The passing of Nigeria’s President
Umaru Musa Yar’Adua – although long expected – has elicited
waves of sympathy across the country and apprehension about the coming
months as politicians prepare for national elections next year.
To counter uncertainties, acting
Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as substantive President this morning,
less than 12 hours after Yar’Adua’s demise.
Nigerians had followed the saga of
Yar’Adua’s medical trips to Germany and Saudi Arabia with concern and
frustration – and quickly sensed that senior figures in the clique
around the ailing President were trying to turn these tragic events
to their own advantage. Information leaked out about secret contract
awards to their business associates and insider deals being concocted
with local and foreign bankers.
Yar’Adua’s presidency disappointed
the many Nigerians who had been encouraged by his talk of
re-establishing the “rule of law” in Nigeria, tackling the worsening
civil conflict in the oil-rich Niger Delta and reforming the country’s
corrupt electoral system – of which he was just the latest beneficiary.
Instead, Yar’Adua’s rule was marred
by his inability to to free himself from the vultures and rogues of
his inner circle, beholden to powerful interests in the ruling People’s
Democratic Party. Mild mannered and diplomatic, Yar’Adua could not match
the rumbustious style of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo who bestrode
the ruling party like a colossus or a Roman emperor, issuing edicts
from the palace at Aso Rock and despatching emissaries to the far-flung
reaches of the empire.
When the Abuja spin doctors got to
Yar’Adua, they grandiosely announced his seven-point agenda which did
at least set out the horrors that afflict most Nigerians: the
lack of electric power, clean water, effective eduction and health
mayhem in the Niger Delta and over-arching corruption at every level
of corporate and political life.
Again the vested interests in the
circle held progress back and Yar’Adua proved too weak – politically
and latterly physically – to counter their malign influence. The fact
that once-prominent figures around Yar’Adua such as Delta State governor
James Ibori and Attorney-General Michael Aondoakaa are now fugitives
from the law speaks volumes about the changing climate in Abuja.
Despite the malevolence of Ibori and
Aondoakaa, Yar’Adua did preside over a peace and amnesty deal in the
Niger Delta and has been described as a “committed peacemaker” by
the Movement for the Emancipation
of the Niger Delta (MEND) this
morning. Yar’Adua also quietly endorsed the sweeping purge of corrupt
banks and bankers by the new Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria,
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
In his fitter and younger days,
tenure as governor of Katsina State deserves commendation. The only
governor to enter into office with a budget deficit and leave with a
Yar’Adua also championed progressive finance initiatives for
the farmers in Katsina, a much-ignored sector in Nigeria.
The new President, Goodluck Jonathan,
has a formidable list of political and economic reforms to push through
in the 11 months before the next election, but has made a relatively
purposeful start. Jonathan’s sacking of the appalling head of electoral commission, Maurice Iwu,
has done far more for electoral reform than Yar’Adua ever managed.
But Jonathan now needs to follow up with the adoption of electoral
proposed by Justice Mohammed Uwais’s special commission which calls
for an independent electoral authority.
Politics are now delicately poised.
PDP barons in northern Nigeria insist they must provide the next
candidate, in line with party’s ideas of alternating power between north
and south. They had endured eight years of southern rule under Obasanjo.
But the Niger Delta, where Jonathan
comes from, have never had a representative in power. Will Jonathan
implement important political and economic reforms, take the applause,
and bow out now – and perhaps hope to return after the north’s candidate
has served a term? Or should Jonathan run, as insiders will no doubt
advise him, and capitalise on his good political fortune – even if
that puts unbearable strain on the ruling PDP?
For a detailed analysis of the
legacy and what it means for Nigeria’s future,
get the next issue of The Africa Report, out
in Abuja, Kaduna, Lagos, Enugu, Jos, Maidurguri and beyond,
on the 27th of May.
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