Friday, May 29, 2009

In El Dorado yet?

Today marks the tenth anniversary of that historic event - the uninterrupted democratic rule in Africa's most populous country. A significant day indeed in Nigeria's political history. For the first time since its independence in 1960, Nigeria celebrates ten years of uninterrupted democratic existence.

In his farewell speech on May 28, 1999, the then Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar declared that it was time for the military to return to its constitutional role of defending the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. According to him,"We must subject ourselves completely to civil authority. This is a sacred duty to which we must bind ourselves. It is our best guarantee to earn and retain the respect of our people. It is also your best chance for earning the approbation of the rest of a fast, changing world, in which new political and social values are transcendent."

In his acceptance speech titled "Restoration of confidence in government" former President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a former military administrator acknowledged, that he was well aware of the lack of confidence the people had in the government arising from the “bad faith and deceit of past administrations". He then promised to implement quickly and decisively, measures that would restore confidence in governance. He went ahead to list as his administration's priority, the issue of Food Supply, Restoration of Law and order, Education, Macro-economic policies, Supply and Distribution of Petroleum Products, and poverty alleviation amongst others. Obasanjo spent eight years before handing over to the incumbent President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua who came out with a Seven-Point Agenda listed as Power and Energy, Food Security and Agriculture, Wealth Creation and Employment, Mass Transportation, Land Reform and Security.

Clearly none of these major undertakings of the government so far as we see from the lists above has been explicitly targeted at families. There has rather been a broad focus on strengthening the nation’s economy, maintaining civil order amongst the various ethnic groups and the alleviation of poverty. However a closer and more conscious examination of the aforementioned government’s agenda reveals relationships between government’s policies in the last decade and families. For instance the Universal basic education scheme launched by Obasanjo in 1999 was programmed to cater for a child’s education for nine years, i.e. from primary school to the end of the junior secondary school (middle school). It is free as well as compulsory. It is government’s expectation that this educational reform would enable Nigeria cater for its future professional needs and ensure national integration and development. However this policy also goes further to address family needs implicitly, since every family can now afford to educate their child for free, for the first nine years. It is noteworthy that the economic and poverty alleviation policies in the last decade have also had similar implicit impacts on family life.

So unlike in the U.S. where state legislative leaders have called child and family issues a “sure-fire vote winner” and in which “political interests in children and families ebbs and flows…and may now be at its highest peak in the last twenty years” (Bogenschnider); in Nigeria we hope we get to that point soon, where we can have Family policies with explicitly oriented family goals. This seems inevitable indeed, since social policies are sadly not keeping up with the changing circumstances of the present day families. A most troubling question is that of poverty. Never have we experienced the prevailing level of financial difficulties for individual families and whole communities, in spite of the fact that earnings in the last decade have quadrupled.

But Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, says hey! all is not bad for the decade of democracy in Nigeria. "It has been good but that does not mean that there have been no challenges especially in the areas of infrastructure and poverty eradication. Of course, there is no country where poverty has been wiped out totally”.Yeah right... so well…we certainly are not in El Dorado yet. However there still are reasons to celebrate, there is the fact that for the first time since it became a country, Nigeria is spending its 10th uninterrupted year of civilian rule and within that stretch of time, has held three successful elections, the last being the first transition from one civilian administration to another, in the 49 - year-history of the country. Opinion leaders are also generally happy with the civilian rule on ground, acknowledging that it is the only form of governance that can guarantee an improved economy and the triumph of the will of the people through genuine representation at all tiers of government as enshrined in democratic tenets. And indeed many will conclude that the atmosphere of freedom alone, which had eluded the country for so long, is worth toasting to. So cheers!

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