Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Party like Its 1999...

Okay we know this isn't a "party" in any sense (its a meeting of serious/intuitive minds) but the title stuck unfortunately. In keeping with the current theme i.e. 'leadership', and a review/critique of the outgoing President, we've decided to take us back to 1999 - To the sinking ship "Baba" was elected to captain.

We thought 1999 would be a good place to re-visit... to jog our memories, before we go on to introduce the pro-"Baba"/more patriotic articles that we intend to put up from tomorrow. The article below (written in 2000) doesn't tell us anything we don't already know, but it does remind us of the expectation and hope prevalent at the time, in a beaten-down and weary Nigeria.

In light of the perspective it offers therefore, and in light of what you remember feeling in 1999, is anyone willing to revise their comments from the past two days?


The Economist - 13th January 2000

Nigeria’s new president has made a promising start on repairing the damage done by his predecessors. But he has a mountainous task ahead of him, reports Robert Guest

The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

SO WROTE Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, in 1983. Between then and now, his gloomy book, “The Trouble with Nigeria”, has been perhaps the best short account available of how his native country worked—or rather, how it did not work. Ruled by soldiers for all but six years since 1966, Nigeria has suffered one civil war, six violent changes of government, and the continual theft and squandering of public funds by its leaders. Blessed with fertile soil, floods of oil, and a huge, energetic, talented population, Nigeria should be Africa’s giant. That it is instead one of the poorest countries in the world is largely the fault of a succession of awful military dictators. But the sudden death of the most recent and perhaps worst of them, Sani Abacha, has given Nigeria a chance to recover.

General Abacha, who seized power in 1993, died of a heart attack in June 1998. An interim government led by General Abdulsalami Abubakar promised to restore democracy in stages, with elections first for local governments, then for state governments, then for a national assembly and for the presidency itself. To many people’s surprise, he kept his word. The elections were marred by bribery—of which all parties were guilty—but the result is widely agreed to reflect the will of the Nigerian people. On May 29th 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo, a 62-year-old chicken farmer, was sworn in as Nigeria’s first democratically elected president since the toppling of Shehu Shagari in 1983.

The challenge facing Mr Obasanjo is daunting. His country is poor, indebted and riven by ethnic violence (which left 100 people dead in Lagos at the end of November). The roads are pitted with potholes and clogged with rubbish. Telephone and power lines work intermittently at best, and often not at all. Factories are idle. So, resentfully, are millions of urban youths. After a long spell of crude despotism, Nigeria has no tradition of democracy, nor of effective governance. For as long as most Nigerians can remember, the rewards for honesty and industry have been miserable, whereas corruption has paid magnificently. Nigeria had become “the open sore of a continent”, in the words of Wole Soyinka, the country’s 1986 Nobel laureate for literature.

Wanted: True Leadership

Seven months after assuming power, Mr Obasanjo is hard at work applying ointment to that sore. He has some useful qualifications. First, although he was once Nigeria’s military ruler, he was not personally corrupt, and had landed the top job more by chance than by design. In 1976, after the assassination of the then ruler, Murtala Mohammed, Mr Obasanjo, as his deputy, took over. He stayed in office long enough to organise elections, and in 1979 handed over power to an elected civilian. It was not Mr Obasanjo’s fault that this civilian regime was corrupt, and was soon swept away in a coup.

This time he has a mandate to keep Nigeria democratic. To this end, he has subdued the military. More than 100 officers with links to the old regime have been retired, and non-political soldiers have been put in charge of the army. Some of those close to Abacha, including his son, are being prosecuted for an array of alleged crimes, including murder. Efforts to recover some of the money that the late dictator and his cronies stole have produced a haul of over $700m. There may be more to come.

Ordinary Nigerians, fed up with being robbed and bullied by their leaders, would probably like to see harsh punishments for the old regime, but Mr Obasanjo, a former political prisoner himself (he served three years of a 15-year sentence for allegedly plotting a coup against Abacha before the tyrant’s death set him free), is inclined to be gentle. Indeed, Nigeria today is a far less fearful place than it was a couple of years ago. General Abubakar began the good work by releasing political prisoners and stopping the security forces from harassing dissidents. Mr Obasanjo has continued in that vein (although his use of the army to crack down on terrorism in the Niger delta has recently caused concern). Journalists at Nigeria’s dozens of lively, opinionated newspapers, who once risked being roughed up or worse by the security forces, now work unmolested.

