Insights into Yar'Adua's second anniversary speech

By Levi Obijiofor

THIS is a very busy time for everyone in the Presidency. In one month's time, President Umaru Yar'Adua will give an account of how he administered the country in the past two years. Ahead of official ceremonies scheduled to mark the second anniversary of his election, Yar'Adua is currently picking the brains of his kitchen cabinet to figure out how to convince the nation that his government has made significant impact on the lives of Nigerians since he mounted the presidential throne on May 29, 2007.

There is something special about public expectations of Yar'Adua's second anniversary speech. Like the annual budget, everyone expects the presidential speech of May 29 every year to be littered with cheery news. In his first anniversary broadcast to the nation last year, Yar'Adua said that, regardless of public expectations from his government, he was determined to lay "a solid foundation and effect reforms to transform this country into an industrial giant." With that spurious claim, Yar'Adua signalled how he intended to govern. One year after he made that specious assertion, the jury has reached a decision already.

Yar'Adua has laid no foundation (weak or solid) to serve as a plank on which he hoped to elevate the country to the position of an industrial Hercules. How can Yar'Adua convert Nigeria into an industrial colossus when the basic raw material for that transformation - regular electricity - has eluded the nation?

In his anniversary speech of 29 May 2008, Yar'Adua admitted partially that he had nothing to offer because he hadn't been in office long enough to familiarise himself with the rubrics of governance. He pleaded for more time. The nation granted his request on the basis that Yar'Adua was still struggling to understand the magnitude of the nation's economic and social problems. His defenders even claimed that Yar'Adua should be pardoned because he spent the first year in office clearing the mess left behind by his predecessor -- Olusegun Obasanjo. Other people suggested that Yar'Adua deserved public sympathy on account of his occasional overseas medical trips.

Public commentary on Yar'Adua's health was so damaging that the man decided to confront that issue in his first anniversary speech last year. Sounding a bit angry amid sporadic coughs, he said: "I am human. I can fall sick. I can die tomorrow. I can die next month. I can live to be 90... So there is nothing extraordinary about my being ill." The decision to focus on his health was not compellingly strategic at a time the nation was awaiting evidence of the government's achievements. If he raises that issue in this year's address, it could inflame rather than assuage public anger over his undistinguished performance.

The feeling in the Presidency is that Yar'Adua's forthcoming second anniversary speech must be something of a magnum opus, an address in which he has to demonstrate in practical terms and with practical examples how his government has excelled in the past two years. To avoid the major blunders that popped up regularly in his address last year, Yar'Adua has decided, in consultation with his chief speech writer, that his second anniversary speech will not contain any presidential hyperboles. It is better to offer simple but believable reasons to the nation. Here is a quick peep into what you can expect to find in Yar'Adua's speech next month.

Yar'Adua will start with a review of the state of the economy. His aides have already served him the perfect points he would use to convince everyone why the economy is in a downward slide and why the naira is fast racing to reach the 200 exchange rate mark against the United States' dollar.

Yar'Adua will tell the nation in a sombre tone that his less than satisfactory performance in the past two years must be attributed to the current global economic "meltdown". The Nigerian economy, he would argue, has refused to respond to all the economic stimulus packages unleashed by the government. This is understandable. The Nigerian economy is a stubborn mule. It chooses which direction to go, regardless of the pills administered by the government.

Yar'Adua will also argue that the Nigerian economy is not immune to or protected from the turbulence in the global economy. That would be a smart, valid and pardonable justification. The global economic crisis now serves as a perfect excuse for just about anything. When marriages break down, everyone points to the financial squeeze. When crazed gunmen in the United States shoot innocent Americans at random, it is blamed on economic disaster. When governments fail to deliver what they promised the people, the worldwide economic downturn is used as a fitting justification.

I am not sure that the public would buy Yar'Adua's argument because in the opening paragraphs of his speech last year, he promised, in a lavish manner, that "exciting times awaited Nigerians". One year on, no one has sighted excitement of any kind. Instead, Nigerians have been experiencing pain rather than pleasure.

Yar'Adua will use his address to review his government's position on official corruption. Last year, he said he was more interested in fighting the "root cause" of the problem. He said: "... people confer on themselves authority that is more than what is conferred on them by our laws. But to me, discretionary powers and authority are out. They are the root cause of corruption." This year, Yar'Adua will raise the pitch of his voice when he mentions corruption. He will say, with a feeling of despondency, that since the inauguration of his government, many Nigerians have made so much noise about corruption and yet no one has furnished him with supporting evidence with which he could prosecute the suspects.

Yar'Adua will refer Nigerians to the government's newly minted philosophical position on the fight against corruption. It is: "Show us evidence of corruption and we will fight it together". As proof of his anti-corruption credentials, Yar'Adua will remind the nation that he was the first Nigerian elected leader to declare his assets publicly. Obasanjo was too terrified to do so in spite of his pretentiousness as an anti-corruption campaigner.

The instability in the Niger Delta region will receive substantial commentary in Yar'Adua's speech. He will outline how much progress he has made in the past year to solve the Niger Delta crisis. He will also produce raw figures to illustrate that many activists have signed the official register in response to the government's offer of amnesty. Yar'Adua will talk about the incredible achievements the Niger Delta ministry has recorded in the region, including the magical transformations in the socioeconomic conditions of the people in the region.

Last year, Yar'Adua claimed in a comical fashion that criminality was the main problem in the Niger Delta region. Not only did his view fly in the face of the history of the crisis, his perspective suggested that criminal activities in the Niger Delta just erupted overnight, without underlying reasons. In his address on this topic last year, he told the nation: "People miss the criminality in the Niger Delta. It has to be dealt with in the coming summit. People are stealing crude oil in the high seas. This can't help the Niger Delta. This criminal activity and bunkering has to be dealt with for the sake of the region."

The gridlock in the power sector will receive some but not much mention in Yar'Adua's speech. In the past year, he made many promises, failed to fulfil any of them, and most important, he contradicted his position on the problem. This year, Yar'Adua will roll out qualified promises about a rosy future but with no specific date on which Nigerians can expect uninterrupted supply of electricity. Yar'Adua is too smart to give any deadline which might be used as evidence against him, when he mounts the political platform to kick off his re-election campaign in 2011.

Anyone expecting Yar'Adua to address the irritating slow pace of governance would be disappointed. He will overlook that point because when he admitted last year that his government was slow, he was criticised mildly by his advisers who informed him that honesty was not the best policy in government.

Other issues that will receive attention in Yar'Adua's speech include electoral reform, infrastructure (roads, water, healthcare, etc.), law and order, crippling unemployment and, believe it or not, poverty. Last year the government launched the so-called anti-poverty project curiously entitled "Community Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (CEEDS). Don't ask Yar'Adua to give an account of this propaganda project because he won't have any answers.


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