Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Yar'Adua's First 100 days and Beyond - Reuben Abati

Reuben Abati examines the first 100 days of the Yar'Adua administration and what gaps need to be filled in the coming months...we do agree that at the centre, Yar'Adua has done a fair amount of work (and should definitely be commended), but as Abati points out, he cannot be the "President of everything"... surely Nigerians would thank him for focusing on 3/4 key issues and resolving those during his time in power. As for the governors, do you think Abati highlights their gross ineptitude enough? (for example, read about Oyo state governor's current woes). What's your take on THE FIRST 100?

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In 100 days, it should be possible to know where a new government is going and gain an idea of its programmes and motivations. And so an assessment of the Yar'Adua government in 100 days should be useful. I begin by arguing that in the last 100 days we have seen at the centre, a government that has been struggling to settle down and define its focus. President Yar'Adua had come to power on the first day with a seven-point agenda and the promise to be a servant-leader.

He also promised to continue with the reform programmes of the previous administration that was led by the political party that brought him to power and his Godfather and benefactor, General Olusegun Obasanjo. In 100 days, the new government has been very busy trying to define what this means in an experimental, stream-of-consciousness fashion. Matters of governance have moved so slowly and tentatively that the President has earned for himself the moniker, Baba Go-Slow. There may be nothing wrong in being deliberate and calculating, but what has been advertised is a certain kind of slowness arising from lack of preparation which has since given birth to extreme caution.

Three major events have promoted this perception: the shoddy handling of the matter of legal powers between the office of the Attorney General and the EFCC/ICPC, with government reversing itself within 24 hours; then, the aborted flirtation with the idea of a national unity government. There is also the scandal of the Naira re-denomination policy which gave the impression of a divided government at the centre with the Presidency so out of control that it could be upstaged by the Central Bank Governor. But it is not only in the Presidency that there is so much fluidity. In the states, the various Governors are behaving as if they are in a swoon. In Imo state, the Governor has launched a state-wide environmental sanitation exercise to remind the people of the importance of hygiene; in Jigawa, the Governor is focussing on the handicapped and providing them social security, but in most other states, the Governors have been full of excuses or they are having to battle with serious crises arising from the circumstances of their election to office (this is the case in Edo, Rivers, Ekiti etc.).

Generally, there is a lull. Governors who are spending their second-term in office are also celebrating their first 100 days in office, but the people are too willing to forgive these ones for doing nothing. The assumption is that you do not need to do anything as a Governor if you are no longer seeking re-election. New Governors are excused on the grounds that they are also slow because of cases pending against them in election petition tribunals. But I do not see how this can justify inaction. The explanation is to be found in the lack of ideas about what to do, and the failure of our institutions. Even when politicians are busy with matters of political survival relating to their mandates, a state can run on the energy of its existing institutions. But here, the institutions are dependent on the whims and caprices of the man in power. If President Yar'Adua closes from work at 4 p.m everyday, the entire presidency also shuts down, whereas running Nigeria is a 24-hour/7/365 days business.

To be fair to the Yar'Adua government at the centre, it has done a good job of establishing an identity. It has managed to brand itself for public consideration. Although the President had campaigned on the platform of continuity, in 100 days, he has succeeded in showing that he is aware of the burdens of history sitting on his shoulders. He still talks about continuity but the greatest victim of his administration in the last 100 days has been the preceding government and former President Olusegun Obasanjo in particular. President Yar'Adua has already reversed some of the controversial decisions taken by that administration, with an instructive sub-text: rejection and distancing.

The first is the reversal of the increase in the pump prices of petroleum products and the sale of the Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries, following an early protest by organised Labour. The second is the suspension of import duty waivers. The third and perhaps the loudest is the refusal of the new President to offer appointments to known cronies of the former President, those ones who claimed that they helped to put Yar'Adua in power! The fourth is the radical manner in which Yar'Adua's Ministers have been criticising, albeit indirectly the performance of the previous administration. The Minister of Health, Adenike Grange and the Minister of Transportation, Diezani Alison-Madukeke have both publicly condemned the state of affairs in the respective sectors under their watch.

Fifthly, Yar'Adua has since released the outstanding revenue allocation due to the local councils in Lagos state which President Obasanjo seized in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling. Sixthly, under Yar'Adua, there has been much emphasis on respect for the rule of law. He demonstrated this by refusing to interfere in the Anambra case in which the Supreme Court ruled that Peter Obi should be reinstated as Governor of that state. We can go on. Yar'Adua has also been praised for adopting a quiet, dignified style. He is also talking about electoral reforms and he has set up a committee to carry out the assignment.

