Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Third Term run confirmed for Obasanjo

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[UPDATE: Obasanjo's bid for a third-term as president has failed -- updated here -- visitors from Preludium are directed to the top of the blog for more info on Nigeria]

I guess after his meeting with President Bush (Sen Barack Obama, D-Ill., suggested that Bush cancel his meeting when it was learned that Charles Taylor had disappeared, and Scott McClellan sure did seem nervous), the ultimately successful turnover of Taylor to the UN War Crimes Tribunal in Sierra Leone, and a meeting with at least some of the Niger Delta rebels scheduled for earlier today, I suppose Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo thinks he can do no wrong.

After months of speculation, Obasanjo, now in his constitutionally term-limited second four-year term in office, has finally revealed that he is indeed seeking a third term.

US ├╝ber-intelligence chief, John Negroponte, commented on the possibility of a third term over a month ago, saying that the ensuing "chaos could lead to disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows, and instability elsewhere in West Africa."

It is these same secessionist moves that have led to disruptions in oil supply from the Niger Delta, with total output dropping by as much as 26% in some reports -- this from a region of the world that the US expects 25% of its oil imports by 2015 ( now 12%). A US Navy group is currently stationed off the Gulf of Guinea.

A third term bid also has a religious dimension. Obasanjo, a Christian who cited "divine intervention" for the recapture of Taylor while visiting Bush in the White House last week, would take a third term only after a change to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (Sections 135 and 137), which limits a president's tenure to two four-year terms. A third term would require either a change in the constitution, or that Mr. Obasanjo and his majority support (53.7%) in the Federal Assembly simply ignore it.

Obasanjo's original popularity in the 1999 election was related to his high rank in the Army (General) and thus his close relationship to the northern Muslim dominated Nigerian military, and to the fact that he is a southern Christian. The Presidency prior to Obasanjo was dominated by Muslim strongmen. Maintaing this coalition (which some argue he did not do but fraudulently in 2003) in a 2007 re-election would at the very least require shoring up support among northern Muslims, or at least it would require buttressing his support among the governors of the northern states, who are in control of their states' elections.

How can this be done? Outright corruption is one solution, sure, but a far more effective tool is public relations.

Much has been said about Shar'iya and the simmering political conflicts between Christian and Muslim Nigerians, which have all too often erupted into violence. Conservative American Anglicans have cited this struggle as the primary justification for Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola's endorsement of the Nigerian legislation (pdf) currently being pushed through the Federal Assembly that would ban gay marriage (meaninglessly in a country where "sodomy" is already illegal), as well as speech, assembly, press, and freedom of religious expression for all gay men and women living in Nigeria today. The legislation is probably quite popular among those in Nigeria who know it exists. We know that it has broad support in the religious community.

The Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, of Fairfax, Virginia, and a "close personal friend" of Archbishop Akinola, provided a justification of Akinola's endorsement of the legislation for him, when he said:
While I "reject homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" and sinful, I do believe that we are "to minister pastorally and sensitively to all persons irrespective of their sexual orientation". Having said this I am very much aware that even in the Commonwealth of Virginia there are still laws that deal with various "Crimes against Nature" and in particular homosexual practice and adultery. The continued existence of these laws is a reflection of our own society’s struggle to find a way to support and protect heterosexual marriage while at the same time acknowledging the human rights of all persons.

The situation in Nigeria is even more complex. There is a precarious balancing act between those regions that are under Muslim influence – where Sharia law calls for the stoning of homosexuals – and those that have a majority Christian population. The situation is volatile as demonstrated by the repercussions from the Danish cartoon saga that have already led to hundreds of Christian and Muslim deaths. Keeping the lid on this situation is a formidable task. In recent months homosexual activism sponsored in part by organizations from the UK and South Africa has threatened to add further instability. In response the President of Nigeria has proposed legislation that would restrict such activities. [BTW, I love the logical leap here from Christian-Muslim violence to homosexual activism.]

