Some of those who know the country believe there is little prospect of democracy breaking out any time soon in Nigeria, a country that for the past 30 years has been in the thrall of military dictators.
But Alhaji M. D. Yusufu, in San Francisco for the State of the World Forum, has particular reason for hoping that the skeptics are wrong. A founding member of his country's Movement for Democracy and Justice (MDJ) Party, which was launched last month, he has announced that he is a contender for Nigeria's coming "democratic" elections, scheduled for next year.
"Democracy hasn't had much of a life in my country," he said in an interview at the Fairmont Hotel yesterday (Oct. 30), but added: "I'm convinced what will make it work this time is the will of the Nigerian people. They're ready for it."
Mr. Yusufu has been described as one of Nigeria's most respected political figures at both a national and grassroots level, a retiree who recently re-entered national life and has since traveled Nigeria's 36 states with a message of national unity. He is particularly opposed to the virulent tribalism that separates Nigeria's north and south - if elected, he promises to convene a national convention to find new ways of getting Muslims and Christians to work together for the greater good.
"The north and south have to sit down and examine what has been the problem between them. When I talk to people in the south about June 12 [1993 presidential election], they say the northerners have always been having the monopoly of power in this country, and they must break it somewhere. And I tell them that it is not true. The fact is that politics and elections are a matter of numbers and the people in the north have always been more numerous than the people in the south stay as one north. But June 12 showed that all these thoughts are myths. The number of people in the north that voted for Abiola in the
results that were never announced, were more than the number of Yorubas that voted for Abiola. So it shows you that any Nigerian can go to the north, talk to the people and persuade them to trust him, as it happened in Abiola's case. So the question of a rotational president, denomination of power, is absolute nonsense. Politicans are either lazy or they don't want to go and talk to the people and convince them."
Additionally, he promises new and greater accountability for public figures in national life, and has spoken - perhaps unrealistically - of scrapping the Nigerian military.
Just as interestingly, perhaps, is Mr.Yusufu's belief in the power of market economics to lift Nigeria's standard of living, even at a time when the woes of other emerging market economies are well known. Can it yet be made to flourish in Africa? "There is no other way," he said.
"I am not an economist so I have no regard to all the jargons being peddled about economic transformation. But I believe what we need to know is how to feed ourselves. I am convinced that we do not need to import food. We should concentrate on providing cheap food for our people. Then we should take care of our people's health. Then there is the problem of lives and property. Though I am not an economist, I believe that we have enough resources to take care of these things if we can erase corruption, embezzlement of public funds and unnecessary expenditure."