Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Nigeria: Yar'Adua interviewed by the FT

Yar’Adua with Financial Times

At first, I would like to thank Ijebuman for highlighting this interview conducted by the Financial Times with President Umaru Yar’Adua.

It presents one of the opportunities when good questions are asked of African leaders without the fawning and obsequiousness that gets in the way of local journalists doing their jobs boldly and courageously with an air of serious professionalism.

From what I read of the transcript, it was clear in terms of the direction the President wants to lead the country whilst highlighting the fundamentals that have to be in place to make the country governable, peaceful and prosperous.

Respect for the rule of law

The President has a clear goal – to institute a strict culture for respect for the rule of law in Nigeria – that is the recurrent theme in the interview.

He believes most of the ills in Nigeria derive from a lack of adherence and respect for stated procedure, due process and the law such that it is difficult to expect decent dealings that are governed by civilised behaviour.

He concludes in answering the first question about his achievements by saying, “Respect for the rule of law is the basis for civilisation”, I think I can very well agree with that.

Legality of contractual agreements

He extends this rule of law principle to the concept of the sanctity of contracts indicating all business transaction should follow due process and any process that does not seem to be well conducted creates aggrieved parties whose concerns might have to be investigated – however, if everything is above board, any business can expect all their contractual dealings to be protected and secure.

It goes without telling that companies who allow their dealings to deviate from the expected letter of required conduct and honest interaction can expect to have their contracts nullified, face loses and sanctions.

Macro-economic discipline governed by law

Fiscal discipline in Nigeria is governed by observing and respecting constitutional provisions, the federal system for revenue sharing has laid down rules that cannot be changed by whim, the budget is planned on likely oil revenues of $53/barrel but hiked up by the legislature to $59/barrel, and all excess is placed in a national reserve.

There is however a delicate balancing act of keeping inflation low which the President says is still in single digits, keeping interest rates low with the help if the rather more independent Central Bank of Nigeria, having a stable macro-economic environment and providing funds for infrastructure development.

The critical infrastructure concerns are listed as power, energy, mass transportation, railways, waterways, cement, iron and steel.

In the first year, more effort is being expending in completing or closing existing projects, no new projects have been awarded.

Central Bank Independence

The clashes between the Presidency and the Central Bank have been due to the teething problems of properly understanding the remit of the bank in terms of its newly acquired independence which was only signed into law 4 days before the President’s inauguration.

The President gives examples of where the governor has erred in judgement and action; however, he maintains confidence in the governor of the bank and is seemingly satisfied with his tenure.

The Niger Delta and second year

He also hope to find a resolution to the Niger Delta crises which appears to be linked to bunkering which is protected by violent criminality, a summit of all stakeholders should convene in eight weeks.

The President has a full programme for his second year with aims to deal with the power issue, the restructuring of the NNPC, providing adequate security, maintenance of law and order, education and health.

Much as people complain about the President being tardy in his reforms, he appears to belief in the old “slow and steady wins the race” adage – the emphasis is on good planning to ensure any project or reform is fully realised.

The President would vacate his office if the Supreme Court overthrows his election without qualms.

His doctor is really in Germany

I have commented a lot about the President’s health and his sojourns to Germany for treatment. His last visit was to deal with an allergic reaction brought on by new malarial medication that he had taken.

He says he is not super-human and enjoys rude health though I worry about the fact that he only gets 4 to 5 hours sleep, nothing like George W. Bush who is already in bed at 21:00hrs.

I can no more fault his visits to Germany for treatment, he has a personal doctor and a medical record in the hospital he visits in Germany going back 22 years – it would only be right for him to see specialists that know all about his medical history and are well versed in what kind of treatment he responds to when ill.

It simply shows that Nigeria has had a poor health programme going back almost a generation and successive governments have failed to grapple the issue and deliver solutions for health.

Finally, the President advises Nigerians to have confidence in their leaders and should not be gullible in believing all kinds of rumours, he then says that as the respect for the rule of law takes root fabricated stories, falsehoods and activities that hinder nation building would have less impact as the country matures in democracy.

Good job! Yardy, Good luck! Yardy

In my view, I think it was a rather good interview, in my writings of recent, I can see how the emphasis on the respect for the rule of law is baby-stepping its way in to the leadership polity from the top.

I think President Umaru Yar’Adua who has now been President for a year is getting on with the job and I can only wish him Godspeed – I do hope that Nigerians would offer him the support he needs to turn the country around.

As it stands, he is the man in power and only those in power can do things that change a nation – Yardy, Good Luck!

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