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Rebuilding a Nation (posted 30th Jan 2001) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them. 

Nigeria may not have gotten to the Promised Land yet. But after about 20 months of democracy, it would not be far fetched to say that things are definitely changing for the better. This is not to say that there has been a complete turn around. Indeed there are still fundamental problems besetting the nation. 

Crime is still on the high side. Corruption is still a major problem both in the private and public sectors. Power supply and the telephone system are still not what they should be. Other problems including bickering in government and distrust among the various ethnic nationalities that make up the nation have slowed down progress and the dividends of democracy. But even casual observers will agree that it is no longer business as usual. For instance it is clear that the present government is serious about charting a new course for Nigeria and ensuring that democracy takes a firm root.

"But even casual observers will agree that it is no longer business as usual. For instance it is clear that the present government is serious about charting a new course for Nigeria and ensuring that democracy takes a firm root"

The Oputa Human Rights Panel

It is generally agreed in Nigeria that the on going hearing at the Human Rights Violation Panel is one of the right steps to make democracy work. The panel headed by Justice Chukwudifu Oputa, a retired Justice of the Supreme Court and one of the country's eminent jurists has been holding sittings across the country. Individuals whose rights were violated during the country's successive junta, especially, that of Sani Abacha have been making startling revelations before the panel.

Remarkably, like the South African Truth Commission, the accused and the accusers have opportunity to confront one another. Those who have testified before the Oputa panel publicly include Oladipo Diya, former chief of General staff, Ishaya Bamaiyi, former chief of Army staff, Abdulkareem Adisa, Ibrahim Sabo, former Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, Chief Security Officer to General Abacha. Apart from throwing light on some of their activities under Abacha, the 1997 coup plot and the state sponsored killings of some eminent Nigerians, the fact that the retired generals could appear before such a panel is a major gain of democracy. For if it were under the military, this would not have been possible since the generals and their cohorts routinely ignored summons from normal courts. But more than that, the hearings have demystified the Corp of generals in the Nigerian Army. Nigerians now know that the men who ruled them with the aid of the gun are mere mortals after all. Generals who could weep before a major just because they want to save their own necks. Generals who were going about with hidden tape recorders just because they want to consolidate their own power base by ruining other people and proving to the commander in chief that they can die for him.

Any generals proclaiming himself as the messiah may not easily take Nigerians in again. Therefore coup plotting and insurrection within the military may have become an aberration. So whatever disagreement may occur among the politicians no soldier may be welcomed to come and play the umpire let alone take over the government in the name of saving the nation.

Nigeria has in a way begun an irrevocable journey into democracy, rule of law and development.

There is the likelihood that the commission will be institutionalized. If this were done as some Nigerians are already clamouring for, the days of bad governance, heinous killings and coup may truly be numbered. It is now clear that those who are now in government will be made to account or their actions in the future. This would put some from of check and balances into government. This of course will fully restore confidence in Nigeria and consolidate its position as one of the leading countries in the comity of nations. 

The Fight Against Corruption

But corruption remains a major drawback in the country's march to greatness. Just recently, Olusegun Obasanjo the president of Nigeria admitted that corruption was still a major problem in the country. The president accused the civil servants in the country of ineptitude. According to him, "despite changes introduced into the system, the Civil Service lagged behind and has not changed for the better". Obasanjo said Civil servants who had devised ways of outsmarting government "in respect of measures injected into the system", are frustrating his administration's war against corruption. "Civil servants are reported to have developed quite a number of ways of outsmarting the system to avoid detection of their dishonest acts. "It is the Civil servants who are in the position to frustrate the public and then capitalise on the frustration by asking to be settled before action is taken" The President said.

The President is however aware that it is not only civil servants that are corrupt. According to him " when people talk of corruption in government, politicians and policy makers may be the first line of action". The President therefore wants Local Government Chairmen, National and State Assembly members, Ministers and Governors to join anti-corruption crusade. The President explains his vision in this area thus "Let me say that an aspect of democracy dividend expected by the people of this country is the improvement of the bureaucracy in terms of dedication, efficiency, transparency and accountability and selfless service". The President may be aware that some are already insinuating that his anti-corruption crusade is a one man Orchestra. In fact the country's chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Adams Oshiomole believes strongly that Obasanjo is alone in his anti-corruption crusade as members of his administration still wallow in corruption. Obasanjo is however not deterred. In 2001, Obasanjo says, "adequate and divine offensive weapons would be deployed to fight corruption to a stand-still".

