Nigeria’s Years of Broken Promises

Nwachukwu Egbunike

Jonathan Goodluck, Acting President of Nigeria

Jonathan Goodluck, Acting President of Nigeria

The Nigeria landscape is still littered with un-kept and broken promises. Various governments on inauguration make pacts with the people, but these dreams hardly materialise and hopes for a brighter future are always shattered. As a result, most Nigerians have developed a cynical attitude that borders on distrust of the establishment at all levels.

Since the government of any nation is saddled with the responsibility of promoting the common good, it behoves common sense that it works towards its realisation. The common good is simply “the sum total of social conditions which allows people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.”  Because governments have an indispensible role to play in the attainment of this good for their immediate society. As such it must promote peace, stability and security. Yet, this common good cannot be achieved in a nation lacking the basic utilities – housing, food, education, etc., – hence many governments end up making plans for the future.

Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the issue have not been that of lack of plans.  The pathetic outcome is that various governments have made bogus promises, which they never set out to achieve.

Welcome to the soap opera of murky Nigerian politics, were promises are mere words and carry no weight. By default Nigerian public space is strewn with promises, promises and nothing else.  Apparently, the political class see no dishonour in making or breaking a pact.

It’s hard to demur with Martin Oluba’s assertion that, “(a) promises are made when there are absolutely no intentions to keep them and (b) even wrong promises deliberately are made. The latter refer to promises which in pursuing the selfish interest of the promise maker harm the prospects of those to whom the promise has been made. Nigerian government has been a major culprit in making promises that are never fulfilled.”

On 1 October 1974, in flagrant contradiction to his earlier promises, General Yakubu Gowon declared that Nigeria would not be ready for civilian rule by 1976. As if that was not enough, Gowon extended the transition to civil rule to a no time limit.  But Gowon’s endless transition was truncated on 25 July 1975, by Brigadier Murtala Mohammed.

The Murtala regime though short-lived gained massive local support. General Murtala initiated a comprehensive review of the Third National Development Plan. Singling out inflation as the greatest danger to the economy, he was determined to reduce the money supply that had been swollen by government expenditures on public works. Unfortunately, this popular general was killed on February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup attempt led by Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka, when his car was ambushed while en route to his office at Dodan Barracks, Lagos.

General Olusegun Obasanjo took over the reins of leadership after Murtala’s demise. Since Murtala’s stint on the saddle was brief, it is therefore not easy to evaluate his promises. Obasanjo to his credit handed over government to a democratically elected president in 1979. In that vein, he lived up to the major promise of the Murtala-Obasanjo era.

Alhaji Shehu Shagari made housing, industries, transportation and agriculture the cardinal triad of his administration. Like others before him, Shagari failed to keep up to his ambitious dreams. His housing scheme only translated to disjointed homes like the ‘Shagari Estate’. The ‘Green Revolution’ was supposed to mechanise farming techniques and produce food in abundance. On the contrary it seems it was only a conduit pipe for retired soldiers and some politicians to acquire large hectares of lands. With their access to fertilizer and seedlings, they grew fat while other citizens had a green curse. Also Shagari’s industrial programme in Delta and Ajaokuta Steel Complex are living manifestation of incompetence and corruption. If ever was a promise he kept, it was the popularisation of ‘white elephant’ projects in Nigeria’s lexicon.

On December 31, 1983, General Muhammadu Buhari shoved out Shagari, in a palace coup. Buhari together with Tunde Idiagbon,who was his Chief of General Staff won popular acclaim with their War Against Indiscipline (WAI). The campaign which aimed at deterring chaos which had hitherto characterised public life, was one promise fulfilled. However, Buhari-Idiagbon’s honeymoon did not last long, as they tighteened the noose on Nigerians,  the  reprehensible promulgation of the State Security (Detention of Persons) Decree No. 2, which gave the government the right to detain indefinitely, without trial any person(s) it suspected to be a threat to the nation; and the Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 4, which essentially criminalised any unfounded allegation against government officials in the press, no matter how trivial.

Riding on the waves of cleansing the polity of corruption, Buhari’s downfall was precipitated with a promise to investigate allegations of corruption in the Ministry of Defence. This push to beam the rays of light on his very own, the military, was claimed to be the beginning of his end. He was kicked out by fellow members of the Supreme Military Council, lead by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) on August 27, 1985.

