On Tour in Northern Nigeria, Col. Dasuki Emphasizes Dialogue with Boko Haram

In June, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, facing increasing domestic criticism over his government’s handling of the Northern rebel sect Boko Haram, appointed a new National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki, who is a member of the Northern aristocratic, political, and military elites, soon initiated a tour of Northern cities that have been affected by Boko Haram’s violence. The Jonathan administration has in the past talked about dialogue with Boko Haram, and Dasuki’s tour has repeatedly stressed the idea of dialogue, suggesting that the administration’s strategy is moving more firmly in that direction. Dasuki’s tour has also attempted to give Northern “stakeholders” a greater sense of inclusion in the administration’s efforts to deal with Boko Haram.

Among Dasuki’s first stops were Maidiguri (Borno State), Potiskum, and Damataru (Yobe State). Maiduguri, site of one of Boko Haram’s largest uprisings in 2009, has remained the epicenter of the violence, and Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked the latter two cities. In Maiduguri, Dasuki spoke of a potential ceasefire between the government and Boko Haram.

Other stops have included Jos (Plateau State), Katsina State, and Kano (Kano State). In Jos, Dasuki announced his intention to meet with Boko Haram:

Dasuki, who spoke in Jos during a meeting with stakeholders in Plateau, said he was planning to meet with the group on the need for it to cease fire and embrace dialogue as soon as possible.

“I was in Yobe and Borno States last week and I have got the telephone numbers and contacts of key Boko Haram members and I will meet with them. I saw the dangerous effect of Boko Haram in these states and what I saw was pathetic. But I have the mandate to put heads together with religious and traditional leaders as well as the state governments to ensure an immediate ceasefire,” Dasuki said.

If Dasuki has obtained the telephone numbers of Boko Haram leaders, then his tour has already borne some fruit.

In Kaduna, Dasuki added another element to the call for dialogue. “He urged the stakeholders to reach out to all known contacts of leaders of Boko Haram and make them embrace the latest dialogue initiative by the Federal Government.” The dialogue strategy, then, combines Abuja’s own efforts at outreach with more localized efforts.

As Dasuki pursues dialogue, he is also working to reassure Northern leaders and strengthen the Federal Government’s relations with them. In Katsina, he emphasized the idea of “listening” to the local leaders (indeed, almost every article on Dasuki’s stops includes quotes from governors and other local politicians):

When he paid a courtesy visit to Katsina State governor Ibrahim Shema, [Dasuki] said “what is happening in the north is not something anyone will be proud of”.

“We are in Katsina to listen to the state’s concerns to and offer full support to the government in ensuring that peace is sustained,” he said. “While we are addressing areas with problems, we don’t want new ones to come up.”

Dasuki said that his visit was part of measures to offer support and cooperation to the state.

In Kano,

He assured Kano state governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso that his office was ever ready to partner with the state government to surmount rising security challenges in Kano.
Dasuki said the government of President Goodluck Jonathan was ready to give full assistance to the people and government of Kano state in their bid to ensure adequate security of lives and property.
“Considering the importance of Kano, a major economic hub, the last place anybody would want any disruption is Kano.”

As reported in the press (and it is noteworthy that in Kano Dasuki complained about the press’ coverage of national security issues and stated that journalists sometimes distort his words), the tone of some governors’ statements has been slightly different than the tone Dasuki takes; for example, Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State asked the federal government to deploy more troops to his state, and expressed caution about dialogue at the same time that he said authorities in his state are pursuing it. But despite what seems to be the occasional difference of opinion, the Northern governors appear to have received Dasuki quite enthusiastically and to be happy with his appointment. His physical presence on the scene appears to have meant something to state and local authorities. Dasuki’s background and personal connections, of course, may play a role in making some of the Northern politicians comfortable with him.

I have not seen a schedule of the tour, so I cannot tell whether Dasuki will return to Abuja, take the tour further west, or make these visits an ongoing part of his work. But now that he has made these visits, his challenge will be to make the promised dialogue happen and to preserve the goodwill he seems to have established so far.

Family Planning Legislation in Nigeria?

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan made headlines – and caused controversy – this week by saying that his country may need “birth control legislation,” potentially along the lines of China’s one child policy. Nigeria’s population currently stands at an estimated 160-170 million people, and is projected to grow so rapidly that Nigeria may have over 400 million people by 2050. Jonathan has recommended that the newly formed National Population Commission pursue a campaign of “advocacy” and “sensitization” to promote birth control and the idea of child spacing.

