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Nigeria in Turmoil

Presider: Carol J. Lancaster, Interim Dean, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Speakers: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Bennett Freeman, Senior Vice President, Sustainability Research and Policy, Calvert Investments, and Peter M. Lewis, Associate Professor and Director, African Studies Program, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
March 19, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations

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CAROL LANCASTER: Good morning. Welcome to Nigeria in Turmoil. I'm sure you're all asking, what's the news? But there's a lot to talk about, there always is when we're talking about such a dynamic country. I'm Carol Lancaster, the dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, happy to be here to preside over this conversation.

I want to welcome all of -- not just you, but members who may be joining us from afar by telecom. I'm told to ask you, as you always are asked on the airplanes, to turn off your electronic devices. Turn them off underlined, because if they are left on, we will probably have some serious feedback problems and other things. And just to remind you that this conversation is on the record.

I want to introduce a distinguished group of experts on Nigeria that are sitting on the stage with me. And if I may, I will start with Professor Peter Lewis, who is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies and director of the African Studies Program there. A well-known expert on Nigeria, has published a number of books and articles, not just on Nigeria, but on governance and economic reform in Africa, and is running a very active speakers series at SAIS, putting in a plug for you, Peter, which fills up my inbox. But I'm delighted to see all the great things that he's doing there.

Next to Peter is Ambassador John Campbell, a -- I would say a real expert on Nigeria from a very direct experience there. Ambassador Campbell has served in Nigeria twice, once as political counselor, and once as ambassador. He is now the Ralph Bunche fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he's based in New York.

And just one other piece of information that I as an academic am always impressed with. He has a Ph.D. in 17th Century English literature, from the University of Wisconsin. And he can explain to you the connection between that and what we're talking about today.

Finally, we have with us one other expert, Bennett Freeman, who is now vice president for sustainability and research policy at Calvert Investments. I think most of us have probably some investments with Calvert, if we're not in government, of course. It's a very well-known and profitable and I think I would say socially-responsible mutual fund, or a family of mutual funds.

Bennett has particular experience in Nigeria, having put together the Niger Delta Initiative for President Clinton, but also a broader experience in human rights and assorted issues, having been a deputy assistant secretary of state for human rights and having been a speech writer for Warren Christopher, and a host of other important positions in the U.S. government.

I think without further ado, I'd like to turn and ask our panelists which of the major issues that confront us in Nigeria today seem to them to be the most compelling ones. And we obviously are well aware that there is a grave question about the presidency in Nigeria. There have been some very bloody incidents in the north of Nigeria between -- take your pick, Christians and Moslems, or Fulanis and settled farmers. And then there is the ongoing challenge of the insurgency in the Delta, and the broader questions of governance and economic performance in Nigeria. I think it's fair to say it's one of the world's most dynamic countries, one of the most interesting, one of the most important, and one of the most challenging.

So maybe we can just start with Peter, and get your fix on what we should be concerned about among all these and other issues in Nigeria today.

PETER LEWIS: Right now the issue that's driving everything in Nigeria is the leadership crisis. You have no central control at the center. You have two presidents, one the president who was installed by the 2007 elections, the other the acting president, different circles of elites around them. The party is divided, the central government is divided, the legislature is divided. And the security forces appear not to be entirely coherent either. And this is driving everything.

You can't craft a coherent security response to the situation in Jos and Plateau State without a central leadership and good command and control of the security forces. You can't take the amnesty and the respite, the breathing space in the Niger Delta forward unless you have leadership at the center. And everything else that is driving political violence and uncertainty and turbulence, all the factionalism and competition among elites is only aggravated by speculation about elections and the political process going forward.

LANCASTER: You said that there were divisions in any number of important groups in Nigeria at present, because of the presidential question. I'm wondering -- and maybe I can ask Ambassador Campbell this. What are these divisions based on? And how do we get out of this, or how do the Nigerians get out of this problem of division?

JOHN CAMPBELL: How is Nigeria run? Basically, governance in Nigeria is competition and cooperation amongst patronage networks. When the patronage networks are in broad agreement, things function. When they are not, as at present, things do not function. Peter made the point that there are two presidents in Abuja, or alternatively, there are no presidents in Abuja, depending on how you look at it.

