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Nigeria’s Road to Ruin

With so much political friction in Iran and Iraq, it is easy to overlook the growing unrest in Nigeria, the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter. But Nigeria’s mounting social and political problems reveal how violence and uncertainty in yet another major energy producer is driving foreign investors out and global oil prices up.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo appears poised to try to amend the country’s constitution to allow himself a chance at a third term. To that end, he has marginalized many of his political rivals. Vice President Atiku Abubakar – a likely presidential aspirant in 2007 – has been harassed and isolated. Ministers suspected of less than full loyalty have been sidelined.

But Obasanjo’s adversaries have joined the battle, and the president lacks the two-thirds majority needed in both the federal and state legislatures to remain in power after next year. Two former Nigerian presidents, Generals Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida, publicly oppose Obasanjo’s constitutional meddling, and several governors of Nigeria’s Muslim-dominated northern states have made clear that they are determined to see Obasanjo off when his term expires in 2007.

As a result, the uncertainty surrounding Obasanjo’s plans is increasing sectional tensions. At stake is the cohesion of a state that many argue is yet another example of an artificial nation cobbled together by Europeans who did not understand their creation’s social, tribal, and religious forces.