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Vol 43 No 9

Published 3rd May 2002


Nigeria

The Generals' election

The military has helped tear the country apart but civilians still defer to the soldiers and politicians

It is a measure of Nigeria's political class that in next year's presidential election, the two most likely candidates - Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari - are retired generals and former military leaders. And Nigeria's wealthiest and most influential kingmaker, another retired general and military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, may well offer money to both sides. On 25 April, General Obasanjo, 'persuaded' by his supporters, declared he would seek a second term; on the same day, Gen. Buhari joined the biggest opposition group, the All People's Party, on whose ticket he may stand for President. Buhari and Obasanjo hold strong and contrary religious convictions: Obasanjo is a 'born again' Christian who has preached at the fundamentalist Winners' Chapel; Buhari exudes asceticism, publicly supporting the extension of the Sharia criminal code (AC Vol 42 No 17). Obasanjo is Yoruba from Ogun State in the south-west; Buhari is Fulani from Katsina in the far north. Over this looming battle lurks the ghost of a late military leader, Gen. Sani Abacha. Last week, it emerged that the Obasanjo government's National Security Advisor, another retired general, Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, had reached agreement with the Abacha family and the banking authorities in Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Britain's Channel Islands for the return of some US$1 billion of state funds stolen by Abacha. Under the deal, the Abacha family may keep some $100 million which they claim that Abacha earned before he became head of state. Nigerians are outraged but government lawyers hail it as a victory which avoids years of litigation of the sort that delayed the Philippines' government in retrieving funds stolen by the late President Ferdinand Marcos.

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