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Government lurches from crisis to crisis as elections approach

24 November 2014, 20:30

Lagos - Nigeria's government took out a two-page advertisement in a number of national newspapers on Monday. Its message: President Goodluck Jonathan is the best leader the country has ever had.

The checklist of claimed government successes appeared far removed from reality, with Africa's most populous nation in increasing disarray ahead of February's presidential and parliament elections.

Last Thursday, politicians including the speaker of the lower house of parliament were teargassed, while on Saturday the security services ransacked an office of the main opposition party.

Both incidents came amid concern about the Nigerian economy's ability to withstand further shocks in falling global oil prices and no end in sight to Boko Haram's bloody Islamist insurgency.

Also read: Play responsible politics, aspirant advises politicians

Even on the football pitch, Nigeria has had nothing to shout about after the national side, the current African champions , failed to make the finals of the African Cup of Nations.

But while Nigeria, home to six military coups since 1960, has long been seen to be teetering on the brink of meltdown, there are real concerns about a gathering perfect storm.

For Clement Nwankwo, a corrupt government that has lost the control of its party and which lashes out at its opponents, harks back to the dark days of dictatorship under General Sani Abacha.

Nwankwo, director of the Policy and Legal Advisory Centre civil society group, said: "I think we're going through a serious political crisis.

"What's unprecedented is that this is a civilian regime," he told AFP.

Power at all costs 

The emergence of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is a key factor in the reaction of Jonathan's ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), according to political commentators.

The PDP has been in power since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999 but the APC, an alliance of four opposition parties, has emerged as its first credible challenger.

The ruling party's parliamentary majority has been slashed and the number of states it governs reduced by a wave of defections, the latest of them House of Representatives speaker Aminu Tambuwal.

Tambuwal's switch appears to have brought the situation to a head, resulting in the chaos seen in parliament, just as lawmakers were due to vote on extending emergency rule in the troubled northeast.

The APC is opposed to any extension, even arguing that Jonathan's government was playing politics with the insurgency, as violence could scupper a vote in key areas that it controls.

Dapo Thomas, a lecturer in politics and history at the Lagos State University, said the situation smacks of a government keen to stay in power at all costs.

"Our leaders aren't committed to acting in the national interest. They are only interested in power and consolidation," he said.

Enlisting the police and security services to effectively do the PDP's bidding was part of that, he argued, warning that it set off "disturbing signals" as the election approaches.

The APC sensed a politically motivated attack when security agents raided its offices in Lagos, likening it to the Watergate burglary that brought down US president Richard Nixon in the 1970s.

Any attempt to arrest Tambuwal "will be pouring petrol on a lake fire", it warned ominously.

Violence feared

Such threats are not to be taken lightly in Nigeria, which has a history of explosive political violence. At least 800 people were killed in post-election rioting in 2011.

A recent comment by one APC governor about killing political "cockroaches" earned a stern rebuke from both the United States and European Union about toning down the political rhetoric.

The International Crisis Group last week predicted the elections could be "volatile and vicious", calling for an end to the increasingly violent political climate to avoid widespread unrest.

Nwankwo said the government needed to do more to tackle religious and ethnic divisions that have often flared into deadly violence and civil society to bring all the issues to light.

But he predicted further upheaval, even within the main political parties as candidates jostle for position, while Thomas said he feared further entrenchment on both sides.

"Every organ of the government, every citizen, everybody should play the game according to the rules. The presidency should be impartial, not only desperate to stay in power," added Thomas.

"The security agencies must see themselves as part and parcel of the citizenry. They also have to be impartial. Every citizen has to behave to ensure the election is conducted in the manner that we all need."



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