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Less than a month after launching his election campaign in a blaze of optimism, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has found himself fighting a potentially damaging propaganda war over last week’s car bombs.
Jonathan’s assertion that rebels from his Niger Delta home region were not responsible for the twin bomb attacks near an independence day parade last Friday has laid him open to a barrage of criticism from rivals who accuse him of partisanship.
As the first head of state from the southern Niger Delta, Jonathan already faced a tough battle convincing some in the ruling party to back his election bid and jettison a gentleman’s agreement that means the next president should be a northerner.
The unwritten pact in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is meant to prevent tribalism and regional rivalries becoming a factor in federal politics by ensuring power rotates every two terms between north and south.
Jonathan’s comments that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which claimed the blasts, was not responsible and suggestions from the authorities that associates of his main rival, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, may be involved have infuriated and united his northern opponents.
“The man … who only a few weeks ago moved us with lofty words of hope and a vision of transformation, shot himself in the foot and then put the bloody foot in his mouth,” wrote Tolu Ogunlesi, a journalist on Nigeria’s Next newspaper.
“The incident momentarily stripped him of his presidential garb and wrapped him in the gaudy garments of a tribal chieftain,” he said.
Babangida and three other northerners running against him in the primaries issued a joint statement slamming Jonathan for “exonerating” MEND and accusing him of using the bomb blasts as a pretext to intimidate his opponents.
A separate group of northern politicians led by ex-finance minister and founding PDP member Adamu Ciroma described it as a “rude shock to the nation” and called on Jonathan to resign.
Their fury was piqued by the brief detention of Babangida’s campaign director Raymond Dokpesi for questioning over the blasts by the secret service on Monday.
The presidency said the investigations were being carried out on the back of U.S. and British as well as Nigerian intelligence and that anybody could be invited for questioning.
“It is unfortunate that an unprecedented national tragedy of this nature has been politicised by people whose only interest is what they can get from the country and not what the country can get from them,” Jonathan said on his Facebook page.
“They specialise in playing one part of the country against the other and riding on sectional sentiments to promote their narrow ambitions,” he said.
Jonathan started his election campaign almost three weeks ago on a high, having unveiled plans to privatise the power sector and end chronic power shortages, better manage the country’s oil savings and fight criminality.
He pledged a new era of leadership “uncontaminated by the prejudices of the past” and his campaign team hoped the momentum would carry him into the primaries, originally due this month.
But the timetable was revised to allow the electoral authorities to overhaul voter lists, handing his northern rivals more time to steel themselves.
The bomb blasts were another blow to his strategy.
Beneath all the finger pointing and rhetoric, none of Nigeria’s political class emerge well from the episode.
Jonathan was vice president when Henry Okah, a senior militant figure charged in Johannesburg this week with conspiring to carry out the attacks, had treason and gun-running charges against him dropped under an amnesty deal.
Aliyu Gusau, another northern presidential candidate who has criticised Jonathan, was the country’s national security adviser until three weeks ago. Security experts say Friday’s attacks would have been months in the planning.
Babangida’s opponents say his assertion that Jonathan does not have a firm grip on national security is rich coming from a man largely remembered for his 1993 cancellation of an election generally regarded as fair which led to civil unrest and a bloody crackdown by the security forces.
“Politicians in Nigeria are very good at arguing with each other,” said Antony Goldman, a Nigeria expert and head of London-based PM Consulting.
“But the temptation to try to extract political advantage from a national emergency reveals the deeper issue that ten years after the end of military rule, the whole political class struggles to make itself relevant to the people.”
The propaganda war will rumble on and it is unclear what impact, if any, it will have on the candidates’ fortunes. But it bodes ill for any hopes that the elections will be based on real issues rather than scaremongering and personality clashes.
“The bomb blast is a shame because it could have been prevented, but you know in Nigeria we don’t pay attention to the things that really matter,” said Kehinde Osho, 24, a graphic artist in the commercial hub Lagos.
“Elections are next year and the voters are not even registered yet. We are fighting a lost battle — we won’t have a credible election with this kind of preparation.”
