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Nigeria’s Constitutional Dilemma Coming to an Unpredictable Head

Politics / GeoPolitics Jan 21, 2010 - 12:59 PM GMT

By: OilPrice_Com

Politics Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleNigerian Pres. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, 59, through failing health, is clearly no longer in control of the Government. Some are proclaiming that the "post-Yar'Adua era" has begun in Nigerian politics, but the reality is that there is still much maneuvering going on to plan the succession to the Presidency, even though the fiction of "business as usual" has become paper-thin.

Political opposition figures, the media, and other elements of Nigerian governance — including the Armed Forces — no longer accept that the business of government can continue long in this present state. One columnist, on January 10, 2009, in the Sunday Next, said that, as President, if not as a man, Yar'Adua was dead. The same journal, on the same day, noted in another report: “Nigeria has effectively entered a post-Yar'Adua administration era, according to impeccable NEXT sources. Contrary to the much reported news of President Umaru Yar'Adua's improved health, he is, in reality, seriously brain-damaged and unable to recognize anyone including his wife, Turai.” Other media reports in Nigeria have said, for some months, that he was, in fact, dead.

The collapsing and fractious governance situation in Nigeria has been compounded by a major blow to the Administration’s credibility which occurred with what has been labelled an “intelligence failure” — and certainly a national image failure — resulting from the arrest of alleged Nigerian al-Qaida terrorist supporter, Umar Abdulfarouk Abdulmutallab, 23, following his reported failed attempt to blow up US Northwest Airlines Flight 253 — and Airbus A300 wide-body — as it was coming to land in Detroit after a flight from Amsterdam on December 25, 2009.

The incident, now the focus of claims of intelligence failures in the US, has also highlighted the failures emerging in some aspects of the Nigerian Intelligence Community because of attempts by then Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo, and then Pres. Yar’Adua, to remove the professional leadership which had been gradually trained and installed by former National Security Advisor Lt.-Gen. (rtd.) Aliyu Mohammed (often referred to as Aliyu Mohammed Gusau). The heads of the Department of State Security (formerly State Security Service: SSS), and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), who had built their careers under Gen. Mohammed, include Col. Kayode Are, a highly-experienced and effective intelligence and military officer, who departed as Director-General of SSS in 2007; and Emmanuel E. (Tony) Imohe, who had served at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, until 2007, left the post of Director-General of the NIA on November 13, 2009.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which has been fractured by the divisive corruption of former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo, has been attempting to find a way to replace Pres. Yar’Adua before his death to avoid handing power to Vice-Pres. Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from Bayelsa state, in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta (the region known as the South-South). The PDP is determined that power should remain in the hands of a Northern Muslim President, given that the country’s previous Administration had been — with Olusegun Obasanjo — a Southern Christian.

Quite apart from any regional or religious politics, Vice-Pres. Jonathan has been widely regarded as being even less capable at governing the complex Nigerian state than was Pres. Yar’Adua, who was hand-picked by Obasanjo as his successor in the vain hope that Yar’Adua would protect Obasanjo from prosecution for corruption.

The Yar'Adua Administration, meanwhile, is becoming less convincing to the domestic Nigerian media and electorate in promulgating upbeat reports on the health of Pres. Yar’Adua, including a report on January 8, 2010, from the Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, noting that the President was recovering, and walking around in hospital. The absence of any physical sightings of the President by the media, however, highlight concerns that he remained terminally ill, or even already deceased.

This emerging situation was predicted exclusively by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs in a June 8, 2009, report in Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, entitled “Prospect of Change of Government in Nigeria Before the End of 2009”, which noted: “The moribund and paralyzed Nigerian Government of Pres. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, 58, is expected to fall before the end of 2009, due to the terminal illness of the President, giving power to the incumbent Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan.”

A further report in GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis, on September 24, 2009, and entitled “Nigerian Presidency Looks Set for Transition at Possibly a Critical Time in the Energy Markets”, noted: “Nigerian Pres. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s declining health, which caused him to cancel his appearance at the current United Nations General Assembly session, seems to presage a possible early transition in the Nigerian leadership, as Pres. Yar’Adua returns to Saudi Arabia for additional medical treatment. The transition seems likely to occur at a time when an Israeli-Iranian military confrontation could occur, significantly impacting oil and gas supplies and pricing, which would give Nigeria — despite its domestic turmoil — a new centrality in global energy markets.”

