PETERSIDE ECONOMIC REVIEW

Chamberlain S. Peterside, Ph.DSaturday, October 24, 2009
[email protected]
New York, NY, USA

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THE MILD MANNERED PEACE-MAKER
…CAN PRESIDENT YAR'ADUA MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE IN NIGERIA?

…Individuals Can Make a Difference

t was Prof George Obiozo, former Nigeria’s Ambassador to United States who ones said that - indeed one person can make a difference in Nigeria, in reference to former President Obasanjo whose reform agenda pulled Nigeria from prolonged slumber of the Abacha years and set the stage for economic recovery. Time and again in history we have seen where the singular vision and deep passion of a leader can define the future of nation for decades to come – President Franklin Roosevelt readily comes to mind when you think of the United States in post WWII era.


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As Nigeria transitioned to new elected government in 2007, following the botched attempt of tenure elongation by Obasanjo, the questions in most minds was who will succeed Obasanjo? Or is Umaru Yar Adua the right choice (after party delegates selected him)? Two years and counting some people make bold to suggest that Yar Adua is perhaps Obasanjo’s worst legacy for Nigeria. What for recent turn of events in the economy and body polity.

As an insider in the last administration and former minister of Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Nasir El-Rufai knows a bit about the process leading to candidature of President Yar Adua and has recently become a vociferous opponent of the administration for its lack luster performance.

…Defining Factors
True, constructive criticism I strongly believe serves very useful purpose in checkmating abuse of office and mismanagement by politicians, however my keen observation of Yar Adua is that he is quite enigmatic and will probably turn out to be the least understood of all Nigeria’s rulers. The issues surrounding his ill-health and governance style continue to define him more than any clear-cut malfeasance or policy measure that he has or has not successfully accomplished.

As matter of fact, positive steps that should have been in the headlines are few and far in between. Living conditions in Nigeria haven't dramatically improved during his tenure nor has any of his campaign promises been actualized, resulting in growing frustration amongst even highly privileged citizens.

Indeed Yar Adua’s dexterity and work stamina stemming from his health condition, since assuming office, leaves much to be desired, just as some decisions, like skipping United Nations (UN) general assembly two years in a row, remain quite a mystery to me. Matters that require urgent national attention namely; electoral reform and energy, power/infrastructure deregulation languish on the drawing board and made worse by current dismal state of the economy during recent global meltdown. This snail-speed and patent inertia has positioned Yar'Adua in public consciousness as president who has over-promised with the seven-point agenda, but under-delivering.

…Reversals Upon Cancellations
Some major reflections of this mediocre performance were inexplicable reversal of key decisions on infrastructure development and privatization mandates that might have by now been driving economic productivity. In return we are yet to see viable alternatives – the targeted 6000 megawatts of electric power promised by end of 2009 is yet to materialize and impossible to achieve, going by data that current generating capacity is a shabby 2800 megawatts, less than 3 months to end of the year.

While we await better alternative plan, the modernization project for Nigeria’s railway network signed with the Chinese was unceremoniously scrapped at hefty penalty estimated at over $250 million. Concession of Ajeokuta Steel Plant to Ispat/Global Steel Company of India was also canceled for spurious reason of not following due process. Just as sale of Port Harcourt oil refinery to investor group lead by Dangote was terminated with promise by government to revive the plants before end of 2007.

This administration constantly toys with the idea of canceling any and everything that doesn't sit well with its top officials, such as attempt to amend concession agreement with Bi-Courtney Ltd for Murtala Mohammed Domestic Airport. Thankfully justice Anwuri Chikere of Federal Appeal court Abuja sided with the concessionaires earlier this year, understanding the need to strictly enforce contractual covenants and ensure continuity in reform efforts. As we speak, the electoral reform measures and petroleum industry bill are yet to scale national assembly, which to my mind are two vital pieces of legislations that could make or break Nigeria.

These policy lapses and complacency displayed by Yar Adua’s administration are quite disconcerting and detrimental to serious long-term transformation of Nigeria. But look closely you might be tempted to conclude that where Obasanjo failed is areas in which President Yar Adua could succeed. Unlike last administration, due process mantra seems to have become overarching reason why Yar Adua has refrained from meddling in the affairs of the judiciary. Several landmark court decisions over the last two years have resulted in change of guide (like in Rivers State and Anambra State), each time Yar Adua has adhered to the verdict making for less political tension in the country unlike during Obasanjo years.

…Niger Delta Debacle
The most arduous challenge for Yar Adua that could have decimated the country is Niger Delta debacle. The militants clearly unmasked vulnerability of critical economic assets and porous security situation, especially at the southern flange/Nigeria's coastal boundaries.

To the extent that I remain perplexed why more wasn’t done earlier by Obasanjo administration to nip the crisis in the bud, I am truly impressed by the bold efforts of Yar Adua to thread delicately but decisively by granting general amnesty and engaging the militants in dialogue, while leaving open other options. Another president might have simply declared all-out war in an already tense political and economic climate where oil production and investments have been heavily dented by pipeline vandalization and kidnapping of expatriates.

Either Yar Adua is a lame-duck weakling, or truly a mild-mannered peacemaker at heart, who is astute enough to understand enormity of potential damage wrought by the Niger Delta unrest. Hence was sensible to choose constructive engagement rather than full-scale military clampdown. This brings up the question of whether Yar Adua at the end of the day would mean any difference to Nigeria despite his sluggishness – it is my submission that if he successfully resolves the lingering Niger Delta question, which is at the heart of Nigeria’s economic survival, history will be kind to him and he might even one day be nominated for Nobel peace prize.

…Making History
On another note, though still early to discern the outcome of ongoing cleansing exercise in the banking industry, to imagine that Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi could be given free hand to unleash such radical sanitization crusade is nothing short of phenomenal and quite un-Nigerian. Hidden political or ethnic agendas aside, it is obvious that change was imperative in the banking sector in other to progressively strengthen the financial industry. But Nigeria is often a terrain where tough decisions are easily truncated by influence-peddlers and political/industry heavyweights. This time around the CBN is on the match with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in tow, mounting spirited recovery campaign against high profile dead-beat debtors.

By this current onslaught, the war on corruption seem not to have necessarily abated, but probably drifted from the political class to business elites and large corporate debtors that are capable of inflicting as much damage as politicians on the economy. Whether this is occurring by mere happenstance or tactical ploy to shift attention by Yar Adua remains unclear.

Ultimately all these actions (if well-meant) count in the continued effort to reposition Nigeria. If by dint of hard work or luck post-amnesty program in Niger Delta takes hold and historical neglect in the region is measurably redressed, this could become remarkable political feat for Yar Adua, which will surely make him count in the annals of Nigeria. Then you might say he achieved one-point agenda as I suggested sometime ago - not electric power but Niger Delta peace.

Chamberlain is a New York based financial professional and member of Rivers State Economic Advisory Council.

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