The system in Nigeria invests a tremendous amount of authority in the person of the president, more so than the federal structure as laid out on paper would indicate. Similarly, particularly over the past four or five years, governors in states have become increasingly important. Many of them head their own patronage networks.

Why does it matter that you have virtually no government in Abuja at present? You have a resumption of the insurrection in the Delta, with some not exactly new, but particularly unpleasant dimensions. I'm referring to car bombs. You have the ongoing quite murderous conflict around Jos continuing. Day before yesterday, another 11 people were murdered outside of a -- outside of a village.

The quality of what's going on around Jos may also be changing. A contact of mine who recently visited there said that this didn't look like or feel like the traditional conflicts between the Hausa-Fulani, who typically are herdsmen, and the indigenous population, who will come from minority tribes and are farmers. Rather, it felt more and more like a kind of guerrilla warfare in which people would attack, withdraw, and then sort of disappear into the countryside.

Now let's focus for just a moment on Jos. Jos is a army division headquarters. There's no shortage of troops in Jos. And when the police in Nigeria cannot restore order it is the army that does so.

How is it that you have continuing and ongoing extremely murderous incidents one after another? A few days ago, there was finger pointing between the governor of the -- of Plateau State and the chief military commander, both accusing the other of having dropped the ball. You end up with situations like this when you don't have a functioning government in Abuja.

LANCASTER: Bennett, we know that oil is often a key element in Nigerian politics. Perhaps I should say always a key element -- both a source of conflict and a source of cooperation. And we know that the oil comes from the Delta. And it's part of a broader resource issue that you have wrestled with worldwide. What insights can you give us about oil in Nigeria today?

BENNETT FREEMAN: I think, Carol, that the most succinct insights can be boiled down to a couple of numbers. That at the height of the conflict of -- (inaudible) -- last spring, the production was down from a capacity of 3 million barrels a day to 1 million barrels a day on average. And stepping back and looking at the situation going back to 2005, the leading producer by far, Shell, suffered about a 30 percent drop in its production.

The shortfalls have been so dramatic as to cause spikes in world oil prices intermittently in the last five years and to knock Nigeria off its pedestal last year in 2009 from being the number one oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa to number two, behind Angola. That tells a lot of the story right there.

John's predecessor as U.S. ambassador in Abuja, Howard Jeter was told early on in his tenure by then-President Obasanjo that he viewed the Delta both as his biggest problem and also greatest potential legacy to history, if he could get it right. And that promise remains sadly unfulfilled. And the situation in the Delta remains as volatile as ever, as evidenced by the bombing outside the meeting that had been convened in Warri just on Monday.

LANCASTER: Well, this is not very happy news.

(Laughter)

Peter, do you see a way out, particularly, the presidential succession issue, because obviously that's key to most of what we're talking about?

LEWIS: It's possible, it's a difficult path. And we're following events literally day to day. There have been various projections over the past several weeks since Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was named by the National Assembly, or was essentially installed by the National Assembly as acting president. Some people thought it would be resolved fairly quickly, but the power struggle has been protracted, the stalemate and paralysis at the top has lingered.

Essentially, as John Campbell has said, there's an elite cartel at the center of power in Nigeria. There is a political party that came together about a decade ago, with no ideological or programmatic basis, but simply as essentially a club of elites for sharing of oil rents and political spoils. That party has been extremely successful at consolidating its position, and really has attempted to establish a near political monopoly throughout not only the central government, but also throughout the states.

There are pockets of opposition activity. There still is some political pluralism, but it is very much a dominant party system, in which the ruling party has little or no possibility of being overturned or having its dominance encroached upon or reversed. And they do this not only through the distribution of patronage, but also through massive, flagrant and increasingly egregious fraud, misconduct and fixing of elections, using all tools from money to violence in order to preserve their electoral advantage.

In the event, the party has degenerated and the political class at the center has degenerated -- well, degenerated, it is simply being constructed, reconstructed really, in the course of looking historically, reconstructed as a -- as a poorly cohering group of different factions with different regional and local bases of power. The governors all rig their own elections, essentially. They run their own gangs of thugs. They manage their own patronage networks.

So what's happening now is that there is uncertainty in the presidency. And different groups are peeling off and aligning themselves, and trying to hedge their bets between the two groups. How long can this persist? It could persist until elections next year, if the president -- President Yar'Adua is still thought to be alive and has a heartbeat, and is kept going on a respirator of some sort. The president will not be seen, I don't think, in public or heard from again. I don't think there is any possibility that he'll resume his authority.

