Thursday, April 20, 2006

3rd term fun from the AP

The AP has a good review today (read the whole thing) of the status of the 3rd term debate in Nigeria (via the New York Times). Here's the meat:
The United States is strongly opposed to a third term, while Britain has indicated support for the idea. Both are close to Africa's most prolific oil producer, the world's eighth-largest producer of crude and fifth-largest supplier to the United States.
The split in opinion between the US and the UK is interesting, and probably won't last for long. John Negroponte voiced concern over a 3rd term agenda some time ago, and according to the AP report the State Department said this week that "executive term limits should be respected in the interests of institutionalizing democracy and opening political space ... (through) a regular turnover of power." [I can't find the source for this quote.] But there are clearly mixed statements coming from Washington, prompting this analysis from Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper:

United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, was recently quoted in a Nigerian daily as saying that President Olusegun Obasanjo had said nothing about seeking a third-term, and as such, this was not an issue. Falip-flop. Just a few weeks before Campbell’s earlier statement, angry voices were coming from Washington, denouncing Obasanjo’s third-term agenda. True, initial statements came from a former Under-Secretary at the State Department, but you don’t get to make such noises in Washington unless you have been cleared to do so.

On the other hand, the Brits, who are more savvy at these things, had Jack Straw saying that they do not get involved in issues like constitutional debates which were purely internal affairs, especially when it came to their relationship with friendly countries.

But the message from Parliament seemed to contradict the Vanguard's impression of Washington's equivocality. Lord Waverley, speaking on Tuesday in the House of Lords made a long statement on Nigeria. It's worth quoting this excerpt [emphasis mine]:
The intricacies of Nigeria's internal affairs require a more resolute appreciation by external decision-makers. Stability is paramount and the promotion of accountability is essential, but respecting parliamentary due process is in the best interests of Nigeria, the region and beyond. International pronouncements about constitutional change unleashing turmoil and conflict are somewhat premature. While international friends have a duty to ensure fair play, intervention would be neither useful nor welcome. It is exactly such interference, which derives from a dearth of nuanced cultural and political understanding, which encourages upheavals. The State Department and the White House in particular have recently signalled their acceptance of the proposed amendments, and it would be helpful if the Minister clarified the Government's position tonight. [what?] I can tell the House that senior representatives of the [Muslim] north and east, whom I called on two weeks ago, were far from critical of these amendments and now believe them to be in the best interests of Nigeria and the international community.
Are the US and UK for corrupting Nigeria's democratic institutions (remember, it is broadly believed that Obasanjo massively rigged the 2003 elections) or against it? The process of constitutional change in Nigeria occurs in the National Assembly, not in a referendum.

Lest you think this is a good-faith debate over the nature of constitutional democracy, it's important to remember that the headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell, the oil company with the longest standing in Nigeria, and the one to have initially developed Nigeria for oil export, is in London, across the Thames from Westminster.

No comments: