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Elections Add Fuel to Nigeria’s Fire

Prepared by: Mary Crane, Editorial Coordinator
March 3, 2006


Roaming militias kidnap foreign oil workers, set fire to offshore oil installations, and bomb pipelines in the Niger Delta (Independent). Christian mobs burn down mosques in retaliation for Muslim attacks set off by Danish cartoons ridiculing Mohammed (Reuters). In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country—home to 130 million people – the situation looks ready to go from bad to worse (BBC). Rumors that President Olusegun Obasanjo may change the constitution (AP) to run for a third term in 2007 have set off a new round of protests. Hearings this week in Abuja will consider changing the constitution to extend presidential term limits (Daily Trust).

Violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta and among religious groups presents a security dilemma for Obasanjo, who has staked his reputation abroad on a stable and prosperous Nigeria at home. He faces international pressure to dispel rumors he aims to alter Nigeria’s nascent constitution, outlined in this new CFR Background Q&A. U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, in his Annual Threat Assessment (PDF), warned a third Obasanjo term could cause “major turmoil and conflict” that would lead to a “disruption of oil supply, secessionist moves by regional governments, major refugee flows, and instability elsewhere in West Africa.”

Obasanjo is also under pressure, after two terms in office, to make good on his promises of reform. This CRS Report outlines Nigeria’s political development since Obasanjo took power after sixteen years of military rule. Recent economic policies meant to reduce poverty and expand Nigeria’s export industries—up to 99 percent of Nigeria’s foreign revenues come from oil—have begun to “bear fruit,” says the World Bank, but it will take years for average Nigerians to see real change. And according to the 2005 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (PDF), Obasanjo has done little to quell the sectarian violence that threatens to break the country apart along ethnic and religious lines (BBC). Many Muslims and Christians have been identified as perpetrators of violence, but very few have been prosecuted. Without any solution in sight for quelling Nigeria’s violence and speculation over next year’s elections, the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter faces a “volatile mix of factors” that is “striking and exceptional” and could have global implications, states this Council Task Force report on Africa, More than Humanitarianism.

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