But as long as there is a -- the presence of the formal president, this could persist until elections next year. On the other hand, if there is an impeachment, a resignation or some other medical event, it could end very quickly. And President -- Acting President Jonathan could take over, and you could have a restoration of some authority at the center.

Also, with the dissolution of the cabinet this week, the change in the leader -- the head of the National Security Council last week, and the previous week's naming of a new advisory council for Acting President Jonathan, there is an incremental move towards his consolidation of some authority and some standing in the government.

LANCASTER: I think I'd like to ask Bennett a question, and then Ambassador Campbell a question. And I guess I'm trying to bring this home now. What difference does it make to the United States that the oil produced in Nigeria is vulnerable to changes in the amount of production and violence in the region, in the Delta, and also the political uncertainties in Nigeria itself?

And then, I'd like to ask Ambassador Campbell to sort of broaden that out and talk what concerns we have here, and what, if anything, we can do about the situation in Nigeria. But first Bennett, what's your thought?

FREEMAN: Well, at a time when energy security remains at the top of our own national agenda, and worries persist about the stability of the Persian Gulf, and given the focus for obvious reasons on Iran, there has been the last half dozen years a sharp focus, beginning with the previous administration, on the Gulf of Guinea as a critical source of U.S. oil needs. And of course, Angola and Nigeria had already been established as major suppliers in previous decades to this country. But there has been a sharp focus as well on Equatorial Guinea for example, which is now the third largest sub-Saharan African oil producer.

Beyond the obvious impact of causing spikes in oil prices that are felt by U.S. consumers, we have to have a deep concern about the continuing stability -- or, frankly, the lack of stability of one of our top suppliers, namely Nigeria. And this is a problem that policymakers have wrestled with in administrations of both parties. And I would say with a lack of -- a lack of success despite some potentially promising initiatives over the last decade or more.

The initiative that I helped put together for President Clinton in 2000 focusing on the Niger Delta, looking at revenue transparency, security and human rights issues, was never implemented by the administration that took office in 2001. Ambassador Campbell, though, and his predecessor Howard Jeter did their best amidst a very complex set of issues across Nigeria, to address U.S. oil needs, and did try to emphasize governance and transparency.

There are, though, some signs of progress that I think can be attributed in part to U.S. policy. The most potentially positive of which is the progress that almost despite itself Nigeria has made the last several years in trying to bring some degree of transparency to its oil revenue accounting, through its own Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative as part of the global EITI. And Nigeria is likely to be validated as being compliant with the EITI in the next several months.

But for a country that still has fundamental problems around basics like metering that prevents it from even measuring its output, transparency has its limits. And transparency certainly has its limits if it's not translated over the expenditure side of the ledger, which is absolutely the key to solving the problems of the Delta. Delivering the goods to the people in communities of the Delta, who have seen, frankly, little economic benefit, and lived for years now in what can really only be described as a cauldron of environmental degradation and poverty and human rights abuses.

So I think that our new administration a year into it still has its work cut out for it. And I'm hopeful that Assistant Secretary Carson's sharp focus, his recent visit, the focus of David Goldwyn on Africa, as part of his global portfolio around energy security will give a new impetus to U.S. efforts. But of course it's all complicated by the uncertain leadership and very fundamental worries about the ability of Goodluck Jonathan to really exert any power whatsoever.

LANCASTER: John, what do you have to say about the situation?

CAMPBELL: In addition to oil, Nigeria has played an absolutely crucial role as our diplomatic partner in Africa. Nigeria for a long time was positively involved in the building of African institutions -- the Economic Community of West African States, the Africa Union. Nigeria played an active, dynamic, creative and positive role in resolving conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire. Nigeria most of the time provides more peacekeepers for AU-UN or ECOWAS peacekeeping missions in Africa. Nigeria is currently on the U.N. Security Council. And yet, the crisis that we have been talking about, particularly the one involving executive authority means that that dimension of Nigeria has receded massively.

Ambassador Lyman has publicly spoken of the danger of Nigeria becoming essentially irrelevant to the international community. This for a country like the United States with worldwide responsibilities is not a good thing.

