Why Bush should focus ondangers facing Nigeria's return to democracy and Obasanjo's slipperyslide

Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston, CLASSmagazine and USAfricaonline.com

"The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure ofleadership.
There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character.
There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate
or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is
the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the
responsibility, to the challenge of personal example
which are the hallmarks of true leadership .. . .
We have lost the twentieth century; are we bent on seeing
that our children also lose the twenty-first? God forbid!"
-- Chinua Achebe,author of 'Things Fall Apart'

Nigeria's president retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo's meeting inWashington D.C., today Friday May 11, 2001, with U.S. PresidentGeorge W. Bush, serves well his preference for "talking" about westAfrica regional interests, the war in Democratic Republic of Congoand such "international issues." While Obasanjo likes such a focus on"international issues", he has paid scant attention to the continuingdrama of serialincompetence by his administration, increasing corruption andcornered contracts, ethnic bigotry against the Igbos of easternNigeria, complicated by shattered hopes of millions of Nigerians forthe so-called "dividends of democracy" and unprecedented butdangerous delays in paying soldiers and federal teachers'salaries.

There's little chance that Bush will tell Obasanjo to lookinwards, but may I humbly state that:

•Nigeria's democracy may become imperiled by theincreasing corruption, Obasanjo's divisive ethnic agenda, yawningfailure to serve the basic needs of Nigerians and deal with theenvironmental degradation of the Niger Delta.

•the U.S. has $7.4 billion worth of investment in Nigeria,and they could be imperriled by an unstable Nigeria.

•Obasanjo's responsibility should begin at home, and tophis talks with Bush.

•a stable and democratic Nigeria is in the best interestof the U.S. and Nigeria's. Therefore, it should not be set aroundindividuals but institutions and structures of effective governancewhich benefit business and civil societies in our twocountries.

•Obasanjo and some members of his team continue to missthe key point of international economic development. Domesticinfrastructure enhances inter-state commerce and attracts foreigninvestments. My solutional point and mantra, therefore is: Obasanjo,it's the domestic infrastructure, stupid!

Bush is meeting with Obasanjo, primarily, for one reason: oil,especially with the current energy prices and situation in theU.S.


Nigeria,the world's six largest oil exporter, produces around two millionbarrels per day accounting for around eight percent of U.S oilimports, and pumping millions of dollars into parts of the U.S. andthe energy capital of the world, Houston, through Chevron, Texaco,ExxonMobil, oil services giant Haliburton (which had U.S VicePresident Dick Cheney as CEO, a few months ago), and others. High oilprices brought the Nigerian government $14 billion dollars in 2000.Nigeria has earned $292 billion in oil revenues, according to datacompiled by Houston-based PetroGasWorks.com, since the discovery ofreserves in 1958 in eastern Nigeria, with very little to show foruplifting a majority of its people.

Those billions when set alongside my introductory quote from Prof.Achebe, the most translated writer of African heritage and author ofthe globally-acclaimed novel, 'Things fall Apart', offer a shorthandexplanation of the increasing failure to serve the basic needs ofNigerians.

The Achebean damning thesis against most of Nigeria's rapaciousand incompetent elite fills in a philosophic picture to understandthe painful and embarrassing embodiment of incompetence of thegovernment of retired army general Obasanjo in its handling ofNigeria's huge national resources. While Obasanjo prefers to speakabout "international issues" to lend value to his declining statureand credibility inside Nigeria, Nigerians here in the U.S. and backhome can only wish that Bush and and national security team inquiredmore about the direction and feeble foundations of the latest effortat democracy in Nigeria.

From rampant corruption in the awards of contracts to thecornering of juicy contracts by Obasanjo and his close network offriends and family, inside Nigeria, here in the U.S. and Europe,Nigerians are left scratching their heads as if they were possessedin a noon-time nightmarish dream.

From Obasanjo's refusal to condemn the anti-Israeli andanti-Semitic demonstrations in the northern Islamic state of Zamfarato his blatant and currentlyovert ethnic hostility against the Igbos (who led someneigbhoring eastern minorities to form the defunct Republic of Biafrafrom 1967-1970 for their survival against waves of genocidalslaughter by the combined armed forces of mostly the Islamic Northand Obasanjo's southwest Yorubas), he has since abandoned any claimsto moral leadership and platforms against prejudice.

