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Vol 55 No 1

Published 10th January 2014


Economy billowing, politics floundering

Rip-roaring growth, youth unemployment and deepening schisms in the political class will make for an eventful year before the 2015 elections

With some 170 million people, 250 different languages and an economy about to overtake South Africa’s as the continent’s biggest, Nigeria is in many ways a symbol for the rest of Africa in 2014. Its economy is blowing in all directions, many of them eagerly followed by foreign investors in pursuit of fabled hyper-profits, but its politics are more contested than ever, often in the most damaging way. President Goodluck Jonathan is at war with his own People’s Democratic Party: five state governors have defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), as have 37 members of parliament, depriving the PDP of a majority (AC Vol 54 No 25, Presidential letter bombs and Vol 55 No 1, Goodluck Jonathan loses the numbers game). Now the talk in Abuja is of senators defecting to the opposition, which would allow it to scupper what remains of the President’s legislative programme.

The row continues over the leaking of former President Olusegun Obasanjos critical 18-page letter to Jonathan and a shorter one from Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. It took Jonathan several weeks to reply to Obasanjo that his letter was a threat, deliberate or inadvertent, to national security. He has taken things further with Sanusi, whose letter asked why some US$50 billion of oil revenue had not been transferred from the state oil company to the Central Bank of Nigeria between January 2012 and July 2013. On 9 January, it emerged that Jonathan had telephoned him on 31 December, telling him to resign immediately for causing embarrassment.

Sanusi, who is not seeking another term at the CBN after his first one expires in June, is refusing to go. Jonathan has no constitutional power to force him: only two-thirds of the Senate can do that and Jonathan can’t muster that many votes now. The next battles will be at the meetings of the PDP Board of Trustees and National Executive Committee on 15-16 January, when some members are proposing a vote of confidence. That should show how much support remains for Jonathan after the defections and public spats – and whether it’s enough to secure him the party’s nomination for a second presidential term in 2015.

As his combative response to the letter-writers suggests, Jonathan wants to stand. Obasanjo’s letter particularly irritated him, as it reminded him he had promised not to stand for a second term. If he gets the nomination, even from a diminished PDP, he will still hold massive powers of patronage from the state’s control of the oil and gas industry while his supporters in the oil-rich Niger Delta threaten mayhem if anyone blocks his second term. The PDP’s win in last month’s gubernatorial elections in Anambra State showed how crassly elections can be rigged, despite the respected Attahiru Jega chairing the Independent National Electoral Commission. Although the opposition APC claims support across the south-west, most of the north and the Middle Belt, the election will be decided by political organisation.

Can the APC unite around a national presidential candidate and mobilise its support to register, vote and protect the count? Add in Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency in the north-east, communal violence in the Middle Belt, sabotage and piracy in the Delta – and the prospect of fair, let alone peaceful, elections is much diminished. 

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