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Nigeria: Election Aftermath

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 14, 2007 (070514)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

Militant groups in the Niger Delta have stepped up attacks on oil installations following last month's election. Since the beginning of May, pipelines have been sabotaged and at least 29 foreign oil workers have been kidnapped. A spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) warned that attacks would continued until the government opened a dialogue about restoring the oil wealth to the people in the region.

The crisis over oil is perhaps the most explosive. Chevron has announced the temporary evacuation of all its off-shore personnel, and analysts predict continued attacks. But Nigerians around the country are also pessimistic about prospects for improvements after an election generally regarded as lacking credibility.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several updates from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) on the aftermath of the election and the situation in the Niger Delta in particular.

Another recent article on the Delta, "Curse of the Black Gold," is available, with photos and additional links, on the National Geographic website at:

Another issue of AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today includes commentary on the election. Previous issues of AfricaFocus Bulletin on Nigeria are available at

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Nigeria: Response to flawed elections more a whimper than a bang

Integrated Regional Information Networks

[This material from IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Lagos, 4 May 2007 (IRIN) - Nigerian civic and opposition groups warn of an impending showdown with the government as they attempt to have the flawed presidential and regional elections annulled, although other analysts say public frustration is unlikely to turn into mass civil unrest.

"We can still expect to see people come out in the streets by the hundreds, but not by the thousands," the head of the United Nations Development Programme's Governance and Human Rights team in Nigeria, Sam Unom said.

For Unom the anger is already moving away from the streets to rhetoric in the editorial pages in the media. "Eventually things will end up in court where the various losing candidates will dispute the results," he said.

Local and international independent observers of the 14 April state elections and 21 April presidential elections concurred that there were serious flaws, yet President Olusegun Obasanjo's chosen successor, Umaru Yar'Adua, was declared president-elect 23 April.

"People are definitely unhappy with the way this happened but they are reluctant to fight for what they believe in because they feel that, no matter what, only the elite benefit," Unom said.

The police and army have also been quick to use force; some 200 people were killed in election violence in towns and cities around the country before and during the elections, according to reports.

Civil society groups nonetheless say they will still challenge the election result.

"There will be a challenge to [president-elect Umaru Yar'Adua's] legitimacy and he will try to crush that challenge." said Emma Ezeazu, leader of Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE), a coalition of civic groups that had been critical of the organisation and conduct of the elections.

"There are going to be turbulent times ahead," said Ezeazu who was arrested and questioned on Monday by the secretive state security police known as State Security Services. The police accused him of fomenting civic unrest and confiscated piles of posters they found in his office which were critical of the elections.

Other civic groups also warn of more unrest to come. "It is likely there'll be increased use of force," Lanre Ehonwa, who heads the Civil Liberties Organisation, Nigeria's oldest human rights group, told IRIN.

May Day protests muted

Opposition and civil society groups chose 1 May, Labour Day, to launch protest marches calling for the cancellation of the vote but, Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero warning repeatedly on radio and television that force would be used to quell any street protests and turnout was generally less than organizers said they expected.

On that day, armed police and soldiers could be seen in cities and towns across Nigeria. More than 300 people were arrested as security forces clashed with protesters, according to police and witnesses.

In Nigeria's biggest city, Lagos, at least 80 people at a trade union rally were arrested for distributing leaflets condemning the elections and calling for their annulment, union officials said.

And near the capital, Abuja, 235 people travelling in 30 mini-buses to join protests in the city were arrested by the police, Lawrence Alobi, the top police official for the city, told reporters.

In Daura, the home town of the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, in the north, police and soldiers battled stone-throwing demonstrators using tear gas and firing in the air, witnesses said. Police officials said at least 50 people were arrested.

Despair and apathy

"Many Nigerians were disappointed that the efforts against military rule produced the present corrupt civilian rulers," said Nigerian political commentator Lekan Adegoke. "There is a pervading sense of despair and apathy that nothing good will come out of continued protests against this government."

Opponents of the election acknowledge that the government's readiness to use force combined with widespread apathy among Nigerians that could undermine more serious protests.

In 1993 the military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida annulled a presidential vote widely considered to be free and fair and tried to cling to power, sparking weeks of protests in Lagos and other cities.

Although Babangida handed power over to a transitional government, which was soon pushed aside by iron-fisted Gen Sani Abacha, pro-democracy activists and civic groups continued to lead protests, helping isolate his government internationally until his death in 1998.

