Friday Discourse 238
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Agenda for Yar’adua
My readers will remember that the last article that appeared in this column before the election – 2007, like 2003 – was a reprint of another article that I published just before the 2003 elections. Our fears came to be true. This time everybody, including the President, conceded that there were problems with the elections. His alibi, as usual, was that no elections are perfect. All the same, he must go.
If we were to follow the path of 2003, my reaction would have been to reprint another article, the first after the 2003 elections, titled Aisha, Leave Buhari Alone immediately after I moved to Thisday. But we are not interested in repetitions. Nigeria is a highly predictable country. The consolation here is the decision of the main opposition candidate, Buhari, to put the matter before the court of the people. Let them do whatever they deem fit with the result of the election. It is their votes. They can decide to either forfeit it or reclaim it. The people, speaking generally, as we now understand, have chosen, at least for now, to forfeit it. They voiced conflicting views on mass action; then they stayed put when they were invited to peacefully demonstrate their renunciation on Workers’ Day. Their political psyche, it appears, is so compromised that more needs to be done to get them realize that what they do on election day determines how they will live for eight years. That must be the single agenda for the opposition between now and 2011.
Meanwhile, let us see what we can do with the reality of the moment. The next President, God willing, will be Umaru Musa Yar’adua, come May 29. The mindset of this person will have remarkable influence on our lives. He may choose to betray his antecedents and reward us by making our lives difficult, as Obasanjo assiduously did in the past eight years; or he may decide to abide by them and make this country more secure and comfortable for us. I therefore consider it as part of our duty – we the commoners – to advise him, as we did during the early days of Obasanjo in 1999, on the practical steps that will make him a successful President. As he braces up for the most difficult office in the country, he will be flooded with many advices, especially from the people he interacts with up there. Though we may not have the advantage of proximity, nevertheless, it is our sincere hope that he takes what we down here would say at this moment seriously.
Yar’adua has fundamental decisions to take right now. The first and foremost is an ideological one, and in its line all others would naturally fall. Two roads are before him today: one leading to the happiness of Nigerians at the summit of a mountain that is difficult to climb; the other leading to a concert of local and multinational bourgeoisie who are wining and dining on our sweat and rights, only to end up in shame and regret. He must decide on which of the two paths he will tread for the next four years.
The last people oriented administration, my readers will generally agree, was that of Buhari, the military head of state who took over power when common commodities like detergents, grains and cooking oil were grossly scarce in the market. The economy was in shambles, corruption was grave, and hope was bleak. That was when “Andrew” wanted to check out.
On coming to power in 1984, Buhari decided to be with the people and remained so, despite all pressures, for the twenty months he ruled this country. He arrested as many economic saboteurs as he could, provided essential commodities in abundance, refused to take foreign loans and questioned the validity of many of the ones he inherited. He resisted the pressure from IMF to devalue the naira. And so on. It was not surprising that he was ousted immediately and replaced with an IMF-compliant officer.
Since then, 1985, our suffering became endless. While the purchasing capacity of the ordinary Nigerian continued to dwindle as a result of IMF compliant policies of successive governments, nothing ever came down as relief. Every promise turned out to be a deceit. The country got aligned to the capitalist manifestoes of IMF and World Bank. No need to go on narrating how we suffered between 1985 and 1999. The World Bank has recently conceded that its policies along with those of the IMF have aggravated poverty in developing countries. What other proof do we need?
The arrival of Obasanjo in 1999 brought some hope for political stability and improvement on our livelihood. We voted for him almost unanimously, with the exception of the Southwest, without paying attention to his long time connections with Washington. Unfortunately, he turned against us. Throughout the eight years of his rule, Nigerians are daily greeted with policies that disenfranchise them economically. Life has become unbearable. I believe by now “Andrew” has checked out. The naira is devalued by over 500% or more; ordinary liter of petrol that sold at N11.00 in 1999 now officially sells at N64.00 when available; and there is no end to the corruption in public offices that prevents the common Nigerian from enjoying the little that was intended to trickle down to him.
Throughout the tenure of Obasanjo, electricity supply continued to dwindle, as we are greeted with one deceit after another. Agriculture, which is the source of livelihood of majority of Nigerians, received little attention during his tenure. A 50kg of fertilizer today costs N4,000.00 in the market. No subsidies, nothing. He embarked on the large scale auction of public enterprises that would have served the common man were they managed prudently. And the big shame was the fact that he has a hand, covertly and overtly, behind the acquisition of some. He handed over to his masters overseas whatever he squeezed out of Nigerians in the name of debt settlement. His handlers often point at the debt he settled and GSM as his achievement in office. He was never on the side of the people. Conclusively, he ran the most corrupt and incompetent government in the history of this country.
Yar’adua must therefore decide, now, on which path to take and who to side with. We will not tolerate sitting on the fence for in Africa there is no centre left, centre right, or center whatever. He can either work for the interest of ordinary Nigerians or for that of the corrupt few and their multinational partners.