He has split the NNPC into five and re-organised the leadership structure. He has stopped further arbitrary demolition of buildings in Abuja. He has been making some body movement on the Niger Delta question and the problems of the energy sector. There was some noise also about zero tolerance for corruption, and indeed some former Governors were arraigned by the EFCC but that has since died down. Obviously, Yar'adua may not offend sacred cows. One set that has found favour with him is the Council of traditional rulers whose members have suddenly become very influential. The Sultan of Sokoto is now constantly in the news!

Yar'Adua may have given enough indications in 100 days that he is not dumb at all and that he is his own man, but he is yet to provide any clues or answers to two questions: What are the ultimate goals of his government? What is the ideology propelling it? This is not yet clear. He will need more than reading and following the wind of public mood and opinion to govern Nigeria. He must engage the country at the level of ideas and immediate action. He does not need to be the President of everything. Three or four key issues are enough, let him choose out of a long list: Niger Delta, the railways and the roads, electricity and education and get the country moving.

In 100 days under a new government, Nigerians have been confronted with just how desperate their situation is. The word out there is that eight years of the peoples' life was wasted between 1999 and 2007. But the people should by now have also learnt some lessons. It must be clear to each and every one that the rains are still beating us and the roof of this falling house is leaking. All the issues that were papered over by the Obasanjo administration have returned to haunt us even more urgently. Look at Port Harcourt, the place is now a land of anomie; look at the political elite - as greedy and as mercurial as ever, look at the Constitution: we still have to tear it apart and create a new Constitution; look at the society: no jobs, no water, no electricity, a land of unhappy people! This is the broken down vehicle that has Yar'Adua has inherited. And we shall waste no time in holding him accountable.

About 100 days later, many Nigerians appear to be willing to give him a chance. The man is so different, every woman wants to protect him and every critic is studying him as a specimen. But he carries a baggage: the circumstances of his election and the unresolved conflicts over the April 2007 elections. Even if Nigerians are willing to forgive and forget, the international community as indicated in the recent damning report by the EU Observer Mission in Nigeria would not join what seems like a growing conspiracy of silence inside Nigeria. Whatever President Yar'Adua does, or even the state Governors, no one among them can sleep with both eyes closed until the election petitions have been resolved.

Let the occasion of their first 100 days in office be an occasion for sobriety and humility. Let no one spend N623 million on any jamboree and turn round later to say that only N238 million was spent. We expect this new set of leaders to act with some level of intelligence. We may not have had a hand in their election, but it hurts to see another tainted team donning the national jersey.

13 comments:

ooa said...

"Let the occasion of their first 100 days in office be an occasion for sobriety and humility. Let no one spend N623 million on any jamboree and turn round later to say that only N238 million was spent. "

To that prayer I respond AMEN!!!!!!!!!!

Well said. Although, I'm not too sure about asking the president to stick to 3/4 issues. I think he needs to go all out. He needs to be the President of everything. Yes, focus more on some issues than others (its called prioritizing) but don't completely neglect a certain major issue. All the problems the President has opted to tackle are important and form the critical path to the country's way forward.

On another note, in a country where the government isn't the only source of the problems how does one judge a President's performance in 100 days? Making huge strides in a country where people exalt ex-governors that have been convicted of looting their state treasuries is not a task for the light hearted. see link (http://www.vanguardngr.com/articles/2002/editorial/ed06092007.html)
.

I think the president has started off well, every great accomplishment takes time. Nigerians (at least the ones outside Rivers State) seem patient enough. Lets give the President more time, see what he can do with that patience.

SOLOMONSYDELLE said...

Hmmm. Well, Reuben always hits the right points, so I cannot add anything. But, I continue to be disappointed by the cat fights, the lack of vision and many other problems plaguing the Nigerian psyche.

As for me, I will wait and see. Good luck to Nigeria.

Porter deHarqourt said...

Reuben Abati is my favourite Nigerian columnist and he is spot on here. 100 days in office is a long time, but i don't think it's something to be celebrated or marked officially. it's a distraction.

the jury is still out on the direction of the Yar'adua government. all these policy reversals are not helping matters. we'll have something to celebrate when the government can articulate it's overall bent both in words and actions.

make we dey look.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for presidents, they are judged by the performance of their administration or regime. The events concerning Scooter Libby and Alberto Gonzalez and all the other 'cronies' of George W. are seen as reflections on his overall administration; basically, i think it perfectly ok to use the performance of the administration as a whole to measure the performance of the president.

I believe the establishment of definite goals and directions (which i guess he did in his inaugural speech) will better give the administration a sense of direction. As such, Yar'adua might be better off picking a few things that he goes all out with, things that can be written down as footprints of his reign; otherwise his story might just get lost when we look back. The reason a president has a cabinet and other elected/appointed officials is so that he doesn't have to go after every issue that pops up.

In my optimistic opinion, these last 100 days could have been a lot worse

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