Tunji Lardner,

Tunji Lardner,

A weeklong electronic journal.
July 3 1998 3:30 AM

Tunji Lardner,

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       Even as the euphoria wanes, Nigerians are beginning to grasp the magnitude of the horror left behind and the problems that lie ahead. The new head of state, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, has promised, in his words, "to move the nation forward." From most accounts, he has made the right moves so far, and even some skeptics concede that he seems sincere and well intentioned.
       There is no ambiguity here about the fact that Nigeria is again tottering over the precipice, her prospects fraught with both danger and opportunity. The good general's intention to move the nation "forward" might be, in a metaphorical sense, a dangerous step. Perhaps it is wiser, as has been suggested, to take a couple of steps backward, to stop, look, and listen before taking the next step. But how far back? Certainly any backward step is sure to collide with the as-yet-unresolved issue of the June 12 elections of 1993. Chief Moshood Abiola, the undeclared winner of that fateful election (which was canceled by the last-but-one despot, Ibrahim Babangida), still remains incarcerated for demanding his mandate, albeit a year after the fact. He seems sure to be released soon, but the ghost of that election still rattles the military and, indeed, haunts the body politic and any future elections. So is the way forward "backward" or forward on to new elections? If the answer is the latter, it raises the question of what you do with the thoroughly discredited transition program and the political parties, all five of them fingers of Abacha's grab at self-succession. Add to that the deep mistrust of the military, a depressed economy, a large and restive soccer-crazy population whose team (the Super Green Eagles) was recently thrashed and kicked out (literally) of the World Cup by the Danes, and you have the makings of a genuine Nigerian puzzle. Compounding all this is the fact that the onerous responsibility of getting the country out of this mess is the charge of the same military that got it there in the first place, with assists from the venal recurring political class.
       Nigeria is indeed a puzzle. As one local wit put it, "We import what we do have (like oil and petrol) and export what we do not have (like democracy) to Liberia and Sierra Leone." No wonder Abubakar seemed reluctant to be head of state. But who knows, the job just might grow on him.

Tunji Lardner is a Nigerian journalist who lives in New York and writes for West Africa magazine. He is a consultant for the United Nations on the Internet and the media, and an adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism's Center for New Media.