Now, what should the United States government's response be to the current situation? First of all, we must remain engaged. Secondly, we must proceed with institution building. For example, the Obama administration has proposed the establishment of a binational commission. A binational commission provides machinery through which two countries can work issues which they have identified as of crucial importance to each other. Thirdly, particularly given the deep divisions, straight across the board in Nigeria, we have to be very, very careful about what we say publicly.

We have to reaffirm our fundamental values -- rule of law, democracy, looking towards free, fair and credible elections. We have to be true to ourselves, but we also have to consider how what we say is seen by Nigerians. Already, for example, some of my Nigerian contacts from the North are seeing public statements made by the U.S. government as indicating a pro-Southern tilt. Because of course Goodluck Jonathan is from the South, Goodluck Jonathan is a Christian.

With respect to the massacres around Jos, Nigerians who happen to be Muslim say to me, well, the U.S. press pays far more attention to Christian victims than it has paid to Muslim victims, who predominated when the violence first broke out about a month or so ago. So this is a period of time that's going to require a lot of tactical skill and attention.

LANCASTER: Thank you.

Well, I think -- I hope we have had from our distinguished guests an overview of Nigeria in Turmoil. And now, it's time for the audience to ask questions and make comments. What I would like to ask you to do is -- if you have a question, put your hand up, wait for the microphone, and stand up and speak directly into it. And please tell us your name and your affiliation. So, the floor is open.

Witney.

QUESTIONER: Good morning. Witney Schneidman, Schneidman and Associates, International. Ambassador Campbell, I'd like to follow-up on the notion of the field of guerrilla war in Jos, because I think it's really quite a serious issue. guerrilla war, as we know, sort of implies a rallying ideology, external support external base. And the first question is, number one, are we seeing any of that there?

CAMPBELL: I don't --

QUESTIONER: But, just let me say -- and then put in the broader context of the Sahel, and the imminent perhaps split in Sudan elections referendum, split between North and South in Sudan, split between Christians and Muslims in Sudan. Are we seeing reverberations from that into Northern Nigeria that could really exacerbate the situation along those lines?

CAMPBELL: To take your first point, no, I don't see any external elements at play. Periodically, the State Security Service, probably the most efficient part of the Nigerian government, periodically the State Security Service will arrest someone for alleged al Qaeda links or connections, that they very often (find ?). I think whatever role they play is really quite minor.

You asked or made reference to ideology. One of the really strange things about what's going on around Jos is what's the ideology? I mean, where is it? I don't -- I don't see it really. Don't even really see much ideology at play in the conflicts of the Niger Delta. And what both conflicts have in common is who do you talk to?

I mean, there is no charismatic leader, there is no politburo -- I mean, it's -- in that sense we're talking about something that -- something which is relatively new. I think you're absolutely right to put what's going on in Northern Nigeria into a larger Sahelian context, however, because after all, the boundary is simply a line in the sand.

FREEMAN: Literally.

CAMPBELL: Exactly. This is one of the things that's -- you know, that's sort of creepy about the coup in Niger. Not only did you have a military coup in Niger, but you had one that was widely welcomed by the public. And there is essentially no difference in the population in Niger and in Northern Nigeria, except one had a French Colonial master and the other had an English one. You have to -- you have to wonder what on the ground people are thinking.

Also, just to put on the table. from my perspective when I was ambassador in Nigeria, we know so little about the North, compared to what we ought to know. We have no diplomatic presence north of Abuja -- that may change. And while embassy officers travel a lot in the North, as I did -- I had one political officer, who in the course of two years made some 50 trips there -- that's different from actually being there and on the ground.

LANCASTER: Anybody else, Peter or Bennett want to add to that?

LEWIS: Yes, I think with regard to the very murky politics of Jos, and the very murky politics of religious strife in the North, we have to be careful about imputing too much to international trends and movement, because these are very much local, internally-driven types of conflicts. Clearly, if there is an escalation and a different level of organization in Plateau State today, it's coming from political forces that are utilizing the existing animosities and the legacy of conflict for their own purposes.

There are people who are -- who are essentially using local resentments and local strife as shock troops for purposes that are entirely unclear. Even in the blogs and some of the Nigerian analysis on the websites and so forth, there is really not a good understanding of what's happening, much less from people on the ground, who are watching events unfold.