Evident failures of his government are tucked away in massive prblitz and global junkets. But we're not fooled. Karl Maier, aseasoned and credible chronicler of Africa's economic history andpolitics knows even better. Maier, author of best selling book, "ThisHouse has fallen: Midnight in Nigeria", summed it up thus: "This(Obasanjo) government has got very good public relationsinternationally but domestically, they are not solving the problems.And this government so far has not tackled the key problems. Theunrest in the Niger Delta, the issue of the Sharia Islamic law in theNorth, the unrest in Lagos, and until they do that, trade agreements,new engagement with the international community will not make thedifference." Bush & Co should take heed.

Obasanjo has also surrounded himself with some of the sameruinous gangs who loot(ed) Nigeria's national treasury and have sincethe past 40 years turned Nigeria into their barnyard and playpen forcorruption. Many of them, late dictator Sani Abacha's henchmen andpraise singers, co-sponsored Obasanjo's (s)election as President inMay 1999. Any wonder that the Nigerian leader's pre-occupation hasbeen probes which go largely after the dead than the livingmiscreants who ruined Nigeria's emerging destiny and still spit intoour faces.

I toured the major cities in the Northern, Western, Eastern andoil-richdelta and riverine states (see OILin NIGERIA: Liquid Gold orPetro-Dollars Curse? by Chido Nwangwu), shortly afterconcluding my assignment to report former president of the U.S. BillClinton visit to Nigeria, August to September 2000. The samequestions Nigerians asked then, today, remain: when shall we haveonly 500 minutes of uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria? When willthe water pumps cough out enough to fill a glass? Although, among theworld's leading oil producers, Nigerians, sometimes, park their carsat fuel stations overnight, on lines stretching almost one half of amile or more, to get gas/fuel/diesel. Worse, the costs per visit arenearly half of an average worker's monthly salary.

Funnily, Nigeria's leader Obasanjo continues to blame the samelate, murderous Abacha, who died almost three years ago, for thecurrent fuel shortages inside Nigeria, and would rather discuss "thewar in Congo", regional politics and the concert of medium powers inthe world! Cry for my beloved country!

Shred of all fine talk, Nigerians, at home and abroad, continue towonder why Obasanjo is putting them through another routine ofpromises unfulfilled and opportunities squandered. Why will apresident use his bully pulpit to fester ethnic hatreds?

Anexample: The really sad part about how divisive Nigeria's leadershiphas become is that when bonafide citizens of the oil-producingImo State of eastern Nigeria asked for fair location of federalprojects long denied them, Obasanjo told them not to worry, he'llsite some federal prisons and federal mental homes! Such crass,serio-comical banality from Obasanjo would have been funny exceptthat many Nigerians are driven insane from the pangs of poverty. Infact the joke, now is on Obasanjo who seems to feel more comfortablejunketting abroad than among his mentally-pressured kinfolk.

Worse, it reveals the sheer impudence and the pomposity with whichNigeria's rulers insult their citizens, especially the 26-millionIgbos of eastern Nigeria who are known as the trading backbone andenterpreneurial catalysts of Nigeria.

Consequently, I believe that this is a time when Nigeria requiresleadership not dealership; sacrifice not sanctimony; seriousness notserio-comical charlatanry, accountability rather than the financialshenanigans and a new low in the vulgar cannibalization of thecountry's national discourse.

Far be it from Nigerians to demand the "vision thing", a sense ofhigher national purpose for Nigeria from Obasanjo who revels in theoversized garb of an international statesman where he can "discuss"the concept of regional powers and the war in Congo with Bush thantackle the basic bread and butter needs of Nigerians.
Nwangwu, an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on internationalbusiness (Africa), is an analyst on CNN International's InsideAfrica, is the Founder & Publisher of the first African-owned,U.S.-based professional newspaper to be published on the internet,USAfricaonline.com, USAfrica The Newspaper, TheBlack Business Journal, BBJonline.com, and CLASSmagazine. He is the recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award(1997) and writes commentaries on current U.S. and Africa issues inmajor newspapers in the two continents, and has served as a panelistat the BBC World Technology Forum in San Francisco, VOA WorldNettelevision and a number of other broadcast networks.

(The preceding commentary first appeared in the the HoustonChronicle as 'Nigeria'sproblem sits across the table from Bush (Houston Chronicle, May10, 2001); AllAfrica.com as WhyBush Should Focus On Dangers Facing Nigeria, and a number ofother sites and newspapers).

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