May 29th, 2009
Posted by: Tume Ahemba
Nigeria marks its first 10 years of unbroken civilian rule on Friday after emerging from nearly three decades of uninterrupted military dictatorship on May 29, 1999.
The political elite in Africa’s top oil producer are rolling out the drums to celebrate the milestone. And why not?
Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler who won elections in 1999, ended Nigeria’s pariah status and brought Africa’s most populous nation back into the international fold, helping secure an $18 billion debt write-off in 2005.
Power was then transferred to President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 – the first successful transition from one civilian leader to another since independence from Britain in 1964 – although the election was condemned by observers for widespread rigging.
Soldiers have so far stayed put in their barracks during the historic decade, despite mounting frustrations among ordinary people – most of whom live on less than $2 a day – that their lives are not changing quickly enough for the better.
Cause for celebration, given Nigeria’s post-independence history, when the army exploited such frustrations to truncate the First Republic in 1966 and the Second Republic in 1983.
But while the great and the good celebrate, many ordinary Nigerians feel indifferent about the landmark.
The poorest say democracy has done little to change their standard of living. The huge earnings from Nigeria’s mainstay oil and gas industry are still not improving their lives.
There is much greater freedom of speech and of association, but some say the only tangible change in their daily lives over the past decade has been the arrival of the mobile phone.
Critics say Obasanjo’s high-profile campaign against corruption – the monster that had held Nigeria back for decades – was little more than a weapon against his enemies.
Initial optimism over his tenure gave way to a feeling that he was just as overbearing and kleptocratic as his predecessors.
Yar’Adua’s assumption of power two years ago was seen as a breath of fresh air, but again Nigerians have been left wondering whether their optimism was misplaced.
Economic reforms have slowed, infrastructure remains shambolic in large parts of the country and electricity supply remains as intermittent as it was a decade ago, despite Nigeria being the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil.
In moments of desperation, some even wonder if the country was better off under military rule. So where does the truth lie?
How much has Nigeria really changed in the decade since military rule? Has the country come too far for it to be conceivable that the military could one day take power again, or does democracy still have only a fragile hold on the giant of Africa?
Posted in Africa, Africa Blog, Nigeria, Nigerian politics | 4 Comments »
May 28th, 2009
Posted by: Reuters Staff
Nigeria’s security forces have been carrying out their biggest co-ordinated operation for more than a decade – and possibly since the Biafran war – in the Niger Delta this month, using helicopters, aircraft and gunboats as well as three battalions of ground troops to try to flush militants and criminal gangs out of the creeks around Warri.
The military says it has destroyed camps belonging to Government Tompolo in Delta state which were seen as a key training ground for rebel fighters and a hub of oil bunkering – the theft of industrial quantities of crude oil worth millions of dollars a day – in the western delta.
Major-General Sarkin-Yaki Bello, who commanded the operation, has said he ordered a pinpoint helicopter attack on Tompolo’s home in the village of Oporoza on May 15. Local residents said a traditional festival was being held at the time and that hundreds fled into neighbouring communities. They say innocent civilians were killed.
Some Ijaw community leaders have accused the military of a targeted ethnic campaign as soldiers entered remote communities in the delta’s mangrove creeks to try to hunt down suspected gang members believed to have gone into hiding.
But many Nigerians say the military operation was long overdue. Residents in parts of the Niger Delta say their lives have been blighted by the rising criminality of armed gangs masquerading as political militants in recent years, and see the gunmen are plain criminals who are no longer fighting for their cause.
The lower house of parliament has urged the military to extend its campaign to destroy militant camps in other parts of the Niger Delta.
Tompolo, who has amassed a personal fortune from bunkering, appears to have been abandoned by other militant factions in neighbouring Rivers and Bayelsa states, with the main retaliatory attacks on the oil industry so far confined to the area around Warri in Delta state and apparently carried out by his own gunmen.
Was the military right to strike Tompolo’s camps? Does the apparent destruction of “Camp 5” make the western delta a safer place for the oil industry and local residents, or will it radicalise angry youths and win them over to the militants’ cause?
Should the military extend its offensive to known militant camps in Bayelsa and Rivers states, or would that stir the hornets’ nest and trigger an upsurge in violence and sabotage of industry installations across the Niger Delta?
Posted in Africa, Africa Blog, Niger Delta, Nigeria | 8 Comments »
May 27th, 2009
Posted by: Tume Ahemba
Can Nigeria, the so-called “giant of Africa”, live up to its claim of being the biggest democracy in the black world? Not if its latest state governorship election is anything to go by, argue some in Africa’s most populous nation.
