Nigeria: a federation in disarray?/ Le Nigeria: une fédération en crise?

IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks des Nations Unies) nous offre deux entrevues avec des figures de proue de la politique nigériane: Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu (lien en anglais) et Atiku Abubakar. Pour ce dernier, la démocratie au Nigéria devra passer par un aveu du président Obasanjo. Abubakar considère qu’Obsanjo agit encore comme un militaire qui s’accroche au pouvoir. Le jour où il cèdera son poste, sera celui où le Nigéria aura sa chance de devenir une vrai démocratie. Côté candidature, Abubakar est encore confronté à un jugement d’une Court Supérieure qui l’interdit de participer aux élections malgré le fait que la Commission électorale indépendante ait finalement accepté sa candidature (la Commission a été forcée par une court fédérale qui lui interdisait de porter un tel jugement). On voit qu’Abubakar, est encore impliqué dans un imbroglio judiciaire qui ne semble pas l’importuner pour autant (voir l’entrevue ici).

Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu est connu pour avoir mené la guerre du Biafra entre 1967 et 1970 (il fut le “président” de l’État du Biafra durant cette période). Il est candidat aux élections du 21 Avril et se plaint de la marginalisation des groupes ethniques minoritaire au Nigéria. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu représente le peuple Igbo et pense que sa situation ne s’est pas vraiment améliorée depuis 1967 (voir l’entrevue ici).

On peut dire que les entrevues viennent corroborer une analyse d’IRIN, sur la situation de crise que vit la fédération nigérianne (texte complet , plus bas – en anglais)… Une crise du fédéralisme (et ce ne sera pas la première fois).

IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks des Nations Unies) offers us two interviews with key figures of Nigerian politics: Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Atiku Abubakar. For Abubakar, democracy is in peril in Nigeria, and president Obasanjo still acts like a military man. A miracle would be needed to bring a true democracy in this country:


Nothing, short of a miracle. Do you know the kind of miracle I am talking about? One in which the president wakes up and says ‘[controlling] the outcome of the elections is no longer a life and death issue for me, anyone who has been excluded can now run and I will step down from office happy to become an elder statesman’. But that will not happen. Obasanjo wants to keep ruling this country indirectly. I don’t see how things will change.

According to IRIN:

[Abubakar] has been a leading candidate for president but the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has barred him from running on grounds that he has been indicted on charges of corruption. He says the charges are trumped up. Although the Federal High Court in the capital, Abuja, ruled on Tuesday that INEC lacked the authority to bar Abubakar, a superior court ruled to the contrary. The outcome was not immediately clear, but the superior court is a higher authority.

But for Abubakar this legal imbroglio doesn’t seem to trouble him much:

I find it exciting. I am a politician. I enjoy it but it is all a ruse: You cannot accuse me of corruption if there is no corruption. I am the most investigated politician in this country – my family and my children – but we have done nothing. Certainly what is happening is very disappointing.

IRIN: “One of the [other] candidates in Nigeria 21 April presidential election is Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. He was the head of the separatist state of Biafra between 1967 and 1970. Although he lost the war and Biafra once again become part of southeast Nigeria, Ojukwu has remained popular, particularly amongst the Igbo ethnic group that predominates there, coming third in the 2003 presidential elections.

The Igbo are one of three powerful ethnic groups in Nigeria along with the Hausa in the north and the Yoruba in the southwest. But Ojukwu and many Igbo claim the other two groups unfairly exclude them politically and economically. Ojukwu, who is now 73 and almost completely blind from glaucoma, talked with IRIN at his home in the Igbo city of Enugu”. (Read the excerpts here).

These interviews confirms an other nalysis by IRIN saying that the federation of Nigeria is in crisis; Federalism in crisis, not for the first time. Here is the full text:

LAGOS, 2 April 2007 (IRIN) – “Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression,” said Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s founding fathers, speaking in 1947 while campaigning against British colonial rule. Sixty years later as Nigeria heads toward national and regional elections the current federal system is still struggling to maintain some kind of cohesion.

“What we have seen in the intervening years have been various attempts to manage Nigeria’s huge diversity, none of which have produced satisfactory results,” Yinka Babalola, a political science teacher at Lagos University, told IRIN. “Today the country is as restive as ever, with mutual ethnic suspicions and feelings of marginalisation rife, especially among ethnic minorities.”

The 140 million people making up some 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria live in 36 states, each with its own governor and legislature. Nigerians will elect their new representatives on 14 April. One week later voters will choose the nation’s president and federal representatives. With 64 million registered voters, the upcoming elections will be the largest ever held in Africa.