In the conflicts with Boko Haram, the so-called Nigerian Taliban as they were sometimes called, Kala-Kato, the Maitatsine sect in Bauchi, and other recent incidents where security forces fought with extremists. These are very much localized groups. And while there's been a lot of speculation and some concern about an al Qaeda connection, and while there may be individual operatives who have some aspirations, we -- I think should see this very much in terms of local dynamics on the ground in Nigeria.

LANCASTER: Another question -- yes, right there in the front row.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Galen Carey with the National Association of Evangelicals. We've heard quite a few reports regarding the recent murder of Christians and burning of churches but haven't heard nearly as much about what you mentioned, Ambassador Campbell, about Muslim victims. I wonder if you might say a little about that, and if there are any attempts to quantify how many people are involved?

CAMPBELL: The quantification is very difficult. My experience has been that when you're talking about numbers of victims, the reality is always greater than the -- than the published amounts. When the violence started around Jos, now more than a month ago, most of the victims were Muslim. Most of them were in either predominantly Muslim villages or in mixed villages. And the victims again tended to be women and children.

The number is pretty big -- 500, 600, 700 something like that. I had an e-mail from a farmer whom I knew, who reported to me that every one of her Muslim field workers had been murdered -- every one of them. So I think there is -- there is undoubtedly a revenge dimension in what is going on now.

Peter made the absolutely valid point about the intense localism of these issues. For example, the murders going on now -- the perpetrators at least are claiming that some of the victims or the minority tribes the victims belong to were involved in cattle rustling. Well, that's credible. They might have been. The complaint that I get is that the American media focuses on Christian victims, but mentions Muslim victims only in passing.

LANCASTER: Yes, over here.

QUESTIONER: Shaun Casey, Wesley Seminary. And I have a -- really a follow-up question there. I'm wondering if anybody has actually mapped the indigenous religious actors in Nigeria? Or is anybody trying to do that at this point?

CAMPBELL: Do you mean a map that would show basically where the various tribes predominate, and what their predominant religion is?

QUESTIONER: Well, in addition to that, any religious institutional actors as well.

LEWIS: There are some efforts to do that. It's hampered by a couple of things. Number one, there hasn't been a census in which religion or ethnicity were identified since 1953. And there hasn't been a really credible census since then either. So it's all a matter of guesswork.

Number two, there is an infusion of both Pentecostal and independent Islamic institutions over the last decade or two, which are not affiliated with either the Sufi orders on the Muslim side, or the major denominations on the Christian side, making the welter of organizations and groups, you know, much more plural and much more dynamic.

I will make a plug however for a recent survey effort by the Pew Center on Religion and Society, which has attempted to map religious demography in Nigeria and 18 other African countries, with I think some pretty interesting results. And there is a very rich data set there that will probably yield us some good insights. And that is set to be released partially at SAIS in two weeks. We're having a day-long conference on religion and politics in Africa on April 2. And then, Pew will also roll out their own report separately, so that's forthcoming.

LANCASTER: Yes, Mac (ph) -- somebody will come.

QUESTIONER: Mac Desley (ph), University of Maryland, one-time Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria. If the panel is -- shares the view that the current president is unlikely to be seen or heard from again, what is the base for continuing support of him? Is there -- are there powerful figures with their own power bases within his patronage network? Why doesn't support for him -- why don't they run elsewhere, in a sense, rather than continue to cohere on a rival pull of authority?

CAMPBELL: Some of them may indeed be in the process of shifting elsewhere. I think we have to look at President Yar'Adua within the context of a unwritten principle of Nigerian governance, which is that the presidency rotates between the North and the South. This means that if you are from the North, and if President Yar'Adua is no longer president, and Goodluck Jonathan, who comes from the Delta, is president, you have lost your turn.

Now, you could get it back again, possibly in 2011 when the next elections take place. And by the way, elections aren't elections in the sense that we use the word. Think of them more like ceremonies.

(Laughter)

There's -- hopefully, that will improve for the better, but nevertheless, one of the proposals that has been out there is that the date of the elections be moved up. And that they -- for example, the chairman of the Electoral Commission submitted to the National Assembly a couple of days ago a proposal that the elections take place in January instead of April. Because what that would do is shorten the amount of time that this Southern Christian acting president or maybe even eventually president could exercise authority. Yes, there are plenty of really quite powerful people, who have supported President Yar'Adua.