On the economy, too, Mr Obasanjo has made a reasonable start. He claims to have abandoned the statist philosophy he espoused in the 1970s, and to have embraced the market. He has relaxed exchange controls and promised to privatise, deregulate and fight corruption. For the first time in decades, there is a feeling of optimism in the air. Now that the country is no longer a pariah, America and Europe have pledged more aid. There is talk of debt relief in the future, and perhaps even a bit of foreign investment. For the Nigerian in the street, the most visible change is the easy availability of petrol. Under Abacha, pumps ran dry and the president’s friends made fortunes cornering supplies at the low official price and selling them at the much higher black-market rate. Day-long queues formed outside petrol stations. For the citizens of one of the world’s largest oil-producing countries, not being able to buy fuel was perhaps the worst humiliation. Mr Obasanjo all but ended it with a few honest appointments.

Mr Obasanjo comes closer than any of Nigeria’s recent presidents to providing the “true leadership” Mr Achebe called for. But his predecessors left Nigeria so horribly broken that it will take a lot of time and skill to mend it.

The Economist

Below is a documentary by The Nigerian Patriots. At 50 minutes plus, watching the entire thing would understandably be difficult. The documentary itself doesn't actually fit in with the theme of this post, however the first 2 minutes does - Watch that!


Tokini said...

The blurb at the start of this article, hopefully provides something to think about. Is it fair to criticise OBJ so ruthlessly, as some of us are prone to do, when the country has come a long way (as will be seen tomorrow) from the state in which he "inherited" it, in 1999?

Then again it could be argued that he stepped up to the plate and accepted the challenge, and should be judged according to the promises he himself freely swore on oath to deliver...

Tokini said...

It took forever but I finally found a video clip of the 1999 inauguration ceremony. Did anyone here watch it as it happened on tv or over the internet? It would be interesting to hear what you were thinking at the time.

Dammie said...

"I Olusegun Obasanjo do solemnly swear" lol the guy is hilarious. first of all i think it's worth noting that of all the weekly periodicals, The Economist has the most cleverly written articles.

Like others have stated in previous posts, Obsanjo's administration was given an onerous task. I think the jury is still out on his administration and all judgments made now are premature. His accomplishments and failures have been well documented as they should be. We should all be eager to see how the next President does, noting that he would have been handed a less bruised and more latent nation to rule.

Obsanjo's time has come to an end. We cannot and should not judge or compare him to anyone because there is no fair standard for comparison.

Kome said...

I agree that Obasanjo should not be compared to past rulers with regards to progress and failure. Nevertheless, what we should and must do is hold him to the very tasks which he clearly articulated he would carry out. He stepped up to the plate and made promises which he should be able to account for.

Whether or not the shortcomings of this administration are his fault, Obasanjo lacks the humility that is required of any leader to acknowledge mistakes and openely encourage discussion. He (we) need to start taking the necessary steps to not only find the solutions to our problems, but also actively and responsibly implement them.

Misan said...

Welcome guys!!

@ Dammie, I have to disagree that the jury should be out on OBJ's accomplishments, should have been four years ago if those elections/campaigns were done right then. It's been EIGHT years, we should at least be able to articulate what he has and hasn't done, versus what he said he would do, and his excuses/reasons for not having accomplished them.

But as Kome said, I'm yet to hear him (well, let me be honest, I've only heard him being interviewed like 2x by int'l media who probed him w/out the fear of "baba" consequences) admit to the tasks he hasn't accomplished and state the drawbacks in these. As a leader, you should be willing to examine the holes in your strategy and constructively acknowledge them with your constituent (don't know if the word, "followers" is appropriate here).

But why ARE we so removed from our leaders? Why don't they feel accountable to us? Why don't we demand that from them (growing up under IBB and Abacha, I wasn't taught to, and the only role model in my family who did was assassinated, so at a young age, a fear and distrust of politics/national leaderhsip was instilled in me) what we should? Thoughts?

Derin said...

“For as long as most Nigerians can remember, the rewards for honesty and industry have been miserable, whereas corruption has paid magnificently”

This backs Misan's point of the importance of increased accountability. Watching the documentary and seeing all our former leaders/dictators, I began to reflect on life under these different administrations and the attitude of the general populace under these regimes. There was a lot of anger but an unwritten code of silence most likely enforced by the gun (my condolence to Misan’s relative).

