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Nigerian Leadership Crisis Impacting Global Energy Markets

The illness of Nigerian Pres. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has now reached the point where it can no longer be hidden from the Nigerian electorate, and the prospect for a change of leadership is now imminent, as forecast exclusively by this service in early June 2009. The challenge facing the Nigerian leadership and Constitutional system, however, is that the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, is from the Niger Delta (from oil-producing Bayelsa state), and there is a strong lobby against him taking office as President in the event that Pres. Yar'Adua relinquishes office for health reasons.

The delicacy of the Nigerian domestic political situation is such that any further instability in Nigeria could disrupt oil and gas production in the Niger Delta, at a time when Nigerian oil already represents more than 15 percent of US oil imports, and its oil and gas production is increasingly significant for Europe and the People's Republic of China. Moreover, removing a Vice-President who comes from the Niger Delta could strongly exacerbate the situation, given the historical resentment within the Niger Delta over the Federal Government of Nigeria's disregard of the Delta region while at the same time earning most of the national exchequer from the Delta's oil and gas.

As Pres. Yar'Adua remained (as of December 10, 2009) in Saudi Arabia after medical treatment, still too ill to either return home or to go to Germany or the US for more specialized treatment, moves were being promoted strenuously by former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo to have incumbent Vice-Pres. Jonathan replaced by a candidate from the Muslim North. Former Pres. Obasanjo, not surprisingly, has been lobbying for a candidate beholden to him. [This service reported that Pres. Yar'Adua had, by June 2009, advanced lung cancer, although recent Nigerian reports indicated that he suffered from heart ailments; GIS sources confirm their earlier information, although the President may also have a heart condition.]

Pres. Obasanjo had hand-picked Umaru Yar'Adua, a low-profile Governor of Katsina state, to succeed him in the Presidency, in the hope that Yar'Adua's loyalty would keep the outgoing President safe from prosecution as a result of allegations of corruption. Pres. Yar'Adua, however, was quickly alienated from his former sponsor and had turned on former Pres. Obasanjo.

Now, unless Vice-Pres. Jonathan is replaced, he seems set to replace Pres. Yar'Adua in the Presidency if the President dies in office or resigns on health grounds. Most of the ruling elite in the People's Democratic Party (PDP) are concerned at this prospect; Goodluck Jonathan was chosen primarily because he represented the "South-South" oil-producing region, giving that area (the troubled Niger Delta region) its first chance at having a man in the Presidency, or at least close to it in the Vice-Presidency. Now that the prospect exists for the VP to take the Presidency, the more nervous it makes much of the Northern political elite, and others in the Senate and House of Representatives who are concerned at Goodluck Jonathan's reputed lack of experience and capability.

The question facing the Nigerian political establishment, then, is whether, or how, the Constitution can be addressed to allow the Vice-President to be replaced, so that Goodluck Jonathan could be removed before Pres. Yar'Adua is forced to vacate the Presidency. The President's health condition, first brought to light by this service's June 8, 2009, report, is regarded as terminal. Now, former Pres. Obasanjo is waging a major war to ensure that power will move to someone who will protect his position, and other politicians are pushing to replace the VP so that a competent national leader can emerge.

However, there are strenuous counter-moves to those being made by Gen. Obasanjo. One key thrust is to get the key founder of the PDP, and the former National Security Advisor (and former Chief of Staff of the Army, and former head of intelligence), Lt.-Gen. (rtd.) Aliyu Mohammed, into the Vice-Presidency so that, when Pres. Yar'Adua passes, a strong, very experienced, and highly-respected leader could move into the Presidency. Lt.-Gen. Mohammed (also known as Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, as he is from Gusau in northern Nigeria) has been reluctant in the past to step into the limelight, but pressures are building now for him to re-enter government. He is highly-respected in non-Muslim Yoruba, and South-South areas of Nigeria, as well as by the US and European governments.

Gen. Mohammed had been responsible for putting Gen. Obasanjo in office as elected President, but Pres. Obasanjo, having become embroiled in a range of corrupt activities, broke with Gen. Mohammed, who was known as being the most honest and incorruptible officer in the Army and in government. A smooth political transition in Nigeria could ensure that no major crisis occurs in the global energy markets over the coming months.

Analysis. From GIS Station Abuja.
Extract from Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis
© 2009 Global Information System, ISSA

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