Once again, the Nigerian media has mentioned the prospect that Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was among those being suggested to replace Pres. Yar’Adua, although former Pres. Obasanjo was known to oppose this, even though Obasanjo owed his Presidency to the planning and support of Gen. Mohammed. It became clear, after Obasanjo attained the Presidency and gradually allowed more and more corruption to occur, that Gen. Mohammed would not enter into this corruption, a factor which led Obasanjo to suspect that Gen. Mohammed, as a potential successor to the Presidency, could eventually prosecute him on the matter. This led Obasanjo to push through the weak, and already ill, Katsina Governor, Yar’Adua, into the Presidency, and Obasanjo then attempted to continue to exercise control by pressuring Yar’Adua.

That ultimately failed, although Yar’Adua’s support team whom he brought to Abuja from Katsina ultimately also feared the experience of such people as Gen. Mohammed, and also sought to perpetuate corruption over oil and other deals.

One Nigerian press report on Sunday, December 20, 2009, noted that “On the list [to replace Pres. Yar’Adua if he had to remain in Saudi Arabia, or died] is former National Security Adviser, General Aliyu [Mohammed] Gusau; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmed; Adamawa State Governor, Alhaji Murtala Nyako; Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido and the FCT [Federal Capital Territory] Minister, Alhaji Adamu Aliero. The names were said to emerge not from inordinate ambition of individuals but "to address an emergency that may occur very soon unless there is a miracle.”

Meanwhile, a significant speech, entitled “If Nigeria Fails?”, was made on December 11, 2009, at the Achebe Foundation Colloquium on Nigerian Election at Providence, Rhode Island, by Princeton N. Lyman, a former US Ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria. Amb. Lyman is now Adjunct Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, at the US Council on Foreign Relations.

The full text of his speech, which was widely quoted and excerpted in the Nigerian media, follows:

I have a long connection to Nigeria. Not only was I Ambassador there, I have travelled to and from Nigeria for a number of years and have a deep and abiding vital emotional attachment to the Nigerian people, their magnificence, their courage, artistic brilliance, their irony, sense of humor in the face of challenges, etc.

And I hope that we keep that in mind when I say some things that I think are counter to what we normally say about Nigeria. And I say that with all due respect to [Special Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa at the US State Department] Eric Silla who is doing a magnificent work at State Department and to our good friend from the legislature, because I have a feeling that we both — Nigerians and Americans — may be doing Nigeria and Nigerians no favor by stressing Nigeria's strategic importance.

I know all the arguments: it is a major oil producer, it is the most populous country in Africa, it has made major contributions to Africa in peacekeeping, and of course negatively if Nigeria were to fall apart the ripple effects would be tremendous, etc.. But I wonder if all this emphasis on Nigeria's importance creates a tendency of inflate Nigeria's opinion of its own invulnerability.

Among much of the elite today, I have the feeling that there is a belief that Nigeria is too big to fail, too important to be ignored, and that Nigerians can go on ignoring some of the most fundamental challenges they have many of which we have talked about: disgraceful lack of infrastructure, the growing problems of unemployment, the failure to deal with the underlying problems in the Niger Delta, the failure to consolidate democracy and somehow feel will remain important to everybody because of all those reasons that are strategically important. And I am not sure that that is helpful.

Let me sort of deconstruct those elements of Nigeria's importance, and ask whether they are as relevant as they have been.

We often hear that one in five Africans is a Nigerian. What does it mean? Do we ever say one in five Asians is a Chinese? Chinese power comes not just for the fact that it has a lot of people but it has harnessed the entrepreneurial talent and economic capacity and all the other talents of China to make her a major economic and political force.

What does it mean that one in five Africans is Nigeria? It does not mean anything to a Namibian or a South African. It is a kind of conceit. What makes it important is what is happening to the people of Nigerian. Are their talents being tapped? Are they becoming an economic force? Is all that potential being used?

And the answer is "Not really."

And oil, yes, Nigeria is a major oil producer, but Brazil is now launching a 10-year program that is going to make it one of the major oil producers in the world. And every other country in Africa is now beginning to produce oil.

And Angola is rivaling Nigeria in oil production, and the United States has just discovered a huge gas reserve which is going to replace some of our dependence on imported energy.

So if you look ahead 10 years, is Nigeria really going to be that relevant as a major oil producer, or just another of another of the many oil producers while the world moves on to alternative sources of energy and other sources of supply.

