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Dissolution Of Nigeria: Nigeria Faces Accelerating Instability And Uncertainty - US Ambassador Alarmed

May 07 , 2021 | EASTERN PILOT Written By: John Campbell | Former US Ambassador Some Nigerian movers and shakers appear to be panicking ov...

May 07 , 2021 | EASTERN PILOT

Written By: John Campbell | Former US Ambassador

Some Nigerian movers and shakers appear to be panicking over the continued deterioration of security nationwide. Longtime political heavyweight Bukola Saraki—former governor of Kwara State, former president of the senate, and former chairman of the National Assembly—and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to seek outside assistance.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria Robert Clarke at a Sunday, May 2 Channels Television news show questioned whether Nigeria would survive another six months and recommended that Nigeria’s political leadership hand over power to the military because the country is on the brink of collapse; he would have the military (in effect, the army) oversee the often mooted fundamental restructuring of the Nigerian state. (Clarke, Saraki, and Soyinka have long been critical of Nigeria’s governance; Channels Television is a major network and its Sunday morning news/talk shows follow a familiar American format.)

At his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Muhammadu Buhari asked that the headquarters of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) be moved from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa, so that it would be closer to the fighting against jihadism in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. Since AFRICOM’s establishment in 2007, Nigeria has generally opposed any permanent AFRICOM presence in Africa. Critics have alleged that AFRICOM is “neocolonialist.” Buhari’s request was a reversal of longstanding policy.

Perhaps in direct response to Clarke’s televised remarks on May 4—as well as Sen. Saraki and other critics—Acting Director of Defense Information Brig. Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu publicly stated that the military has no intention of taking power: “We shall continue to remain apolitical, subordinate to civil authority, firmly loyal to the president…and the 1999 constitution.” In the face of the deterioration of security, doom and gloom about the future of Nigeria is widespread in public discourse. Still, Clarke went further than most—and on national television. Buhari’s AFRICOM request is an indication of a willingness to consider hitherto unacceptable options. Twenty-two years after the military left power and civilian, ostensibly democratic federalism was restored, it is striking that the army felt it necessary to issue a denial of any intention to seize power.

The bottom line is that while Clarke is an outlier, something of a consensus among Nigerian elites seems to be forming that the country is in deep trouble and that radical options must be considered. But no consensus exists about what state collapse would look like, what the way forward should be, and what “radical restructuring of the Nigerian state” would actually mean or how it could be achieved. For now, however, the outlook would seem to be continuing, perhaps accelerating instability and uncertainty.

Nigerian Government And Romance With Jihadi Hardliners

Isa Pantami is minister of communications and digital economy in President Muhammadu Buhari's government. Some years ago, in sermons and other statements, he used rhetoric about Christians and the West that mimics that of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He also fulsomely praised Osama bin Laden. Some years later, he apologized. Recently, however, those statements surfaced on social media. One Nigerian newspaper claimed that Pantami was on a U.S. government watch list for terrorists—a claim with no U.S. confirmation.

For the time being, Pantami has become a lightning rod for those deeply suspicious of Islam and also of the Buhari administration. The opposition even sought a debate in the National Assembly but was blocked by the ruling party. However, the debate appears to be centered on social media, with dueling hashtags: #PantamiMustGo versus #PantamiMustStay. President Buhari's spokesman, Garba Shehu, issued a balanced statement affirming continuing support for Pantami while at the same time denouncing the jihadi statements he once made. The spokesman pointed out that Pantami's rhetoric was years old and that he had apologized. Those opposed to Pantami, however, express concern that his ministerial position gives him access to personal information about, not least, foreign diplomats in Nigeria. Some have called on the United States to press Buhari to investigate Pantami.

In principle, U.S. law enforcement organizations do not comment on the presence or absence of individuals on watchlists. It would also be highly unusual for the U.S. government to express a view on a minister in a friendly government. The significance of the episode would seem to be that it illustrates the polarization in Nigerian society and politics—and that past injudicious and harmful statements can catch up.


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