This is not the first time someone influential has proposed such a policy for Nigeria. Last year, American economist Jeffrey Sachs suggested that “Nigeria should work towards attaining a maximum of three children per family,” an idea that also drew criticism and debate.

Nigeria’s massive population has sometimes been the subject of gloomy, even apocalyptic commentary, as in the New York Times article “In Nigeria, a Preview of an Overcrowded Planet.” That article pointed out that “for two decades, the Nigerian government has recommended that families limit themselves to four children, with little effect.”

Critics said that the NYT article’s attention to families’ choices about children distracted readers from other ways of looking at the country’s problems, especially in terms of the failure of the state to provide services to its people. Obadias Ndaba wrote to the NYT,

Economic prosperity isn’t driven by population size but rather by how a country invests in its human capital and manages its resources. Nigeria has deeper issues, such as corruption and poor governance, to deal with. Fear-mongering based on erroneous Malthusian population theory must stop.

If one embraces this argument, Jonathan’s talk of family planning could also be seen as a distraction technique, a way of displacing blame for Nigeria’s problems from the government to the people. One of the Christian leaders quoted in VOA’s article on the topic makes essentially that argument: “The population of Nigeria cannot stop the progress of Nigeria…If our leaders can stand on their obligations and apply the wisdom of God and the fear of God, we can make it and succeed also in Nigeria.”

Politically, Jonathan’s suggestion may play poorly in many areas of the country, including much of Northern Nigeria, where his popularity already runs low.

Does that mean family planning efforts are doomed in Nigeria? Not necessarily. Muslims in Northern Nigeria are often depicted as exceptionally conservative when it comes to dealing with issues related to sex and health, but at the grassroots level, VOA and USAID have reported some successes with family planning programs in the region. In 2009, VOA reported:

In Zakarai village, about 50 kilometers from the main city of Kano, a community-based outreach project is helping low-income families get the education and contraceptives they need to act responsibly.

Community volunteers, with technical support from the Community Participation for Action in the Social Sector, COMPASS, a USAID-sponsored project, are helping women avoid unwanted and often high-risk pregnancies.
[...]

COMPASS is a five-year integrated community-driven project with nine implementing partners, including the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association and the Nigerian Medical Association.

The project, which started in 2004, seeks to improve the health and education status of 23 million Nigerians in three northern and two southern states.

COMPASS field officer in Kano, Mohammed Gama, says putting the community in the driving seat was the catalyst for the program’s success in one of the most conservative communities in Nigeria.

For more, see this USAID report on COMPASS activities in Nasarawa State.

It would be deceptively simple to say that the solution to the issue of family planning in Nigeria is to go “bottom up” instead of “top down,” and US government sources have a clear interest in describing US-backed programs as successes. But at the very least, I think Jonathan’s top-down style proposal will have difficulty getting much traction, and will be an easy target for his various opponents. The larger issue also remains: is family planning even the right place to start in addressing problems like poverty, food insecurity, and crime? What do you think?

Nigeria: Changeover in Top Security Personnel

In words that have come back to haunt him, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan stated in March that the problem of Boko Haram, the rebel sect that regularly conducts attacks throughout much of Northern Nigeria, would be over by June. June is here, and now Jonathan is under more pressure than ever to deal with Boko Haram. Recent attacks on churches have incensed Christian groups, Muslim-Christian violence gripped Kaduna for several days last week, and just yesterday Boko Haram staged another of its signature prison breaks.*

On Friday, Jonathan replaced his National Security Adviser, General Andrew Owoye Azazi, with Colonel Sambo Dasuki, and fired Defense Minister Bello Haliru (also called Bello Muhammad in some reports). Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Jonathan offered a need for “new persons” and “new tactics” as the reason for the shuffle. In words that seemed to reference the cyclical reprisal killings in Kaduna, Jonathan also said that Boko Haram attacks churches to “instigate religious crisis” and destabilize the government. He also “pledged that Nigeria would halt the violence. He said the government was open to dialogue if Boko Haram figures identified themselves and made clear demands.” AFP (linked report above) comments that Sunday’s remarks “featured some of his clearest statements yet on the Boko Haram insurgency.”

