. Indeed, apparently, simple processes, like announcing a cabinet and submitting a budget to the National Assembly took months to materialize. Many are those who contend that the president is too engrossed with how to overcome the legitimacy question trailing his presidency to bother about attempting to tackle the nation’s problems.
Yar’Adua’s problems actually started before his swearing-in. Before his election last year, the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had told the world that the presidential elections on April 21, 2007 would be fought as a war, tagging the polls a do-or-die affair. Indeed, in an election that has been described as the worst ever in the nation’s history, the erstwhile president and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) deployed a massive arsenal of willing electoral officers, armed security personnel and thugs brandishing assorted dangerous weapons to the polling booths to aid the party’s candidates. The outcome was a landslide victory for the PDP and its candidates across the country. The primary beneficiary, without a doubt, was Yar’Adua.
The world rose in condemnation of the polls. Yar’Adua, a former university teacher with a self-confessed respect for the rule of law, also concurred that the election that brought him to power was marred with irregularities. He maintained, however, that he would still have won even if the process had been more transparent.
As soon as the president was sworn in, one of his initial promises was that he would declare an emergency in the nation’s power sector. He also vowed to set up a panel to reform the electoral process in the country. That was not all. Yar’Adua also pledged that his government would strictly follow the constitution, embrace the rule of law in all its ramifications and promptly embark on a process that would bring the much needed tranquillity and infrastructural development to the beleaguered Niger-Delta, among other promises.
Unfortunately, 12 months into Yar’Adua’s government, several of those promises appear to have become stillborn. His much hyped resolve to tackle the power situation in the country has remained an empty vow. More than ever before, Nigeria continues to suffer embarrassing power outages as the Yar’Adua administration seems totally confounded by the situation.
And more than ever before, Nigerians are getting more frustrated by their government’s inability to find a lasting solution to the power supply problem. Exasperated by the continuous downward drift of the nation’s power situation, a former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Akin Aduwo told Daily Sun, in a recent interview, that the situation in many respects appears hopeless.
“Even at the opening ceremony of the Road Safety International Conference in Abuja a few months ago, the vice president was sitting there, the FCT Minister, the secretary to the government, all of them were there,” recalled the retired sailor. “The Corps Marshal was halfway through his opening speech when light just went off. The Power Holding Company of Nigeria withheld power. It was most embarrassing. There were delegates from the United States, Thailand, Ghana, you name it. I mean, even the vice president had to make apologies and give some excuses.
You know, the usual excuses, ‘we are working on it’, and so on. It’s not a good experience. We were in thick darkness for about four, five minutes before the hotel switched on its generator. I’ve been here in this house now for a few months since I left my former house at Opebi. I spend almost half a million naira on diesel every three months. So, if every three months I’m spending half a million on diesel, as a pensioner, as a retired naval officer, then I must look for two million naira in a year for the purchase of diesel to run my generators. Those generators would need servicing, they will need engine oil, and that’s after spending money to purchase them. What is the problem? I don’t know. If I knew what the problem is, then I will really sit down, relax and pray for a solution.”
The president has eventually inaugurated a 22-member electoral reform panel headed by Chief Justice Mohammed Uwais, comprising prominent individuals drawn from diverse sectors of the economy. Under its terms of reference, the panel is, among others, expected to undertake a review of Nigeria’s history with general elections and identify factors which affect the quality and credibility of the elections and their impact on the democratic process,, examine relevant provisions of the constitution, the Electoral Act and other legislations that have bearing on the electoral process and assess their impact on the quality and credibility of general elections, examine electoral systems relevant to Nigeria’s experiences and identify test practices that would impact positively on the quality and credibility of the nation’s electoral process, examine the roles of institutions, agencies and stakeholders in shaping and impacting on the quality and credibility of the electoral process, among others. Such stakeholders should include government, electoral commissions, security agencies, political parties, non-governmental organisations, the media, the public and the international community.
But not every Nigerian is convinced that the panel would in any way bring an end into the nation’s electoral misfortunes.
Many have argued that Yar’Adua, the principal beneficiary of the monumental electoral fraud of April 21, 2007, lacked the moral right to set up a panel to reform the system. Such also insist that the leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) be dissolved and new men drafted into the system. This suggestion has, however, met with a brick wall in the president.
Since last year’s general elections, several electoral victories declared by INEC have been nullified by the election tribunals and confirmed by the appeal court, a development that easily confirmed the world’s skepticism about the elections. There have also been election re-runs in a few states, including Kogi, Adamawa and Bayelsa. But even as the people continue to mouth protests over the new elections and their outcome, Yar’Adua and top officials of his administration seem largely unbothered, apparently overwhelmed by the lack of legitimacy for their own government.
Since Yar’Adua took over as president a year ago, the crisis in the Niger Delta has not abated. The erstwhile militancy of a people allegedly protesting the marginalization and persecution of the area by successive governments and oil companies have since degenerated into criminal acts by youths who routinely abduct kids and elderly relatives of public officials for ransom. From the government’s side, not much seems to have been done to stem the tide.
