from Africa in Transition

Nigeria: Civil Servants Unpaid, Journalists Threatened, Boko Haram and MEND Bombing

February 09, 2012

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Censorship and Freedom of Expression

Over the past week there have been curious Nigerian developments. The government has been unable to pay its civil servants and is now a month in arrears. The explanation has been that the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation failed to deposit the government’s oil revenue in the account from which civil servants are paid. Then, this week, the government closed down the press office at Lagos’s Murtala Muhammed Airport. This facility has operated under military and civilian governments and is a generation old. In addition, journalists were reportedly threatened in the Middle Belt.

South, in the Niger Delta, ‘Jomo Gbomo,’ the mythic spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has blasted President Goodluck Jonathan in personal terms, threatened renewed mayhem, and in fact carried out an act of oil sabotage.

Boko Haram, the radical Northern Islamic movement, continues its almost daily depredations, and it attacked a military base in Kaduna.

So many unanswered questions. With respect to civil service pay, governments do not “run out of money.” They can always borrow. Failure to pay civil servants can be risky and governments usually seek to avoid non-payment. And why did NNPC fail to make the requisite deposits? What will the civil servants do? Like everybody else they are coping with price increases associated with the roll back of the fuel subsidy. Why the squeeze on the press? Freedom House evaluates the Nigerian press as “partially free.” But overt government pressure on the media has been rare. And why is ‘Jomo Gbomo’ resurfacing now?

We should resist the temptation to see these episodes as somehow interrelated. But, together, they are bound to stress the Jonathan government.

Asch Harwood contributed to this post.