The Nigerian capital, Abuja is slowly growing into one of the more beautiful cities in Africa. Since a serious effort was made in the late 1980’s to actualise a decision — taken in 1976 — to make it Nigeria’s capital, Abuja has blossomed.
The transfer from Lagos finally occurred in 1991 and a conscious effort has been made to plant trees on the city’s sidewalks, while the skyline has been brightened with many impressive buildings.
One of the most graceful buildings is a huge mosque, whose gleaming, gold-tinted minaret can be seen miles away. And then, there is Aso Rock, headquarters of the Government, where a group of tastefully appointed villas house the offices and residence of the President.
To mark Nigeria’s 50th anniversary of independence, banners and bunting were to be seen everywhere. Eagle Square, scene of the huge parade that was the climax of the celebrations, took on a celebratory mood even before Independence Day itself, when President Goodluck Jonathan declared, at a joyous rally, that he would seek the nomination of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the 2011 presidential election.
Unfortunately for President Goodluck, his declaration has not been universally greeted with enthusiasm. It is no secret that powerful interests in the North of the country regard the President’s decision to contest the election as a ‘swindle’, in that in 2007, the presidency was “zoned” to a Northern politician for both that year’s election and the subsequent one to take place in 2011.
The “zoning” meant the PDP would field a Northerner as its candidate in both 2007 and 2011. The Northerner who benefited from the arrangement in 2007 was Umaru Yar’Adua, who, however, expired in May 2010 — with one year of his term remaining to be served. Mr Goodluck Jonathan, as Vice-President, automatically assumed the presidency to complete Yar’Adua’s term. But once that term ends in May 2011, say the Northerners, it is a Northerner who should become president for the second half of the “zoning” arrangement, not the Southerner, Mr Goodluck.
Because Mr Goodluck Jonathan has repudiated this “zoning” arrangement, some Nigerians suspect that the bombs that exploded in Abuja on 1 October 2010, the death toll in which is now put at 14, were meant to convey a message to him. No evidence, however, has emerged linking any Northerner with the bombing, although the campaign director of ex-President Ibrahim Babangida’s bid to win the PDP candidacy, Mr Raymond Dokpesi, chief executive of the television station, AIT, was detained for some hours on 4 October. Security sources told newsmen he was interrogated on “suspicious text messages” allegedly exchanged between him and some of the people arrested in connection with the bombing.
President Jonathan himself seems to believe that although an organisation called MEND (Movement for the Emancipation of the Delta) warned beforehand that it would create trouble for the Government on Independence Day, it was not MEND that carried out the explosions. According to the President, the explosions were the work of a “small, terrorist organisation” based outside Nigeria. However, the President has not fully explained his reason for exonerating MEND.
In fact, the President’s take on the explosions has confused the public. They are awaiting the results of the official police investigation into the explosions. But they fear that the police investigation may be prejudiced by the President’s statement on the bombing. And they can’t help asking: If MEND did not do it, why would it issue a warning five days before the event, that it would do it? And if MEND did do it, then why is the President accusing another organisation of having done it?
Meanwhile, the Nigerian police have published the photographs of two persons they say they want to interview. Apart from giving their names, the police did not state what organisation(s) the two men belong to, or in what way they may be connected with the bombing.
Another development is that the Nigerian State Security Service (SSS) has stated that it had arrested nine people after foiling “a larger plot to detonate at least six car bombs close to key government and security buildings in Abuja, days before the Independence Day attacks”. The State Security Service added that “those responsible had planned a larger attack for Wednesday Sept. 29,” in which “at least six car bombs” were to have been detonated “in the zone made up of the presidential villa, Parliament and the Supreme Court”.
The SSS further revealed that “all [the nine arrested persons] have direct links with Henry Okah… and some unscrupulous prominent elements in society”.
The Henry Okah mentioned by the SSS is reputed to be one of the leaders of MEND. He was arrested in Angola three years ago and sent to Nigeria. However, he was released under an amnesty reached between the Government and MEND in August 2009, and went to live in South Africa.
Okah was arrested by the South African police and taken to court, after the Abuja explosions, and was remanded in custody till 14 October. The South African authorities had searched his house in Johannesburg five days before the Abuja bombings. But they found nothing and let him go, only to go back and arrest him as soon as the explosions occurred in Abuja on 1 October.
The three Northerners who are vying with President Jonathan for nomination as the PDP’s presidential candidate are ex-President Ibrahim Babangida, ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, and Lieutenant-General (retired) Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, former National Security Adviser to both ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Northern section of the PDP has set up a council of “elders” to examine all three candidates and choose one to be endorses the North’s choice for PDP candidate. It is understood that all three have agreed among themselves that each will “collapse” his campaign and support whoever the “elders” eventually choose.
It is not known exactly when the “elders” will announce their choice, but it would help President Jonathan a great deal if he could be made to face just one opponent in his own party. As the case is, he can expect attacks from any of them. Vice-President Atiku, for instance, has accused the President of unfairly using state resources to campaign for adoption as the PDP candidate.
And ex-President Babangida, for his part, has issued a statement sharply critical of President Jonathan’s handling of the nation’s security, following the bomb explosions.
Babangida said that what the President ought to have done immediately was to have ordered a high-powered investigation into the explosions.
Instead, “at different times, Nigerians have read different versions of the heinous crime, coming from government officials. While the President hastily exonerated the MEND, saying he knew those behind the act, another government official blamed the incident on one Mr. Henry Okah.”
Babangida charged: “It is unpresidential for Mr. President to quickly exonerate MEND, which had earlier claimed responsibility for the dastardly act, bearing in mind that the State Security Service had also reportedly received tip-offs about this dangerous act. Mr. President should have immediately ordered a high-powered investigation into the matter,” rather than alluding to terrorists’ attack to give the country a bad image in the international community.
In a swift reaction, the Director of Media and Publicity of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation, Mr Sully Abu, said Babangida was insincere in his comments.
“Trying to make political mileage from this sad event can only be the provenance of people whose staple is the violation of the lives and property of Nigerians. Why, if we may ask, was Babangida the only former head of state absent from the Independence Anniversary celebrations?” Mr Sully Abu asked.
One thing we can be sure of, then, is this: the political scene is going to be pretty rough in Abuja, from now on.