Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nigeria in 2006

It would be downright stupid to say that this is going to be an interesting year for Nigeria. Every year in a country's life is interesting on some level. Besides, as former British PM Harold Macmillan said when asked about the most difficult thing in politics, "events dear boy, events". Events govern everything. Events such as the Nigerian Congress introducing same-sex civil partnerships, or Babangida explicitly saying he isn't running for president. These are events which would render any possible predictions obsolete. If any country had three tragic plane crashes and the death of a first lady in one year, it would be their annus horribilis, but not in Nigeria. The potential for dramatic events never dissipates.

Some things to look out for:

This could be a wonderful year for Nigerian politics. Since elections at all tiers of government are due in April 2007, politicians will set out their stalls early. The overarching question is if OBJ will run for a third term. The constitution doesn't allow it - unless two-thirds of Congress vote to change it. One never knows how the lawmakers are thinking. their position on the matter sways as the wind blows. One thing is for certain, there are enough people against it to cause the PDP to split. This would be a wonderful thing, not because I have something against the PDP, but because they have too much power.

When one party in a "nascent democracy" (I couldn't resist) like Nigeria has so much power, it ends up consolidating its power, and the country sleepwalks into a de facto one-party state and president-for-life ethos. It's happened all over Africa before, Kenya being the most recent country to break out of it with Mwai Kibaki, and Yoweri Museveni is hoping to sustain it in Uganda's March elections. If the party has too much power, it can afford not to deliver reforms for the electorate because there's little threat of being swept from power.

If OBJ doesn't want to become a president for life but wants to see his work continued, then he should endorse a successor á la Clinton/Gore (which succeeded if you really count the votes), or Arap Moi/Kenyatta (which failed) in Kenya. The successor will most likely be judged on the performance of the predecessor, and if the people like what OBJ has done, they will trust his judgement as to who should continue his good work.

There is a slight threat that if the PDP breaks up, it will fractionalise into tribal groups. Most of OBJ's opponents want him to stand down because they want the presidency to go to their geopolitical zones - North North, South South, South West etc. This may well be true but the nature of the constitution means that any party that wins the election has to be truly national on some level. To win, the president must have, and I quote from the constitution "not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election each of at least two-thirds of all the States in the Federation,"* in addition to having the most votes cast for them. Any party that wants to put forward a winning president has to be fairly national, as former secessionist warlord Ojukwu and his APGA found to their cost, in 2003. Any party with serious aspirations has to be national.

A weakened PDP will mean government by coalition which might seem like diluted government to some, but will definitely mean a better spread of power.

Security and Unity
How will Nigeria treat its militants? MASSOB's Ralph Uwazurike is to stand trial for treason, and so is Mujahid Dokubo Asari of the IYC. Secession/militancy is not just an eastern or South South region preoccupation, Frederick Fasehun and Gani Adams of OPC are in court as well. While there is some evidence that some of these people have committed treasonable offences, their grievances are genuinely held.

Talk of Biafra is laughed at outside the east, but the last time I went to Nigeria (Christmas 2004) there were Biafra flags flying all over Awka, capital of Anambra state. Within a few minutes of talking to a young Igbo man, he said to me, "the youth are agitating for a Biafran state". People feel genuinely let down by the Nigerian government and feel that only self-determination will solve their various problems. What becomes of these groups depends on how their leaders' trials go, and crucially what the government does to address their grievances. The powder keg is there, all it needs is for a bumbling politican to light it.

The December announcement that the government is to offer free treatment a boon to Nigeria's four milion AIDS sufferers. Add the revitalsed polio eradication drive and you have a government showing a genuine desire to improve healthcare in Nigeria.

Nigeria is set to join the world's pantheon of voyeurs as Endemol Nigeria produces Big Brother Nigeria. I wonder what the house will say about modern Nigeria. Will the contestants spend their days in the house praying and fasting? Or will they just use dodgy slang like "bons" and "sturves".

MTV Europe Award winner Tuface Idibia has signed with big four record label EMI in South Africa. How far will his star rise?

Another multiplex cinema is set to open in Lekki. What impact will this have on Nollywood?

*Nigerian 1999 Constitution Chapter VI, Part 1A.


Monef said...

Extremely witty and sharp obsevations. I love your breakdown of the Nigerian Political situation. It was nice to hear someone talk about the possibilities as opposed to simply bemoaning the state of affairs and pointing out that OBJ needs to endorse a successor(which would seem like common sense)is something that most socio-political commentaries seem to always miss out. Yes we don't want Atiku, nor is it ideal for OBJ to try for a third term. However it would be silly to return to square one. What we need is the emergence of a viable candidate, a strong alernative to Atiku that the people can really get behind.

Jeremy said...

Although the spotlight is inevitably going to be on politics this year in Nigeria, the first big challenge of the year is going to be on the more mundane business of the census. Already delayed (it should have taken place last year), the new date for the exercise is I think supposed to be March. Let's see if it takes place then. Whether it takes place hitch free will be the first augur for how successful the elections will be in 2007. Finally we will know whether the North does in fact outnumber all of the South combined.

However, away from all the Tell magazine intriguery, the real dynamics for change this year are I think going to come as a consequence of banking consolidation (and consolidation of the insurance industry which will come this year). The newly consolidated so-called megabanks are going to add a lot of ballast (and therefore internal and external trust) to the economy. With the potential market as it is across so many sectors, this is going to be a magnet for foreign inflows (mainly south african and chinese in provenance). The $US1.4bn to be invested in VMobile (announced just before xmas) is merely the start. The new Palms mall is the first of many modern retail centres to come to the country (Abuja will have a couple of malls by the end of this year). Cinemas will sprout up in most of the major cities. Nigerians will slowly start to feel that their country is ok after all. One thing I've learnt this year despite my leftist proclivities is how important retail experiences and consumerist opportunity can be for the morale of a country.

Of course, its going to be a bumpy ride and I'm sure we are in for a few surprises in the next few months, but the rule of law will continue to extend its reach and things will generally go in the right direction. OBJ is a cunning player - I sense he has got a clever strategy up his sleeve for succession (this may even involve members of his kitchen cabinet). All talk of a third term and a change in the constitution is just noise to put others off the scent. No one should worry about Atiku either - he doesnt stand a chance.