The re-run of elections for the post of governor in southwest Ekiti state were seen as a test of whether Nigeria’s electoral system has improved since flawed federal and state polls in 2007.
But for the opposition, it turned out to be as much of a charade as all the other re-runs in states where the 2007 results were nullified, all of them won by President Umaru Yar’Adua’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and all mired in controversy.
The official results showed the PDP candidate in Ekiti winning by a narrow 4,000-vote margin. The Action Congress opposition party has vowed to challenge the results in court. The re-run had to be postponed in two of more than 60 wards because of violence as frustrated voters protested against the alleged falsification of results.
The resident electoral commissioner Ayoka Adebayo at one point quit and went into hiding. “(This election) was supposed to be the election that will enhance the image of INEC (election commission), electoral process in our dear country Nigeria and the whole black race,” she wrote in a resignation letter published by Nigerian newspapers.
“Unfortunately, the circumstances changed in the middle of the process; therefore my conscience as a Christian cannot allow me to further participate,” she said, a few days before being persuaded to return to her post.
Residents spoke of voter intimidation, while election monitors and journalists complained they were manhandled by party thugs. Soldiers were deployed to assist 10,000 additional police officers already meant to be ensuring security.
The southwest is Nigeria’s most politically volatile region. Electoral violence in the area in the 1960s and in 1983 contributed to the collapse of the first and second republics. Analysts say the Ekiti re-run is a sign of what could happen in 2011 when Nigeria holds its next round of general elections.
Yar’Adua, who came to power two years ago pledging to reform the electoral system, has sent six bills designed to improve the process to the national assembly. But it will take months to pass them into law. Critics say reforms are not enough – attitudinal change is also needed in a system which sees elections as a “do-or-die affair”, to quote former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Time is fast running out if Nigeria is to avoid a repeat of the chaotic experience of two years ago. If South Africa and neighbouring Ghana can successfully hold national polls, why can’t Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer and second biggest economy? Or is it, as some local commentators put it, “a giant with clay feet”?
Picture: A Nigerian polling station during 2007 election. Finbarr O’Reilly / Reuters.
Posted in Nigeria | 4 Comments »
November 28th, 2008
Posted by: Nick Tattersall
Much of the news that comes out of the Niger Delta, the vast network of creeks home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, is generated either by militant leaders claiming spectacular attacks on oil industry installations or by the military, keen to publicise its victories flushing out crude oil thieves from camps nestled deep in the mangroves.
Rarely heard are the voices of the “boys” who have taken up arms and make up the rank and file of the militant gangs. Oil theft on an industrial scale or kidnappings for ransom make some of their bosses rich. Peace negotiations see others rewarded with the veneer of political legitimacy and a comfortable new government-funded lifestyle. But the grunts tend to share little of the spoils.
So an initiative to take them out of the militant camps and send them abroad to be immersed in the teachings of non-violent activists from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela raised – after the initial scepticism – a strong dose of curiosity. After the attempt to “reorientate their psyches”, the candidates would be schooled in skills meant to make them employable once they returned back home.
Would they be convinced that they could renounce violence and still fight for their rights? Did they really believe that theirs was a political struggle or were they simply interested in emulating some of their leaders and growing rich from stolen crude, ransom money and government pay-offs?
There are precedents in West Africa. Former child soldiers in Liberia and Sierra Leone who spent their formative years living by the gun have been reschooled and retrained, some integrated into the national army, others starting lives with newly-learned skills as carpenters or welders.
Negotiators trying to build peace in divided countries such as Ivory Coast or Democratic Republic of Congo have brought former rebels into the fold by making them stakeholders in the future of their countries, with varying degrees of success.
Could the same philosophy of constructive engagement work with the armed youths of the Niger Delta?
Some of the young men waiting in Lagos airport to begin the overseas part of their “reorientation training” reminded me of former child soldiers I had met in Liberia and Sierra Leone, or young Tuareg rebels in northern Mali and Niger. They had similar aspirations as young adults anywhere — to earn a decent living, be able to look after themselves and win respect from their peers.
“Anybody in violence wants out of violence, it’s just a question of finding a way,” one of them, Patrick, commented.
So could the programme work? If, with new skills, these former militants can return home and earn a living, could they persuade others in the community to lay down their weapons? Or is it an expensive waste of money, rewarding former criminals with the sort of opportunities that many in Nigeria can only dream of?