Nigeria’s constitution provides for state and federal governments to have countervailing powers to balance regional interests with the interests of the nation as a whole. Modelled on the United States system of government, the 36 Nigerian state governors along with their respective state legislatures have powers to set state laws and policy.

However, security forces, including all police, are under the control of the central government. Many state leaders and some national ones say that is just one of several things about the federation that the next administration should change. Critics of the current government say President Olusegun Obasanjo, who previously ruled Nigeria as a general, has failed the federal system by maintaining tight central control over the country.

The central government controls almost all of the nation’s wealth with state governments depending on monthly revenue allocations. Many state leaders say the federal government manipulates the allocations as a way of controlling them, but federal leaders argue that the states have too much control, making federal legislation difficult to implement.

Analysts say that in the build-up to the elections few of the leading candidates are calling for the current system to be revised as they are the ones that benefit from the status quo and do not want it changed.

An oil-based federation

The analysts say the system is a product of the country’s former military rulers. “New states were often created not to bring development but as a way for the army to control the distribution of oil revenue, handing out political patronage and strengthening the power of the central government as the states became less viable economically,” according to Nigerian newspaper columnist and analyst Richard Nwabuaeze. “As a result the system became greatly undermined by corruption.”

He and other observers say that the current federal system would not have come to be if it was not for the country’s vast oil wealth.

“Oil fuels state power,” Iste Sagay, a leading Nigerian constitutional lawyer, told IRIN. “Government activity will grind to a halt if oil money is not available.”

Rather than serve to develop the country, Nigeria’s federal system under military rule became trapped in a web of bureaucracy tightly controlled from the top, spawning apathy and inefficiency, according to several political analysts.

With northern Muslims being mostly in control of the military and the central government, southerners have long seen the system as a means of undermining the south’s powers. Many allege that decisions to have federal revenue be shared on the basis of landmass and population were made because the process favoured the north. Most of the revenue, however, came from oil produced in the southeast.

Resentment and violence

During the constitutional conference called in 1995 to restore civilian rule, some delegates, mostly from southern Nigeria and minority areas of the centre, demanded a restructuring of the federal system. They called for establishing six geo-political zones corresponding to Nigeria’s three major ethnic groups, three areas in the middle of the country populated by minorities, and the southeast oil region.

Delegates such as former vice-president Alex Ekwueme argued that such restructuring would create more viable economic entities and reduce the huge administrative costs of running 36 separate bureaucracies. Yet many influential northern leaders opposed the plan, allegedly because they feared it was a ploy to reduce their share of federal revenue and weaken their political influence.

The end of military rule in 1999 with the election of President Obasanjo lifted the lid off pent up ethnic, religious and communal tensions, leading to an upsurge in violence that claimed tens of thousands of lives. Many of these grievances can be traced to rivalries between state and federal leaders as each has sought to assert power.

For example, one of the most contentious issues has been the decision of the 12 mostly Muslim states in the north to implement the strict Islamic legal code know as Shari’ah, which prescribes the amputation of limbs for stealing, flogging for drinking alcohol and stoning to death for adultery. Plans to implement Shari’ah in Kaduna state with roughly equal Muslim and Christian populations in 2000 sparked waves of sectarian clashes in which more than 2,000 people died.

In the southwest and southeast, displeasure with federal control of the armed forces and the police resulted in the creation of militias and vigilante groups that often resorted to extra-judicial killings to battle crime. The Odua People’s Congress (OPC), which emerged in the southwest ethnic Yoruba areas, says its main objective is to defend the interests of the ethnic group. Similarly, the Bakassi Boys that became active in the southeast has been agitating for a new Biafra Republic.

States in the oil-rich Niger Delta have also championed demands for increased local control of the oil wealth produced in their area. They call for a return to Nigeria’s constitution at independence, which gives regions control of 50 percent of resources, including taxes, generated in their area. The constitution was abolished in 1966 when military rulers took control of all oil revenues.

Towards a new federal system

Under the current federal system, states’ share of local revenue has risen to 13 percent, yet Obasanjo’s government has argued against giving more, saying that governors in the oil region states have been squandering the money. State leaders charge that the federal government has been equally wasteful. Both are right, says newspaper columnist Nwabueze.

“Corruption has affected all levels of government in Nigeria with the overall effect of clogging the wheels of development,” he said. “What is needed is to clean it up at all levels and bring back efficiency and creativity in government.”

A key challenge for the next elected government that Nigerians are preparing to choose is how to create a new arrangement that gives greater freedom and powers to the federating states, argues Ladipo Adamolekun, an academic who has written several books on the history of Nigeria’s constitutions.

He said, “There is urgent need for political restructuring that would involve a definitive abandonment of the centralism and federal dominance that military rule imposed on the country for decades.”