Opposition On All Fronts

Posted: May 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


A new political alliance to confront President Jonathan is gathering pace as security conditions – north and south – deteriorate

The newly united opposition parties – the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – have joined forces to condemn soldiers for what human rights groups are calling a massacre of 180 civilians at Baga, Borno State, this week. Several days of fierce fighting between troops and Boko Haram militants followed efforts by President Goodluck Jonathan’s government to negotiate an amnesty deal with the Islamist militia. Although Brigadier General Austin Edokpaye reported six civilians and 30 Boko Haram fighters killed in a firefight at Baga, in the north-east, Senator Maina Ma’aji Lawan of Borno North said 180-200 civilians had been killed. Opposition politicians blame government and army commanders for the death and destruction.

Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader and the CPC’s presidential candidate in 2011 with a strong northern following, also called the operation a ‘massacre’ and his new allies in the ACN said it showed Nigeria’s military as having ‘little or no respect for human rights and the sanctity of lives.’ On 23 April, the Senate in Abuja called on the committees for defence, police and national security to investigate the claims and report back within two weeks. The massacre claims will undermine the efforts of Jonathan’s government to win back its fast dwindling support in the north.

Officials met Yusuf Maitama Sule of the Northern Elders’ Forum on 3 April to set up an Amnesty Committee for Boko Haram militants. Talks on the amnesty included the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, former military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and other senior figures in the northern elite and security services.

Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, Governor of Niger State and a former rival of Jonathan’s, energetically backs the amnesty idea, which was tried with militants in the Niger Delta after a devastating military campaign there in 2009. Today, some former militant leaders, such as High Chief Government Ekpemupolo ‘Tompolo’ have won multimillion-dollar security contracts in the Delta. After three years of relative peace, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has resumed attacks in protest against the conviction of its leader Henry Okah in South Africa for involvement in the 2010 Abuja bombings.

Amnesty suspicions
The membership of the President’s Amnesty Committee for Boko Haram, chaired by Minister of Special Duties Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, is relatively low profile. Some, like northern-based rights activist Shehu Sani, claim they weren’t even consulted before their membership was announced. Sani has refused to join, dismissing the Committee as an attempt to defraud the government.

Another northern critic and former Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa, accused the government of using the scheme to win votes and spread state patronage. Nor has the plan pleased northern Christians. Some described it as a means to ‘appease criminals’ instead of helping the victims of violence. They say the violence has forced over 1,000 Christian-owned businesses and over 70 churches to close. If the amnesty is mainly a political stunt, it seems to have failed. It hasn’t won much support from people across the region, although it may have shored up support for Jonathan among northern governors in his People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Isa Yuguda, Governor of Bauchi State, which has been singled out for militant attacks, says the religiously devout followers of Boko Haram will take up the amnesty offer but predicts it will be rejected by its ‘political’ and ‘criminal’ factions. At the same time, Northern Elders are urging the government to drop the amnesty term in favour of sulhu, a Hausa/Arabic word meaning reconciliation or compromise.

However, in a digital recording in Hausa sent to the media in mid-April, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau rejected any negotiation with government: ‘What wrong have we done? On the contrary, it is we that should grant you pardon.’

The latest risk comes from militants in the Delta, who are threatening to target Muslims in the south in revenge for the deaths in the north. In fact, the casualties of Boko Haram’s campaign have been overwhelmingly northern Muslims. In addition to the danger of more national religious clashes, the Islamist militia known as Ansaru has vowed to take the jihad to Western interests in Nigeria and the region. Counter-terrorism experts say Ansaru is closer to Al Qaida affiliates than Boko Haram but the two still cooperate on specific missions, loyalists say.

However much damage the rising climate of violence does to Jonathan’s reputation, it’s not clear how much the new opposition All Progressives’ Alliance can benefit. Certainly, the APC can expect no help from either Boko Haram or Ansaru, which condemn all mainstream political parties as immoral and sacrilegious. Yet CPC leader Buhari, who many want to be the APC’s presidential candidate in 2015, has a massive following in the north.

Younger and more radical northern politicians, such as the former Minister for Abuja, Nasir El-Rufai, and former anti-corruption czar Nuhu Ribadu, are also testing opinion in the APC for a presidential nomination. The ACN faction of the alliance insists there will be competitive and open primaries but CPC supporters seem more ambivalent.

There are strong ACN candidates for the presidential or vice-presidential nomination, such as state governors Babatunde Raji Fashola (Lagos), Kayode Fayemi (Ado Ekiti), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun) and Adams Oshiomole (Edo). Amid growing religious activism – resurgent Pentecostalism in the south and Islamist demands for Sharia (Islamic law) in the north – APA insiders say they will have to pick a Muslim for presidential and a Christian for vice-presidential candidate or perhaps vice-versa. Their favoured strategy would be to put a moderate northern Muslim up against what is likely to be a second-term election bid by Jonathan on the PDP ticket.

Once the APC can agree on its candidates, it then has to find ways to take on the PDP’s naira billionaires who still have most of the state machinery at their disposal. So far, Jonathan’s political record is poor, with sharp rises in corruption and insecurity, but electors’ choices will probably again be based on short-term calculations. If Jonathan’s government can shovel out more of the unprecedented state patronage on tap and make progress in fixing the appalling power crisis through the electricity privatisation plan, the PDP could still prove hard to beat.
C. Africa Confidential


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