And what about its influence, its contributions to the continent? As our representative from the parliament talked about [at the Rhode Island conference], there is a great history of those contributions. But that is history.

Is Nigeria really playing a major role today in the crisis in Niger on its border, or in Guinea, or in Darfur, or after many, many promises making any contributions to Somalia? The answer is no, Nigeria is today NOT making a major impact, on its region, or on the African Union or on the big problems of Africa that it was making before.

What about its economic influence?

Well, as we have talked about earlier, there is a de-industrialization going on in Nigeria a lack of infrastructure, a lack of power means that with imported goods under globalization, Nigerian factories are closing, more and more people are becoming unemployed. and Nigeria is becoming a kind of society that imports and exports and lives off the oil, which does not make it a significant economic entity. Now, of course, on the negative side, the collapse of Nigeria would be enormous, but is that a point to make Nigeria strategically important?

Years ago, I worked for an Assistant Secretary of State who had the longest tenure in that job in the 1980s and I remember in one meeting a minister from a country not very friendly to the United States came in and was berating the Assistant Secretary on all the evils of the United States and all its dire plots and in things in Africa and was going on and on and finally the Assistant Secretary cut him off and said: "You know, the biggest danger for your relationship with the United States is not our opposition but that we will find you irrelevant."

The point is that Nigeria can become much less relevant to the United States. We have already seen evidence of it. When President Obama went to Ghana and not to Nigeria, he was sending a message, that Ghana symbolized more of the significant trends, issues and importance that one wants to put on Africa than Nigeria.

And when I was asked by journalists why President Obama did not go to Nigeria, I said "what would he gain from going? Would Nigeria be a good model for democracy, would it be a model for good governance, would he obtain new commitments on Darfur or Somalia or strengthen the African Union or in Niger or elsewhere?" No he would not, so he did not go.

And when Secretary Clinton did go, indeed but she also went to Angola and who would have thought years ago that Angola would be the most stable country in the Gulf of Guinea and establish a bi-national commission in Angola.

So the handwriting may already be on the wall, and that is a sad commentary. Because what it means is that Nigeria's most important strategic importance in the end could be that it has failed.

And that is a sad, sad conclusion. It does not have to happen, but I think that we ought to stop talking about what a great country it is, and how terribly important it is to us and talk about what it would take for Nigeria to be that important and great. And that takes an enormous amount of commitment. And you don't need saints, you don't need leaders like Nelson Mandela in every state, because you are not going to get them.

I served in South Korea in the middle of the 1960s and it was time when South Korea was poor and considered hopeless, but it was becoming to turn around, later to become to every person's amazement then the 11th largest economy in the world. And I remember the economist in my mission saying, you know it did not bother him that the leading elites in the government of South Korea were taking 15 to 20 percent off the top of every project, as long as every project was a good one, and that was the difference. The leadership at the time was determined to solve the fundamental economic issues of South Korea economy and turn its economy around.

It has not happened in Nigeria today. You don't need saints. It needs leaders who say "You know we could be becoming irrelevant, and we've got to do something about it."

The entire Nigerian crisis could come to a head before mid-January 2010. The Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, appears to accept that he may not accede to the Presidency (or at least not for long) if Pres. Yar'Adua's death was to be announced. The question remains, however, by which Constitutional mechanism could Pres. Yar'Adua be declared incompetent to govern so that he could be replaced by another candidate — presumably with the authority of the National Assembly — before death automatically promoted Vice-President Jonathan to the leadership? First, however, the incessant bargaining and pressures over who should be the new President must be settled, and this does not appear to have occurred, largely because of the pressures and money of former Pres. Obasanjo, even though his rôle is being challenged in the media. And then the Constitutional mechanism itself must be identified, and much work has been done on this.

The reality is that the maneuvering enters uncharted territory, and the real concern is that whatever device is used it must win domestic and international legitimacy. This rules out a direct military intervention, and the factions are so competitive that a clear-cut pronunciamento almost certainly cannot occur. It may well be that Vice-Pres. Jonathan could take office and immediately call for elections, or state that he would not contest the Presidency in the next scheduled Presidential election (given that he lacks a power base for the effort). That, indeed, seems a probable scenario. But the matter is still very uncertain.

Originally published at:

This article was written by Gregory R. Copley for who have recently launched a Free Market Intelligence Report which focuses on unique Geopolitical and Investment News which enables readers to spot trends and events in the marketplace and reduce investment risk. To find out more visit:

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