Nigeria in 2010 - a watershed year

The past year has been a dramatic one for Nigerians; politically, financially, commercially and economically, the nation has faced a few home truths and has made significant steps forward.

 

Power management
After almost 80 days of stasis with President Yar’Adua incapacitated in a Saudi Arabian hospital and Nigeria like a ship on a rough sea without a captain, the vacuum finally imploded in the second week of February.
Yar’Adua had been either unable or unwilling to formally transfer power to his vice president and so Nigeria’s National Assembly decided to act. Both the Senate and the lower house resolved to transfer the functions of the office of president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces to the vice president, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who thus becomes acting president until such time as President Yar’Adua may return to Nigeria and is willing and able to resume office. Parliament has justified its actions by citing the president’s faltering performance during a BBC telephone interview in January when the president stated that he would return to Nigeria ‘as soon as his doctors cleared him’. However, such decision went against the cabinet which had claimed that the president’s health did not preclude Yar’Adua from remaining in office.
The cabinet and Yar’Adua’s supporters in general have, perhaps understandably, opposed the formal transfer of his powers, even temporarily, to the vice president . They believe that through such action their personal standing, influence and hold on power will slip away and may not return in a hurry.
Whilst many heaved a sigh of relief as Dr. Jonathan finally took control, it should be noted that parliament’s actions are not wholly validated by Nigeria’s Constitution. Under Section 145 thereof, the president is required to formally write and confirm that he is unable to serve or, alternatively, cabinet may send a medical team to examine the president and to confirm that he is unable to carry out his duties as president. Neither of these things has happened and so the actions taken remain open to possible legal challenge in future. In mid-February, a group of Nigerian legislators was said to be on its way to meet Yar’Adua in Saudi Arabia but its purpose was unclear.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has shown admirable restraint in the manner in which he has handled this crisis. He has had to satisfy two opposing camps – on the one hand people have been calling for him to show leadership, firmly grasp the reigns of power and act decisively on the many challenges facing the country but equally there has been a need not to upset the ruling clique by appearing to be too eager to grab power.
As always in Nigeria, the North / South power balance has to be considered and Dr. Jonathan certainly does not wish to tip the scales at this sensitive juncture. His first move to achieve some balance in this direction is likely to be the appointment of an acting vice president from the Muslim North. Such person could then become one of the contenders for president in the elections when they hold.
In the coming days and weeks, Dr. Jonathan’s actions will be closely scrutinised, most especially as he remains somewhat of an unknown quantity. However, chairing his first cabinet meeting, he had the confidence to reshuffle some of his ministers, several of whom were known to be close to Yar’Adua.
Specifically, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, was replaced by former Minister of Labour, Adetokunbo Kayode, with Aondoakaa now becoming Special Duties Minister.
Dr. Jonathan has inherited quite a sound cabinet team to lead, following earlier changes made by Yar’Adua. Of particular note are the Minister of Finance, Dr. Mansur Muhtar, and the Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi. Many of the state governors are also of a new breed, welcoming the opportunity to be called to account for their vast budgets.
Following his appointment as acting president, Dr. Jonathan addressed the nation. In his address, he said that he felt humbled by the great call to duty and spoke of moving the country forward. He praised the people of Nigeria for their unity and asked the country to pray for Mr Yar'Adua's recovery, referring to him as ‘our dear president’. Thinking perhaps of Nigeria’s history of military coups, the acting president thanked the armed forces for “their loyalty and devotion to duty during this trying period.”
At the start of the year, Dr. Jonathan had proposed that both standards and salaries for the military be raised. With rising unrest in the country, the acting president will certainly need the support of the military in the coming days. In January, he sent troops to Jos to deal with the Christian – Muslim clashes which claimed the lives of over 400 people.
Prior to Yar’Adua’s travel to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, he was being praised for the Niger Delta ceasefire, seen as his greatest achievement since he took office in 2007 and there was talk that he might be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, not long after Yar’Adua travelled out of the country, the ceasefire broke and the present situation remains highly volatile. It is hoped that proposed spending of over US$1bn in the Delta will placate the militants and finally bring peace to the region.
With oil and gas still playing a key role in determining Nigeria’s economic performance, much hinges on the ceasefire holding. It is no exaggeration to say it represents the difference between boom and bust for Nigeria.
In reality, Dr. Jonathan has also played and continues to play a key role in resolving the Niger Delta problem. After all, he hails from the region and has perhaps not received the due acknowledgement he deserves for his role in securing the Amnesty.
He has been largely a behind the scenes man until now but the spotlight is now clearly on him. 53 years of age and renowned for his wide-brimmed hat, he is a committed Christian, hailing from Rivers State, now Bayelsa State, and is a former Governor of the latter. He and his wife, Patience, have two children. His father was a canoe-carver and Dr. Jonathan is a humble, soft-spoken and unassuming man. His wife has often received more attention than himself - she was investigated by anti-corruption officials in 2006 over allegations that she tried to launder some US$13.5mn. However, no convictions have followed.
An election is, at maximum, little over 12 months away now and it seems very likely that Dr. Jonathan will continue as acting president until that election is helds. He inherits the seven-point agenda of priority issues that Yar’Adua set out at the start of his presidency with the Niger Delta and power generation both towards the top of the list. The promised progress on improved power generation in 2009 did not occur.
In October 2009 alone, over US$4bn was disbursed by the Government in an effort to make the 6,000 megawatt target achievable. Dr. Jonathan acknowledged the government’s failure to meet the power generating target when he made his New Year address but did not say how he proposed to resolve the issue.
If he could use his days in office to bring an improvement in the area of power generation alone, a challenge that defeated both former president Obasanjo and then Yar’Adua, he would prove his gravitas and increase the likelihood that he may be a viable candidate in the forthcoming elections.
However, winning elections in Nigeria is more about access to resources than the merits of any particular candidate. The ruling party, the PDP, is heavily reliant for funding on a number of individuals named on the distressed banks’ debtors lists which were published last year, persons whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should perhaps be hauling in for questioning.
Whoever the president or acting president may be, they walk a very narrow line – on the one hand supporting the Central Bank Governor, the clean up campaign, the EFCC, the agenda for reform and the rule of law and, on the other, the clear need not to unduly upset some of those financial benefactors implicated in the banks’ distress.
Even if President Yar’Adua were to return to Nigeria and resume power prior to the elections within the next 12 months or so it seems highly unlikely that he would now seek a second four-year term or indeed be capable of doing so given his poor health.
The days ahead will show whether acting president Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is simply keeping Yar’Adua’s seat warm for his return or whether he is the man to lead Nigeria to the promised land. His Christian name may be a good omen perhaps to say nothing of his middle name ‘Ebele’ meaning ‘God’s wish’!

