LETTER FROM LAGOS
Contracts, oil, instability
However, democratic Nigeria is so heated up that a recurrence of its habitual military rule, hitherto dismissed by many, is now a present danger
Politically, the 2003 presidential and governorship elections were so shockingly fraudulent that less than 20 percent of the electorate bothered to vote in last March's local council elections. Political assassinations are rife; the government calls these "armed robberies", although, strangely, little is stolen from its victims. The latest slain mark a rallying point in the politics of the ecologically devastated Niger-Delta where Nigeria's mainstay, oil, is produced. They were Aminasoario Dikibo, and the chairman of Kwara state electoral commission.
Economically, there is no serious programme targeting the poor, estimated at being four in five of the approximately130 million population. Rather, for the fifth consecutive year, the federal budget, which drives activities, is months late as the executive and legislature tussle over issues of accountability. Public accounts, overall, remain opaque, with the government still controlling strategic sectors - including electricity, oil and solid minerals - despite strangulating inefficiencies compounded by arbitrary pricing. Such inefficiencies and mindless corruption have seen about $50 billion, which was earned from oil over the past five years, frittered away. Neither the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) nor the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have produced any exemplar.
Consequently, Nigeria remains one of seven countries/territories still indicted by the global anti-money laundering watchdog, Financial Action Task Force.
The obvious blame figure for all these has been Obasanjo, accused by many of dictatorial intolerance of dissent, and scant respect for accountability and due process. The president, on his part, has scored own-goals. He openly expresses support for his associates, the year-long destabilisation of the eastern state of Anambra, whose governor and fellow People's Democratic Party man, Chris Ngige he detests. Within hours of Isokrari's murder, he pre-empted police investigation and pronounced the incident an "armed robbery". Soon after accusing the works ministry of spending N270 billion between 1999 and 2003 on invisible roads, he awarded the minister, then Anthony Anenih, the highest national honour. The government's holding petroleum company, NNPC, which he oversees as oil minister, has yet to explain, among others, the sale of some 2 million metric tonnes (Mt) of low-pour fuel oil - used for heating, power generation, and as refineries' feedstock - at $60/Mt domestic price to handpicked marketers who on-sold on the international market at $175/Mt.
Remarkably, the international community that helped end military rule now behaves as if oil and contracts disqualify Nigeria from genuine democracy. The European Union, home of oil giants such as Shell and TotalfinaElf and the dominant military material supplier, Vickers, acknowledged the damning report of its observer team to the 2003 elections but endorsed the polls anyway. The US, largest importer of Nigerian oil, and home to Chevron and Mobil whose production shares have been increasing, has opposed Obasanjo's call for oil firms to publish detailed reports of their Nigerian activities including revenues and payments to government, the New York Times has recently reported.
Until the terms, and local and international beneficiaries of Nigerian government contracts/concessions - notably oil, infrastructure and military material- are unveiled, and these deals brought into due open process, there will be no legitimate democratic stability in Nigeria.
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