Obasanjo's Dilemma


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Obasanjo's Dilemma



Friday Ndubuisi




culled from GUARDIAN, May 23, 2006


President Obasanjo without apparent pressure graciously took his exit from the seat of power in 1979. Alhaji Shehu Shagari an amiable gentleman, who was not new in Nigerian politics, took the mantle of leadership from him. It was a glorious dawn for Nigeria. Many who had been yearning for democracy heaved a sigh of relief. It was really an anxious period, with the atmosphere charged with hope and expectation. There was every reason for high hope. The Shagari administration inherited a robust economy and a stable society. The educational, health and infrastructural facilities were in working condition: NEPA was reliable.


I remember with nostalgia our days at the University of Lagos. Everything was at our beck and call. Meal tickets were almost free. Students studying education courses were given a lot of incentives, which included free meal tickets. Some of us who came from 'tight-fisted' states enjoyed not only bursary awards but had the luxury of vacation jobs. Our universities then were respected internationally. It was the era when academics enjoyed the respect of the community they served. There was no brain-drain, no incessant strikes. Nigerians that were anxious to travel abroad for academic pursuit did so mostly for postgraduate programmes. When we were in the NYSC camp in 1983 we interacted with Nigerians who willingly came down to serve their fatherland after long sojourn in Europe and America.


In the early 80s, few years after we ushered in Shagari and his team with fanfare, it took a few more years for hope to fizzle out. Since then, Nigeria has been degenerating from one social, political and economic quagmire to the other. Nigerians are called names even when there is sometimes no reason for such name calling. We became a 'pariah' excluded from the comity of nations. The rot of the early 80s did not spare any sector of our national life: the health sector, the educational system, our roads, the transport system. All known government parastatals became liabilities and conduct conduit pipes for systematic siphoning of our collective national resources.


Everything negative was witnessed in all sectors of our national life. In this confusion our social morals and values crashed. We got to the stage where nothing else made meaning other than money. It was in this era that we witnessed 'robbers' in suit popularly called "Whiz kid Bankers". Folks with no visible means of livelihood turned into millionaires, with nobody asking questions. All these, and the suffering in the land over the years were creation of poor and purposeless leadership, other reasons, including economic recession is secondary. It was in the midst of this confusion that the current regime emerged. Have we now seen the light? That is a great question.


It is stating the obvious that President Obasanjo came into power with a mindset. Having watched what he laboured for being squandered recklessly, he will shudder this time around, so as not to make the same mistake. On a scorecard what does this administration deserve? Politically, nothing much has been achieved. The violence, bitterness and acrimony that were associated with out past political experience still remain. We are, to face the fact, not growing politically. The principles of rule of law and respect for the will of the electorate are still absent. The experience in Anambra politics, the crisis in Oyo state are all indications of unhealthy political environment. We have witnessed in the last seven years, the enthronement of not only mediocrity in politics but the endorsement of a culture of violence and disregard for due process of law.


The Judiciary which is expected to be vibrant in an emerging democracy has not been allowed to operate independently. The brazen disobedience of court orders and rulings is definitely not in consonant with democracy and civilised society. On the economic front this administration has made a lot of impact. With the exit from the Paris Club debt burden, the coast is now clear for investment and economic breakthrough. The privatisation programme has been quite remarkable. The BPE has not done badly at all, in spite of the friction and suspicion that have trailed some of its dealings.


The GSM project is quite an ambitious and commendable project. What is left is to localise its technology and raw materials. It is surprising however that the energy sector is yet to respond to all the efforts and resources being expended on it. Our quest for industrialisation and technological advancement remain amputated until this sector is properly handled. What of this monster - unemployment? A thriving economy cannot have swarm of unemployed and able-bodied youths all over the place without future. This is a serious problem that calls for attention. To harp on self-employment without any assistance from the state is clearly self-deception. The advanced nations do not only have the statistics of their unemployed, they do everything possible to keep the figure down.

The army of unemployed youths has worsened the security situation in the land. The uncommon courage and disregard for human lives that go with violent crimes should be a source of worry for a caring government. It is crystal clear that the police force is yet to be sufficiently equipped to fight crime. This is a minus for a government that is on investment drive. On corruption there are visible signs of action. Personalities that hitherto would not have had their names mentioned are now victims. It is commendable that at least there is, for the first time in our history, a conscious effort to face this monster squarely and headlong. The idea that there might be some sacred cow is not healthy, it is hoped that this fight will spare no one.


The situation on ground definitely indicates a shift from the era of profligacy. This is not a regime of waste. But does this call for tenure extension? President Obasanjo has publicly admitted that his economic miracle is a team work. He (the president) could genuinely be worried that the era of the termites might be back once he is out of the centre stage. But since the president is a team player, is there any basis for this fear?

I believe the president must have a trusted ally that can go on with the reform he started with. What we desperately need is a workable and irreversible structure that will enhance economic prosperity, engender healthy political environment, promote rich cultural and ethical values. If our fate and future are tied to individuals and personalities then we are doomed.


*Dr. Ndubuisi teaches philosophy at the University of Lagos.



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