Many people have wondered whether Boko Haram will undermine Jonathan politically to the point that his presidency enters a serious crisis (some Nigerians, of course, would already say that it has, for reasons not limited to insecurity). The answer depends on how one defines “crisis.” I do not expect Jonathan to resign or be impeached, but he is certainly feeling the heat. Additionally, even though Boko Haram’s range remains limited to the North (it has not, for example, attacked Lagos or Port Harcourt), in terms of attention from the press, civil society, and ordinary people, the issue is becoming even more “national” than it already has been.

This kind of shuffle with security personnel is not new – Police Inspector General Hafiz Ringim and six of his deputies got early retirement shortly after the mass bombings in Kano in January. But Friday’s firings were even more dramatic. The motivation seems primarily political to me. My reading is that Jonathan wants to buy the government enough time, politically, to find a solution; the President also seems to feel that the solution, when it comes, will likely involve dialogue. These personnel changes, however, will probably not blunt the criticism for long if the violence continues. What options will Jonathan have then, except to muddle through?

It is noteworthy but probably not decisive that the new National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki (profile here) is from the royal family of Sokoto, and has complex ties to former heads of state Gens. Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo. I say “noteworthy” because pondering what political considerations led to his appointment may tell us something about Jonathan’s relationships with different parts of the Northern elite. I say “not decisive” because I doubt Dasuki’s aristocratic pedigree will matter much to Boko Haram, or give militants serious pause as they plot further attacks. What will matter most is whether there will indeed be fresh thinking on both the security and the political fronts.

*One wild detail in the report on the prison break in Yobe State is the line that Boko Haram attacked the prison “through the Emir’s palace.” Presumably the Emir was unhurt; if so, this incident will add to the complex history of Boko Haram’s decisions to sometimes assassinate royals and sometimes spare their lives.

Africa News Roundup: Shari’a in Mali, Pastoralists in Ethiopia, IDPs in Kenya, and More

Protests continue in Sudan.

VOA argues, “In Northern Mali, Many Resent Islamist Restrictions.” AFP, meanwhile, reports, “Mali’s embattled interim prime minister said Friday negotiations with the armed groups controlling the northern half of his country were his first choice to solve the crisis.” IRIN ponders the prospects for an armed intervention, while the BBC steps back to survey Mali’s problems.

Human Rights Watch:

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report contains previously unpublished government maps that show the extensive developments planned for the Omo valley, including irrigation canals, sugar processing factories, and 100,000 hectares of other commercial agriculture.

The 73-page report, “‘What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?’: Abuses against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley,”documents how government security forces are forcing communities to relocate from their traditional lands through violence and intimidation, threatening their entire way of life with no compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods. Government officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who questioned or resisted the development plans.

IRIN:

Election-related violence and the displacement of people are regular occurrences in Kenya, and thousands of families are affected by it every five years. But a bill tabled in parliament on 13 June seeks to compel the government to protect internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Yesterday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan replaced National Security Adviser Owoye Azazi and Minister of Defense Bello Mohammed.

In Senegal, where the administration of President Macky Sall is investigating alleged corruption under the previous administration, ex-interior minister Ousmane Ngom was briefly detained this week.

I have to admit, the Failed States Index makes only partial sense to me. Chad ranks higher than Afghanistan? Cote d’Ivoire and Kenya rank higher than Libya? What do you make of it?

Last but not least, Randall Wood and Carmine DeLuca’s The Dictator’s Handbook is quite thorough. Worth a visit.

Nigeria: A Statement by General Buhari on Boko Haram, and Its Aftermath

Speaking to supporters on May 14 in Kaduna, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) made several incendiary statements, calling the Federal Government (FG) of Nigeria “the biggest Boko Haram” and saying that presidential elections of 2015 must be free and fair, warning (as the press has translated it), “If what happened in 2011 should again happen in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.” These statements have caused considerable uproar in the Nigerian press and major controversy among the political class. (Some say that Buhari, who spoke in Hausa, was misquoted and misinterpreted; see here for an interesting discussion of the Hausa proverb “kare jini biri jini.”)

Buhari, who was military head of state in Nigeria from 1983 to 1985, was runner-up in the last three Nigerian presidential elections. Buhari challenged the results in each case; since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has won all four presidential elections the country has held. Boko Haram, of course, is the violent movement based in Northeastern Nigeria that has carried out numerous attacks over the past two years on government and Christian targets, mostly in the Northeast but also in Kano, Kaduna, Abuja, and elsewhere.

