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Nigerians Look for Results

Author: Stephanie Hanson
September 5, 2007

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Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua says he wants to be a servant leader. Yet after April’s presidential elections, marred by widely reported vote rigging, many Nigerians appear less interested in Yar’Adua’s leadership style than the influence of his predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo. Nigerians are “obsessed” with Obasanjo, writes Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, deputy director of the UN Millennium Campaign in Africa, in the East African Standard. But a number of analysts see encouraging signs that Yar’Adua is developing his own diplomatic style of governance (This Day).

Three months into his term, Yar’Adua has yet to fully dispel concerns that Obasanjo, who now leads the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), still looms large in the executive branch. The new president appointed his cabinet (VOA) at the end of July, two months after taking office, and labeled it a government of national unity, though all but two posts are held by members of the PDP. Like Obasanjo before him, Yar’Adua also acts as Nigeria’s energy minister, signaling the importance of oil to the country’s economy and the urgency of expanding electricity generation. Despite large expenditure on infrastructure for the past eight years, inadequate electricity supply and poorly maintained roads continue to hinder economic growth (This Day).

Experts say that to counter popular disillusionment with the political system, Yar’Adua should enact reforms that improve the quality of life in Nigeria, which ranks 159th of 177 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. One of his first efforts, the president told Reuters in a recent interview, will be to seek emergency powers to deal with the country’s power shortages as well as oil pipeline attacks in the Niger Delta.

The new president needs to “bring a human face” to the macroeconomic reforms begun by the Obasanjo government, says International Crisis Group analyst Nnamdi Obasi in a recent podcast. Nigeria receives billions in oil revenues, but as this Backgrounder discusses, lack of accountability at the state level enables governors to siphon off funds meant to benefit their constituents. “The real obstacle to progress is not a lack of resources,” writes the Nigeria expert Jean Herskovits in Foreign Affairs. “It is who controls them and how they are used.”

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Niger Delta. Efforts by militant groups like the Movement to Emancipate the Niger Delta (MEND) to sabotage oil pipelines and kidnapping foreign oil workers have forced the closure of 20 percent of the country’s oil production. Efforts under Obasanjo to quell violence in the region were unsuccessful, but some analysts now see an opportunity for progress. Yar’Adua met one of MEND’s demands in July by releasing a top militia leader who had been jailed by Obasanjo, which could pave the way (ISN) for talks between the government and militant groups. Yet the larger problem of employing the young men who comprise the bulk of the Delta’s militant groups will require more than peace talks. In an interview with the Financial Times, Yar’Adua acknowledges the importance of job creation, setting out a proposal to expand access to microfinance for small businesses.

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