The up and coming state of
Nigeria after the death of its president
Associate since 1991
Comments directly to
May 13, 2010
The stability of Nigeria, Africa's most populous state, seems to defy the doomsayers. When the democratically elected president, Olusegun Obasanjo, ended his second term of office a quiet, self-effacing academic, Umaru Yar'Adua was elected. Last week he died, not yet 60. He is succeeded by his equally self-effacing, non dictatorial deputy, Goodluck Jonathan.
Not everything Yar'Adua did was good - his most grievous sin was to fire Nuhu Ribadu, the path-breaking head of the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that prosecuted successfully many of the country's most egregiously corrupt governors. But he did achieve two very important things, as he battled his debilitating illness. With remarkable perseverance he did what his predecessor had tried and failed to do - to bring to the point of success negotiations with the armed militants who were bent on destroying the foreign owned oil industry and the oil and gas they pump from the Niger Delta that is the underpinning of government revenues. It is perhaps too early to make a judgement on whether his peace plan will hold up over the long term - some elements of the rebels have broken the truce- but it looks like a significant step forward.
The second achievement was on the economic and financial front. He continued the far reaching reforms of his predecessor. His appointments both to the finance ministry and the central bank were astute, even if the subsequent policies could have been handled more deftly and productively. The banks are still often poorly managed. Nevertheless, the result has helped Nigeria bounce back fast from the impact of the West's great recession. Growth fell from over 8% a year to 5.6% last year. But in their report of last month the International Monetary Fund project that it will be 7% this year and next.
This is not just because of oil. The fast growth rate of the agricultural sector, begun under Obasanjo, continues its high trajectory - the second highest in Africa. If a second world commodity boom gets underway, which many believe is already occuring, then Nigerian agriculture is well positioned to take advantage of it.
Nigeria will miss Yar'Adua because of what made up the inner man. He was a Muslim through and through and one who had deeply thought about what his beliefs meant. I found this out during his campaign for president when I was the only foreign journalist to have a long interview with him.
"All religions get corrupted", he told me "But we should never forget that religion is about love, kindness and tolerance of the other peoples of the Book. Honesty, fairness, justice, truth, forthrightness, love and peace are the elements of Islam."
Yar'Adua managed to dampen down the bitter religious conflicts that erupt intermittently. Nigeria also continues to contribute in a major way to important peacekeeping operations in sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria now is temperamentally a very different beast that existed during the era of the military dictators.
Politicians, civic and church leaders in the largely Christian south of the country have campaigned hard against the moves of northern Islamic states to introduce Sharia law, believing it undermines the secular constitution. Yar'Adua observed that "civil law and Sharia law are not that much different. Both want to administer justice, even if there are differences in procedure and subject matter e.g. the Islamic prohibition of alcohol. Regrettably, much of Sharia law has been politicised, but the two systems should be able to live comfortably side by side."
I asked him about the practice of stiff punishment for adultery. "A court needs four witnesses to prove it and it is unlikely a court can find that number. So the only way to convict them is if the couple confess and even then the court has to prove the couple are mentally sound."
Then I asked about the famous case in his state of a young woman who was raped but accused of adultery. "I knew the system would find her not guilty. I knew they couldn't prove adultery. Some of the lower courts are not knowlgeable and just because the case became politicised they passed a judgement against her. But the appeal court that acquitted her knew what they were doing."
If that makes him look a good man the other side of the coin was the company as president chose to keep - some of the most corrupt governors and "fixers" in the country.
At the time I met with him he appeared alert and cognizant of the issues - not just the Delta crisis but on the continuing power and energy problem, on land, electoral and education reform, the development of water transport to take the burden away from the bad road system in the Delta and, above all, a lessening of the dependence on oil and the need to give much more emphasis to productive activity and taxes. Yet his illness or lack of will hampered the implementation. It became just talk.
Perhaps his wisest decision was to ask Goodluck Jonathan, the governor of one of the troubled Delta states to be his running mate. A rare financially clean governor (as was Yar'Adua) he is an idealist. He is a friend of Ribadu, a Muslim, and there is talk of Jonathan running him as his vice president in next year's election. I was lucky enough to sit in on part of a spirited discussion between the two and to see that they were very much on the same wave length.
Jonathan has inherited a viable if still theoretical program of action from Yar'Adua. A healthy man in his prime, there is no reason why he shouldn't succeed with it.
Copyright © 2010 Jonathan
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