The significance of Buhari’s statements is, for me, two-fold.

2015

First, Buhari’s remarks show that politicians are already looking to the next presidential elections in 2015. On one level, Buhari’s rhetoric is aggressive campaign rhetoric. In his remarks, he stated that he does believe there is a real movement called Boko Haram, as well as associated patterns of criminality. He implied that the FG is incapable of dealing with the insecurity, partly because in his view Federal leaders do not listen to Northerners. The idea that President Goodluck Jonathan is incompetent on security issues is an extension of Buhari’s campaign rhetoric from 2011.

Calling the FG itself “the biggest Boko Haram,” meanwhile, is a provocative political move, one that aims to redirect attention from the violence in the North to the violence and theft allegedly perpetrated by the FG. This accusation plays directly into Buhari’s image, among his primarily Northern supporters (see a map of the 2011 election results here),  as a tough leader who would end legal and financial abuses within the FG.

Buhari said after 2011 that he wouldn’t run again, but now it seems he may be changing his mind; some observers expect Jonathan not to run, but he may do so as well. If the 2015 election is a rematch between Jonathan and Buhari, then it looks like Buhari may already be firing the opening shots.

The administration has already fired back. Playing into Buhari’s image among many of his opponents as a partisan of Northern Muslims, an administration spokesman decried the General’s comments:

We find it very sad that an elder statesman who once presided over the entirety of Nigeria can reduce himself to a regional leader who speaks for only a part of Nigeria. We now understand what his protégé and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Nasir El’Rufai, meant when he wrote in a public letter in October of 2010, telling Nigerians that Buhari remains “perpetually unelectable” and that Buhari’s  ”insensitivity to Nigeria’s diversity and his parochial focus are already well-known.”

The president and Buhari are not the only politicians participating in the debate, of course. Some Northern heavyweights have defended Buhari, either by supporting him, by saying that he was misquoted, or by using the remarks to call for electoral reform. Other Northern groups, though, have condemned the remarks.

What do we make of Buhari’s invocation of violence? 2011 has the image, internationally, of having been Nigeria’s “cleanest” election since 1999, but according to Human Rights Watch it was also “among the bloodiest”: over 800 dead, and some 65,000 displaced. Much of the violence occurred in Northern states, when protests by Buhari’s supporters “degenerated into violent riots or sectarian killings.” In this context, Buhari’s suggestion that 2015 could be violent has ominous overtones.

Inter-Communal Tensions

Second, Buhari’s statements have significance in that they contribute to ongoing interreligious, inter-regional, and inter-ethnic tensions in Nigeria. Boko Haram’s uprising, and particularly the sect’s violence against Christians, has intersected with long-standing inter-communal tensions in different parts of the country such as Jos and Kaduna. As Boko Haram’s violence continues, some Christian leaders have taken tough rhetorical stances, warning of Christian “self-defense” in ways that imply the possibility of Christian reprisals against Muslims. Buhari’s statement has produced concern in places like Jos, while the Niger Delta Youth Leaders Forum has raised the issue of reprisal violence, implying that if Buhari’s words incite Northern youth to attack Southerners in the North, they will respond in kind. Several Nigerian press articles say that Buhari’s statements are “overheating” Nigeria, a powerful image. Buhari has raised the temperature further by daring Jonathan to arrest him.

As a coda, I should say that Buhari does not speak for all Northern leaders. His statements on Boko Haram exist as part of a continuum of Northern leaders’ responses to the problem, which have ranged from proposing dialogue to condemning the FG’s approach to, if some allegations are to be believed, actively supporting the movement. Looking more closely at this continuum would be worth a separate post; I will tackle that in June if the news cycle allows.

Nigeria: PDP Wins Bayelsa, Rumblings of Renewed Militancy Continue

Few were surprised to see that Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, won Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Bayelsa State. The PDP controls not only the presidency but also a super-majority of the nation’s governors’ seats, and it has dominated Bayelsa politics since Nigeria’s Fourth Republic began in 1999. The victor in Bayelsa, Henry Seriake Dickson, had the strong support of President Goodluck Jonathan.

As I wrote last week, Bayelsa, which lies in the Niger Delta, has faced not only political tension but also renewed violence, some of which is electoral, some of which targets the oil industry, and all of which is in some sense or another political. The election is now over,  but that does not settle questions about where the politics of the region are headed.