FREEMAN: I would just add that while acknowledging the extraordinary complexity of the political situation, that it's very, very important to recognize the Acting President Jonathan is in fact trying to act as president. Hence, the dissolution of the cabinet two days ago, which given the circumstances, I think has to be seen as a pretty gutsy move. And I think that there is a real opportunity here for a southerner as acting president for up to a year, to really focus on the Delta situation. He's been very clear that the Delta is one of his top three priorities. Certainly, the bombing in Warri on Monday and the resumption of attacks by elements associated with MEND, will compel him to focus.

And I would also underline the timely intervention of Assistant Secretary Carson and Ambassador Sanders several weeks ago, at the time of President Yar'Adua's return to Abuja, laying a very clear marker that at least from the U.S. point of view, it was essential that there not be a tampering of the process. And that Acting President Jonathan in fact be seen as the acting president. And I think that there is a critical challenge here for U.S. diplomacy to try to make good on that.

LANCASTER: Peter, do you have anything you wanted to add?

LEWIS: I think Bennett has put it very well. Acting President Jonathan has set out three priorities in a brief period that he wants to achieve, in, you know, less than 15 months in office, maybe just a year in office. And in my view, they're realistic priorities. One, carry forward the amnesty process and the peace process in the Niger Delta. Number two, convene credible elections, not election-like events. I believe that's your term, in the past. Convene credible, legitimate elections in 2011.

And three, tackle the parlous condition of the electricity sector. Nigeria currently produces less electricity than Puerto Rico and less electricity than war-torn Iraq, even though it has six times the population of that country. So if he can make serious progress on those three agenda items, he will leave a legacy which as one commentator recently said, will be remembered by Nigerians for a thousand years.

LANCASTER: The very back row, please.

QUESTIONER: Joanne Lagro (ph) with the Office of Religious Freedom at the State Department. And this question goes to Ambassador Campbell. I just wanted to know what you would suggest as the role of the international community in terms of trying to build peace in Jos?

CAMPBELL: My first point would be, don't jump to conclusions based upon inadequate evidence. My second point would be to do what we can do, to support NGOs, particularly NGOs that are Nigerian, that are working on the ground to diffuse religious and ethnic conflict.

LANCASTER: No one gives a short answer like that.

(Laughter)

Do any of you want to add anything?

LEWIS: Well, you know, again, I think Ambassador Campbell just makes an excellent point that it's -- it has to be managed and resolved by actors on the ground. And there is very little leverage and even less knowledge by outside groups. Clearly, there is an element of retaliation. This is not a new dynamic in Jos. It has a history going back at least 40 or 45 years. And certainly, the area has been hot for a decade.

So, it's not well understood by outsiders, and it's not particularly well understood by local actors, many of whom see only pieces of the -- of the situation. So, however, there are local NGOs and civic organizations and religious actors, who are trying to diffuse the situation or trying to work across confessional lines, and who are trying to mitigate the tensions. And supporting them and hoping that they will have some effect in their communities is about the best reed that we have to grasp at this point.

CAMPBELL: We're also talking about Jos. Remember there have been very, very bloody instances in Maiduguri, in Kono and lots of other places. And the point is that they all differ one from the other in terms of what their local circumstances are. That's why I put so much emphasis on the local dimension of peace and reconciliation work.

LANCASTER: Next table.

QUESTIONER: Hazel Denton (sp), Johns Hopkins SAIS. With all that's going on in Nigeria, do you ever hear any rumblings of perhaps redrawing the map and separating the country into different parts? And in that context, has the move of the capital from Lagos to Abuja played any role in the balance politically?

CAMPBELL: Let's take your first question, which I think is a lot of fun, because you will have seen Qaddafi's statement of a couple of days ago, that Nigeria should split into two different countries. The Nigerian government is outraged, recalled its ambassador. What in many respects though is most interesting, have been the Christian leaders in the South, quoted in the Nigerian newspapers as -- to the effect that Qaddafi is right. Only alternatively, they talk not about the division of the country into two states, but into five or six states.

Now, most -- none of these clergy who spoke in favor of what Qaddafi said were Anglican or Roman Catholic, and those two churches incorporate more than half of the Christians in Nigeria. It's heavily Pentecostal in terms of background. With respect to the move of the capital from Lagos to Abuja, and has it shifted the sort of balance amongst the various regions. My sense is that it must have, but it's very hard to actually prove it.

