Nigeria’s odyssey and the diffident leadership of President Yar’Adua
By Seyi Olu Awofeso
Special to USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, Houston
In these closing months of 2009, Nigeria’s predictably dire future will need to be re-assessed to decide the ultimate political question of whether or not Nigeria will continue on its current odyssey under the yet diffident leadership of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
First , a necessary flashback. “Ain’t no stopping us now, we’re on the move…”, was sang by the popular American pop stars McFadden and Whitehead. They were hurriedly flown into Nigeria by Mobil Oil Producing Company in June 1999, to play for Nigeria’s then newly-elected President, Olusegun Obasanjo and his dancing entourage at a premature celebration of an imagined democracy in Abuja. After his 8-year tenure, and one year afterwards, a confessional by Obasanjo lamented in Nigerian newspapers in May 2009 that “Nigeria is not moving forward.” Indeed, that false dawn of 1999 reached its crescendo this summer of 2009, with less than 1,500 megawatts of currently generated electricity, which thrust the robbed country into all but permanent darkness — just as it was under Obasanjo.
“Only a bloody revolution can save Nigeria”, said the country’s foremost constitutionalist, Professor Ben Nwabueze, in December 2008, shunning further recourse to law as a sensible solution to Nigeria’s several cul-de-sacs.
Nigeria’s distress gets worse complicated given that the country hasn’t a provable national account, or, a honest official record, since 1999. Flustered into near-paralysis by a presumed carnage likely visited on the country’s treasury between 1999 and 2007 in consequence, Nigeria’s newly-elected President, 56-year-old Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, appears clueless to the Nigerian elite.
“He is a spineless but harmless president”, said Lt. General Yakubu Danjuma, Nigeria’s ex-Army Chief. In June 2009, head of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, the 72-year-old Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, issued a denunciatory press statement. “President Yar’Adua’s performance score in his one year in office is zero, without any equivocation”, said the straight-talking Cardinal.
In truth, anomie lately replaced law and order in Nigeria, with everyone’s personal safety at risk of bullets from rampaging armed youths committed to blood-letting orgies. And even though the storms were gathering since the 1970s, when stealing became a national obsession in Nigeria’s public office, not once before were Nigerian elite agreed that their country is, in effect, dropping into the abyss.
But now, with society’s distinction between right and wrong badly broken, and, with crooked standards of instant wealth now set for Nigerian youths by free examples of past treasury thieves, Nigeria has recently become un-liveable for the elite themselves. Day to day, the elite’s financial investments are being stolen inside private companies by well-educated employees whose self-given belief is that the elite stole those initial investments as well. “Even if Nigeria has not become a failed state,” said Professor Akin Oyebode, a famous international law teacher at the University of Lagos, “it seems pretty obvious that it is now approaching a failed state.”
A den of thieves which Nigeria has become, can no longer secure the hoard of the country’s past thieves or assure a seamless transmission of stolen wealth from father to child. “Nigeria is therefore in a revolutionary situation,” said an analyst, “because it cannot continue on this path without inconvenience or reverse purely on the elite’s voluntary renunciation of their thievish ways.”
That’s the rub, and there also enter Nigeria’s national and 36 States’ Assemblies, which must take the next huge blame for failing to stand in the gap, whilst this national rot deepened.
Under several pretexts, the legislators, including councillors at local government levels, rather joined in the rot, to destroy the country’s last political line of defence against horrendous financial waste and thefts.
The House of Representatives’ Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, for example, is faster acquiring a peripatetic reputation than he’s acquiring any reputation for sensibly utilising the legislative power of state to reverse Nigeria’s collapse.
He returned last week from an all expenses paid trip to the United States, Britain and France where he was accompanied by 26 house members, all financed from national taxes. The 27 of them claim to have done this junketing on behalf of the people of Nigeria as part of their legislative “capacity building”.
Cut to the chase, “capacity building” however has no meaning in legislative practice except as a term of deception for administrative access to the peoples’ taxes for government officials’ personal use.
Moreover, there’s no political culture similar to Nigeria’s in the United States, or in Britain or France, that can help build the capacity of any of the 27 legislators to better understand or resolve the reasons for the apparent failure of Nigeria, legislatively.
Besides, in a national parliament having no weighted votes, paid-for flights plus lodgings in four-star hotel for the 27 out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, only translates into personal comfort and enrichment for each of the 27 selected ones, at $400 per day allowance, because those 27 legislators have one vote each at plenary, just like the other 333 legislators not taken along on the trip. Given such instances of the frittering away of public money into private pockets, it is hard to tell if anyone is now standing in the gap for Nigeria, a year after its last self-declared nationalist (General Olusegun Obasanjo) badly exposed himself in a democratic setting as grossly incompetent and unaccountable.
Nigeria, in effect of Obasanjo’s incompetence, is presently “a fragile state; whose institutions can no longer perform their functions”, according to a World Bank statement issued in January That indictment however rides the back of a more damning characterisation of the country by Amnesty International last July. “Politics in Nigeria is closer to criminal activity than to a reasoned attempt at nation-building,” said Amnesty International. Tone-deaf to these international warnings, Nigerian public officials and politicians continue to burrow in their looting holes.
Since 1999, all but one Inspectors-General of Police were indicted for fraud and stealing. There’s now nobody to report infamy to in Nigeria for meaningful redress, with the heads of the country’s Police so routinely passing corrupt batons in succession to one another. As likely as not, that rot in Nigeria’s Police further impedes the chances of resolving anything else in Nigeria, where the south-eastern Ijaw communities have been in a virtual civil war with the country’s army for a decade.
With an armed war in its south, and with the rhetoric of revolution currently on the lips of its elite, Nigeria is in political distress. The chances of pulling the country away from the precipice are rapidly vanishing, because Nigeria’s current politicians, mostly dilettantes, are lacking in knowledge and clarity of thought on what to do to make “the 140 million un-represented peoples of Nigeria” live in dignity and with a concretely-felt hope in tomorrow.
•Awofeso, an attorney and contributing writer for USAfricaonline.com and CLASSmagazine, is based in Lagos, Nigeria.
By Chido Nwangwu