By NBF News

Nigeria's unity and the balance of power in Africa

Thursday, March 11, 2010
The past couple of months have been one of the most dramatic periods in the history of the country. For the first time since independence, Nigeria was without a president for close to 90 days.

This was occasioned by the president's intractable sickness. Nigerians were deceived into believing that the president was fast recovering and we were told that he is able to conduct the affairs of state from his sick bed, anywhere in the world.

This we were told, could be managed with the aid of a mobile phone. And to perfect the trickry, he was made to render a highly suspicious and controversial one sided 60 seconds interview in a feeble voice over the BBC Hausa services. This was done, not minding the millions of Nigerians who do not speak Hausa.

Until the Senate leadership had the good sense of declaring former 'Vice President' Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was equally without a leader and the organization was just too willing to dump the responsibilities of leadership on Goodluck Jonathan as soon as he was declared Nigeria's Acting President.

The absence of a balance of power in the western parts of Africa, is beginning to strain the politics of the region beyond reasonable limits. My reasons for insinuating this has to do with the unfolding violent scenarios that are currently encapsulating the West African sub-region as a result of the absense of true leadership and a deterence to check-mate errant regimes that are bent on pulling the region backwards.

A couple of weeks ago, the democratic regime in Niger Republic was overthrown by soldiers who were opposed to the amendment of the Constitution to allow Ahmed Tadjan a third term as President. By all means, a coup constitutes an illegal act, yet the reckless disregard for constitutionality provided the 'men in Khaki' an opportunity to strike and end the democratic processes of that country. What a big loss.

A closer look at the situation in Ivory Coast does not give much room for speculation on the feebleness of the political realities unfolding within the state.

President Laurent Gbagbo recently sacked the government of Prime Minister Soro and disbanded the Electoral Commission, thereby effectively ensuring that elections do not hold as planned in March 2010. These elections have been delayed since 2005 and were part of settlement terms reached after civil war broke out in 2002 and 2003 that effectively split Ivory Coast between North and South along ethnic lines. This reminds one of Nigeria's experiences.

In Guinea, the decision of Captain Camara to go on voluntary exile is doing little to douse the tension that has thickened over the polity as agitations and demonstrations for return to democratic rule has caused armed soldiers to opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, thereby, killing hundreds of protesters and in an effort to cover up for his actions, an assassination attempt was made on Captain Camara. Probably stage managed.

In neighbouring Togo, the slogan of the 'Citizens Movement for Change', who have mobilized the youths across that country, is to ensure that the party win the elections by adopting the chant of 'change or death, we shall win', and with the government giving instructions to the soldiers to maintain peace at all cost, that country is hanging on a knife edge.

In West Africa alone, one can go on and on to show that political recklessness and insensitivity to the plight of the majority has taken the center stage, thereby eliminating the balance of power that would have been guaranteed with a stronger position of Nigeria. The political and military roles played by Nigeria during the 1990's in containing the civil wars that simultaneously raged in Liberia and Sierraleon, has more than demonstrated her capacity to hold the balance of power in Africa if her internal politics is stable. As things stands, the country is fast loosing the capacity to command the respect she used to enjoy in the continent, due to her own shameful political leadership. Therefore, getting her acts right, is in both Nigeria and Africa's best interest.

On two occasions, ECOWAS had to postpone the meeting of its heads of government following the persistent illness and absence of the Nigerian President, and this is affecting the ability of the organization to address the looming crisis in the region. When the Nigeria leadership vacuum crisis was raging, no member state of ECOWAS was bold enough to intervene or even offer a word of advice on how to resolve a crisis involving a key member of the region with more population and wealth than all the other 14 member states put together. This is a demonstration of how helpless and vulnerable the region would be, should Nigeria, God forbid, encounter another civil war.

In the light of this realities, the Nigerian government must get its act together and live up to the expectation of her calling to protect the integrity of the subregion and strenghten the position of the continent so withstand the pressures that seem to be pulling her apart.