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Nigeria's 'Baba-go-slow' one year on

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Abuja

Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua
Mr Yar'Adua vowed to carry out reforms

Some critics of Umaru Yar'Adua have given the Nigerian president a new nickname: "Baba-go-slow".

Most people called his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo "Baba" - in reference to his fatherly style of governing.

Mr Yar'Adua has inherited a less-than respectful name after a year of seemingly little progress.

But is that really fair?

When he came to power in a flawed election last year, President Yar'Adua promised reforms, and lots of them.

The electoral system would be revolutionised, peace would be sought in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the murky oil industry would be reformed as well as the woefully inadequate power industry.

'Topsy turvy'

"He's not really done anything of substance this year," says Mahmud Jega, editor of the Daily Trust newspaper.

All this criticism is just small boys' talk
Kanti Bello
Senator for Katsina North

"He's helped calm down what was a cantankerous political atmosphere, and he's not making enemies left, right and centre.

"But progress has been very slow. He's not a very vigorous person."

Peter Esele, the president of the Trade Union Congress, says this year has been a "topsy turvy" one for the Nigerian president.

"On the one hand there has been a marked departure from the ways of the past. A lot more is being done properly," he says.

But, he adds, powerful people in government are still interfering in business to benefit their own interests, damaging Nigeria's economy.

And this corruption does not look like it will be stopped.

"There is no political will to do so, and we're going round in circles."

'All talk, no action'

In the oil-producing Niger Delta, where poverty surrounds the pipelines carrying Nigeria's crucial revenue, criticism is stronger.

A militant in the Niger Delta
The main militants have said no to talks

"I don't see any sincerity in government," says Obulabo Inko-Taria, editor of the Port Harcourt newspaper Hard Truth.

The government has reached out to some armed groups and persuaded them, reportedly with cash payments, to stop blowing up oil pipelines.

A peace conference is due to be held in the next two months, but Mr Inko-Taria says he is not impressed.

"All the government is talking about is discussions and conferences. Conferences to discuss what?" he says.

"The issue at the centre of this is clear. We in the Niger Delta need to control more of our resources. But they won't address inequality in the Delta."

The most publicly visible militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has not stopped its attacks on oil facilities and says it will not attend any peace conferences.

In the power sector the president is still saying he is about to declare a "state of emergency" on the industry - one of his campaign promises.

Nigeria's electricity facts
Currently generates 3500MW
Would need 100,000MW to become an industrialised economy, according to the ex-president
Six power stations begun under the last administration have not been completed
$16bn (8bn) has so far been spent on the power sector since 1999

In the meantime, a parliamentary investigation has uncovered that turbines worth billion of dollars are rotting away in ports because there is no way of getting them to where the power stations are meant to be.

The previous administration had promised to generate 10,000 megawatts (MW) by this year; although Mr Obasanjo admitted last month that 10 times that amount was needed for Nigeria to become an industrialised country.

Right now Nigeria's electricity company barely manages to provide 3,500MW.

In comparison, South Africa generates 40,000MW, and it is struggling to supply its population - roughly one third of Nigeria's size.

A presidential-appointed committee of experts set up to reform the industry has recommended immediate action to prevent costs on unfinished power projects from growing.

Nigeria has already spent a reported $16bn (8bn) on them.

'New wives'

But supporters say all this criticism is unfair.

Effective solutions to Nigeria's problems require proper planning, they say.

There is progress, its just very slow
Razia Khan
Standard Chartered Bank

Senator Kanti Bello, who represents part of President Yar'Adua's home state of Katsina, says criticism is "small boys talk".

"What do they want us to do, start spending money? That is how we got into this mess, spending without proper planning."

The first year of President Yar'Adua's administration has been about working to ensure fiscal responsibility, that state governments spend oil revenues in the way they are supposed to, he said.

According to the constitution, oil revenues - currently $12bn (6bn) - have to be shared out among state governments.

And governors are lobbying hard for the cash to be released.

But if it does the government risks driving up inflation.

"We want them to spend the money on power, schools on hospitals but we know if we release it without being able to say: 'This is what you will spend it on,' they will go and buy new cars for themselves and get new wives," Sen Bello said.

Razia Khan of Standard Chartered Bank agrees that progress has been made in Nigeria's fiscal responsibility.

"There may not have been progress in the headline-grabbing reforms but there have been encouraging signs," she told the BBC.

'Quality not quantity'

Dubious privatisations signed by Mr Obasanjo have been reversed by his successor.

A Nigerian woman carrying firewood
Most people do not have access to electricity despite the country's wealth

Two ministers alleged to have fraudulently shared out budget money they were meant to return have been arrested.

"I don't get the sense that people feel they're going backward in Nigeria. There is progress, it's just very slow," Ms Khan said.

The president himself has promised more will be done.

"The quality of your planning, the quality of your programmes, determines the nature of their achievements," he said in an interview with the UK newspaper Financial Times.

"What we have to learn to know is that you cannot achieve anything without planning, and planning is a long-term process."

Both critics and supporters agree that top of his bulging in tray remains sorting out the power supply.

"You can't have anything without electricity," says Sen. Bello.

How long it takes Nigerians to get a regular supply, will be the real test of Mr Yar'Adua's planning.


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