For one thing, there are signs of discontent with the electoral process. Turnout was low. Minor clashes have occurred between rival partisans. And the deposed former governor of Bayelsa State, Timipre Sylva, is still awaiting a court date in April to determine whether or not he was unfairly prevented from running in this election. Somehow I doubt that Sylva will win the legal victory he seeks – but the wait for the hearing means that in some ways the election is not completely over, a feeling that could cast something over a shadow over the first two months of Dickson’s tenure.

More important still are the rumblings concerning the possibility of renewed militancy in the Delta. Fears focus in particular on the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks disrupted oil production in the region before some militants agreed to an amnesty deal with the Federal Government in 2009. MEND has claimed a recent pipeline attack as a well as the bombing of the home of the Minister of Niger-Delta, Elder Peter Godsday Orubebe.

According to MEND’s recent statements, the fresh attacks have come about for a number of reasons, including the alleged incompetence of President Jonathan, the alleged corruption of the government, and what MEND sees as the misguided use of amnesty funds. One of MEND’s communications reads in part, “Rather than address serious issues facing the nation and its citizens, Goodluck Jonathan squanders public funds on tribalistic sycophants and thugs calling themselves ex-militants.”

The discontent surrounding the question of who has benefited from the amnesty and who has not is critical. One analysis of the potential for renewed violence in the Delta elaborates:

The Presidency and security agents may have underrated the capacity of a group of ex-militants who claim that they were not included in the ‘largesse’, coming from the amnesty programme.

Their colleagues, enlisted in the programme, collect moneys from the federal government; each gets at least N65, 000 monthly (these are juniors); many others get far more than N65,000 monthly, depending on their closeness to ex-militant leaders and politicians across the Niger Delta region.

Some have received training abroad; some have been sent to schools abroad. Ex-militant leaders are those who commanded ‘troops’ and called themselves ‘Generals’ during the militancy era.

Many of them are millionaires now. They have access to the Presidency, top government officials and high profile establishments. The presidency pacifies the ex-militant leaders to sustain stability in the Niger Delta since the leaders are thought to have control over their foot soldiers.

Indeed, many of the ex-militant leaders like Asari Dokubo (from Rivers State) Ateke Tom (from Rivers) and Tom Polo (from Delta) as well as some others have significant influence over their ex-militant members. To welcome Ateke Tom who had stayed long in Abuja, his boys staged a big party recently in Rivers State.

The ex-militant leaders are however the envy of many youths now threatening fresh militancy. Some of them feel unsafe, that some of their boys could harm them. This is mainly because the leaders have become so rich, leaving behind some of their members in anguish.

The boys insist that they fought the wars while the leaders argue that they took higher risks of providing arms and being the main persons hunted by security men prior to the amnesty regime. Some of the youths (called boys by the ‘generals’), simply cannot feed now, others want to go to school, some want to be rich, some want to drive posh cars and fly on business class seats in airlines as most ex-militants do on domestic and international trips.

The whole piece is worth reading. If the diagnosis this and other analyses make is correct – namely, that there exists a class of former footsoldiers who received little or not benefit from the amnesty, and are angry enough over their exclusion to contemplate picking up weapons again – the violence seen in the lead-up to the gubernatorial election in Bayelsa could be just the beginning of another round of problems for the Delta.

Nigeria: Elections and Violence in the Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is back in the news, both for the (alleged?) return of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND – read a backgrounder here) and for the upcoming gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa State, which was the site of a bitter primary election in November. Different sources give different views on how closely the recent oil violence is connected to Bayelsa’s electoral calendar. But clearly the Niger Delta is facing renewed political tension and renewed violence at the same time.

Nigeria last held national elections, including gubernatorial contests, in April 2011, but since then various governors have faced court challenges to their legitimacy. Some have won and remained in office, but others have not. On January 27, the Supreme Court removed five governors from office (for the back story, see here). The situation in one of these states, Kogi, is complicated by the fact that the state held a new election even before the ruling. But the other four states are holding gubernatorial elections this month. Adamawa State, in the Northeast, went already on February 4, and delivered a win for Nigeria’s ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Sokoto State, in the Northwest, will go to the polls on February 18. But before that, two Niger Delta states – Bayelsa and Cross River – will hold elections on February 11. For an overview of the political situation in each state, see here.