FREEMAN: I would say that based on growing up with this -- my father ran political risks insurance for AID before that was folded into OPEC in the late 60s, and traveled to Nigeria many times during that period. And I grew up with a huge poster in my bedroom in San Francisco on General Dewan in his full dress military uniform, with his finger up saying to keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. And I would not underestimate the power of that fundamental principle, even 40 years later, as a glue which will continue to hold the country together.

The bloody Biafran war was fought to keep Nigeria one. And as someone with far less experience and expertise in Nigeria than either Peter or John, it's nonetheless inconceivable to me that powers that be, who are concentrated more in the North than the South or the East, would permit any division of the country whatsoever.

LEWIS: It's an important question -- you can have some fun with it too, but it's an important question because it does come up. And international analysts and observers constantly raise this question and speculate on it. I think that the question was settled 40 years ago in 1970. People grouse about the problems of Nigeria -- Nigerians complain about it. And they constantly speculate on whether it wouldn't be better to just partition the country.

But no serious observer imagines that that could be done without a loss of a million or 2 million lives, and chaos across West and Central Africa. It's simply not a possibility. The North would be Niger Republic with better roads. And the South -- once you start partitioning there is no end to it. Where do you stop?

In 1967, the Ibos imagined they could hive off the Eastern region, with the Ijaws as sort of not even junior partners, just sort of folded into their project. The Ijaws now have their own weaponry, their own organization, their own militias, and their own project. At the height of the insurgency in the Niger Delta about a year or two ago, there was never a serious call for secession or for partition.

So even the Ijaw nationalists in the Delta recognize that the solution has to be a Nigerian solution. So the grousing in the newspapers and around the coffee tables of Nigeria does not play out as a serious impulse for partition. And I think it's not an open question.

LANCASTER: Yes, the gentleman in the back.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Darad (ph), I work for International Christian Concern. In my conversations with Christian leaders in Jos, they repeatedly told me that they don't trust the military. And there are occasions in which people with military attire attacked the Christian villagers. So I mean, they told me that they don't even want the military to be there.

They say, you know, police is enough to protect us. And I mean, what do you say about that? And what kind of implication is that kind of perception going to have on the unity of Nigeria?

CAMPBELL: Well, the general commanding in Jos is a Hausa-Fulani. And the governor of Plateau State is a Christian. And obviously, what your interlocutors are referring to is a profound and fundamental lack of trust, that runs right across the spectrum. That lack of trust in part reflects a breakdown in governance and governing institutions.

How do you restore that trust? Well, that's where the Nigerian NGOs come in, where essentially their approach tends to be to try to restore trust to one street at a time or one village at a time.

LEWIS: The Christians in Jos strongly believe that the government in Abuja supports the Muslims, and those local military garrisons. The Muslims in Plateau and around Jos firmly believe that the governor is supporting the Buram (ph) and the Christians. And so there are these very divided, very polarized camps who believe that different governing groups and different political actors are backing the separate religious communities. And the difficulty with bridging that is that -- is really at the center of the challenge of bringing peace.

LANCASTER: Yes, right here in the front.

QUESTIONER: I'm Priscilla Clapp -- a former colleague of John Campbell's in the State Department. You all paint a picture of a country that's really dissolving into chaos. And I'm wondering -- John in particular, you talked about institution building. Are there any institutions at the national level that can be built on now? Or is it -- is it like building on sand?

CAMPBELL: I think so. The Nigerian Army remains a national institution. The judiciary, which is national, particularly at its upper reaches is accorded the respect of a national institution. Outside of government, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are organized into dioceses that cover the entire country. And so they are national institutions in a sense.

But you raise an interesting point. One of the things that thoughtful Nigerians talk about is not that there will be another Biafra, not that the country will break up into smaller territorial units, but rather it will go the way of Congo-Kinshasa. That essentially the country stays together in some sense, but that government and government institutions have less and less reach, less and less influence over what actually happens on the ground. That's what they tend to worry about.

LANCASTER: Right here.

QUESTIONER: Good morning, and thank you for the discussion. I'm Vicki Huddleston, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Africa. And I want to get back to Peter's comments, because you alluded when you began about divisions within the military. So, if you can elaborate a bit on that.

