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Nigeria’s Sick Man Democracy

How sick is Nigerian president Umaru Yar’Adua? In May, he admitted during a live television broadcast that he suffers from a kidney ailment, but sought to quell rumors that he was terminally ill by insisting that fears for his health are greatly exaggerated and politically motivated. There are plenty of world leaders in less-than-perfect health. But the stakes are especially high in Nigeria, where Yar’Adua embodies the country’s delicate political balance.

With the fall of Nigeria’s dictatorship and the introduction of democracy in 1999, governors in the mainly Muslim northern provinces believed they had struck a deal with their southern counterparts on a regional rotation of the country’s presidency. In 2007, arguing that it was their turn to choose a chief executive, they bitterly opposed a bid by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner and a Christian, to rewrite Nigeria’s constitution in hopes of winning a third term. Southern governors countered that the north had controlled the country through more than three decades of authoritarian rule and that a southerner should hold the presidency for years to come. Tensions mounted.