Nigeria’s real presidential race is now on

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obasanjo-yaradua-goodluckUmaru Yar’Adua’s presidency of Nigeria was haunted by rumours of his death.

In fact, one paper even announced his demise before he was made president.

In the middle of the 2007 campaign, he was whisked away to a German hospital for treatment.

At a rally days after, the outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo called the man he had personally picked to succeed him in his hospital room and, holding the microphone to the telephone, bellowed: “The papers say you are dead. Umaru! Are you dead?”

His tremulous voice was inaudible under the cheering of the crowd.

The reports shocked many Nigerians who considered that, after the selection of the candidate at the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) convention, the actual election was going to be just a formality.

The question on most people’s minds was: why were they being given a sick president by the outgoing leader?

Delta amnesty

President Yar’Adua’s record of achievements is not a long one.

9903045Militants like Government Tompolo were given a deal by Mr Yar’Adua

The glacial pace of his decision-making virtually locked up all government business for two years.

One area where he is said to have made progress is in a peace deal for the oil-producing Niger Delta, where groups of militants had shut down production by about a third, choking off important revenues.

In late 2008 and 2009 Nigeria faced a financial crisis, in part caused by the plummeting value of oil during the global economic crash.

The government had made budget assumptions based on a benchmark oil price that was, in the harsh light of the global economic crisis, too high.

It struggled to pass a budget on time, realising that unless oil revenue was freed from the grips of militants, government funds – on which much of the economy is reliant – was seriously at risk.

The president was left with little choice but to come to an agreement with the militants; they had to be bought off, or “settled” as it is known euphemistically in Nigeria.

After personal talks with militant leaders in the capital, Abuja, President Yar’Adua got armed groups in the area to come in from their remote bases in the creeks and swamps and hand over their weapons.


But the solution has not lasted.

Many of “the boys”, as they are known, were placed in resettlement camps where they sat around waiting to be provided food, clothes, money and jobs.

After waiting for a long time, many ex-militants have grown dissatisfied and left the camps.

Whoever this kingmaker is, he will have to have very deep pockets, or make promises which the eventual candidate will have to stick by!

A small number of attacks on pipelines and kidnapping of expatriate workers has started again.

Mr Yar’Adua has bequeathed one other development to Nigeria.

A dynamic central bank president, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who has been working to reform the system which was on the brink of collapse just nine months ago.

The real problem facing Nigeria is a mixture of corruption and the government’s inability to enact reforms – or even its most basic functions.

And the ailing president simply did not have the energy or the capability to push through anything like the reform programme he promised in his inaugural speech.

Gentlemen’s agreement

And now, what of his successor?

Will Mr Jonathan get the backing he needs to run for president?

There is much speculation about whether Mr Yar’Adua’s deputy Goodluck Jonathan – now sworn in as president – will actually run for the office in 2011.

It is not yet clear if he will.

The PDP has a kind of gentlemen’s agreement to rotate power between the mainly Muslim north and the majority-Christian south, but it is not impossible that the deal could be changed or altered slightly.

Also the terms “north” and “south” encompass many factions, all representing the interests of a small political elite rather than the needs of a geographic region.

This time, there is no large figure on hand to anoint the next president, as Mr Obasanjo did last time, at least not yet.

Mr Obasanjo is said to be making a play to get the party to accept Mr Jonathan as their next candidate, but he is opposed by other factions in the PDP.

To settle the argument, a big political player will have to emerge and placate all the factions in order to find what is called a “consensus candidate”.

Whoever this kingmaker is, he will have to have very deep pockets, or make promises which the eventual candidate will have to stick by.

One of the tasks Mr Jonathan set himself when he became acting president in February was to push through electoral reform that would see elections brought forward by four months to January.

This makes the probable date of the PDP convention around mid-September, just four months away.

The one thing that Nigerians can be certain of is that the real election for president is happening right now.

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