John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Delta Militant Insists Goodluck Jonathan Run for President in 2015

by John Campbell
May 14, 2013

A man walks past election posters for Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan in the Maryland district of the commercial capital Lagos April 16, 2011. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters) A man walks past election posters for Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan in the Maryland district of the commercial capital Lagos April 16, 2011. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)

President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to say whether he will run for the presidency in 2015, although many Nigerians expect he will. The current efforts among the opposition parties to come together behind a single presidential candidate is based on the assumption that Jonathan will run.

Jonathan may not have much choice. His constituency in the southern half of the country and among fellow Christians is likely to insist on it. A notorious Delta militant and thug, Alhaji Mujahid Dokubo Asari, posted a reminder on May 6 of that reality. In a rambling and often incoherent press conference, he said that if Jonathan, a fellow Ijaw, is not re-elected in 2015, not only will there be no peace in the oil-rich Niger Delta, there will be no peace anywhere in Nigeria:

“I want to go on to say that there will be no peace, not only in the Niger Delta, but everywhere if Goodluck Jonathan is not president by 2015 except God takes his life, which we don’t pray for. Jonathan has uninterrupted eight years of two terms to be president, according to the Nigeria constitution.” According to Nigerian media, he said, “we will continue to support and stand by Goodluck.”

In effect, Dokubo Asari’s statement is a threat of renewed Delta violence and is directed at those who would try to deny Jonathan the ruling party’s presidential nomination or those who would vote for an opposition presidential candidate.

The threat is credible. Dokubo Asari is a former president of the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC) and leader of the Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDVF), one of the most important militant organizations involved in the Delta insurrection during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo. The fighting ended with an amnesty established by President Yar’Adua and has continued under President Jonathan. The amnesty involved limited disarmament, retraining, and re-integration of militants. It also involved massive payoffs to militant leaders like Dokubo Asari. But, militant groups like the NDVF have not disbanded, they appear to retain access to sophisticated weapons, and they could relaunch mayhem at any time.

Dokubo Asari was born into a distinguished Christian family. He converted to Islam when he dropped out of university. The conversion appears personal rather than political because few Ijaw are Muslim, and the Muslim population in the Delta–the center of Dokubo Asari’s activities–is very small. He claims to be a friend of President Jonathan. He regularly denounces the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria, saying that Boko Haram and its nominal leader Abubakar Shekau are un-Islamic because of their “arrogance,” especially for their call for Jonathan’s conversion to Islam. He also denounces the mal-governance of Nigeria by a succession of northern military leaders. He is a reminder that southern bitterness toward the north is based on more than anti-Islam sentiments.

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  • Posted by Chike

    One of the reasons why the Niger Delta is a bit quiet is because Goodluck Jonathan, “a son of the soil” is at Abuja.

    Having said that, I think we need to delve a bit deeper into the relationship between the Niger Delta and the North.

    The Niger Delta was largely supportive of one Nigeria during the Nigerian Civil War and they cooperated fully with the Northern-led Nigerian Army to defeat the Biafrans.

    However, since 1970, Niger Deltans feel they got a raw deal from mainly Northern-led Military regimes and the culmination of this humiliation and neglect was the murder of Saro-Wiwa by Abacha.

    The Niger Delta desires more control of its resources and they perceive the North (Northern legislators) as being the major stumbling block to that. (There were a serious of hot exchanges in the news media a few months ago).

    Unfortunately, the lesson of more than fifty years of independence is that negotiation and talking doesn’t get you anywhere – Government only listens when you threaten violence. So Niger Delta Militants are likely to be with us for a long time.

    Let me say a few words about the opposition party: most things in Nigeria are viewed through a sectional/religious prism. Unfortunately, this party is seen as a “Hausa & Yoruba” thing.

    In addition, the South East and the Northern Christian community are unlikely to be terribly enthusiastic about this new party as one of the leading lights (Buhari) is very closely identified with the Muslim North.

    So, in 2015 we can expect Jonathan to capture most of the votes in the South East & Niger Delta and put up a good showing in the Middle Belt. The decider could be the South West.

  • Posted by Zainab

    The very interesting paradox in these threats is that as the 2015 elections draw nearer, uncouth thugs like Asari Dokubo will matter less and less in the political (re)alignment of forces, especially to the Jonathan camp — he might even become a liability. If events in the last 14 years of democratic rule in Nigeria are anything to go by, the incumbent has to find a way of reaching out to other sections of the country, not alienating them. Bayelsa is just one of 36 states after all.

    Let’s even assume Dokubo is speaking on behalf of the Ijaws (just one of at least 300 other ethnic groups) or the whole Niger-Delta (one region out of 6), which I don’t think he is doing by the way, threats of violence against other sections of Nigeria have never won votes, if anything, such posturing will only alienate many others, even those who supported Jonathan in 2011, and that’s not what a person trying to get elected wants.

    There are some who think Asari Dokubo has to bluff, huff and puff just to remain relevant and prove his unflinching loyalty…. Crucially though, it’s worrying that the government hasn’t called him to order especially after his treasonable threats to the country’s existence. As usual, this culture of impunity where people do whatever they want and get away with it has a way of setting a bad precedent in Nigeria. However, I have heard the House of Representatives has threatened to arrest him, which is commendable.

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