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Is this Obasanjo’s finest hour?

Posted by By Paul Odili on 2005/07/08 | Views: 361 |

Is this Obasanjo’s finest hour?

In one week, President Obasanjo gained more authority and stature than he has had since he was elected six years ago. The good news for the president started with the announcement that the Paris Club of creditors has forgiven Nigeria a whooping 20 billion dollars she owed.

In one week, President Obasanjo gained more authority and stature than he has had since he was elected six years ago. The good news for the president started with the announcement that the Paris Club of creditors has forgiven Nigeria a whooping 20 billion dollars she owed. It was followed on Friday, 1st July with the Supreme court ruling in his favour on the long running electoral dispute arising from the April 19, 2003 presidential elections. The case was filed by the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, General Muhammadu Buhari, in the famous battle of the generals, that began when the latter was nominated by his party to square off with the President in the 2003 general election.

With the latest development on the international scene following the debt cancellation, would the president’s critics give the man the benefit of the doubt?

Would Lagos lawyer Chief Gani Fawehinmi, who made it his duty to tease and ridicule the president’s very many and some times exasperating trips abroad also have to shut up? Does it mean that in the light of the latest development the country is on a threshold of a new dawn, and should give the president the space and the trust he has earned by securing this relief? For the presidential handlers no better time as this has presented itself to tell Nigerians and critics that ‘we told you so’, this man is the best thing to happen to this Nigerian nation.

If there is a feeling of smugness around the presidential quarters, it is certainly justified, though premature. However, if the president decides to showboat and swagger, no one should begrudge him because he has earned it. But the country desires the right to raise the marker and say, Mr. President, there has been very few foreign investments or for that matter local investments to create jobs. So far your globe trotting has not drawn enough interest of foreign capital and resources on the scale that would create jobs. Even though the records say a lot of resources have been injected into the hydrocarbon sub-sector, but as everyone knows that sector is not in local hands, and creates pretty little job. For all the talk about investment, the only area where there has been some impact is in the communication sub-sector, where the entrance of private investors and foreign capital have made a huge transformation, even though there is the worrying aspect of capital flight as a consequence. Perhaps, bank consolidation could be rated as the other major policy thrust that has created some real impact in the economy, even though what its ramification will be will manifest in due course. Nevertheless, it has opened the economy to injection of foreign capital and, it is believed, allowed the re-entry of looted funds. All of these will, it is believed, reshape the character of the banks and the type of services it renders. Apart from this two policy thrust, elsewhere, well, it is a yawn.

Poverty is a real threat. Without jobs, the level of insecurity has been very high. There has been little improvement in rebuilding infrastructure. The rate at which federal and state roads break down and remained unrepaired is deeply alarming; which tallies with the humorous quip of Prof. Ali Mazrui, that in Africa only a drunk driver drives on a straight line. Indeed in most parts of Nigeria it is difficult to drive on a straight course.

The energy crisis has grown worse. NEPA, now in the process of being unbundled following the signing of the electricity reform act by the president, has failed to meet consumption demand. In the past no matter how badly NEPA behaved during the dry season, there was noticeably improvement when the rains come, but these days even the coming of rains have not helped much. If any improvement at all, it has been marginal. Embarrassed by the seeming inability to turn around NEPA, the president, who some years ago was talking about making the electricity authority being made efficient in a short time has taken back his words and is now saying it will take much longer time to do so. He says he underestimated the degree of decay before making his now unfounded projection.

Yet, the industrial take off of the country cannot become a reality unless there is a stable energy sector.
Aside the sluggish performance of some sectors of the economy, the quality of governance has not increased substantially. In this direction the effort of the administration to introduce fiscal responsibility bill is a welcomed one, and the work of the budget monitoring unit, has been commendable. Still, changing a system riddled with corruption and various kinds of malfeasance is not easy. On several instances, there seem to be some basic contradiction in the policy position of the government, its rhetoric’s and actual actions of the government in the end. For instance the Abuja national stadium project is one which has not been given satisfactory explanations to. The privatisation or foreignisation of some key sectors of the economy has been dogged by controversy, and wafts of corruption have drafted abroad. The Nitel/Pentascope deal is one shocking example. Then there is even the sale of ALSCON, at Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. Should anyone bother to score the administration on privatisation it is hard to give it a high score. Yet, one of the top functionaries of the process of privatisation is now a key adviser to the president on economy, apart from being in charge of a strategic ministry.

The impression this leaves is a government long on rhetoric and short on concrete definable actions. Though judged alone on these two examples it would appear the total picture was not examined. There is the example of the firing of Mr Tafa Balogun, Prof Fabian Osuji, the purge in the Senate of Chief Adolphus Wabara and others as signs that things are changing. All these people are presently facing charges before the court of competent jurisdiction. Because the whole scenario is kaleidoscope, it is easy to recall the six billion naira presidential library launch, which has been dubbed by Nobel Laureate Prof Wole Soyinka as presidential blackmail. For a lot of people there is the basic problem of reconciling conflict of interest in the whole business of donating huge sums of money by government contractors to such a project which a sitting president has an interest in.

On the whole, are Nigerians prouder of their country, today than they were when Obasanjo assumed office? Some would say yes, others would say no. But without a census on this, the reality on Nigerians streets presents a clearer picture beyond the Pontificating of any individual.

The Niger Delta problem is one open question that could determine the future of the country. There is the Anambra problem involving the abduction of Governor Chris Ngige, the Chief Chris Uba role in it and the generally believed complicity of the president. There is also the problem of the Lagos council funds.

The above outlined problems do not necessarily require money to solve; rather it is a product of poor decision. Simply put a firm, transparent and impartial leadership would not have either brought some of these difficulties upon itself and as such lose popular support, it would have, when confronted by it, developed adroit means to tackle it. Somehow the administration has failed on accounts to come out with its credibility damaged. And as the day passes by, the talk about the third term agenda of the president refuses to go away. Chief Greg Mbadiwe and the other forces around the president seem to believe that he should stay in office a little bit longer. Obasanjo himself has said he would go, because his chickens miss him. Does he mean it, and would he stick by it? No one is certain, because if, as the president claims, he is under pressure from some quarters to stay, would the president buckle under their unrelenting pressure and then renege? Questions, which no one can answer for the moment, but watch the tide of events, unfold.

Still, the greatest decider of the administrations legacy might well be the political reform conference sponsored by the president which is today deadlocked, if not dead and has to be revived somehow. As it stands the issue of resource control and the standoff it has generated may linger for a while longer than anyone would wish it should. Thus if the government is unable to solve this problem it means its standing would be further diminished. Going further if the muttering is to be believed some observers think the government has been unable to solve the problem of the standoff the way it would have because the draft amendment of the constitution which it sponsored was shredded by delegates to the displeasure of the government. That speculation has not been answered to the satisfaction of everyone by the administration.

As it stands debt cancellation is a break through, and the credit belongs squarely to the government. Yet there is a caveat. Uganda under Yoweri Museveni some years ago was given a debt cancellation, but today it is right back into the debt trap.


Because unless the relief is used to build critical industrial infrastructure that can service external credits, the country with consumerist culture will always fall into debt trap. It may not happen today, but it could happen in a some years’ time. And as such any country that is strong on agriculture and extraction of natural resources and weak on production and manufacturing, its economy will always be a fringe player. The challenge before the government is how to develop policies that would harp on autonomous national development with emphasis on manufacturing. Anything else is a waste of time, because before long the country may be back to where it has gotten itself out of.

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