Nigeria begins slow return from military rule

President Olusegun Obasanjo intends to spend his 100th day in office working as usual, officials told AFP this week.

Nigeria returned to civilian rule on May 29 after almost 16 years of military regimes and Sunday marks the first 100 days of a government aimed at restoring “sanity” to the nation’s affairs, Obasanjo’s spokesman Doyin Okupe said.

“I think this government has succeeded in a lot of areas. The government has introduced leadership and brought some sanity into governance,” Okupe said here.

It is a sentiment many Nigerians agree with.

Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation, has been under military rule for all but four years since a first coup in 1966 and only got its new chance of civilian rule following the death last June of military dictator General Sani Abacha.

Last month, Abdulsalami Abubakar, the military man who succeeded Abacha and organised the elections won by Obasanjo in February, was honoured in the United States for handing over power.

In Nigeria, however, Abubakar is facing criticism and Obasanjo is picking up some cautious applause.

Since he came to power on May 29, the former military ruler has shaken up the military, sacking all officers who had held political posts since 1983 and ordering cuts in staffing and a professionalisation of the army.

He has also dismissed the managers of a host of state-run companies and cleaned up operations in the oil sector, cancelling dozens of oil contracts handed out to cronies of past military regimes.

He has announced plans for privatisation, promised some regulatory reforms and started the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops from abroad.

Four bills have been introduced to parliament and are currently at the committee stage – a supplementary budget slashing the previous deficit, a bill on developing the troubled Niger delta, a draft anti-corruption law, and a bill on the police.

The government has also promised action to tackle a wave of ethnic and local unrest and crime that hit different areas of the country and set up review panels to look at contracts, human rights abuses, and poverty alleviation measures.

The government has, however, not been without problems.

In July, the speaker of the lower house of parliament was forced to resign and prosecuted for lying over his age and qualifications in court papers ahead of the February elections.

In the house, many members have admitted to not fully understanding the legislative process.

For Clement Nwankwo, head of the pro-democracy Transition Monitoring Group, Nigeria has “been pulled back from the brink, but now people want to see action on the collapsed infrastructure, the non-functioning civil service, unemployment and social problems.”

“The government has failed so far to come out with a clear economic plan and must do so soon,” he told AFP.

Others are more optimistic.

“There is a lot of interest at home and overseas about what is going on in Nigeria- people looking at gas, petroleum, power, telecommunications – but they want to see the legislative framework set before coming in,” said Trevor Byer, outgoing resident representative of the World Bank in Nigeria.

“The government has made a positive start, particularly clearing out the oil sector, but it is only if business starts to see evidence of due process that you will see investment and an end to capital flight which you need to get the seven to 1O percent growth for two decades needed to raise living standards here.”

Agence France Presse, September 3, 1999

Categories: Africa, Nigeria, Odious Debts

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