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Why Nigeria Must Tidy Her Act

By New Times

Nigerian affairs must be of concern to everyone on the African continent.

For without Nigeria's diplomatic — and sometimes military — support, at least four African countries would, today, be quite unrecognisable.

These countries are Angola, Namibia, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

When the Portuguese Government, after the “Carnation Revolution” of 25 April 1974, began to recognise the right to independence of its African territories — Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Sao Tome and Principe —the situation in Angola in particular was quite messy.

Three almost equally-matched, armed movements, the MPLA, UNITA and the FNLA, each claimed to be the one to whom the Portuguese should hand over power.

They fought an on-and-off civil war in which Nigerian diplomatic support for the MPLA, which became pronounced after the accession to power of General Murtala Muhammed (July 1975 - February 1976) and his successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo (February 1976 to September 1979) was crucial.

This was because the United States and South Africa tried to divide the Organisation of African Unity and prevent it from supporting the MPLA, and if they had succeeded, the MPLA would have had a tougher time garnering diplomatic support to endorse the military support it obtained from Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Liberia and Sierra Leone would also not be enjoying the peace they are currently enjoying, had Nigeria, in the company of other West African countries, including Ghana, not played a leading role in sending forces under ECOMOG and United Nations auspices to provide peacekeeping services in both countries.

So, from an African continental point of view, it is extremely important that Nigeria should be stable and continue to be respected by the international community.

But as important as that is, Nigeria's stability is, of course, of primary concern to the country's own 140 million or so people.

It is sad to note that of late, Nigeria's politicians have displayed a disregard for their country's stability that is quite alarming.

Everyone in Nigeria knows that President Umaru Yar'Adua is not the most healthy human being on earth. Now, there is nothing wrong with that. Every human being can fall sick.

Although President Yar'Adua was known to be sickly, he was adjudged capable of becoming President before he actually assumed the post. So, if his sickly nature becomes more pronounced after he's taken office, there is hardly anything to be surprised about.

But he has a so-called “kitchen Cabinet”, led by his wife, Turai, which has come to the inexplicable conclusion that his true condition should not become known to the Nigerian populace.

They took him to Saudi Arabia in November 2009 and kept him incommunicado there until February 2010, when they brought him back, in the dead of night, without even informing his Vice-President!

When they were taking him to Saudi Arabia, they refused to comply with a constitutional provision that if the President was going to be away for any length of time, he should write to the National Assembly to inform it of his absence, and ask it to accord the Vice-President all the powers of the presidency.

There was a “he-did, he didn't” run-around between the Parliament and the President's liaison officer with the Parliament, over whether he had written to the Parliament, but that the liaison officer had not delivered the letter! Amazing.

In the end, the Nigerian Senate took over the matter and declared the Vice-President as Acting President.

Even then, the “kitchen Cabinet” wouldn't accept the situation and tried all sorts of manoeuvres to try and undermine the position of the Acting President.

Its most disgraceful faux pas was to smuggle the President into the country, in the middle of the night, without alerting the Acting President.

Many people even thought a military coup had been mounted against the Acting President, inasmuch as he had not, apparently, been made aware of the military's cordoning-off of Abuja airport, at the time of the President's return.

They created the impression that the Acting President was not in full control of the military.

At the moment, many of these thorny issues have been resolved, and the Acting President, Mr Goodluck Jonathan, is going about the business of governing the country with a steady hand.

He has just dismissed the national security adviser, General Sarki Mukhtar and replaced him with General Aliyu Gusau, who was General Obasanjo's national security adviser and had been involved with security matters over a long period before that.

With the security situation under control, Mr Jonathan now has the breathing space to confront one of the most difficult situations any President can be faced with.

The Plateau State, which lies right across the fault-line of Nigeria, in the sense that it is in what used to be called the “Middle Belt” between the North and the South, and between Islamic and non-Islamic communities, is falling apart.

Terrible pictures of Fulani herdsmen taking revenge over non-Fulanis who had attacked Fulanis in January 2010, have made their appearance in both local and foreign media.

Because of the internet, these pictures have received wide publicity and inflamed a great deal of passions.

It is not only in the Plateau state that there's tension between people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds.

In 2009, there were terrible outbreaks of violence in Bauchi province, pictures of which have again been publicised on the internet. Extrajudicial executions by the police took place during the disturbances.

Each time these acts of violence occur, great damage is done to the fraying lines of cohesion that hold Nigeria together. Ethnic and religious rivalries are two of the worst forces that any nation can be faced with.

They just turn human beings into animals and there is no way of reasoning with people of whom the two evils have taken hold.

The Acting President has two courses of action open to him;

1. to establish a much-better organised intelligence structure that can detect social tensions before they reach the breaking point where people take up weapons and

2. to set up a body to distil all the reports that already exist about social tensions (there have been many reports gathering dust in offices) sift their recommendations and implement those that are practicable.

At the same time, a serious effort must be made to alleviate the underlying poverty in Nigerian society that enables desperate people to obtain supporters for any violent enterprise that promises to make the participants richer.

An important — and rich nation — like Nigeria cannot just sit down and tear itself apart like this. Individual acts of violence may look unimportant, but the lesson of the doz.

Credit: Cameron Duodu/New Times

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