This ideological divide is sharp and has a lot of impact on the appointments and policies of Yar’adua. If he chooses to be on their side, then all he needs to do is to continue with the oppressive policies and people of Obasanjo. Washington, in addition, is ever ready to provide him with the necessary directives. But shame awaits him in the end.
If, however, he chooses to be with us, the people, then the new president must ultimately dispense with whatever oppressive garbage he inherited from Obasanjo, be it human, material or conceptual. He is not a military President, we understand, so he may not be as straight as Buhari; but we expect him to start taking measures that will truly make his administration people-centered.
Yar’adua cannot be on the side of the people and carry along with the punitive policies of Obasanjo or the people he used to suck our blood. No. Yar’adua must know that the two are incompatible. I consider his recent allusions to that as a short term political step that is, hopefully, part of a greater political game plan to assert his independence ultimately. He does not need to stir the waters now, given that his canoe is itself unstable. But by the time he is fully entrenched in authority, we hope he will do the right thing, phasing out the crooks that have brought so much hardship to us just as we hope he will, of course, retain the few competent ones who share his philosophy and are ready to work for our interest.
I see Yar’adua doing so in three steps. First, he must assert himself against the meddling of Obasanjo, who will be the greatest threat to his authority. In his mind, Obasanjo must have calculated that Yar’adua will do his bidding, or if he fails, it will be a matter of time that he will die and Goodluck will takeover. Obasanjo has done enough to immortalize his privileges. He hopes to control Yar’adua through the staff he will recommend to the new President as well as his position as the position of Chairman, Board of Trustees of the PDP. Through this, he reassures himself that what he invested in looting public treasury will mature to fruition. I have the confidence that Yar’adua will handle him adequately. He has already denied the President his plea to make his daughter the Senate President. The post is now allocated to the Northcentral zone. Up Middle Belt!
The second step is for Yar’adua to do away with names that are notoriously associated with the ills of the past regime, people who shamelessly nurtured and vehemently defended policies antipathetic to people in the name of development. He must not appoint them into any position and we expect him to sack the majority of people appointed by Obasanjo to head parastatals that are central to our living. He does not need to delay or compromise on this. So far, Yar’adua has resisted the persuasion of Obasanjo to approve a list of these people whose exit is imminent. The list included people like Fani-Kayode. Imagine! I will advise Yar’adua get an updated list of Third Term supporters and flush them out of his administration.
In the third step, when he will be one year in office, I expect Yar’adua to complete cutting off the remaining vestiges of Obasanjo in government. By this time also, he must have reversed all the evil policies of his predecessor, which are many, and replaced them with people friendly ones in various sectors. He must, within the shortest possible time, drastically reduce poverty by concentrating on agriculture and the provision of regular electricity and affordable pump price for fuel. All the three will have direct impact on employment as they will revive factories and small scale enterprises, as well as opening the door for mass employment at the agrarian grassroots level. Security, health and education could also be added because poverty alleviation also comes in a form of relief from burdensome social responsibilities.
Before concluding this article I would like to make some remarks, despite the strong case for policy shift which I put forward above. I am not unaware that one of the greatest problems that anyone in the position of Yar’adua will confront is finding the honest, competent and hardworking people to work with. Immediately a Nigerian is announced governor or President elect, he becomes inundated with people seeking favors, especially positions, to corruptly enrich themselves. I know it will be suicidal to send them away, but the appetite of such politicians can be satiated through contracts and many other avenues of favor, to which we will show our understanding. What he must never do is to appoint them into any sensitive public office because in office, unlike in contract, their corruption cannot be tamed. I just wish Yar’adua will silently appoint a team that will comb this country for the right individuals to run sensitive offices for him and who will pursue far-reaching projects vigorously. If he would limit himself to the PDP caucus or to those who hang around him, he is not likely to succeed.
The second point is my respect for his person given his history as someone who was once a member of the socialist left on campus and of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party. In his eight years as governor of Katsina State, he has demonstrated clearly that he still stands on his leftist ground to a good extent, though his opponents from Katsina will be eager to point at some of his shortcomings. This is natural. Ai sai da Ma’aiki a ke Abu Lahabi. I did not hesitate to praise him in 2002 when he almost single handedly assisted Ahmadu Bello University with over a billion naira to establish School of Basic and Remedial Studies, Funtua. Then, some Northern governors could not fulfill their pledge of just N15m each on the project. And when I pointed out in the article that work has stopped on the site for some delay in payment to contractors, he immediately released the funds required to complete the school. That is why I could not hesitate to welcome his candidature in the PDP in addition to that of Buhari in the ANPP, for I consider both to have come from the same political family.
My hopes for Yar’adua are high, being an old student of Malam Aminu Kano and Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman. It is his past association with these people that he must always remember in Aso Rock. I do not even rule out that would he live long, he will allow a free and fair election to take place in 2011. All he needs to do is to start his campaign right now by working hard for us and, combined with a little incumbency, he is assured of winning transparently in 2011. For these reasons, I have decided to encourage him than rebuke him. I hope other pragmatic Nigerians will do so as well.
9 May 2007