Africa’s best kept secret
Like many countries in the world, Nigeria took a bad knock in 2009 but its spirit is undaunted. It entered the economic downturn from a position of relative strength and oil and gas exports should once again save the day for Nigeria as economic activity picks up again in 2010.
However, when the good times return, Nigeria must, at all costs, build the broader-based economy that is essential to the country’s long-term stability and growth.
In the darkest days of 2009, the country’s 20:2020 Master Plan which seeks to position Nigeria within the 20 largest economies in the world by the year 2020, seemed little more than a pipe dream.
The Plan targets a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of not less than $900bn and a per capita income of over $4,000 by the year 2020.
However, the government remains adamant that 20:2020 can and should be achieved and the updated blueprint was duly endorsed by the country's decision-making Federal Executive Council (FEC) last November.
The National Planning Commission commented that the blueprint was “an intention to achieve a transformation of the Nigerian State across social, cultural and political dimensions.”
Recognising that 20:2020 was viewed as overambitious by many and little short of wishful thinking, then Vice-President (now Acting President) Goodluck Jonathan commented “A vision is not a prediction of the future…we are no longer content to be where we are today and are prepared to take the necessary steps to place us in our rightful place in the comity of developed countries. We are targeting 2020 but it may come sooner or later.” Implementation of the Plan was scheduled to start in January.
With elections unlikely until 2011, there will be lingering uncertainty throughout 2010 but even if acting president Goodluck Jonathan only succeeds in maintaining peace in the Delta and improving the power supply he will have gone a considerable way to making himself a viable contender when the elections finally arrive.
Lingering religious unrest will also need close attention though it is nothing new and has been a volatile feature of the country for many years. The State Governorship elections in Anambra in process as we go to press are likely to provide the next potential for communal violence.
As the national elections near, competition for the presidency will only serve to step up the tension between the different groupings. Wider security issues linked to the United States’ decision to place Nigeria on its list of ‘security risk countries’, following the failed attempt by a Nigerian national to blow up a US passenger plane in December, will also need serious attention in terms of restoring Nigeria’s image internationally.
With the world starting to climb out of recession in 2010, assessments will be made as to where the most favourable growth prospects are. 2009 saw most of Nigeria’s skeletons come out of the closet so there is little downside left.
Nigeria may remain relatively high risk but there are some very high rewards on offer for those with strong nerves, tenacity and plenty of optimism. As it has so often been said, Nigeria’s reputation can blind business to its potential. It’s a matter of perception versus reality.
Despite the uncertainty the country faces in 2010, for those with the necessary tenacity to meet the challenges and surmount them, Nigeria remains and will remain a highly lucrative market. It is still Africa’s best kept secret!

Special Correspondent­

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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