Nigeria needs more than Goodluck to avert crisis

Nigerian Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan named acting president in bid to resolve crisis. Claims emerge of deliberate army assault on civilians in Congo. Al-Shabaab preempts crackdown with assault on capital. Tymoshenko refuses to admit defeat in dangerous show of defiance. All this and more in today's update.
Josephine Whitaker
11 February 2010

Nigerian Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan was named acting president in a resolution passed by both houses of the Nigerian National Assembly on Tuesday night. The move by Nigerian law-makers came after Nigeria’s state governors called on Yar’Adua to step down earlier this week, threatening to storm the assembly if legislators in the two houses failed to act. 

The decision to elevate Jonathan comes as the leadership crisis in Nigeria, which began when President Umaru Yar’Adua left the country last November for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, enters its third month. His absence has seen ongoing power struggles within the Nigerian political elite, as competing interest groups seek to resolve the crisis in their favour. It is hoped that the Jonathan's promotion, approved by the executive council on Wednesday, will bring to an end months of drift, which has in recent weeks threatened to develop into civil unrest. 

Jonathan addressed the senate on Tuesday evening, calling on Nigerian politicians to move forward in a more decisive way  to tackle the pressing issues faced by Nigeria today. Africa’s most populous state is grappling with sectarian strife in the north and militant separatism in the south's oil rich delta.

The openSecurity verdict: Nigeria has been essentially leaderless since November, when the president left the country for medical treatment. Yar’Adua has repeatedly refused to disclose details of his illness – thought to be due to a heart condition – and has never specified how long he may be out of the country. The government’s failure to transfer power in the president’s absence has provoked protests in Abuja and Lagos. A recent interview with Yar’Adua conducted by the BBC, in which president sounded decidedly frail and refused to commit to return to the country, caused further concern across Nigeria. 

Although the government has finally acted to replace Yar’Adua, at least temporarily, it is not yet clear whether this will improve an already tense political situation or if it will simply be a source of fresh controversy and power-grabbing. 

Supporters of the move, including many state governors and clear majority of law-makers, claim that it is the only way to move forward in Yar’Adua’s continued absence. Others have painted the resolution as a positive step for democracy in Nigeria, in so far as it has circumvented the possibility of yet another coup. 

However, concerns about the decision to elevate Jonathan have surfaced quickly. Some analysts believe that the actions of the National Assembly are essentially unconstitutional, and will therefore compound the crisis of leadership. The basis of these fears is that the president has so far failed to communicate directly with Senate, instructing it to empower the vice president as a temporary replacement. Senate leader David Mark has argued,  however, that Yar’Adua’s radio interview with the BBC sufficed in the absence of a formal communication. Such a contentious argument has not been without its critics, such as Senator Garba Lado, who maintain that the constitutional requirement for notice of absence have not been met.

 Dissidents within the People’s Democratic Party may not support Jonathan’s presidency. Leadership in the PDP traditionally alternates between north and south, and it is feared that Yar’Adua’s northern supporters will not support Jonathan, who was previously governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa state in the south of the country. Many figures in the PDP who have opposed attempts over the last three months to transfer power to Jonathan are benefiting from the vacuum created by the president’s absence, Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel Prize winning writer, suggested in an interview with CNN. 

Nigerian politicians appear to have found a political solution, if not a constitutional one, to the three month leadership crisis they have been facing. Many questions, however, remain unanswered. Whether Jonathan will step down before forthcoming national elections, or whether he will bring the elections forward to give himself a mandate to rule, remain open questions. His quick move to sack Yar’Adua’s minister of justice, Michael Aondoakaa, is a clear attempt to exert dominance over his rivals. Although such moves may unite the cabinet, the country remains as divided and unstable as ever. 

Government forces suspected of attack on civilians in DRC

Reports are emerging from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that Congolese army forces took part in an attack on civilians in eastern DRC earlier this month. Sources suggest that at least one civilian was killed, and nine more abducted by Congolese army forces in Kakenge village, south Kivu province on 1 February. According to a local leader, quoted on the UN-sponsored radio channel, the violence occurred less than 100 metres from FARDC (Congolese army) positions, and lasted for over three hours. 

This incident comes hot on the heels of intense criticism last year of the UN-supported army offensive against Rwandan rebel forces in the east of the country. The joint operation, which began in March 2009, has been accused of leading to 7,000 rapes and displacing almost one million civilians in the last eleven months alone.

The UN is currently reviewing its mandate for MONUC, its 20,000-strong mission in the DRC. Analysts believe that Joseph Kabila, the country’s president, is keen to see a reduction in the mission in time for the country’s fiftieth independence anniversary celebrations, on 30 June this year.

New evidence of atrocities against civilians perpetrated by the national army is likely to give some in the UN fresh incentives to reduce MONUC’s size and scope of operations. A MONUC spokeman interviewed about this latest incident suggested that, if proved true, it could make future cooperation between the UN and FARDC more difficult.

Fresh fighting in Mogadishu as rebels pour into capital

Rebels affiliated with al-Shabaab, a hardline Islamist militia committed to overturning the Federal Transitional Government (FTG) of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed are reported to be entering the capital, Mogadishu, in droves, according to eyewitness reports.

Skirmishes between government forces and rebels, almost a daily occurrence on Mogadishu, are also reportedly on the increase. Yesterday, a rebel attack on the presidential palace prompted African Union retaliation, leaving at least thirty civilians dead. A separate gun battle between police and soldiers killed approximately eight government security forces.

Commentators believe that the increase in violence is a prelude to a long-awaited government offensive against al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, another Islamist militant group, in southern Somalia. In a country that has lacked effective government for almost twenty years, the FTG is widely held to lack meaningful control over more than a few strategic blocks in the capital. Al-Shabaab, which last week formally declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda, is rapidly increasing its hold over the south of the country.

This latest intensification of fighting has, unsurprisingly, displaced yet more civilians, contributing to what is already one of the worst displacement crises in the world.

Tymoshenko refuses to concede power after defeat

Ukranian prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, has refused to step down after her party lost a presidential election on Sunday by a margin of less than four percent.

In her first public address since her electoral defeat, Tymoshenko attacked Viktor Yanukovich and his party, who were judged to have won the internationally-backed presidential poll by 3.48%. Tymoshenko and her party have accused Yanukovich of winning votes with false pledges on social spending. Tymoshenko is also reported to have instructed her lawyers to contest the results of the election, claiming electoral fraud. Yanukovich was forced to rerun the 2004 election after allegations of massive voter fraud.

Shortly after the cabinet meeting in which Tymoshenko made her attack, her first deputy Oleksander Turkynov said in a separate statement that his party would not “resign voluntarily”. However, Ukrainian newspaper Ukrainska Pravda has reported that approximately half of Tymoshenko’s team disagree with her hard-line stance, and want to assume their responsibilities as the official opposition. 

This grappling for power in Ukraine threatens to destabilise the country just five years after its pro-western Orange Revolution ushered Tymoshenko’s party into power. The political uncertainty may also delay the resumption of International Monetary Fund lending, which was suspended last year after the government failed to keep its promises of fiscal restraint.  

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