Editorial: A chance to move forward
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.”??
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
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
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