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Yar’adua: Progress Of The Well-digger

May 22, 2009

Digging a well is a difficult and dangerous activity. By extension, professional well-digging is a hazardous profession. One has to dig a tubular canal straight into the earth. Air is scant, breathing difficult and sunlight dim. Sometimes you have to dig through hard rocks. At other times, the soil is either too loose or too muddy. People on the surface cannot see what you are doing nor appreciate your difficulties. Yet in the midst of all these, you have to continue to dig down, in the belief that you will strike water.

In a sense, that is exactly the conundrum President Yar’adua is caught in. Yar’adua believes (or seems to think) that he is digging a well from which the milk and honey of national development would flow. But after two years of waiting patiently, Nigerians are tired. When, in the aftermath of the most rigged election in the history of democracy, Umaru Musa Yar’adua was sworn-in as President of Nigeria, it was a resigned nation that watched the charade as it unfolded. However, the very fact that the nation was getting rid of the despotic and much despised Olusegun Obasanjo meant that we were ready to give the new president a chance.

In his inaugural address, the new president promised a multitude of things including a pledge to do away with the culture of impunity that characterized the Obasanjo era. He promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector, he promised to improve education, agriculture and transportation. He promised to tackle corruption. He publicly declared his assets. As politicians come, especially within the ranks of the PDP, Nigerians believed Yar’adua was a lesser evil. So against our better judgment, we gave him a chance.

Well, after two years in office, the cautious optimism with which Nigerians received President Yar’adua has given way to despair, and a state of resignation. What Nigerians see today is the picture of a president that is shattered and defeated. His much taunted performance as Katsina governor and stand against corruption, presumably the reasons OBJ and his cohorts dragged him (was he really dragged?) to the Presidency have wilted in the face of real challenges. If he is a ‘performer’, he is yet to get his acts together. If he is against corruption, he is yet to look in-house. Deep in-house. It is said that charity begins at home.

After two years of this administration, the impression one gets is that this well-digger has been overwhelmed by the task at hand. Accepted, he came in with a deeply provincial outlook. Accepted, his health is even at the best of times, fragile. Accepted, he was staggered by the enormity of power at his disposal. Accepted, he was haunted by the crises of legitimacy over his election. Accepted also, that he is besieged by a retinue of former ex- governors who foisted him on us. But we must also accept that he was not forced to accept the job! We are yet to see water from the well he is digging. He has dug so deep that we cannot see him anymore, or even hear him. A huge quantity of debris has been thrown up. Billions of dollars have been thrown down. But we are yet to see a drop of water.

Today, despite his election pledge, the power situation has never been worse. Buying, selling and servicing of generators is big business. Today, the long queues of vehicles at petrol stations throws one back to the contrived scarcity of the Abacha years. Two years after, education is not better off, despite the hopes of many that the former teacher would understand the challenges of the sector. There have been no meaningful developments in agriculture. Remember the fertilizer fiasco? Rather, 200 billion naira is being ‘loaned’ to ‘big time’ farmers. In what ways would this create employment for the millions of jobless Nigerians? It does not require a genius to surmise that these so-called big farmers are retired generals and former public officials who want another bite of the cherry.

Today, it is business as usual in Nigeria. The hope and anticipation have faded. The pogroms and subsequent unconstitutional deportation of Nigerians from Plateau state is indicative that human life is cheaper than ever. In the name of the rule of law, we have returned to the impunity that was a permanent feature of the last government. While hundreds of Nigerians die everyday on roads like the Abuja – Lokoja highway, the same ‘fox’ who refused to ‘fix’ our roads has been sent to ‘fix’ our ports. Our refineries are still comatose. NITEL is still a major public embarrassment. Is its sale to be or not to be? (Even Hamlet would have decided by now!).

On the international scene, the decision of President Obama to visit Ghana in July is a clear indication that our pariah status is back again. (Not that we were really accepted, anyway, in spite of Obasanjo’s illusions of statesmanship). Ghana has had four presidential elections, with the party in office loosing power twice without loss of lives and property. Conversely, elections in Ekiti, one of Nigeria’s smallest states were an unmitigated disaster. Every day in the news, it is the story of one corrupt practice or another. The economy is drifting without direction. The public sector is as usual clueless, except when it comes to devising novel ways of diverting public resources. The stock market has well and truly collapsed. The banking industry is all about an insatiable drive for deposits and nothing else. Moral authority is fundamentally fractured. Indeed, even the so-called vision 2020 is a comedy. Not the type that makes you laugh, though. This would make you weep.

Regardless of all these, our Well-Digger in Chief wants us to believe that all is well. It is akin to former Republican presidential candidate John McCain saying the fundamentals of the US economy were strong when everything around the country was collapsing! President Yar’adua has been at this task for two years. And it has taken all of that time to use the media centre at the Villa for the first time. And his message? To assure Nigerians that we were making progress. But it is not the amount of debris that a well-digger churns out that measures his success. It is how quickly he strikes water. Nigerians have been waiting for two years for the shout ‘ahoy, water’! But we are also beginning to get that sickening feeling again that in our country, the more things change, the more they remain the same.


Suleiman is a student at A.B.U, Zaria. ([email protected])

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