Bayelsa State has attracted considerable attention because of the bitterness of the primary there and because it is the home state of President Goodluck Jonathan. Bayelsa has been under the control of the PDP since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999, but that does not mean the state’s politics are dull. In 1999, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha became governor, with Jonathan as his deputy. Alamieyeseigha was re-elected in 2003, but in 2005 he was arrested in London on charges of money laundering and was impeached. Jonathan became governor, only to be selected as vice-president in 2007 – and the rest of Jonathan’s story is well known. Back in Bayelsa, Timipre Sylva was elected governor in 2007, but faced a challenge in 2008 and had to contest a re-run election, which he won.

At some point before the PDP state primaries in January 2011, Jonathan and Sylva had become foes. Sylva won this first primary, despite reported attempts by Jonathan to find a candidate who could defeat him. Sylva’s victory proved short-lived. The governor was barred from participating in a second PDP primary, held in November, and the party instead nominated Henry Seriake Dickson, “a member of the House of Representatives and close associate of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan,” as its candidate. Sylva has launched a legal case over his exclusion from both the second primary and this weekend’s election, but he remains barred from running in the latter, and the case looks like it will be tied up in court through April. Opposition parties like the Action Congress of Nigeria hope to capitalize on the PDP’s infighting, but the PDP is determined not to lose. Jonathan came home to campaign and, it seems, to make sure Sylva takes the blame for the state’s current woes.

This, then, is the political context in which recent violence in the Delta has taken place. The violence has targeted both politicians and oil production. Bayelsa is reputed to have a history of electoral violence, and a bombing on January 20 in Bayelsa’s capital Yenagoa brought the present campaign in line with that trend.

Then, just this past weekend, an oil pipeline was attacked in Bayelsa. MEND, which carried out regular attacks on oil production in the Delta before 2009, when many of its leaders agreed to an amnesty with the Federal Government of Nigeria, has claimed responsibility for the attack. If the claim is true, MEND’s return will worry both the government and foreign investors. Yet the Nigerian military is denying MEND’s claim, pinning responsibility instead on criminal gangs. Whoever the true culprits are, Nigeria’s Nation argues that the pipeline incident should not be seen in isolation, but rather as part of a pattern of violence and threats in the Delta that has been intensifying in recent weeks. These events, The Nation continues, suggest a “growing disenchantment with the amnesty package and rivalry among the ex-militants.” Reuters also sees this disenchantment at work, and adds, “Some analysts suspect that regional power struggles ahead of an acrimonious election for the governorship of Bayelsa on Feb. 11 may be the root cause of the attack.”

To sum up, there is a dangerous mix of electoral tension, behind-the-scenes political struggles, grassroots anger, and violence at work in the Delta right now. I do not know whether MEND will return in full force or what will happen in the elections on Saturday, but I do think the problems in the Delta are yet another major headache for the administration, a headache which may grow worse in the coming months. As Reuters says, “President Goodluck Jonathan can ill afford a flare-up of violence in his home state as he struggles to cope with almost daily attacks by radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in the north.”

Nigeria’s President Jonathan Tours Africa

Many observers of Nigeria, including me, feel that it punches below its potential weight as a superpower in African and world politics. But with Libya in crisis and continental politics shifting, it’s interesting to watch Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on one of his first state visits to other African countries, in this case Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Ghana.

Vanguard emphasizes the inclusion of businessmen and industrialists in Jonathan’s delegation. One goal of the trip is to increase commercial ties between Nigeria and other African countries.

Observers will be watching to see how Jonathan’s role as an African statesman compares to that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, under whom Nigeria played a major role in regional peacekeeping. Jonathan’s immediate predecessor, President Umaru Yar’Adua, was sick during much of his time in office, and Nigeria’s role in Africa diminished somewhat. Jonathan’s quiet style differs strongly from Obasanjo’s, so if Jonathan does re-assert a strong role for Nigeria in Africa, likely it will have a different character than the role Nigeria had in the last decade.

Nigeria and Post-Qadhafi Africa

On Monday I asked what the fall of Colonel Moammar Qadhafi might mean for the Sahel, a question that bears on what his fall means for Africa as a whole. This question took on new intensity yesterday as Nigeria recognized the rebel Transitional National Council (TNC) as the rulers of Libya. Nigeria, a major oil producer and the most populous country in Africa, could find its role changed, and expanded, in the post-Qadhafi Africa.

