Friday, May 26, 2006

The Nigerian Presidency: South-South versus the North

The Nigerian presidential elections, now set for April of 2007, will in all likelihood not include the current President Olusegun Obasanjo among the candidates.

But what will the race look like? Who's against whom, and what are their concerns? It's hard for an Oyinbo like me to make sense of it all.

I do know a few things. Most Nigerians seem to think the presidency should in fact rotate among the many different ethnic groups that comprise the Nigerian populace. Obasanjo is a Yoruba from the southwest. Therefore it is unlikely that another Yoruba will succeed Obasanjo. Sanni Abacha, the ruthless dictator that preceded Obasanjo came from the muslim North. The North feels that it is their turn again. But so does the South-South (or part of Nigeria immediately surrounding the oil-rich Delta region). The South-South has been $#@t upon for decades and most would say they're due. The predominantly ethnic Igbo of the Nigerian South-East is unlikely to gain the presidency, if only because of long-standing grievances among Northerners over the Biafran civil war (1960s) fought over whether the South-West should secede from Nigeria. Incidentally, it was a young, and soon to be very popular, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo who accepted the surrender of the Biafrans in 1969(?).

Nigerians -- not unexpectedly -- do a much better job of describing the political landscape than I. From a very helpful article at by Reuben Abati:
But where do we stand in relation to this as Nigerians, as ordinary Nigerians who are not looking for power on an ethnic basis but who are just interested in being citizens of a country that works? It is not difficult to know what ordinary Nigerians want. They want a country that is properly managed. They want a country where the human being can feel a sense of humanity. They want leaders who are motivated by a sense of the common good and an interest in history. They want a united country where a Yoruba man can woo a pretty Ijaw woman and not feel that he is doing something strange. They want to live like the people of London and New York where even the poorest of the poor do not have to worry about those details that give ordinary Nigerians the greatest anxiety. They want to live like human beings, and this includes those rude Nigerians who abuse others on the internet with their terrible, ill-mannered prose. Ordinarily, it should not matter where a leader comes from as long as he is a leader, but nations are not the same and societies must manage their own circumstances.
If you want to understand the upcoming struggle for the control of Nigeria's vast resources, and what it would mean for the average Joe and Jane, read it all.

This is an issue that deserves far greater attention. Not that there's much that we in the West can do about it at this point. But how we perceive the internal struggles in Nigeria will inform how we react to crises in the Niger Delta. For instance, if the North wins the presidency and continues to ignore South-South demands for social, political and environmental justice, the resulting violence in the Delta and drop in oil production could lead the West to either push Nigeria to pay heed to the demands of residents in the Delta, or perhaps send in the Navy, which is already stationed in Gulf of Guinea. Never underestimate the political power of an oil-crisis-induced bout of inflation.

We'll see. For now, start boning up.

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