In the last few months, the nation has been awash with probes of some agencies under ex-president Obasanjo’s administration by the National Assembly. In all the probes, mind-boggling discoveries of monumental frauds have been unearthed, even as calls for the overall probe of the Obasanjo government have become a daily affair around the country. The president has, however, ruled out any such thing. According to Yar’Adua, not much gain would be realized from such probes.
The current global food crisis afflicting many countries of the world hit Nigeria without warning. Prices of food items suddenly hit the roof across the country. Bags of rice and beans, as well as other staple foods suddenly doubled or tripled overnight. Many Nigerians have expressed dismay at the government’s seeming nonchalance to the situation. With an obvious lack of agricultural policy to curtail such emergencies, the president has announced plans to import N80billion worth of rice into the country. The administration is, however, at loggerheads with the National Assembly over the amount, with the latter insisting that there is no provision for such expenditure in the budget.
Yar’Adua’s health issues
Even before Yar’Adua became president, the nation has been genuinely worried about the health condition of the Katsina State former governor. In March last year, at the thick of the presidential campaigns, the then presidential standard bearer of the PDP took ill and was rushed to a German hospital. Fears soon gripped the nation as rumours spread that the president had passed on. It took a phone call from Obasanjo to the president on his hospital bed to convince Nigerians that there was little cause for alarm. Yar’Adua assured the nation that he was hale and hearty in Germany where he was treating catarrh
On April 14 this year, on a day the president finally appended his signature to this year’s budget, Yar’Adua again took off for his preferred German hospital, where he spent the next 10 days treating an undisclosed ailment.
Several Nigerians have tasked the president to be honest with his fellow countrymen on his ailment, which they argue could have been responsible, alongside his legitimacy questions, for the apparent lull in his administration.
Speaking on the president’s health, ailing fiery lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, wondered why a president should be silent on his health condition.
“I want to prevail on the president of Nigeria to tell us what is wrong with him,” Fawehinmi said recently in Lagos.
“We are entitled to know. Why should he be afraid? The people are entitled to know what is wrong with the man running our affairs. And he has not told us. He is going to Germany for five days, eight days, 12 days! Oh, I mean it is a slap on the integrity and respectability of our people,” he said.
The president has played down his health condition, however, saying the whole talk is largely exaggerated and politicized. In an interview with the Financial Times, Yar’Adua said his health issues have never affected his duties in any negative way.
He told the newspaper: “I am a normal human being who can fall sick, who can recover, who can die, who can have feelings, who can be angered, who can laugh… Yes, and who is fit enough to be president, and who can have headaches, and can have fever.
“You see, all my medical records are in Germany, and I have been going to Germany since 1986, and I do my check-ups in Germany every year. In fact, sometimes every six months, and this has been going on since 1986…Now the fact that I’m president today, doesn’t mean that when I feel there’s something that I think is wrong and needs to be checked I shouldn’t go to my doctors, where all my records for the past 22 years are there. It is the most practical thing to do…They know the background of everything about me medically.”
He is also not in any hurry to convince Nigerians that all is well with him, health wise. Asked to assure Nigerians who are concerned about his health, the president said: “They should be concerned about Nigeria itself, and that they should be rest assured [that] working, carrying out responsibilities of president, I am fit and able to do that, and I’m doing it, in fact, at times, even overdoing it. I hardly have more than five hours, four hours sleep a day, and…I believe the kind of work I do, it has to be because there is an inner energy propelling me to do it. Sometimes when I look back, I just wonder that I’m able to do what I’m doing, and I believe Nigerians should have confidence in their leaders, and they should not be gullible to all kinds of rumours”.
Not everyone seems to share the president’s optimism. The Financial Times, apparently Yar’Adua’s preferred medium of relating to his countrymen, has in strong terms expressed its doubts. In an editorial published on May 18, the authoritative newspaper lamented that Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producers, has failed to make the best use of the current high price of oil in international markets even as it agreed that the administration is suffering a legitimacy crisis.
It said: “In important respects, the continent’s most populous nation and leading oil producer, is drifting”.
“Umaru Yar’Adua, president now for nearly one year, came to power under a cloud largely of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo’s making. A legacy of oil-fuelled growth and improving fiscal discipline gave his new administration the best economic platform for years to mend Nigeria’s dilapidated infrastructure and lead Africa towards greater prosperity. Yet the flawed nature of the elections undermined his legitimacy from the outset while Mr Obasanjo’s insistence on retaining influence has fuelled a power struggle.”
As his administration marks its first anniversary, Yar’Adua has assured that the nation would begin to smile in the next few months. According to him, all his efforts in the last one year to tackle the nation’s problems would begin to yield the expected fruits.
“You cannot make major achievements by just trying to rush things”, he said. “Next year will be really a very, very interesting year for this country”, he said.
For Nigeria and its citizens, the waiting game continues.
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