Special commentary exclusive to USAfrica (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com
“I covered perhaps, over 1,500 kilometres between the South East and Middle Belt areas, mostly on foot during the War, over 40 years ago…. We fought to keep our country one, not for money, not for oil,” President Buhari, a career soldier, told his listeners. “Therefore, I don’t think anyone should try to divide the country,” he added.
Whereas, the old general may hold on to his beliefs, it would appear the voices of dissent are loud and clear in the South East and several other parts of the country.
Only few months after he assumed office as President in May, last year, 2015, a new group of militants emerged from the country’s oil producing Niger Delta region, known as the Niger Delta Avengers.
While agitation for a “sovereign state of Biafra” swelled among youths, in the South East. After the political settlement of erstwhile militants in the region few years ago, under the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration Amnesty programme, no one was expecting a sudden resurgence of militancy in that area, a fresh wave that has crippled the country’s oil and gas industry.
[slides title=”After 56 years, Nigeria, Buhari still at crossroads….” title_url=”” title_icon=”” title_bg_color=”” title_text_color=”” title_border_bottom_color=”” main_color=”” thumb_bg_color=”” enable_tab=”” count=”6″ orderby=”latest” duration=”all” show_view_all=”on” cates=”” cate_scenario=”combination” authors=”” exclude_authors=”” tags=”” ignore_sticky_posts=”on” exclude_loaded_posts=”” show_comment=”on” show_readmore=”on” show_author=”icon” show_date=”date” meta_item_order=”a_c_d” show_format_icon=”” show_review_score=”” number_cates=”0″ snippet_length=”0″ thumbnail_height=”400″ show_nav=”on” show_dots=”on” speed=”5000″][/slides]It’s a direct shot at the revenue lifeblood of the Buhari administration at a time of low crude oil prices and dwindling government foreign exchange income which is yet 90 per cent from oil exports. Some blame the arrogant rhetoric and manifestly lopsided appointments made almost weekly by the Fulani-Kanuri born former military dictator.
What it means is that the country is yet riven by the old scourges of tribalism, sectionalism and deep political cleavages despite the perceived lessons of our troubled history in 56 years of nationhood, from 1960. During this considerable period of time, we have moved from regional governments to a federal one, we have fought a bitter civil war and had over 20 years of Military rule. Still, the Nigerian giant nation state is yet wobbly, riven by internal divisions which are again perhaps, poised to explode.
Sadly, the country slipped into an economic recession mid-year, although there had been clear signals this would happen since last December, after the President dithered over appointing a cabinet of ministers and failed to make clear pronouncements on his administration’s economic policy. Private foreign capital which in a cautionary note exited the country early last year shortly before the general election first slated for February and later held in April, may not return. Nigerians in the Diaspora, who for several years have poured over US $22billion into the economy back home through remittances targeted at investments and family obligations have held back their money—unsure of the current government’s economic direction.
Worse, only two years after reveling in the rebasing of its economy which placed it at the top as the biggest economy in Africa with a Gross domestic product, GDP of US$555.6 billion(2014), the country has dropped to second place behind South Africa, after it went into a recession this year.
Now, there are growing calls for a restructuring of the country’s federal system, which will revert it back to the old regional system of government which was the norm pre-independence and until the Military struck in 1966 and imposed a unitary system. Prominent Nigerians from the South West and South East such as Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary general of the Commonwealth and General Alani Akinrinade, a former army chief who helped end military rule in the late 1990s have led these calls.
But this appears to be bad news to the ears of the Buhari administration. Aside from the President,Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has also lent his dissenting voice, saying that what the country needed, at this time, was not political restructuring but better management which would provide jobs for the youth and more food and security of lives for the majority.
The calls for political restructuring of the country reflect the growing angst about the centrifugal forces which continue to pull the country in different directions—a country without a common purpose, or goals. The proponents of restructuring, the latest proponent is former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, believe it would help to reduce or eliminate the attritive politics surrounding the Presidency and the usual suspicions and battles over the country’s economic resources, especially oil and gas.A return to regionalism would mean that regions will control their own economic resources. This would mean no oil income for several parts of the country including any central government.
Political contentions over who gets what in the country’s oil wealth has also stalled the new Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB promoted by the erstwhile Jonathan administration that has been stuck in the National Assembly since 2013, three years ago. The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Nieti, recently estimated that the country may have lost a staggering $200 billion in oil and gas revenue and new investments due to non-enactment of the PIB.
The country currently has 36 states and a Federal capital territory, Abuja; two federal legislatures and an independent Judiciary. And in spite of its modified Presidential system which requires a Presidential aspirant to win majority of votes spread round the country, there has been almost a de facto arrangement of rotating the Presidency between the country’s Northern and Southern parts.
It is equally important to note that the President and his victorious political party, the All Progressives Congress, APC obtained the majority of its winning votes from the North of the country. By contrast, the defeated then incumbent President Dr Goodluck Jonathan is from the Niger Delta and his party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, had a better showing in the southern areas of Nigeria.
The country is at a crossroads of sorts once again in its 56 years. Traditional political fault lines appear to be widening rather than closing up. The economy is in even far worse shape. But President Buhari believes things will turn around. He points to his “achievements”, which he says are improved security situation in the country, through his administration’s claims to some ‘technical defeat’ of Boko Haram, the deadly terrorist Islamic group; reduction of kidnappings in the Southern areas and the fight against corruption in government. But criticisms have attended the administration’s anti-corruption crusade which critics have described as selective and targeted at mostly members of the former ruling party, the PDP which the President and his party, the APC dethroned last year and has quickly taken up the role of major opposition party.
It is saddening that the country is yet grappling with what appears to be problems of internal cohesion while several other countries in similar circumstances which got their independence at about the same time have moved so fast in national development. Malaysia, Indonesia, even India currently have far more stable political cultures and systems and have far more developed economies than Nigeria. Currently India, which is currently the biggest buyer of Nigerian crude oil is an economic powerhouse, one of the fastest growing worldwide. By contrast, Nigeria still sells the bulk of her crude oil and imports most of her fuel. No wonder, its economy is so susceptible to the vagaries of the global commodities markets.
There appears no end in sight for most of these challenges under the current administration. A so-called reflation plan and social intervention that would give stipends to unemployed youth numbering over 20 million, and rehabilitate and build public infrastructure are yet to take off , one-and-a-half years into the tenure of the Buhari administration.
The dire economic situation has further driven hope from the hearts of millions of Nigerian youths who perhaps took Buhari and the APC’s campaign slogan of ‘change’ as a promise for better days. Like the country, that heart appears to bleed, unconsolably.
*Sanya Ademiluyi, contributing editor of USAfrica multimedia networks since 1996, is based in Lagos.