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Yar’Adua turns troublesome

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By Ochereome Nnanna
FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo was a well known trouble maker. His eight-year presidency was one of the most heated in the crisis-filled history of this nation, and these were mostly due to Obasanjo’s acts of omission and commission. At a point, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Umar Ghali Na’Abba, told him point-blank that if he looked into the mirror, he would see the problem with Nigeria there.

He eventually handed over power to his successor, Alhaji Umaru Yar’ Adua, in utter chaos. When Yar’ Adua assumed power on May 29, 2007, the embers of discord that Obasanjo left behind needed to be doused, and he did a great job of seeing to that.

The election that brought him to power was adjudged as the worst ever even by Nigerian standards, and his government was widely regarded as an illegitimate. Sensing the feelings of the people, Yar’ Adua wisely opened his first speech to the nation by admitting the elections were flawed and promised to give priority to an electoral reform.

This helped in planting the seeds of hope and expectation that this man who emerged from a crooked process could defy logic and become the instrument for correcting it.

More than two years later, judging by the President’s treatment of the Uwais panel report, it has become clear that Yar’ Adua sold the nation a dummy. Electoral reform is no longer even a topical issue, even though the next electoral season is almost upon us.

He also met labour in a pugnacious mood as a result of Obasanjo’s last-minute fuel prices hike, which took PMS (petrol, for instance) from N65 to N75 per litre. Yar’ Adua brought it down to N70 and later to the current N65 per litre; even though the day is coming soon when as a result of his deregulation policy consumers of PMS and other petroleum products may have to pay anything from N90 upward.

Other problems he promised to address as a matter of priority included the poor power, infrastructure, security situations and Niger Delta crisis. His failure to make any meaningful impact on these and other areas is responsible for his poor rating, which was illustrated by The Guardian’s recent opinion polls, in which he scored a woeful 25 per cent approval rating.

Another problem former President Obasanjo created before he left office was the deliberate and illegal seizure of funds accruable to the local government councils of Lagos State as a result of political differences and his party’s inability to seize control of the nation’s former capital and premier commercial nerve-centre.

The regime of former Governor Bola Tinubu had felt that the large population in the mammoth city-state required an increment in the number of its local councils from the 20 listed in the 1999 Constitution. Following failure to persuade the Federal Government to help in this direction, the Lagos State Government decided to take its destiny in its own hands.

The House of Assembly enacted laws that created 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) out of the local councils, which brought to 57 the number of such administrative units in Lagos State. The PDP Federal Government felt that this action was bound to assist the Tinubu opposition government to consolidate at the grassroots and decided to fight back in two ways.

They used the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to harass operatives of the Lagos State Government. Secondly, the local council funds were confiscated. The two sides went to the Supreme Court to seek legal interpretation of the actions of the Lagos Government.

The Court ruled that the process leading to the creation of the LCDAs were constitutionally-compliant, except that since the National Assembly had not taken the consequential step of listing them in the Constitution, it was “inchoate” or yet to be completed.

Lagos State decided to continue operating the development areas along with the local government areas, collecting the revenue from the federal allocation and splitting it among the LCDAs and the LGAs, pending when the federal parliament would do its job of listing the new council areas.

Obasanjo’s decision to block the local government funds at source was as a result of the Presidency’s opinion that the 37 LCDAs remained illegal entities on which federal allocation could not be lawfully spent.

When he took over office, Yar’ Adua, whose father was once the Minister of Lagos Affairs in the First Republic, cooled the heated relationship between Abuja and Lagos by not only releasing the seized local government funds but also allowing its continued payment till date.

It, therefore, came like a bolt from the blue when on July 14, 2009 Yar’ Adua wrote a threatening letter to Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos asking his government to revert to the 20 government areas within two weeks or else: “I shall be compelled to direct that necessary actions be taken by the relevant organs of state to defend the Constitution and preserve the authority of the Federal Government”.

Coming at the same time when Yar’ Adua is courting the rebellion of the people and government of the South-South zone over his new controversial policies in the oil industry for which the six governors of the zone have threatened to back out of the amnesty deal, one is forced to conclude that Yar’ Adua is retreating without caution from the peace-building opening gambits with which he approached governance in 2007.

His regime, though unpopular due to lack of performance and bare-faced Northernisation of critical sectors such as finance and petroleum, had been applauded for its above-average respect for court rulings and excellent cordial relations with state governors irrespective of their party affiliations.

The question on the lips of many is: Why has Yar’ Adua chosen this moment, two years into his presidency, to simultaneously open up skirmishes on various fronts in the South-South and South West?

It is obvious he has an agenda to complete an age-old Northern domination of an oil sector, a drop of which does not come from its region. Why is he foiling the amnesty offer through his reckless handling of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the transfer of the petroleum university from Warri to Kaduna? Why has he decided to reopen the fight with Lagos? Whose advice is he listening to?

The wisdom in spreading the background of your body of advisers is that you are more likely to obtain rounded inputs. But when you surround yourself with close advisers from only your part of the country, you will fall victim to one track-minded ideas that will only create more problems than they can solve. Mek una tell am seh trouble no good o!

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