I’m afraid this article has done nothing but provided solid facts to most of my claims. Written at a time when Obasanjo was entering power he stated clearly his objectives and remarkably achieved most of them.

“Country is poor, indebted”-despite the current high levels of poverty, the situation is far better than previous years, financial services provision has improved dramatically due to various controversial reforms (Consolidation exercise was successful despite high criticism from World bank and IMF).

“Ethnic violence” – not a result of Obasanjo’s actions but direct consequence of democracy/ colonialism.

“The roads are pitted with potholes and clogged with rubbish” several roads have been built- Road from Lagos to Ogun state (forgotten the actually name) amongst many.

“Telephone and power lines work intermittently at best, and often not at all” 3 letters G.S.M.

“Factories are idle.” Import ban has ensured the emergence and continued survival of local industries.

“So, resentful, are millions of urban youths.”-GSM not to talk of the many other development projects has created numerous employments opportunities.

“Promised to privatise, deregulate and fight corruption”- all three respective objectives he has achieved. GSM, EFCC ...… not to go in too much detail

“Debt relief in the future and perhaps even a bit of foreign investment”.- debt to the Paris club has been cleared and CNOOC Ltd paid $2.3 billion for a 45 percent stake in a Nigerian oil field to mention one out of the many.

I have no affiliation with Obasanjo and he has not done anything but what he was elected to do. I believe he has done a commendable job; no where near perfect, but the mere fact people can criticize him without having sleepless nights is an achievement in itself.

Nkemka said...

Hmmm, honestly i would give OBJ an average mark but nothing more. He might have achieved a lot in terms of long term plans but i honestly think this 8 years has been leaning towards the failure side. Firstly, he made a promise that before 2003, Nigeria would have uninterrupted power supply. I remember watching that hand over ceremony as i was in school then. none of this has happened.
Despite the astronomical increases in oil prices all around the world, we have not been able to use the revenue for anything tangible. GSM? that was bound to happen regardless. This article was written in 2000 i believe and a key phrase that stuck in my head was "optimism is in the air" can we honestly look at Nigeria and say people are optimistic right now? With a population of 140 million, only 57million are registered to vote because they realise no elections are going to take place only "selections" If you ask the poor man on the road (which is over 80% of Nigeria's population) he more than likely will not be able to tell you about any reforms however he will tell you that the price of rice and garri has increased drastically from 1999. He will tell you about the long queues at the petrol stations and the failed security state of Nigeria. However on the plus side, i mist give it up to this governemnt because during this period, women got to play an active role in governance. Never would i have thought that key ministerial posts such as Finance and Solid Minerals will be in the hands of women and these women (Dora Akunyili, Nnenadi Usman, Okonjo Iweala, Oby Ekezwesili) have brought about postive changes in the areas they have been involved in. Shout outs to Ribadu and El Rufai too, Soludo and the banking revolution.

Emine said...

The Nigerian situation is particularly frustrating because we all know that the funds are available. We see how lavishly our politicians are living. And so we know that a LOT more could and should have been accomplished in the past eight years. Also, Misan brought up an important point in a previous post about how all these accomplishments by Baba's administration should translate into a higher standard of living for the average Nigerian. Yes, our debt to the Paris club has been cleared. That's all good but this only means that those in power now have more funds to squander.

Olamide said...

Debt relief came during his tenure but let's give credit where credit is due. We all know her name.

Misan said...

I read this in an article recently about the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization bestowing the grand award for "Exemplary Leadership" on our dear OBJ, so will just cut and paste. The author (Sonala Olumhense) ponders in conclusion:

The truth about exemplary leaderships is very simple. When special leaders are out of office, they are able to walk the streets among the people they served and sacrificed for. In four months, it will be seen whether Obasanjo—without the comfort of armed tanks and killer-guards—can stroll one pure-water satchet-throwing distance in any street in Nigeria without being mugged.

Yes, he has accomplished all this, let's celebrate the increased freedom of speech. recapitalization of banks, improved NAFDAC, debt relief, etc, giving credit to whom credit is due, but acknowledging that OBJ's rule fostered this environment. but as many have said, he stepped up to the plate (surely, i can't, so i don't really have a place in calling him out since i didn't vote either, but wait, for those who did vote, and voted on his reform proposals from 1999 coz i don't think he campaigned that hard in 04, there's still a lot more to be accomplished). But let's recognize the big holes too.