The process may already have started. Unlike in the past, top functionaries of government and ministries would no longer spend public money just anyhow. In January 2001, verification teams raised by the government started visiting ministries, parastatals, and other agencies to inspect their books. Vouchers and other instruments of payments would be verified and tested for authenticity. Henceforth money not spent by government agencies and ministries would be returned to government. A top government official that was recently removed by the President is also said to be facing a quiet probe. Abu Obe, was removed as the Head of Civil Service of the Federation in December 2000. And following petitions from many individuals about his conduct while in office, the code of conduct Bureau may be investigating him. The bureau may also investigate the allegations making the round in Abuja that within a short time Obe acquired several landed property and also used his office to enrich himself.

This move may signal the determination of the bureau to carry out its constitutional functions, the constitution empowers the bureau, to examine the conduct of public officers and conduct a declaration of assets just after assumption and when they are leaving office. The bureau and the anti-corruption commission headed by Justice Mustapha Akanbi are meant to spear head the administration's war against corruption and ensure that genuine businessmen can do business in Nigeria freely. 

Soaring Crime Rate

But the Obasanjo administration would still have to tackle the soaring rate of crime before Nigeria can truly become an investor's haven. Last year was not a particularly good one in terms of crime. The incidence of armed robbery, and assassinations rose dangerously. Senators, captains of industry, spiritual leaders, government officials and ordinary citizens were routinely harassed. A number of Nigerians lost their lives, prominent among those who fell to the rising wave of crime were, Layi Balogun, a former presidential aspirant and businessman, Tunji Ogunkanmi, Managing Director of Cornerstone Insurance and Deepak Mahtar, the expatriate Managing Director of Equatorial Trust Bank.

Haz Iwendi, the Public Relation Officer of the Nigeria Police may have confirmed the rise in violent crimes if the content of the statistics he gave on crime is anything to go by. According to the document, "from August 15 to December 19, 2000, 659 cases of robbery were reported, 134 victims lost lives, 320 victims sustained injury and the police shot dead 349 robbery suspects. 227 weapons were recovered, 88 policemen sustained injury while 29 of them lost their lives. The men of the underworld also seized 42 weapons from the police". It was in response to the menace that the Inspect General of Police Alhaji Musiliu Smith, met with senior officers in the first week of the New Year. The meeting according to sources drew up new strategy to combat crime, particularly with regard for prevention. The police's fight against crime got a boost recently when the country's third tier of government, the local governments donated one four-wheel drive vehicle {jeep} each to the police. The over 800 vehicles have been deployed to the nook and cranny of the country as part of the strategy to make policing more effective. The present government sees the reduction of crime as a cardinal objective of the administration.

It is not only crime that is tasking the government to no end. Despite various measures the country continues to witness intermittent shortage of fuel. In some parts of the country fuel is sold above the pump price of N22.00. The dislocation in fuel supply has also affected the pace of economic activities since a considerable amount of precious hours is spent by vehicle owners on queue at few stations, which disperse fuel in the country. But government officials including Gaius Obaseki the Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation have continued to insist that fuel scarcity is brought about by hoarders and those who vandalise pipelines carrying the products. Apart from Lagos and very few cities almost all other parts of the country are still groaning under acute fuel scarcity. 

However, respite may be on the way in the New Year. At a meeting with Obasanjo in Abuja, fuel marketers agreed on some measures to check the scarcity. According to Umar Baba Gana, Managing Director of an indigenous Petroleum company henceforth licenses of stations which sell above the pump price would be revoked while indicted officials would be dismissed. He said, "If a dealer is found to have erred, that dealer will be removed or dismissed and a new dealer appointed for that outlet. Petroleum attendants may be dismissed and if necessary reported to the government for prosecution". Apart from this measure, the Managing Director of Petroleum Products Marketing Company, Dan Nzelu said the corporation would go ahead with the establishment of model fuel stations. The stations, which would work for 24 hours, will disperse fuel from 24 pump heads.

On-Going Efforts at Improving Electricity Generation & Transmission

The government is also going ahead with its plan to significantly improve power supply in the year 2001. The presidential deadline given to the National Electric Power Authority to stop the epileptic power supply in the country ends in December 2001. To underscore its determination in its regard, Obasanjo personally wrote Asea Brown Boverie, ABB, the company handling the rehabilitation of one of the country's power generation stations. Nearly all the country's major power stations are being rehabilitated or undergoing complete overhaul. Gecand Delrhom, Siemens, Voest Alpine from Austria, and MARUBENI from Japan are the other firms handling various projects in power stations in different parts of the country. The focus on NEPA and NNPC is because Obasanjo and his administration believe that the two are "key institutions to the nation's economic success".

And with the determined fight against crime corruption, the structured rehabilitation of NEPA, the conscious effort to make fuel available, the early passage of the 2001 budget and the growing rapprochement between the National assembly and the Executive and the relative stability in the land, it is clear that Nigeria is a country on the road to recovery.

Editor's Note:  is now know as Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN from 2005

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