from Africa in Transition

“Corruption Fights Back” in Nigeria

January 20, 2016

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Sub-Saharan Africa

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President Muhammadu Buhari successfully ran for the presidency on an anti-corruption ticket and a promise to restore security by destroying Boko Haram. His geographical support was based in the north and the west of the country, and he also benefitted from a general sense among the political class that incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was incompetent and had to go.

But, in the predominately south and east of the country, a majority apparently voted for Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) candidates in the National Assembly. Just how large a majority is not clear, as there was election rigging in the region on Jonathan’s and the PDP’s behalf. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that notwithstanding Buhari’s electoral victory, the PDP has not gone away. With its votes in the National Assembly, it remains a powerful political factor that can thwart Buhari’s reform agenda.

Since election day, there have been complaints that Buhari’s government is “northern” in character, and that it is not moving to address the genuine grievances in the southern and eastern parts of the country, including the oil patch, that had voted for the PDP. There has been a revival of public sentiment in favor of Biafra, a predominately Christian, Igbo-dominated state that tried to secede from Nigeria and failed in the 1967-70 civil war. In a government misstep that risks inflaming Delta opinion, the Buhari administration has arrested the head of Radio Biafra and denies him bail.

Since election day, President Buhari has vigorously pursued an anti-corruption campaign that includes senior associates of the Jonathan administration in its dragnet. Many of those arrested or under investigation are Christians from the areas that voted for Jonathan and the PDP. It should be no surprise that there are complaints that the Buhari government is selective in its investigations and prosecutions to the detriment of southern Christians, though, in fact, northern Muslims (including the former national security advisor and a close associate of Buhari himself) have also been caught in the anti-corruption dragnet.

Last week, the Abuja High Court ordered the arrest of the warlord Government Ekpemupolo (or Tompolo), one of Jonathan’s more disreputable political allies from the oil patch, for corruption. Apparently as a result of the arrest, Niger Delta militants over the weekend attacked oil and gas pipelines that shut down two of Nigeria’s four refineries. Long out of operation, the four refineries had recently been revived as part of the Buhari administration’s effort to reduce Nigeria’s dependence on imported refined petroleum products. During the last round of unrest in the oil patch under the 1999-2007 Obasanjo administration, militant attacks on the oil infrastructure significantly cut production and reduced government revenue. The Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations in effect bought off militant leaders, like Tompolo, through government contracts and office.

Ex-war lord and man of violence, Tompolo faces credible charges. But, he is also seen by some in the Delta as a Robin Hood by a region that is feeling marginalized. As the anti-corruption campaign unfolds, it should be anticipated that Delta restiveness and associated attacks on the oil infrastructure will continue.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

Fossil Fuels

Nigeria

Elections and Voting

Civil Society

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