Friday, January 02, 2009

Prospects for Year 2009

The year 2008 ended yesterday. A new year, 2009, has emerged, thus opening a new chapter in our nation’s history. It is thus apposite that we reflect, quite soberly, in a stock-taking fare, on the nation’s exploits, activities and engagements in the critical economic, political and social sectors of our national travails in the year 2008. This is necessary in order to assess the performance of government and also project, on the basis of that assessment, into the new year.

The mood of the nation regarding national governance in 2008 was largely non-salutory, even cynical. The most widespread perception of the nation’s well-being is that the year was uneventful, niggardly and lacklustre. The rating and score-card of government is rather below average, with an adjudged record of unprecedented drabness and slowness in the critical sectors where the dividends of democracy ought to be felt by the electorate.

To begin with, the 2008 Appropriation Bill, against which performance is to be measured, was never conclusively signed or fully operated. The budget, therefore, was chaotically implemented. This is a dismal show of unfocused and directionless governance. The economy, both at the micro and macro levels, reveals poor vision and a general decline, within the framework of a global economic depression due to the financial melt-down.

This impacted significantly on our nation’s economy. Our national infrastructure, upon which a solid and vibrant economy ought to be based, is in a state of virtual rot and decay. The roads are generally in varied states of impassability and disrepair; energy and power, which are fundamental to industrial and technological advancement, show dwindling returns and the nation exists in virtual darkness. The national grid has become the stand-by while the culture of generating sets thrived and blossomed for the cartel that runs them. This is in spite of the whopping sums of money, running into billions of dollars, expended on over-hauling and revamping power generation and distribution.

Other aspects of the social economy have not been edifying. Our education sector is in virtual ruins, in a global economy that is knowledge-driven and at a time when the nation carries a vision 2020 that anticipates that our economy will rank among the best twenty economies in the world! The health sector is in a critical state of ill-health and our hospitals are mere consulting clinics, at best. This is the sad reason why our monied class, including the people in government, take themselves to Europe and America, even to the Middle East, for medical attention of the most trivial kind. Agriculture, which used to be the mainstay of our economy during the First Republic, is virtually grounded and most items of food subsistence of our country are imported. Security of lives and property has never been more endangered than it is now. Our highways and streets are ruled by armed robbers who are on rampage, night and day. Our banks open with trepidation and customers operate in utter fear for safety.

The Niger Delta operates like a theatre of war, threatening the political and economic stability of the country, resulting in under-production of crude oil. Billions of dollars are lost daily as a result of the emergency situation in the Niger Delta. The nation seems to be at its wit’s end in resolving the Niger Delta warfare, in spite of the creation of a Niger Delta Ministry. Our Constitution creaks in places and there are talks of Constitutional Amendment in vital areas such as the state of our federalism, Immunity Clause, electoral reforms, geo-political adjustments and so on.

The year 2008 thus rolled by amidst general justified cynicism, frustration and national disillusionment. Happily, towards its end, there were few signs that there are opportunities for greater focus, positive ambience for improved leadership direction and a revamp of the democratic culture of the nation. The 2009 Appropriation Bill has been jointly heard by the National Assembly. There is cautious optimism about the realism of the budget, even though the N45 per barrel upon which it was projected appears unrealistic as the international oil price continues to nose-dive, revealing that government will have to creatively find non-oil sectoral base for financing the budget.

The recent Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of President Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice President, Jonathan Goodluck, has given a legal, if not a moral base for unfettered governance, without further hindrance from legal, electoral disputations and contestations.

This legal victory alone cannot confer moral legitimacy on the President. What will do is the way in which he acts, with observable political will to restore democracy in the polity by showing commitment to the conduct of free and fair elections through prompt implementation of the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Commission recently submitted to him. A reformed electoral process, granting unfettered independence to the Electoral body in an atmosphere and spirit of fair play by the political elite in which the electoral will of the electorate counts and is sovereign, is the only certitude for the growth of a vibrant democratic culture.

The vision of governance has to become sharply focused and brought into bold and comprehensive relief. The critical items of the Seven-point Agenda need to be pursued with principled vigour. The energy and power sector must be truly taken as emergency, as the president once pronounced, but is yet to execute. Security, in the Niger Delta and the rest of the country, must be the focus of government as the level of security of a nation is the index against which its democracy is evaluated. Education, which is the key tool of economic growth in a knowledge-driven economy must receive a more dynamic attention from this government.

In this new year, the Yar’Adua government must allay the fears of the nation about its ability to govern purposefully. The administration should demonstrate a people-focused tenacity and committed vision so that the cynicism that ruled the minds of Nigerians in 2008 will become a thing of the past. We wish all Nigerians a happy, productive and much improved lease of life in the New Year.