Nigeria: Basic services a challenge to Nigeria's new leaders

Integrated Regional Information Networks

Lagoos, 24 April 2007 (IRIN) - Despite huge oil revenues that go to the government, basic services such as a potable water supply, primary healthcare and electricity remain out of the reach for most people except the rich in Nigeria, and few believe this record is likely to change any time soon.

Poor access to these services has contributed to Nigeria being among the countries with the worst human development indicators in Africa, apart from those nations that were recently at war, according to the United Nations Development Programme.

"One of the big contradictions Nigeria has faced is the stark lack of access to basic social amenities for the vast majority of its people in contrast to the huge revenues that accrue to the government," said Laide Akinola, a programme officer with a local civic group, Social Rights Action. "It is a situation that is crying for remedy, Nigerians need a government that can show them some care."

Nigeria's new leader, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP), was elected last Saturday in a vote that local and international observers criticised as unfair, disorganised and in many cases blatantly rigged, raising fears of a crisis of legitimacy that will undermine the government's ability to meet the needs of its citizens.

Analysts say Yar'Adua, if allowed to stand given the anticipated judicial challenges to his victory, has tremendous work ahead of him to improve the services the federal government is supposed to provide Nigeria's 140 million people.

Declining services

A joint UN children's agency (UNICEF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) report in 2006 showed national good water coverage failed to improve across Nigeria and instead fell from 49 percent coverage in 1990 to 48 percent 14 years later. The report predicted that Nigeria was unlikely to meet millennium development goals since coverage of 65 percent was required by 2004 to meet the targets.

Both UNICEF and WHO see a close correlation between an inadequate supply of clean water and the rise in cases of water-borne diseases in many parts of the country, with cholera and typhoid among prominent killers.

"A majority of the patients that come to our clinic these days either have typhoid or stomach upsets, pointing to water-borne infection," said Angela Ezeobi, a doctor who runs a clinic in the Surulere district of Lagos.

The Lagos Water Corporation, in charge of water supply to the city of at least 10 million people, recently took out newspaper advertisements blaming a poor power supply by the state electricity company for a recent inability to pump water to millions of customers, leading to an acute scarcity.

Official statistics show that only 10 percent of rural dwellers and 40 percent of people in the cities have access to electricity in Nigeria. More than 60 percent depend on traditional medicine while there are only 18.5 doctors for every 100,000 people in the country.

Although the federal government is responsible for providing electricity to Nigerians, as well as a degree of water and health services, state and local governments are also required to meet the needs of their constituents. To this end, the government has taken serious steps to try to reduce corruption at the state and local level that bleeds their areas of development funds. Most of the country's governors are currently under investigation for graft.

Promises and discouragement

President Olusegun Obasanjo defends his eight-year record in providing basic services, citing a jump in spending for the provision of water alone from about US$63 million before he came to power in 1999 to $430 million in 2006. He promised during a campaign rally in Abuja that the foundation he has set will be built upon by Yar'Adua as president.

In the meantime, people like 35-year-old Lagos resident Riskat Muri continue to make due on their own, like many Nigerians, to get the services they need.

For drinking water Muri relies on vendors who push jerry cans on carts through the streets, although what she can afford falls far short of her family's needs. If someone in her family gets sick, she relies on herbs and roots that women sell in a market nearby, although she would prefer to go to a clinic if it weren't so expensive. And at home her baby often cries because of the humid heat but the electric fan doesn't work because of perpetual power shortages.

"We live in the city but we don't enjoy any of the services of a city," said Muri. "Our leaders just don't seem to care how we live."

Nigeria: Who Owns the Land?

Integrated Regional Information Networks

Aluu, 8 May 2007 (IRIN) - Prince Wegwu and his family own land in the Niger Delta with 31 oil wells on it. Oil companies pump out thousands of barrels of oil a day and yet Wegwu says neither he nor his family have benefited.

"The oil companies tell us, 'We are not allowed to give you money directly,'" said Wegwu, who heads a youth association in Aluu, a village in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta region where militants have mounted an increasingly violent armed insurrection, attacking oil facilities and kidnapping foreign oil workers.

"The oil companies say, 'We pay the government for the use of the land', and yet they know they are using our land," Wegwu said.

The Niger Delta is the eighth most productive oil region in the world; the people living there are amongst the poorest in Nigeria, and the poorest anywhere on earth.