And then, maybe go to John and elaborate in general on the military because you spoke about -- perhaps the military should be involved in resolving some of these conflicts. But yet, I think in Nigeria that can be particularly problematic because sometimes the military is a bit heavy-handed, because it's difficult to deal with civilian divisions and ethnic disputes. And also, the military's role in the preservation -- if that is the case of Nigeria, and its role as the elections begin to get closer and closer. Thank you.

LEWIS: Well, in the 1980s and '90s, it was clear that the Nigerian military was becoming increasingly politicized and increasingly factionalized. And this gave rise to a series of coups and increasingly predatory and personalized regimes throughout that period. When former General Obasanjo was elected as a civilian president in 1999, his first order of business was to get the military in the barracks and keep the door closed. He paid a lot of attention to that during this first term.

There were a lot of forced retirements, there was a lot of reshuffling. He kept a watchful eye on the armed forces. There was also assistance from the United States and some other external actors to try to promote security sector reform, professionalize the Nigerian military, move them toward a new set of tasks in peacekeeping and regional security and so forth. And I think to a significant degree those efforts were successful.

I think that the outlook of the senior officers in Nigeria today is very much one of a professional military. That said, we're seeing a number of fissures and personal agendas play out here in the current situation that are worrisome. General Dambazau, the chief of army staff, is quite close to the Yar'Adua inner circle and the Yar'Adua family. And there are certainly questions about his judgment and whether he has taken unilateral actions. For instance, in mobilizing the brigade of guards to meet President Yar'Adua, on his return at 1:30 in the morning from Saudi Arabia, without the knowledge of acting President Jonathan or the chief of defense staff Dike.

So the idea that the chief of army staff is taking unilateral actions, even though they later said oh, it was just a, you know, a kerfuffle and a problem of communication. He might be testing the waters. So there is a lot of suspicion and a lot of concern about that.

There is also the issue that despite the professionalization of the Nigerian military over the last decade, traditionally, they take -- they pursue their own agenda. And in the Niger Delta, last May's offensive against MEND in Jos, and in many of the other security problems we've seen over the last decade, it's clear that commanders on the ground are driving events, and a not a line of command and control from Abuja. Not the civilian guidance of the military.

So this is another institution that remains somewhat opaque to us. A lot of these things are playing out and being reported and discussed in the media. So we do have some insight into what's going on, but there is a level at which it's opaque. And we need to be concerned about it.

I do think that the statements from the United States -- and just the general situation where you have 30 million cell phones, you don't have secure communications within the military and so forth, has induced a measure of caution among any commanders, who might be contemplating some adventure.

LANCASTER: I think we have time for one more short question. Hank Cohen, who I think has spent some time in Africa.

QUESTIONER: I'm sorry. I'd like to go back to this binational commission. You know, we've seen binational commissions in Africa before. I don't think there has been much success in them.

So what is the role of the binational commission in Nigeria? And you also mentioned the growing power of the governors. And I gather from what I read that there's one governor who is becoming a role model -- the Lagos State governor, and good state governance. Could the binational commission focus on good state governance? Because it seems that could solve a lot of problems.

CAMPBELL: I think that's devoutly to be hoped for. And what a binational commission is, is it's simply a structure. Its utility and whether it lasts really reflects the political will of the two partners. It merely facilitates communication and working together.

Your point about Governor Fashola, the governor of Lagos State, I think is very important, because there you see an example of significantly-improved governance. One of the things that I would like to see would be some kind of modification of the Millennium Challenge program, so that it applied to states and not simply to nations. Nigeria as a nation is very far away from being eligible for the program. Various states in Nigeria, no -- Lagos State is one, Cross Rivers is another. I think there are real possibilities there.

And the demonstration effect, I think, becomes extremely important. If for example in Lagos State you have good governance, you have more credible elections than apply elsewhere in the nation, and people see there is a connection between the two. And then you're facilitating economic development through something like the Millennium Challenge program. Then maybe you can start to move forward.

LANCASTER: I think we're ending on a state of optimism here. (Laughter)

At least good ideas for people to consider. So may I say thank you all for being here, and thanks to anyone out there in the teleconference sphere. And thanks especially to our guests. I have learned a great deal and I hope you all have too. Thank you. (Applause.)

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