It would be nice to have faith in our electoral system and say that, we need to make sure the next set of pp who step up to the plate, don't hinder the progress that's been made. But truth is, that's not the case.

Kome said...

@Derin...your statement

but the mere fact people can criticize him without having sleepless nights is an achievement in itself.

has really really shocked me. Do you believe that progress is attained by only hearing the good things you've done. As a leader you should not want to hear the good things you've done, you should know the good things you've done. More importantly you should welcome dissent and encourage discourse. There is no one way to do anything and no one person knows it all. To say that Obasanjo needs no criticism is a frightful mistake and it's shocking to believe that the accomplishments you just listed is sufficient reason to tell the hundreds of homeless, uneducated and poor individuals living in the Niger-Delta not to be angry with OBJ and infact to be 'ashamed' for critising him because he has done so much.

People please let's not lose perspective here. Noone is saying that Obasanjo and his administration haven't done any good, but what good comes out of listing them and blowing his trumpet???

Do we not benefit by spending more time looking at the problems and trying to work towards making things better?

Anywone who needs a self-esteem boost or constant praise should step aside from the game of politics, I believe it is about making a difference for the people, not for yourself.

solu_e said...

@derin? how exactly do u measure success? to be truly successful, the greater number- not the fewer should benefit from that success. success does not mean achieving new goals at the expense of fulfilling other unfinished goals. like emine pointed out is debt relief better for us when it only allows our leaders squander more?

ethnic violence: true it was not his fault BUT what did he do to alleviate the situation? an effective leader tries to create some sort of balance or compromise for his/her people and we see none of that in the niger delta area as kome rightly points out.

potholes and dirt roads: what is the point in building a road from Lagos to ogun, when the roads from Lagos to Enugu are so messed up that it takes 10 very slow hours on what should be a 6 hour journey? I travel by road sometimes to my hometown and the sight is horrendous. You travel and you are worrying if this will be your last day because the impassable roads cause terrible traffic and you're there till nightfall wondering if armed robbers will come attack you? does it make sense building a new road when such a problem exists? let's not go out of lagos. within lagos itself we have the same problems. i was in VI during the summer last year with my dad and the traffic!!! i dont know what cussing can express the frustration at a 20 minute ride taking two hours. ok its lagos state's problem but is obasanjo working with the minister of transport to ensure that every state has allocated the right amount to road transport and the roads are being maintained? how then can u justify building a new road?

G.S.M: true it is now more affordable but really how many can afford G.S.M? we're not talking about just lagos but the whole country. and even within lagos how many people have gsm? you have to look at that issue from all social circles in nigeria not just the one you move in or the few people you see on the streets. I mean its like saying lagos is such a great place when u step into silverbird cinema. but then as soon as you step out you see run-down molues and okadas and hawkers trying to make a freaking living for their families. so does silverbird make lagos better, or like g.s.m it is only widening the gap betweeen social classes? its ridiculous.
and even with g.s.m why isnt the telepone system working?
import ban: how many local industries can you actually name that have flourished? if you can name two, i'll rest my case. the idea of banning imports was good but was it implemented? the only thing i saw that came out of this was that prices of these imported goods skyrocketed and people were still willing to buy these goods.

g.s.m has created many employment opportunities. i have one question: is that a fact or an opinion? cos last time i was in nigeria there was still a large number of graduates without jobs.

fight corruption. pray tell me what obasanjo has done to fight corruption. look at the mess in Anambra today there's a governor, tomorrow there's none. he wanted a change in the constitution that allowed a 3rd term. to improve the country? bullcrap!! to steal more. as we speak he's trying to make sure his "buddy" becomes
president. wow. he's really fighting corruption.

debt relief: already addressed by so many people.

im not attacking you its just frustrating that we cannot find more substantial "achievements" of our "esteeemed" president.
i watched the ceremony and i remember thinking nigeria was going to move forward under his leadership. now i don't see any difference in Nigeria today and when abacha ruled in terms of economic development. like some people have said we are not comparing him to past leaders but weighing what has been achieved during his term against how much further the country has deteriorated...