All is not yet said and done in Libya: with rumors and falsehoods circulating, and Qadhafi himself still free, it’s hard to tell what is currently going on in the country, to say nothing of what the ramifications of events may be. With that said, though, actors like Nigeria are not waiting for the dust to settle before they move.

Nigeria was not the first African country to recognize the TNC (that honor, I believe, belongs to Gambia). Other nations in West Africa have since recognized the TNC (like Senegal) or called for Qadhafi to quit (like Mauritania). But Nigeria’s decision could have a strong and controversial impact on the continent. The move has already attracted criticism from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, which says that Nigeria is “jumping the gun” by recognizing the rebels before the African Union (AU) makes its decision.

The ANC’s comments highlight the political complexity of the Libya issue in Africa: Nigeria and South Africa, which are both members of the United Nations Security Council, both voted in favor of imposing a No Fly Zone on Libya, but South Africa has subsequently objected to NATO’s military intervention in Libya. Perhaps the ANC’s criticism of Nigeria reflects how difficult South Africa’s balancing act has become, as South Africa strives to stay involved in negotiating political outcomes in Libya while at the same time seeking to stand as a champion of African opposition to outside interference. If Nigeria and South Africa are indeed the two “African superpowers,” South Africa may feel threatened by Nigeria taking the initiative in this fashion. South Africa may fear that other countries will soon follow Nigeria’s lead, which would make the AU a follower, and not a forger, of the African stance on Libya.

Why did Nigeria break with Libya? The reasons are not entirely clear, though the simplest explanation may be that Nigerian leaders believe Qadhafi has no chance, and that future harmony between the two countries will be enhanced if Nigeria recognizes the TNC now. In any case, Nigerian leaders may not be sad to see Qadhafi go. Nigeria has not felt the same level of Libyan “meddling” that countries like Chad have, but Qadhafi and his Nigerian counterparts have butted heads on a number of issues. Nigerian leaders strongly objected last year when Qadhafi advocated the breakup of Nigeria as a solution to interreligious conflict, and the row intensified to the point that Nigeria withdrew its ambassador from Tripoli for a time.

That is not to say that Nigeria has relished the current conflict. In March, Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia in fact decried the No Fly Zone, arguing that intervening in Libya while allowing crisis to continue in Cote d’Ivoire represented a horrible double standard. In June, Libya appealed to Nigeria to help stop the NATO bombings, and President Goodluck Jonathan promised to raise the issue at the summer’s AU summit. As with other African countries, the politics of the Libyan intervention have not been easy for Nigeria.

The fall of Qadhafi, however, may be to Nigeria’s advantage. Javier Blas argued as much in March, when he said that disruptions in Libyan oil production could increase Europeans’ reliance on and willingness to pay top dollar for Nigerian oil. Sabotage continues to damage Nigerian production, but with Libyan output likely to be short of full capacity for quite some time, Nigeria may yet reap the benefits. Politically, Nigeria may also find that in Qadhafi’s absence it becomes an even stronger player in African affairs – if, that is, Nigerian leaders want that. Through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS, of which Jonathan is currently chairman) and through its own political clout, Nigeria could take advantage of Qadhafi’s fall and the resulting power vacuum to push its goals of increased political stability in West Africa and beyond. Nigeria has internal problems, of course, including the rebellion by Boko Haram and lingering grievances in the Niger Delta. But Nigeria’s financial and political influence could loom larger in the post-Qadhafi Africa, where Libyan petrodollars and the Colonel’s machinations are no longer the force they once were.

Nigeria: President Jonathan Proposes One, Six-Year Term

BBC:

Nigeria’s leader Goodluck Jonathan has said he will ask MPs to amend the constitution so that future presidents serve a single, longer term in office.

The constitution currently limits presidents to two four-year terms.

There has been speculation in Nigerian newspapers that the proposed amendment would enable President Jonathan to extend his term in office.

But the president, who is at the start of a four-year term, said it would not come into effect before he steps down.

Most Nigerian newspapers are saying the longer term would be for six years.

Objections to the proposal have already come from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), which are two of the country’s largest opposition parties. I have heard some comparisons of this proposal and former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s bid for a third term (he served, in addition to a stint as military ruler in the late 1970s, as civilian president from 1999-2007); the latter proposal went down in defeat and even though the thrust of Jonathan’s proposal is different, the majority view from what I can tell is that it will fail as well. I am very interested to know what commenters are hearing, though.

What do you think? Do you agree with the proposal?