Published: May 18 2008 18:23 | Last updated: May 18 2008 18:23
When the price of oil is hovering above $120 a barrel it is tempting to think that Nigeria is one very large part of Africa the world can relax abou
t. That would be both unwise and unambitious. The macroeconomic numbers still prop up optimism among foreign investors who have bet on Nigeria as Africa's most promising frontier. The wheels of the patronage system on which political stability has hitherto depended may also, to some, seem reassuringly greased. But in important respects the continent's most populous nation and leading oil producer is drifting.
Umaru Yar'Adua, president now for nearly one year, came to power under a cloud largely of his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo's making. A legacy of oil-fuelled growth and improving fiscal discipline gave his new administration the best economic platform for years to mend Nigeria's dilapidated infrastructure and lead Africa towards greater prosperity
. Yet the flawed nature of the elections undermined his legitimacy from the outset while Mr Obasanjo's insistence on retaining influence has fuelled a power struggle.
Mr Yar'Adua has sought to overcome these burdens by taking a low profile himself, allowing federal and state institutions over which his predecessor often rode roughshod to play a greater role. His pledge to make due process and the rule of law the hallmark of his leadership initially sounded an admirable break from the past. A year on and limitations to both strategies have been exposed. If Nigeria is to consolidate fragile steps towards more accountable rule and harness optimism abroad about its economic future, it will require firmer direction from the top.
Many of the institutions on which Mr Yar'Adua seeks to rely are damaged or broken. Moreover, the failure to get his own reform agenda off the ground has created a vacuum.
Into this the National Assembly has stepped, unleashing a flurry of inquiries into his predecessor's management. While this sometimes left much to be desired, it is arguable whether scrutinising all aspects of Nigeria's immediate past is the best way to establish confidence in its future
:bash:. All manner of projects and individuals good and bad are being swept up in a widening net. This, and the uncertain direction of policy, is beginning to shake faith in the sanctity of contracts and in some of the improvements, flawed as they may have been, at the central bank, in governance and in macroeconomic management, that have helped restore Nigeria's image abroad. There is still the high oil price, but alone it makes for an uncertain bet.