Cablegate: Mixed Reactions As Nigeria Marks Democracy Day
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000972
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM SOCI NI
SUBJECT: MIXED REACTIONS AS NIGERIA MARKS DEMOCRACY DAY
REF: ABUJA 878
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR POSTING ON THE INTRANET
1. Begin Summary: On May 29, 2005, Nigeria marked six
years since President Obasanjo's return to power. Reactions
to the celebration of Obasanjo's inaugurations were mixed.
While some Nigerians say it is six years of democratic rule,
others argue it is merely a return to civil rule devoid of
the ingredients of democracy. In Kogi and Ekiti states
violence marred the day's celebrations (SEPTEL). In Lagos,
the state government led a mass rally against continued
seizure of Local Council funds by the Federal government in
spite of a Supreme Court judgment. Most newspaper editorials
and commentaries scored the administration low on economy,
health, security, education and anti-corruption crusade. For
ordinary Nigerians, the measure of good governance is the
ability of the government to put food on their tables. But
there is one agreement among all shades of opinions: It is
not yet celebration time. End summary.
PERFORMING THE RITUAL
2. On May 29, Nigerians marked six years of return to
civil rule without the usual flying of banners and buntings.
President Obasanjo in his traditional radio and television
broadcast made no far reaching policy announcement. But in a
public lecture organized by the leadership of the Central
Bank of Nigeria, the president promised to reform the "highly
monetized" political system. "We have to move from politics
of patronage and politics of money", he said. Attempting to
assure that his presidency is not out to "deceive Nigerians",
Obasanjo characteristically warned that he would not "succumb
to flattery, harassment, blackmail, intimidation and threat."
Attendance at the public lecture was by invitation only.
3. In Nasarawa, the state government announced a
cancellation of all planned programs for the day citing
"security reasons". It further banned all unauthorized public
gatherings and processions "until further notice." In Kogi
state, Governor Ibrahim Idris was prevented from giving a
prepared speech by hoodlums who fired sporadically into the
crowd. A similar incident was recorded in Ekiti state, where
celebrations came to an abrupt conclusion as a result of
apparently well-organized violent demonstrations.
"THIS IS NOT A DEMOCRACY"
4. Die-hard critics of the Obasanjo administration such as
Lagos lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, dismiss the six years of
Obasanjo as a charade. Fawehinmi is currently suing the
President for using his official position to launch a private
project - the controversial Presidential Library in the
President's home town of Otta - and win donations from state
governments and oil companies to fund it. Chief Fawehinmi
noted that during the six years of President Obasanjo's
administration, corruption has been on the increase and "is
much worse" than under General Sani Abacha.
5. Second republic Minister and representative at the
Political Reform Conference, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, decried the
various economic policies of the last six years, saying they
lack the backing of Nigerians. An umbrella organization of
opposition political parties, known as the Conference of
Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) in a three-page statement
was less charitable, describing Obasanjo's tenure as "six
years of regime failure."
6. Prominent northern politician, Alhaji Shettima Ali
Monguno, said much is lacking in the current democratic
dispensation. Monguno, a first republic Petroleum Minister
described Obasanjo's record as "a democracy of the elite, by
the elite, for the elite which makes the gap between the rich
and the poor wider." Second Republic governor of Borno State,
Alhaji Mohammed Goni, known for his frankness, described the
six years as a "disaster." Former presidential aspirant and
member of the ruling party Abubakar Rimi says the fight
against corruption in the last six years has been "selective"
"WE ARE DOING WELL, BUT..."
7. Ms. Ayo Obe, former president, Civil Liberties
Organization, (CLO), says that Nigeria is not a "complete
democracy," but rather had experienced a "return to civilian
rule." In reference to the foundations of Nigeria's Fourth
Republic, Ms. Obe says you cannot expect to "get genuine
elections arranged by a panic-stricken military
dictatorship." She did, however, give a pass to the
government for at least "recognizing some fundamental
freedoms associated with democracy." Ms. Obe, a member of the
International Crisis Group, stated her worry about Nigeria's
7. Human Rights lawyer Femi Falana is of the opinion that
the six years of the Obasanjo administration is a bittersweet
story. While condemning corrupt practices pervading the
polity, executive disobedience of court injunctions, falling
standards of living, and the West's takeover of the economy,
Chief Falana admits that there is no absolute freedom in any
democracy. What worried Falana most are the protracted court
cases on election matters. Two years into his second term, he
commented, the court is yet to rule on election petitions
against the president.
8. Dr. Magnus Kpakol, head of GON,s poverty alleviation
program (NAPEP) and former economic reform insider, said the
war against poverty is being won. While Kpakol,s keeps a
symbolic pair of boxing gloves in his office to signify the
fight against poverty, many Nigerians believe the program is
nothing more than the symbol. Charles Soludo, governor of the
Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), said the nations, economic
reform agenda and its National Economic Empowerment and
Development Strategy (NEEDS) program form part of the tripod
for sustaining Nigeria's democracy.
INDICES FOR JUDGMENT
8. Most Nigerians who commented on the present
administration's performance in the last six years criticized
the continued rise in unemployment, increasing poverty, poor
health facilities in the country, crisis in the educational
sector, insecurity, corrupt practices among public officers,
and poor performance of public utilities. According to Obe,
for the ordinary Nigerian the economy is reflected in the
following questions: a) Am I personally financially better
off? b) Have I got a job? c) Am I earning enough to pay my
bills? and d) Do my children have jobs? Femi Falana however,
argues that not all democratic dividends are measurable. "One
thing we must all acknowledge in terms of the gains we have
recorded is the expansion of the democratic space," he said.
9. Some respondents to a Voice of America (VOA) survey on
the gains recorded in Nigeria in the last six years mockingly
refer to soaring inflation, the demolition exercise in parts
of Abuja, (Reftel), and the ineffective power supply as
"dividends of democracy." The Vanguard, a Lagos-based
independent newspaper, carried a front page cartoon on the
day of the anniversary, that scored the Obasanjo
administration high only in the introduction of GSM phones
and his continued frequent foreign trips, the subject of
widespread condemnation by Nigerians. The paper scored the
administration low in education, health, agriculture, sports
and security. A tabloid owned by a member of the ruling
party, Sunday Sun, in an editorial described the May 29
celebration as "a symbolic hollow ritual" and decried "lack
of sincerity which pervades government's business". The
editorial concludes, "We cannot as a people say that the six
years of civil rule has brought smiles to the people."
10. While Nigerians continue to argue about the achievements
(or lack thereof) of civilian administration since 1999, what
worries most Nigerians is the prospect for the 2007
elections. The struggle for who contests the presidency is
taking a tribal turn. The South-South geopolitical zone
contends that it deserves to produce the next president (and
to control the resources accruing from its oil rich land).
The North insists that the only divide that matters in
Nigeria's politics - North and South - and says Obasanjo has
fulfilled the South's quota for eight years. End comment.