Magazine article New African

Nigeria: Not Yet at Ease

Magazine article New African

Nigeria: Not Yet at Ease

Article excerpt

A new Budget Bill has been signed by the government, President Umaru Yar'Adua has been rushed for emergency medical treatment in Germany, two ruling party state governors have been removed from office by the Appeal Court, and more revelations of perfidy in the energy sector continue to come out--all coinciding with the first-year anniversary of Yar'Adua's government. It is clear that despite the president's best efforts, Nigeria is not yet at ease. Lindsay Barrett reports.

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Although President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua has eventually signed the long-awaited 2008-2009 Budget Bill into law, Nigeria's economic and political future is still uncertain. Shortly after signing the bill, the president was rushed to a hospital in Germany for treatment after he suddenly fell ill. This re-awakened concern over his health, an issue which has been among the most prominent raised by his opponents both within and outside the ruling party. While few official statements have been made on this matter, especially in relation to rumours that he has an endemic kidney ailment, the dramatic manner in which he was evacuated immediately after signing the Budget Bill generated more anxiety over the future of his presidency. Government officials tried to dampen such anxiety by declaring that the "check-up" was a routine one, but hardly anyone believed it since he cancelled a scheduled appearance at a NEPAD meeting in Dakar.

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In addition, the removal from office of two governors belonging to Yar'Adua's ruling PDP, Abdullahi Wammako in Sokoto State and Chief Timipre Sylva in Bayelsa State by Appeal Court rulings, in Kaduna and Port Harcourt, respectively (shortly before and after the president flew out), signalled further shakiness of his party's mandate--especially when the legitimacy of his own election is still being challenged in the Supreme Court.

Most analysts say the party has a good chance of retaining its majority of state governments, but no one seems ready to predict what the Supreme Court decision would eventually be. The key factor that has attracted interest, though, is Yar'Adua's calm adherence to the rule of law and his insistence on financial probity at least at the federal level so far.

It is also noticeable that his foreign travels are substantially less elaborate than his predecessor's had been, but he has been no less forthright in using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to pursue cases of high level corruption.

Already two ministers and a number of senior officials from the Health Ministry have been dismissed and charged with flouting a presidential order against spending surplus funds of the ministry. Among the alleged culprits is Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, the daughter of Obasanjo, who was reported to have absconded from her home in Abuja when EFCC officers tried to arrest her.

The 2008 budget is not filled with surprises, but it is clear that the government is trying its best to accommodate some of the commitments entered into by Obasanjo's administration regarding privatisation of public assets. The thorny issue of a subsidy on petroleum products which had been quietly shelved by the Obasanjo government has been brought back. It recognises the consequences of Nigeria being a net importer of petroleum products as well as a net exporter of crude oil and gas, and the debilitating effect this has had on the domestic price of fuel at a time of rising world oil prices.

For this reason, the budget releases substantial funds to the Petroleum Price Adjustment Agency to alleviate local costs of distribution which can sometimes be prohibitive. Outstanding cash calls due to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) have also been released in this budget, effectively restoring the ascendant position of the petroleum sector as the key force in the economy.

In the meantime, the reverberations from last years elections continue to create uncertainty in the country. …

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