LETTERS FROM LAGOS
In the winner-takes-all Nigerian politics, by mid-May, all power blocs had either endorsed or muted their criticism of Obasanjo's victory; only the north's Arewa Consultative Forum asked home boy Buhari to petition the election tribunal. Opposition politicians were falling over themselves to identify with the president and his People's Democratic Party (POP) while denigrating local and foreign observers for publishing electoral irregularities. Western observers who reported witnessing electoral officials thumbprinting ballots in favour of Obasanjo have been dubbed colonialists. Conveniently forgotten are Western pressures which helped free Obasanjo from prison and forced the military to concede democracy.
One reason for this is religion which has grown in importance since the 1985-93 Gen Ibrahim Babangida regime registered Nigeria in the Organisation of Islamic Countries. The highly political Christian Association of Nigeria, with which Obasanjo aligns, quickly branded the election free and fair.
Age-long rivalries between the dominant tribes of the north - Hausa and Fulani - and south - Yoruba and Igbo - also play a part. Some southerners, while acknowledging the election's flaws, gleefully dub them payback to the northerners who traditionally rule. Buhari is Fulani, Obasanjo Yoruba. Some also believe that Obasanjo may have struck a deal, perhaps over pay rise with organised labour whose usually critical leader Adams Oshiomole, acknowledging
The president's main challenge is holding Nigeria together
electoral irregularities, maintains Nigeria should move on.
Underpinning these is that although in principle, Nigeria is a presidential system with constitutional separation of powers among arms and tiers of government, in practice, the president exercises virtually all the wealth and power. He controls the armed forces and police, and oil, Nigeria's lifeblood. Membership of the ruling clique thus confers power and wealth separating one from the cold poverty afflicting some 84 million Nigerians.
And this is the awards season. All 44 cabinet seats are reportedly available. Besides such obviously plum portfolios as oil, finance and works, any ministerial appointment means hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of dollars to spend with little accountability, starting almost immediately as this year's budget is still being negotiated. There are also ambassadorial appointments to Western Europe, Asia, the Americas and better-managed African countries; and Nigerian slots in international organisations including African Development Bank and OPEC.
Having emerged the power nexus, the president's main challenge is holding Nigeria together, for beneath the scurrying for favours is renewed restiveness while voices of reason even in the military era have gone quiet. Largescale violence and hostage-taking have resumed in notably the oil-bearing Niger-Delta largely calm since 1999.
The reason for all this is that despite his obvious good intentions, Obasanjo has not yet lived up to his promises to build Nigeria into a democratic effective market economy the global community can do business with. Four years on, there is little devolution of power; the POP has become unassailable; outside telecoms and economic reforms are largely talk; and there are no exemplary anti-corruption lessons. Consequently, OPEC's sixth largest producer still cannot provide itself fuel as all four refineries with combined output of 450,000 barrels a day, enough for West Africa, remain in disrepair.
The president needs to move quickly to pacify the polity and produce economic results. Politically, he should show less power and more leadership by reconciling with his enemies across party lines. Economically, he should execute a credible infrastructure strategy covering notably refineries, electricity, railway and roads. This, however, is impossible without strong actions on corruption as evidenced by the disappearance of billions of dollars purportedly spent on infrastructure since 1999.
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