Nigeria: In Suspended Animation

Article excerpt

Abiodun Onadipe comments on recent political developments in Nigeria and sees little prospect of a stable future.

By all accounts, 1998 will be a critical year for Nigeria. It marks the last lap of the three-year transition programme decreed by General Sani Abacha's regime to restore civil rule and end military intervention, which continues to stumble from crisis to crisis. Apart from the fact that the programme still lacks credibility, the military junta presiding over the praxis is divided against itself while concluding with a severe economic downturn that has persisted since the political crisis engendered by the cancelled 1993 presidential election. Added to this, Nigeria remains mains suspended from the Commonwealth, ostracised by the international community and effectively cut cut off from much-needed development aid, and the military leaders are isolated because of global travel restrictions.

For Nigerians, 1997 brought with it a general erosion of individual dignity, loss of direction and a palpable sense of helplessness totally alien to them as General Abacha virtually transformed the country into one filled with political jobbers, sycophants, and military apologists willingly mortgaging Nigeria's future in the process. It is true that when a leader reigns by terror, terror often tends to reign unfettered as law and order take their leave and lawlessness thrives. This was the case in Nigeria last year the series of low intensity urban bomb blasts -- a trend that emerged during 1997 -- signalled a worrying deterioration in Nigeria's troubles. By year's end about ten explosions had been reported across the country with the military the main target and the democratic movement, embodied by the National Democratic Coalition (Nadeco), the alleged culprits, though it is suspected that a disaffected military `fifth culumn' was involved. That these attacks culminated in the assassination attempt on Abacha's deputy, General Oladipo Diya -- who was arrested and charged with plotting to overthrow his boss a few days later (as will be discussed below) -- seems to support this view.

Lingering doubts

Although Nigeria is supposed to he moving towards democracy, there are lingering doubts about the movement itself. There is difficulty determining whether the current process is viable. The underlying individual rights are conspicuously absent. There is no freedom of choice, assembly and association. Electioneering is tightly regulated, while sycophantic `solidarity' rallies for Abacha are unrestricted and proliferate. `Nigeria has turned into a Gestapo state whose citizens are no longer safe, where they are potential victims of state terrorism and elimination', was the sad commentary of the Campaign for Democracy, a nongovernmental group whose leader, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, is serving a life sentence for unsubstantiated coup charges since 1995. The junta has cut a huge swath through Nigeria's civil society: politicians, trade unionists, journalists, human rights activists and many others are languishing in the junta's sprawling gulag -- an innovative in Nigerian politics. (Contrary to Abacha's promise on the fourth anniversary of his grabbing power, 17 November 1997, to release political detainees, the prison population is actually increasing. Apart from the fact that no detainees have been released ten weeks after, many more have been arrested.)

Longstanding scepticism about Abacha's programme continue to proliferate. There is a sense that some kind of process is underway, but the goal or its consequences are indeterminable and troubling. Unresolved issues in the unfolding drama include Abacha's widely speculated about presidential ambition, the release of political prisoners such as Chief Moshood Abiola (the acclaimed winner of the the 1993 elections), and the independence of the National Election Commission of Nigeria (Necon) and the five political parties. They are complicated by the exposure of another coup plot in which Abacha's deputy and two other generals have been implicated and arrested. …