Nigeria’s Crisis of Leadership

crisis121009.jpgThe following is an excerpt from my latest article published on the Huffington Post:

When a leader is ill and absent, a country cannot function, and for Nigeria, the costs have been very high. Yar’Adua’s illness has prevented him from attending the United Nations General Assembly, where he would have had the opportunity to privately meet with President Barack Obama. His approval of the state budget has been repeatedly delayed because of health issues, while infighting and disobedience within state ministries has proliferated. Worst of all, the president’s low profile has allowed for widespread abuses of power for personal enrichment and settling of scores.

Long before this current hospital visit, the president’s illness had become Nigeria’s illness. Since coming into power in May 2007 following the administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, the basic administration of public affairs has faltered, while the reform movement has been stamped out. Record high oil prices haven’t made a dent in the poverty level, nor helped complete any significant public project of improvement. Numerous infrastructure projects for railroads and electricity generation were bungled and canceled, while discretionary spending was returned to the regional authorities (under Obasanjo, a centralized stabilization fund had been created to handle budget shortfalls).

Corruption, the unfortunate bane of Nigeria, has significantly worsenedunder Yar’Adua. During an official state visit in August, Sec. of StateHillary Clinton remarked that the country was experiencing “a failure of government at the federal, state and local level,” adding that a “lackof transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of thegovernment and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence.

The national mood has turned sour. Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka says that Nigeria has become “compromised” by corruption, and is the “laughing stock” of the region. The popular blogger Salisu Suleiman recently wrote, “WhenUmaru wakes up from his soulless, shackled sleep, say to him that theship of state is on fire and that he should scamper for dear life. Tellhim that for two years, the alarm bells have been blaring, the voicesof 140 million compatriots screaming, and the entire world joining toshake him awake, but only got the stony silence of indifference.

Before Yar’Adua came into office, Nigeria enjoyed a few years oftremendous success in the war against corruption through the Economicand Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), under the leadership of thehighly respected Nuhu Ribadu.

Now that Ribadu has been forced out (and survived two assassinationattempts), and many of the biggest investigations have been dropped(including impunity for the famous James Ibori),the EFCC has been completely discredited and turned into an instrumentof corruption. Under Ribadu, the EFCC prosecuted thousands of cases.Under the new chief, Farida Waziri, the EFCC pursues at best a dozencases only with the permission of the presidency, most of which arepolitical prosecutions. It is a tremendous disappointment, for bothNigeria’s citizens as well as international partners, to see theseinstitutions of justice become overrun by incompetence and graft.

One false case being pursued by the EFCC is against the respectedformer Minister of Abuja, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, a client whom I represent in his fight against the state’s campaign of persecution. In a 56-page White PaperI recently authored, the reality of the abuse of process and criminalconduct of the Nigerian state is presented, arguing that thepersecution of El-Rufai is designed to eliminate him as a politicalcompetitor to the Yar’Adua administration.

Photo credit:  A man reads a newspaper at a vendor’s stand in Obalende district inNigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, December 2, 2009. Nigeriannewspapers on Wednesday published a call from a group of public figuresfor President Umaru Yar’Adua to quit or prove he is fit enough to govern, deepening debate over the leadership of the oil producing nation. (Reuters Pictures)