African business, politics and lifestyle
Nigeria: Ten years of civilian rule
Nigeria marks its first 10 years of unbroken civilian rule on Friday after emerging from nearly three decades of uninterrupted military dictatorship on May 29, 1999.
The political elite in Africa’s top oil producer are rolling out the drums to celebrate the milestone. And why not?
Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler who won elections in 1999, ended Nigeria’s pariah status and brought Africa’s most populous nation back into the international fold, helping secure an $18 billion debt write-off in 2005.
Power was then transferred to President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 – the first successful transition from one civilian leader to another since independence from Britain in 1964 – although the election was condemned by observers for widespread rigging.
Soldiers have so far stayed put in their barracks during the historic decade, despite mounting frustrations among ordinary people – most of whom live on less than $2 a day – that their lives are not changing quickly enough for the better.
Cause for celebration, given Nigeria’s post-independence history, when the army exploited such frustrations to truncate the First Republic in 1966 and the Second Republic in 1983.
But while the great and the good celebrate, many ordinary Nigerians feel indifferent about the landmark.
The poorest say democracy has done little to change their standard of living. The huge earnings from Nigeria’s mainstay oil and gas industry are still not improving their lives.
There is much greater freedom of speech and of association, but some say the only tangible change in their daily lives over the past decade has been the arrival of the mobile phone.
Critics say Obasanjo’s high-profile campaign against corruption – the monster that had held Nigeria back for decades – was little more than a weapon against his enemies.
Initial optimism over his tenure gave way to a feeling that he was just as overbearing and kleptocratic as his predecessors.
Yar’Adua’s assumption of power two years ago was seen as a breath of fresh air, but again Nigerians have been left wondering whether their optimism was misplaced.
Economic reforms have slowed, infrastructure remains shambolic in large parts of the country and electricity supply remains as intermittent as it was a decade ago, despite Nigeria being the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil.
In moments of desperation, some even wonder if the country was better off under military rule. So where does the truth lie?
How much has Nigeria really changed in the decade since military rule? Has the country come too far for it to be conceivable that the military could one day take power again, or does democracy still have only a fragile hold on the giant of Africa?