Many people in the Delta blame their poverty on two federal laws, the 1969 Petroleum Act, which gave the state sole ownership and control of the country's oil and gas reserves; and the Land Use Act of 1978 which makes the government the owner of all land in Nigeria.

Many activists in the Niger Delta say oil companies should pay rents and royalties for the use of the land directly to land owners and to local communities instead of to the central government. They are also calling for a return to Nigeria's 1960s constitution which calls for revenue to be shared equally between federal and local governments.

But they say the land act has undermined efforts by individuals and communities to get compensation when their land is requisitioned for oil activities or when oil companies pollute the land.

Beyond Oil

The Land Use Act was enacted by Nigeria's current president Olusegun Obasanjo, when he was military head of state in the 1970s. It states that land was to be "held in trust and administered for the use and common benefit of all Nigerians."

"The rationale at the time," according to Lagos property lawyer Tayo Odubanjo, "was that the government should act as the primary agent for the country's development". The act deliberately overrode customary rights to land, even if people had lived on it for generations, he said, because at the time local communities and land owners were seen as obstructing the government's efforts to use land more effectively.

"There would be a very strong case for the law [but] the law failed to achieve this assumed role in practice," said Odunbanjo. Its negative consequences are being felt not just in the Niger Delta but throughout Nigeria, according to numerous studies.

"The Act concentrates both economic and political powers in the hands of few individuals who are abusing its spirit," according to the summary of a 2006 paper on the subject by academics Lasun Mykail Olayiwola and Olufemi Adeleye

Urbanist Geoffrey I. Nwaka writing in 2005 in Global Urban Development Magazine said the law made "the procedure for obtaining and developing land become excessively bureaucratized, obstructive, and riddled with corruption. Restrictions on the availability of land, especially for the poor, encouraged the growth of more and more irregular settlements on the fringes of the towns or on vacant public land," he said.

Delta in mind

The law has also been blamed for the massive decrease in Nigeria's agricultural production in the decades subsequent to its enactment.

Also, in the Islamic north of the country the law exacerbated what has been an almost feudal social system as the government disinvested farmers of their land and put it in the hand of the emirs, thus forcing farmers to work for them.

Though the law has clauses providing compensation to local farmers who were using requisitioned or polluted land, the prices they have got in lieu of farming have been well below market prices and many locals say they have never received anything anyway.

Fishing communities have rarely been compensated as they have no visible evidence on which to base their claims. The government and oil companies have also generally refused to recognize the value locals place on communal land. Thus claims of loses from communally-owned shrines or sacred forests on which people rely for medicine or wild cane for goods such as raffia furniture have been rejected.

However experts agree that the law was initially created with the Niger Delta in mind, to make it cheaper and easier for the government and oil companies to start up oil ventures. They also agree that that is where the government applied the law most systematically thus leaving more people dispossessed.

"Before 1978, oil companies had troubles negotiating with the occupants of the land to access the oil," said Patterson Ogon the founding director of the Niger Delta-based Ijaw Council for Human Rights. "After the land act was implemented occupants could wake up one morning to find oil companies already drilling on their property and there was nothing they could do about it."

Towards a new law?

During the recent election campaign President-elect Umaru Yar'Adua did pledge to repeal the 1978 law and he will take office on 29 May. He seems to be taking a gamble, going against the interests of the elites who have supported his campaign and who have greatly benefited from the law.

For the election campaign Yar'Adua selected governor of Bayelsa State, Goodluck Jonathan as his running mate. That he is an Ijaw, the dominant ethnic group in the Niger Delta, was widely seen as an attempt by Yar'Adua to win the confidence of people in the Niger Delta.

With the country now set to have an Ijaw vice-president, prominent Ijaw leader Edwin Clark has called on the Ijaw militants to put down their arms. Still many younger activists campaigning for local control of oil resources remain skeptical of Yar'Adua's intentions.

The burning question they are asking is what kind of land law will Yar'Adua create to replace the current one. "He hasn't revealed that," said Ijaw rights activist, Wuloo Ikari. "By implication a repeal of the obnoxious law will mean oil resources will be immediately [transferred] from the federal government to the ethnic groups and communities that own all the oil land."

If this fails to happen, Ikari adds, Yar'Adua's promise will be seen as "a gimmick [and] the struggle for resource control in the Nigeria delta will continue".

But lawyer Odunbanjo warns that simply giving land rights back to locals is likely to create a whole new set of obstacles to Nigeria's development and the equitable sharing of resources. "I don't think it will work to simply reverse the law; there has to a compromise between the two extremes."

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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