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Editorial: A chance to move forward

Posted on Friday, 1 October 2010 08:08

As Nigeria celebrates surviving 50 years of independence, elections in 2011 are a chance to move forward says editor-in-chief Patrick Smith.

When asked to name Tanzania’s greatest achievement since

independence, founding President Julius Nyerere replied immediately:

“That we survived.” Many Nigerians offer similarly modest responses to

the question as the country braces itself for the fireworks and

razzmatazz of the celebrations of 50 years of independence from British

rule on 1 October.??

One of the most poignant reactions comes from the

veteran politician and campaigner from the Niger Delta, Chief Edwin

Clark, who is now President Goodluck Jonathan’s most senior advisor.

“After 50 years, we are still a country. We have survived as one

country, we have fought a civil war, and we have succeeded in keeping

the country together. Today we are Nigerians, wherever we are.”??

For

most of this year, the country’s political elite has been consumed in

arguments about the presidential succession and sharing power between

North and South. Some fear trouble looms in next year’s elections

because the elite cannot close ranks behind a single presidential

candidate.??

Younger Nigerians find that obsession with power sharing

irksome. A chief executive of one of the country’s biggest banks

dismisses the alternation of the presidency between the North and the

South as “antique”. The idea that leadership of a modernising country of

150 million people which is set to be among the 20 biggest economies in

the world should be based on anything other than merit is a dangerous

delusion, he insists.??

Nigeria’s incomparable chronicler, Chinua Achebe,

spelled it out three decades earlier: “The denial of merit is a form of

social injustice which can hurt not only the individuals directly

concerned but ultimately the entire society.” The migration of some of

Nigeria’s star intellectuals and professionals, mostly educated at the

country’s expense, reinforces his point. A class of ‘virtual Nigerians’

has evolved. Its members are people in their 40s and 50s who dip in and

out of the country, taking on short-term projects. They say that it will

not be their generation that ‘fixes’ Nigeria.??

The question of who will

do the fixing and when is left hanging. After this generation, there are

about 70 million Nigerians under the age of 20 who are frustrated by the

lack of educational and job opportunities. However, Achebe offers a ray

of hope: “The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its

leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge, of personal

example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. I am saying that

Nigeria can change today if she discovers leaders who have the will, the

ability and the vision.”??

Few think that next year’s elections will

reveal leaders with such sterling qualities, but the government is about

to spend half a billion dollars on registering voters and printing

ballot papers. Such spending – financed from taxes and oil revenues –

imposes a special obligation on the politicians and activists

involved.??

These elections are a chance for the country to move forward:

they will be run by a man of integrity, Attahiru Jega, who is aware of

the magnitude of his task. Activists, especially in the opposition

parties, are working hard to get younger Nigerians to register to vote

and to campaign on the issues – education, jobs and health – that are so

vital to them.??

The involvement of a new generation of politicians which

includes former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu; a former minister of

Abuja, Nasir el-Rufai; Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola; Niger

Delta activists Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr and Oronto Douglas – is changing the

debate and government policies.??

A year after Central Bank of Nigeria

Governor Lamido Sanusi launched his purge of the country’s incestuous

banking sector, the new head of the ?Securities and Exchange Commission,

Arunma Oteh, is reforming the stock exchange. The end result should be

more viable local and foreign investment.??

Those changes, together with

moves to establish an effective and accountable taxation regime for

companies and citizens, could help reverse the flight of about $400bn of

Nigeria’s oil and gas wealth to offshore tax havens. When that happens,

the negotiations over constitutional reform and power sharing would

begin to have a practical meaning for Nigerians fighting for those lost

opportunities.

This article was first published in The Africa Report’s Nigeria at 50 special supplement in September 2010.

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