LAGOS – The bombs that exploded in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, as the country was celebrating its golden jubilee earlier this month are a disturbing portent of the unprecedented political territory that the country is entering.
The death last May of Umaru Yar’Adua, Nigeria’s president, upended the informal agreement between members of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to rotate power between northern Muslims and their southern, mainly Christian counterparts. Yar’Adua’s deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, from the oil-rich Niger Delta in the south, overcame resistance from members of the late president’s cabinet and was sworn in as Yar’Adua’s successor, as stipulated by the constitution. In September, he told Nigerians of his intention to run for another presidential term in 2011.
President Jonathan’s announcement triggered furious protests from his northern rivals, including Ibrahim Babangida, a former military dictator who reminded him that Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, had served as president from 1999, when military rule ended, to 2007, with northern support. Yar’Adua had completed only three years of his first four-year term when he died, and it was expected that all southerners, including Jonathan, would unite behind another northerner for next year’s vote.
But resentment of northerners’ perceived dominance of national politics runs deep in the south, particularly in the Niger Delta, where 50 years of uncontrolled oil production has resulted in polluted farmlands and deepening poverty. The ethnic minority groups that inhabit the area complain that the current revenue-allocation formula, which leaves Nigeria’s oil-producing states with only 13% of oil revenue, is grossly unfair and insufficient compensation for the damaged ecology they endure.