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Vol 44 No 25

Published 19th December 2003


Nigeria

Reforms, risks and rumblings

New opponents are lurking in the shadows as President Obasanjo tries to change course

'Everything is in place,' the tall man in babariga assured his audience in a Kaduna street. 'In place for what?' came the reply. 'Regime change of course!' the tall man smirked. Such stories openly predicting, even hoping for a military coup are now common, especially in the north. How seriously should they be taken? Very, to judge by President Olusegun Obasanjo's new securocracy. Since returning to power as civilian President in 1999, Obasanjo has overhauled the military, dismissing any officers who had held political postings in the military regimes led by Generals Sani Abacha, Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari. And he has installed a new cadre of military intelligence officers drawn primarily from his own Yoruba people of south-western Nigeria. His National Security Advisor and former director of military intelligence, Major Gen. Aliyu Gusau, is a formidable security networker and an old friend of Nigeria's veteran putschist, Gen. Babangida. Obasanjo and his fellow military veterans know there are limits to their impregnability. The arrest of three ex-ministers on corruption charges linked to the failed national identity card project has raised the stakes in Obasanjo's anti-corruption war. It follows a searching probe into corruption at the now defunct Nigeria Airways. Obasanjo's supporters fear that political opposition to his new government and reforms being pushed by technocrats, such as Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Federal Capital Territory Minister Nassir el-Rufai, are chipping away at powerful vested interests; in their place, new business interests are emerging, closer to Obasanjo.

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