Kidnappings targeting foreign workers in Sudan for ransoms have become a dangerous phenomenon in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims. These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals so far have demanded money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives onto al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid. The abductions have severely restricted the operations of those aid and U.N. agencies still working in Darfur, with foreigners mostly relocated to the main towns and rarely travelling into the rural areas where people are arguably most in need of help. The question always debated by Sudan watchers is: “Is it that Khartoum can’t protect foreign workers in Darfur or that they won’t?” Many point to the timing as an indication — these politicised abductions became a regular crime after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in March 2009. Others speculate that the government, which has long had a hostile attitude to the international humanitarian agencies in the world’s largest aid operation in Darfur, does not want them to travel and report on the worsening situation in the rural or more remote areas. This is one way to prevent that. But the problem now negatively affects the government too, making them look weak and unable to control even the region’s main towns. Russia voiced rare criticism of its African ally after three members of a Russian aircrew were taken from the middle of Darfur’s largest town Nyala, just days after another Russian pilot was detained by Arab militia loyal to the government. The Russian envoy said it was clear Khartoum was unable to control the security situation, striking a blow to Khartoum’s argument that the conflict in Darfur and the “isolated” cases of banditry are under control. Nyala, Darfur’s largest town and economic hub, was largely insulated from the brutal revolt and counter-insurgency campaign which has for seven years terrorised Darfur’s inhabitants. Now it is the epicentre of the abductions, with criminals taking foreigners from inside their guesthouses or in the town centre in broad daylight. Fuelling the kidnaps are constant reports of Khartoum paying money for many of the hostages, another expensive reason why the government would want to end the crimes. Kidnappers told me hundreds of thousands of dollars had been paid out to abductors. The government says they know who these kidnappers are – their tribes and their families. They threaten to arrest them. But the threats appeared empty as after the release of the longest-held hostage ICRC staffer Gauthier Lefevre when there was a two month kidnap-free window, no action was taken to prosecute or bring the kidnappers to justice. Cue the abduction of Samaritan’s Purse Flavia Wagner two months after Lefevre’s release. She then endured a 105-day ordeal alone in captivity with her kidnappers threatening to rape or kill her on numerous occasions. And new spate of shorter kidnaps also began. Those who support the theory that the government is sanctioning the kidnaps ask why they have not apprehended any of the criminals. But Khartoum is not in an easy position. The kidnappers are usually young men from mostly Arab tribes – the same powerful tribes who Khartoum mobilised to help quash the Darfur rebels. One government official told me they feared any attack on the young Arabs would provoke the entire tribe — already disillusioned by the government who they feel has not delivered on promised development and services — to defend their own. The local government in Darfur is often run by those from the same tribes as the kidnappers, creating a reluctance to act against them and risk losing their support base. In remote regions far from Khartoum, the tribe provides and therefore rules. Central policy set in Khartoum is not always in the interests of the Darfur state authorities run by the governor and vice versa. But it seems that Khartoum’s interests are now clearly in line with the international community’s – to stop the kidnaps. Some officials in Khartoum are convinced action must be taken to stop the crimes. And in the last kidnap, the army acted quickly — closing down on the kidnappers before they could whisk their victims away to a desert hideaway. Again now Khartoum has a brief moment of kidnap-free time to apprehend the abductors as threatened. The world will be watching closely to see what they do.
Kidnapping foreign workers in Sudan for ransom has become a dangerous business in Darfur in the past year with 10 separate cases and at least 22 expatriate victims.
These are not the al Qaeda kidnaps of West Africa. The Darfuri criminals have so far demanded only money and have not killed any of their victims. Some have threatened to sell their captives to al Qaeda-linked groups if they do not get paid.
from Global News Journal:
The call takes me by surprise. It is our contact at the CNDP, the rebel movement in eastern Congo, telling us its leader Laurent Nkunda has agreed to meet us in his stronghold in the Masisi Mountains.
Much of the news that comes out of the Niger Delta, the vast network of creeks home to Africa’s biggest oil and gas industry, is generated either by militant leaders claiming spectacular attacks on oil industry installations or by the military, keen to publicise its victories flushing out crude oil thieves from camps nestled deep in the mangroves.
Rarely heard are the voices of the “boys” who have taken up arms and make up the rank and file of the militant gangs. Oil theft on an industrial scale or kidnappings for ransom make some of their bosses rich. Peace negotiations see others rewarded with the veneer of political legitimacy and a comfortable new government-funded lifestyle. But the grunts tend to share little of the spoils.
Rebels fighting for greater control of Nigeria’s oil wealth have raised the stakes in their campaing of bombings and kidnappings by threatening to extend attacks to offshore oil installations. Nigeria’s most prominent militant group earlier announced the launch of an “oil war” against oil companies and security forces in the restive Niger Delta. The four-days of fighting since the announcement have been the heaviest since the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta began its campaign of violence against the oil sector in early 2006. International oil markets, depressed in recent days by the impact of the credit crisis on the global economy, finally began taking notice of the escalating violence in Nigeria’s oil-producing region on Wednesday.
Security sources say more than 100 people may have been killed by the fighting, which has spread to at least seven villages in Rivers state.