In other words, if Akinola and Obasanjo can prevent Anglican groups from advocating on behalf of Nigerian homosexuals within Nigeria's borders, then northern Muslim state governors will have political cover when they support Obasanjo for a third term early next year, and Obasanjo will sail through on another thoroughly corrupt election. How would this benefit Archbishop Akinola?

The Archbishop's only public statement on the Third Term that I can find is interesting. Under a tagline of "Obasanjo's Alleged Third Term Bid is an Illusion, says Akinola", the Archbishop had this to say in an interview with Nigeria's Sunday Guardian on Jan 29, 2006, posted on the Church of Nigeria's web page):
For me, [a third term bid is] an illusion. People are talking about third term but has the President ever said he was going for third term? He has even denied it several times both at home and abroad.

The Constitution does not allow it. And he is not just a Nigerian leader but a world leader. So, you think he will want to tarnish his own image? He is a force to be reckoned with in the affairs of the world today. Those who are talking about it are gaining from it. There are many Nigerians who specialize in fomenting trouble. And they feed fat in chaos. To me it's a non-issue. He has denied it several times. If the man comes out and asks Nigerians to give him another chance, that is when I can comment. For now, I have no comment about third term. Other than to warn those orchestrating it to be careful. [emphasis mine]
Well, I for one am very curious to see what Akinola has to say about today's news from the BBC (linked to above):
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo will consider standing for a third term, his spokesman has confirmed.

Femi Fani Kayode was responding to a US newspaper report in which Mr Obasanjo said God would decide whether to extend his time as president after 2007.

Mr Kayode told the BBC this decision would not be decided by God alone and that there were other considerations, like amending the constitution.

The current constitution only allows presidents to stand for two terms.

Mr Obasanjo has not previously said in public that he wishes to stand for a third term.

The issue has divided [see here] the ruling People's Democratic Party and Nigerian public opinion.
The New York Times editorial page (LexisNexis -- I hate the NYT firewall) warned against this move before Obasanjo's visit to the US last Wednesday (Obasanjo's spokeswoman, Remi Oyo, denied a third-term agenda for the US visit):
Unfortunately, while Mr. Obasanjo deserves credit for good deeds outside of Nigeria, his own country is deteriorating fast and he is partly to blame. For one thing, by trying to change Nigeria's Constitution to allow himself to run for a third four-year term as president, Mr. Obasanjo is further enflaming political tensions among Nigeria's polarized ethnic groups, particularly the Muslims in the north and Christians in the south.

Nigeria lost more than 100 people in tit-for-tat sectarian rioting over Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In the north, Muslims attacked and killed Christians. In the south, Christian mobs wielding machetes and knives set upon their Muslim neighbors in retaliation. And in the Niger River delta, militants seeking more local control over oil money have attacked pipelines and even captured oil workers.

...

In his two terms, Mr. Obasanjo has helped bring stability to a volatile region. But two terms is enough, and it is incumbent on President Bush to tell Mr. Obasanjo that changing his country's Constitution so that he can remain in office is foolhardy. Another four years is not worth a Nigerian civil war.
Is Akinola's endorsement of the Nigerian "gay-marriage ban" an effort to support President Obasanjo in a Third Term bid? There's no direct evidence to that effect. But Martyn Minns, who is a self-professed "close personal friend" of Archbishop Akinola, struck all the same notes as would be expected in Nigeria from Christians engaged in a religious battle with Nigerian Muslims. Obasanjo would clearly benefit from the passage of this legislation. And Akinola's position would be supported in Nigeria by a Christian president. One alternative, Muslim Vice President Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, might not be so supportive.

Or perhaps the reason for Akinola's endorsement is even more local than that. Perhaps, as Davis Mac-Iyalla, the director of Changing Attitude Nigeria has claimed, "Canon Popoola and Archbishop Akinola initiated the idea of the bill and persuaded the government to take it forward." The bill, as many have said, would prevent Changing Attitude Nigeria from operating in the country, protecting Nigerians, as Martyn Minns put it, from "homosexual activism sponsored in part by organizations from the UK and South Africa," and thus, by some logical principle as yet unknown to me, from the threat of Islamic extremism.

(photo credit BBC AP)

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