Dec 14 2006

Fear and Loathing in Nigeria

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 6:47 PM

The prospect of national elections in Nigeria – set for this coming April – has focused Big Media attention on the country, which is one of the largest oil suppliers to the U.S. First, there was George Packer’s superb profile of Lagos in The New Yorker. Then Lydia Polgreen of the New York Times has produced two strong pieces on the yawning divide between haves and have-nots in Nigeria, and the perilous politics pursued by the country’s debauched elites
Nowhere in Nigeria are the contradictions more painful than in the Niger Delta, the old stomping grounds of my wife Chizo Okon and the center of the failed seccessionist state of Biafra. The Niger Delta is the center of Nigeria’s oil production – and a great deal of conflict, tension and mystery these days. Last weekend, Chizo and I hosted one of the most visible and active journalists on the Niger Delta, Ibiba don Pedro. Ibiba, who served as my wife’s “best woman” at our wedding, three years ago, was in the U.S. to visit Houston, where her ethnic group, the Ijaw, held a conference to launch the U.S. chapter of the Ijaw national congress. Ibiba, who has twice won African journalist of the year (the second time, from CNN, in 2003), turned up in northern California for a couple of days carrying a copy of her newest book, “Oil in the Water: crude power and militancy in the Niger Delta.” The book is a collection of her most recent journalism – “a collection,” in her words, “that captures discord, disharmony and the searingly disruptive impact of the production of crude oil in the lives” of ordinary Nigerians. Ibiba’s message is hopeful. She thinks economic justice is possible in the long-run in her country, the most populous in Africa. But nearer-term, she fears more violence and disappointing and disputed elections. Her one chilling prediction: current Nigerian president, Obasanjo, will cancel the elections, citing instability in the country. Obasanjo cannot run for a third term (and failed in an effort earlier this year to get Nigeria’s congress to allow him to run again). Evidence for Ibiba’s prediction is scant, however in a telling sign that Ibiba may be correct, Obasanjo’s party has yet to select his successor.

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