Babangida made many promises, some were fulfilled while others never materialised. The lists of his achievements in power are: Abrogation of the Public Officers (Protection Against False Accusation) Decree No. 4; Establishment of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); establishment of the Nigeria Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA); Peoples Bank of Nigeria ( PBN); National Board for Community Banks (NBCB); Establishment of National Directorate of Employment (NDE); Better Life Program for Rural Women (BLP); Raw Material Research Council (RMRC) and the Federal Road Safety Commission. Others are the establishment of the National Productivity Centre; National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND); National Political Bureau; Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI) etc.

Though most of the achievements enumerated above can be contested, nonetheless the numero uno promise which the General from Minna failed to keep was handing over to a democratically elected government.

IBB promised democracy to the nation come 1992 after many years of an endless transition programme. But as the date approached, there were many suspicions that this promise was not going to be kept. As predicted in some quaters, the government broke the dreams of seeing a civilian president with the fiat of a dictator. Claiming fraud, money-dominated politics, he postponed the elections for a year. In a bid to clone ‘new breed politicians’ IBB banned politicians of the ‘old school’ and bankrolled two political parties with taxpayers money. On June 12 of 1993, Moshood Abiola won the election but was never sworn in. Babangida annulled the freest and fairest election in Nigerian history. The outcome of the annulment forced him to ‘step aside’ on August 27, 1993 and appointed Ernest Shonekan, as Head of Interim Government. For the betrayal of the right of Nigerians to voluntary choose via the ballot box, IBB remains till date, a villain of democracy.

Sani Abacha gave Vision 2010 to Nigeria. While  the aim is not to peep into the intention behind Abacha’s vision, the fact is that he championed a dream which was flushed down the drain by subsequent governments. The magical year – 2010 – which seemed to dwell in the realm of a futuristic impossibility has finally dawned and none of the items listed in Abacha’s Vision has been fulfilled.

The Vision 2010 council, a mosaic of 248 sages headed by Ernest Shonekan, was inaugurated on November 27, 1996. “The committee’s mandate, set out in a 14-item Terms of Reference, required it to develop a blueprint that will transform the country and place it firmly on the route to becoming a developed nation by the year 2010.” The NigeriaExchange posits that “the committee worked for 10 months using the following methodology: plenary sessions, held in the form of 12 workshops, spread over the period; sub-committees on particular problem areas; 57 external workshops; specifically commissioned studies; consideration of 750 memoranda from the general public; presentations by guest speakers, and Intensive brainstorming among committee members.”

Obasanjo fared better in his second coming, though he left a litany of unkept promises. “On my honour, by the end of 2001, Nigerians would begin to enjoy regular, uninterrupted power supply”. Obasanjo left Nigerians in darkness till date despite the National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP).

The National Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) only changed its name but not focus to National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP). Professor Attahiru Jega contends that “NAPEP was ostensibly established by after a thorough (or high profile) evaluation and assessment of successive policy and programmatic attempts to tackle the problem of poverty in the country.” but Obasanjo’s NAPEP did not banish hunger or poverty. On the contrary, 70% of 150 million Nigerians still live in poverty. Like PAP before it NAPEP was got enmeshed in corruption, over-politicisation, uncoordinated management and sundry Nigerian establishment malaise.

The seven point agenda of Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua are: power and energy; food security and agriculture; wealth creation and employment; mass transportation; land reform; security; and qualitative and functional education. By 2015, Nigeria’s power play will have ceased. One does not intend to state the obvious; only a surreal imagination can fabricate such fantasy. Nigerians have long realised that it makes no sense connecting to the national grid; with I better pass my neighbour, power is assured. At the end of 2009, the government failed to achieve its 6,000 megawatts of electricity as promised.

The gains that were made in the Niger Delta with the amnesty are currently sitting on a cliff. As things stand, the delta is as inflammable as their oil and gas. For the disarmed militants are frustrated with the government inability to implement the amnesty package.

However, Yar’Adua greatest blunder has been his inability to hand over power to his deputy. It is particularly painful to Nigerians, for a president that flaunts his rule of law credentials not to obey the constitution. The country was almost flung on the brink of disaster with his failure to transfer the powers of his office to his deputy, Jonathan Goodluck, in contravention of the law.

It isbecomes quite obvious that the general apathy of Nigerians to government promises is based on a long history of betrayals. Since practically all pacts with the people have been broken, their dreams turned into nightmares, who will blame Nigerians for failing to remember the cruelty of countless treachery?

The Nigerian Tribune, Thursday, April 8, 2010.

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