'Happy new year' is the greeting that is chorused at this time of the year. It's the time when we usher in the calendar year with hope and renewed optimism. For many, this is the case. For others, not so. Most particularly Nigerians.
As the most optimistic country in the world, you would think the hope and optimism of the new year will flow like water off a duck's back. Not so and mainly for two reasons: the on-going security situation that culminated in the Christmas Day bombings of churches, and the recent decision of the federal government to withdraw the long standing subsidy on petrol.
As much kerfuffle as these situations are for Nigeria, a much bigger headache the President, Goodluck Jonathan, is having. As president of a country of 150 million people (as at the last census), the burden of governance heavily rests on his shoulders. The security situation, which escalated under his government, has been largely out of control. The extremist Northern sect, Boko Haram, has caused a lot of destruction to lives and property , talk less of the damage to the country's image. And for the first time since the reign of Sani Abacha, Nigeria's last dictator, Nigerians are really worried. Worried for their lives and the soundings of war between the Christian South and the Muslim North.
To further compund this, the government is also fighting an economic battle with its citizens over the removal of petrol subsidy. Nigeria is the eigth largest exporter of crude oil, the the fifth largest to the U.S. Yet, the issue of petrol prices and its supply is a thorn in the flesh of every government. Due to a high level of corruption and wastage in government, Nigerians have come to expect this subsidy as a universal benefit. Apart from the cost of transportation which will almost treble (road transportation accounts for almost 90% of all transportation in Nigeria), the cost of providing electricity, to the teeming number of the populace that use 'generators' to provide their own electricity, will also go up. This will definitely affect commerce and jobs.
These situations have combined to provide Jonathan with the perfect opportunity to prove that he's the leader Nigerians have been yearning for. The leader they deserve. Nigerians obviously thin he's the 'one', as the results of the presidential elections eight months ago show.
The question now is 'What kind of Nigeria does Jonathan see by 2015?' Is it a Nigeria that does not allow extremism, whatever form, thrive. Or two Nigerias, South Nigeria and North Nigeria. Is it a Nigeria that still imports most of its refined oil or a Nigeria that is not affected by volatile international oil prices. Is it a Nigeria that is ready to become a G-20 member by 2020 or a Nigeria that still counts Guinea-Bissau as one of its major trading partners.
Recent decisions show a mixed picture of his capability. His announcement of a state of emergency across some parts of the North was a positive one but the timing of the removal of petrol subsidy calls his judgement into question. Events of the the next few days and weeks will test the eternally optimistic nature of Nigerians.
And then the question will be 'Do we continue to hope or do we start believing?'