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Sunday, 28 May, 2000, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Nigeria: So what's changed?
By Eniwoke Ibagere
Ask Nigerians how their lives have changed since the country's return to democracy in May 1999, and many people will reel out a list of negatives.
"It'll be a miracle to begin to see the wonders of democracy instantly. But nothing has changed after a year of democratic governance," said Godwin Obaseki, an economist based in the commercial capital, Lagos.
"Look at where we're coming from. More than a decade of army misrule and our social utilities have been wrecked by neglect and decay."
He acknowledges, though, that the Obasanjo government has succeeded in stabilising the economy: "Interest rates have been stable, foreign exchange rates (at 100 naira to $1) are also fairly stable and government spending somewhat controlled."
"Power outages are frequent. Some parts of Nigeria are in darkness for months or weeks. The taps have been dry for the past year," said housewife Evawere Sadoh, based in Abeokuta, some 80km from Lagos.
In March, the entire country was plunged into darkness on two separate occasions for more than 24 hours after Nigeria's creaking national electricity network collapsed. A furious President Obasanjo sacked the board of the electricity authority and began supervising its affairs.
"When Obasanjo assumed office, petrol queues disappeared. But in some cities, they're gradually creeping back," said Rufus Giwa, head of the Nigerian Manufacturers Association.
'Life remains tough'
Christine Nnaji-Kanu, a member of Obasanjo's ruling People's Democratic Party, said: "Life remains tough for most Nigerians. The cost of living index continues to plummet. Pipe-borne water is not available in most parts of the country. Industries' capacity utilisation is still abysmally low. Infrastructural facilities remain moribund. We have seen a lot of shuffling and no movement!"
Mr Obasanjo recently raised the national minimum wage for workers to 5,500 naira ($55) from the previous 3,500 ($35). But a protracted crisis between the legislature and the executive only saw the approval of the 2000 National Budget recently.
What is of greater worry to Nigerians is the upsurge in religious and ethnic violence and crime since the Obasanjo government assumed power.
"In the last one year, there has been general lawlessness and chaos in the country," says Lagos resident Ojo Segun.
"Drivers seldom obey the rules, causing kilometres of traffic snarl-ups. Vendors sell their wares in unauthorised places. There's a rise in armed robbery and theft. Ethnic regions and groups have become more militant in their quest for autonomy, more powers or separatist states."
"Since we're no longer under army rule, it's made greater freedom emerge for people. But most of them have a warped opinion of it. Because of the violence, businesses, particularly those depending on night-life, have suffered."
Others argue that the decline in human rights violations - routine under military rule - is something to celebrate: "You can say anything you like without looking over your shoulders that government security agents will pick and lock you up."
One area that has benefited from the advent of democracy is sport.
"There have been tremendous changes in soccer administration since a democratic government took over," says Sunday Oliseh, captain of Nigeria's national soccer team, the Super Eagles.
Nigeria won silver at the 2000 Cup of Nations tournament it co-hosted with Ghana. It was the Eagles' first outing in the biennial competition since winning the 1994 tournament in Tunisia.
In 1996, after Nelson Mandela criticised the then Nigerian Government's executions of Ken Saro Wiwa and eight other Ogoni activists, military ruler Sani Abacha ordered the Nigerian Eagles, to withdraw from the tournament hosted by South Africa.
As punishment, Nigeria was later banned from attending the 1998 tournament in Burkina Faso.
In spite of the odds, Nigerians are hopeful for the best and their country in the near future.
"Perhaps one year is too brief a period to make a meaningful assessment of the impact of democracy," said Ms Nnaji-Kanu.
"Maybe after the expiration of its four-year term in 2003, we can then do an assessment."
Obioma Uzor said: "I have great confidence in the fact that democracy can make things work here. Once Obasanjo is able to extinguish the pockets of riots and civil strife caused by dissidents, this country will bubble with business zest."
Two pieces of graffiti on a wall in a backstreet of Lagos best captures Nigerians' belief in democracy. "The worst democracy is better than the best army rule!", said one.
The other said: "Don't expect many wonders from democracy. The most wonderful thing is having it!"
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