Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, June 15, 2015

Analysis by a sometime homeboy

Saro-Wiwa
The analyst, Ken Saro-Wiwa, is the son of an organizer of protests against the pollution of the petroleum industry in the Niger delta. The elder Saro-Wiwa was executed by the military government in 1995.

The younger Saro-Wiwa grew up in the UK and returned to Nigeria in 2005 as an adviser to former Nigerian President Obasanjo. He was subsequently an adviser to Presidents Yar'Adua and Jonathan.

Ken Saro-Wiwa offers some insightful observations to add to your textbook's description of the Nigerian presidency.

I’ve seen Nigeria’s old power at work. I know change is coming
When President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria’s 15th head of state last month, it was, as the saying goes, the beginning of an end and the end of a beginning. After a decade working as an aide to three presidents, it was time for me to move on just as my country is entering an exciting but critical period in its history.

For the last decade Nigeria has attracted some of the most bizarre and ugly headlines…

Throughout it all I have had front row seats in a drama that feels like a mash-up of Scandal, Game of Thrones and The Da Vinci Code. It was by turns much more exciting, more mundane and more instructive than I bargained for…

In the summer of 2006 I… headed straight to Aso Rock, Nigeria’s state house, revered, reviled and feared in Nigeria’s political lexicon as the Villa…

The Villa is one of the least known but most powerful institutions in the world. Nigeria’s constitution is configured to give the president more powers than any equivalent political office. Despite attempts to strike a balance between the legislature, judiciary and executive, the office of the president is primus inter pares. Part monarchy, part deity, head of state, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, dictator, godfather, Big Man – Nigeria’s chief executive can be anything he cares to be if he exercises the considerable powers vested in his office.

A rambling collection of arabesque and Mediterranean architecture, the Villa is a beehive of offices distributed off long corridors, palatial courtyards fringed by elegant arches with the imposing silence of the place punctuated by a soundtrack of fountains and peacocks. This is the backdrop to a world of high-level business and intense political intrigue, crude and subtle lobbying; it is a secretive place with evident rules of engagement and protocols where the institutional memory resides in the minds of its longest-serving occupants…

[T]he character and content of the presidency was formed and planned by Nigeria’s military rulers who… replicated the military command and control features of the presidency that survived the transition to democratic government in 1999. But this institution is being challenged by the rapidly changing nature of African society, which is, being driven and shaped by a devastating and disruptive combination of demography and technology.

As I watched and learned how to decipher the unspoken codes of a system rooted in secrecy and operated by back-channel activity, I would wonder if such a system could ever reinvent itself for an age that increasingly demands transparency and open government to meet the irreverent expectations and aspirations of a restful and youthful population…

Like much of Africa, Nigeria has a particularly pronounced youth bulge – 70% of the 180 million people are under 30…

Armed with new technologies and connected to communities and networks far beyond their local constituencies, Africa’s youth are finding new, exciting avenues for self-expression through music, fashion, film, television and even gaming culture…

This traffic in and out of Nigeria is creating new pathways, new trade routes. The superhighway will be as important as trains, planes and cars in growing the economy of the continent. In 2012 a study showed that, while only 15% of Nigeria’s internet population shopped online, that traffic was still equivalent to Kenya’s GDP…

These kinds of new businesses are redrawing the economic map. Nigeria’s next billionaires may not own a drop of oil; they will emerge from the marriage of convenience and convergence creating an exciting, complex image of the continent…

For now, though, we still have to reconcile the old with the new. Old Nigeria was founded and sustained by the demands and dictates of the oil industry. Oil remains the lifeblood of Nigeria: distribution, production and extraction of oil and other natural resources have determined and will continue to shape the story of Nigeria and of Africa in the short term…

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