John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nation Needs to ‘Move Back From the Brink’

by John Campbell
December 17, 2010

Cindy Shiner from allafrica.com interviewed me about my book and the current political situation in Nigeria.

Here’s an excerpt:

What you’ve got right now is a convergence of stresses. You’ve got the Delta, you’ve got Boko Haram and similar groups in the north, and you have an apparent division amongst the elites along north-south lines.

That is new. There is a footnote I would add to this -once Nigeria did fall off the cliff. That was the civil war of 1967 to 1970, so it has happened in the past.

One of the things that concerns me is that at least among some of the elites there is a sort of pride about dancing on the brink as opposed to a prudence about the need to draw back from the brink.

Read the whole thing here.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    There is a Nigerian saying that ‘be careful of the mourners that cry more than the bereaved’. Your articles are too partisan regarding the 2011 election . For a Nigerian audience its not neutral at all (may be its not what you desired) and it is too pro-Atiku for my liking. All other Northern leaders are corrupt except Atiku, according to your articles and recent book (Nigeria Dancing on the Brink) which will sound like Greek to Nigerians. I just finish reading your book, it shows some understanding and sympathy of Northern socio-political institution and dynamics, especially the Northern oligarchy. But it shows little understanding of the Southwest region, and a very very little or no understanding of the politics and culture of the middle-belt, Southeast and South-South region.

    It also have a subtle preference to a military government over the current civilian regime, i.e. Nigerians and the international community should choose between Atiku or the Military. I maybe wrong, but unfortunately, that is the conclusion I arrived at after reading your book.

  • Posted by John Campbell

    John Ojeah’s thoughtful comments merit a response. As the preface states, Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink is intended for a non-specialist American audience unfamiliar with Africa and Nigeria. Its policy recommendations are addressed to the Obama administration. Its argument is that Nigeria is of strategic importance to the United States, that it is in trouble, and that Americans do not pay enough attention to it. The discussion of Nigeria’s history, religion, politics and economics is intended to illuminate that theme. There is no pretense that it is comprehensive or authoritative. The book concludes that Nigeria is failing as a state—but state failure is by no means predestined. A Nigeria in which the contract between the people and their government is restored through credible elections could resume its leadership position on the African continent – an outcome hoped for by Nigeria’s foreign friends.

    Former vice president Atiku Abubakar is of interest because he was alone among the major candidates for the 2007 presidency of having a civilian rather than military background and orientation. (Though himself a civilian, Yar’adua was the younger brother of an army general and was sponsored by then president Obasanjo, himself a former military dictator.) Though Atiku Abubakar is often accused of corruption, and former president Obasanjo sought to keep him off the presidential ballot in 2007, he is yet to be indicted in a court of law.

    Nobody wants the military to come back, and right now, Goodluck Jonathan and Atiku Abubakar, the leasing presidential candidates, are both civilian in outlook. That’s progress. But Nigerians still see the military as the ultimate guarantor of the Nigerian state if there is widespread violence.

  • Posted by John Ojeah

    Well, if I understand you very well the book is intended for a non-specialist American audience, and not for Nigerians but unfortunately, a lot of Nigerians will still read it and see it differently. Believe me, a lot of them may not be happy how their sections or regions (and also their traditional heritage) of the country are portrayed in it.

    As for Atiku, I think he is/was very close to the military more than Umaru, irrespective of his brother been a soldier. Umaru always opposed his brother, politically and they even belong to different political parties. Remember Shehu Yaradua’s ambition to be president of Nigeria was squashed by the military cabal of Babangida’s generation. It was during this era that Atiku made most of his money, and knowing Nigeria in those days you can’t made such money from the government without been in the good books of the military. In fact, he was a business partner to Shehu Yaradua, whose son Murtala, now a serving minister in Goodluck’s government, is a director of INTEL Services Limited, an oil servicing company his father and Atiku founded together. The same can be said of Jonathan. Though he has no military background, he is from a state that has a lot of serving and retired military men (relative to its size, one of the highest in the country) in the Nigerian armed forces. He can easily tap into such network, hence, like Atiku, cannot be said to be uninfluenced by the military.

    A wide-spread violence in Nigeria, in my opinion, will be beyond the military (unless we have a different definition of wide-spread violence in Nigeria. In fact, a violence that covers a region will be a very tall task for your much prompted military to solve. Such a violence can be brought under control by a combination of forces, but most importantly, by political understanding and involvement of many institution (e.g. traditional institution, religious institution, NGOs etc.) and of course, the military.

    N/B: The Niger Delta conflict covers an area less than 30 percent of a region (South-South). The Jos problem is very minute and local. Hence, I don’t consider them widespread. That of the Niger Delta is very very important because of the importance of oil to the stability of Nigeria, just like that of the Ogoni’s , led by the late Saro Wiwa, which even though they are about 500,000, their insurrection was able to affect Nigeria because of the oil it hosts.

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