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Has Yar’adua ruled Nigeria for 10 years?

I think President Yar’adua has become an easy target for many because of his style. When compared to his immediate predecessor, the current president is…

I think President Yar’adua has become an easy target for many because of his style. When compared to his immediate predecessor, the current president is definitely cut from a different cloth. He is soft-spoken and slight in profile. He listens to others and reflects a lot. He neither bullies his critics nor dismisses them. He doesn’t fit the bill of the swashbuckling, dramatic, colourful, all-knowing and impulsive African leader. We all know where the carefully cultivated Big Man Theory has led the continent: nowhere!

Clearly, the President could have done more in the last two years. But it is important to appreciate how Nigeria’s pre-2007 history and inherited challenges limit what can be done in just two years. Take, for instance, President Yar’adua’s open admission that the election that produced him was flawed, and a reminder of the unfinished business with democracy in country. Others could have been in denial. But he chose to see it as a challenge of democratisation and an opportunity to put Nigeria’s democracy on a firm footing. He embraced and prioritized electoral reforms. It is worth noting that, as important as it is, electoral reform was not on the agenda in the first eight years of our civil rule. I think the President deserves a lot of commendation for putting this issue on the agenda and putting his political capital and leverage behind it.  

Of course, the proposed reforms have not been without controversy. But that is the nature of reforms: they are usually contentious and need to be negotiated among the different stakeholders. However, some stakeholders put the entire project in jeopardy when they insist on their version or nothing else. They should know that something is always better than nothing. Politics by its nature demands listening to and appreciating where the other side is coming from, and is always about give and take. Those opposed to the president on electoral reform should also know that, except they have the numbers, they might be unwittingly working for those who are keen in preserving the status quo.   

President Yar’adua has also invested efforts making the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) a truly democratic party at all levels. Some might discountenance this. But it is very important to ensure that the party in power at the centre and in most of the states does not become a threat to democracy or overheat the polity, as it was wont to do in the past. At the very least, the party should abide by its own constitution. You cannot give what you do not have.

Effort to tackle this is ongoing and as can be seen from the last convention of the PDP, the hegemony of ex-military leaders and their collaborators is being overturned. In the states, violent forces opposed to law and order, but enamoured by federal might, are being cut to size. It is a new day in states such as Rivers, Anambra, and Oyo (remember ‘Ibadan Garisson Commander). Under President Yar’Adua, federal endorsement of gangsterism and lawlessness has stopped being the norm.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the new dawn. Among these are those who profited from the old order and those who thought the President was going to be a pawn in their hands so that they can continue their exploitation of the nation. This group had always influenced appointments, issued licenses for utilization of vital resources, lifted crude oil and awarded major contracts, of course, to their families, friends, associates and cohorts. They are discomforted and have suddenly turned to emergency critics or inciting others with selective information, but no one should weep for them or pay heed to their antics.

Perhaps it is no accident that he chose respect for rule of law as a cardinal principle of his administration, for without rule of law democracy will not be worth its name. We only need to cast our mind back to the first eight years of our ten-year democracy to see how much progress we have indeed made in the last two years. As a logical extension of this effective but quiet style, fiscal prudence and responsibility have been elevated to a national virtue. States and local governments receive their statutory allocations when due irrespective of party affiliations. It is no longer fashionable to cut into the federation account without the consent of the federating states. The police and judiciary are better funded to place the rule of law on a firmer ground, so also other institutions of government. The civil service is daily being retouched for efficiency, while the military has been empowered to repair the damage to its professionalism caused by many years of adventure in civil governance.

Yar’adua has taken a lot of flak for being slow to act. But as the nation’s first elected graduate executive president, it behooves on him to be analytical and thorough in the assessment of the nation’s problems and options before embarking on a course of action. It is this analytical and deliberate bias that many have mistaken for slowness. But it is the way to go if we are interested in sustainable development, not knee-jerk, impulsive approach to governance.

The administration has also received some battering on the anti-corruption war. Contrary to popular opinion, this government has done more in the fight against corruption. The anti-corruption agencies have been strengthened and persons accused of corruption including ministers, legislators, ex-governors and top civil servants are being prosecuted. For instance, the Haliburton scandal which has haunted the immediate past administration is now being investigated.

Dr Akintoye wrote in from London and can be reached on: [email protected]

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