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Nigerian Leadership Turmoil Could Lead to Violence

Aired February 09, 2010 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, an attempt to head off the political chaos engulfing one of the world's biggest oil-producing nations: an absent president, a government divided, and a reignited insurgency. Tonight, Nigeria is our focus.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to the program.

Nigeria's parliament has had enough. Today, after weeks of political conflict, a dramatic vote to suspend its Muslim president, Umaru Yar'Adua, who has long been missing in action, and to hand power over to his Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan. The vote isn't binding, and the cabinet still has to respond, but it could spark an explosive new power struggle between the country's Muslim north and its Christian south.

President Yar'Adua went to Saudi Arabia in November, he said for treatment of a serious heart condition, but he hasn't been seen since in public. His departure left peace efforts in the troubled Niger Delta hanging in the balance. He was also absent when a Nigerian man, Umar Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner with a bomb that was hidden in his underwear on Christmas Day.

So it's a volatile situation, and no one can predict just how it will end, as CNN's Christian Purefoy reports from Nigeria.


CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nicknamed "Old Soldier," Nehud Balagi (ph) fought to keep Nigeria together during the country's civil war in the 1960s. Sixty-five years old now, he's a taxi driver and says the present state of Nigeria is not what he fought for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people who is ruling Nigeria, they are so corrupt, so corrupt.

PUREFOY: Nigerians are angry at rampant corruption and now political paralysis. President Yar'Adua was flown to a Saudi Arabian hospital last November with a heart condition. He's been there ever since, not seen in public once, yet he has refused to hand over power to his vice president.

Nigeria's attorney general insists it's all constitutional.

MICHAEL AONDOAKAA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NIGERIA: No single provision of the constitution has been violated. Nothing has been violated. The government has no vacuum.

PUREFOY: But lawyers and civil rights groups are challenging that claim amid public outcry that Yar'Adua is being kept in office for the personal gain of corrupt government officials.

OLUWAROTIMI AKEREDOLU, PRESIDENT, NIGERIA BAR ASSOCIATION: What our attorney general is dishing out to the public and every other person (inaudible) he's fit enough to be in office, and he's not been around for 80 days.

PUREFOY: And since the president has been absent, armed groups in the country's oil-rich Niger Delta region have resumed attacks and kidnappings on oil facilities. The military has fanned out across the north after religious clashes left hundreds dead last month. And tensions are rising as nationwide fuel shortages have meant people must queue for hours to buy petrol in this oil-rich nation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the time you are supposed to do your work, you are wasting time in the petrol station.

PUREFOY: Military coups have been frequent in Nigeria, but this old soldier believes now is not the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy -- let the democracy rule Nigeria to look after the welfare for poor man.

PUREFOY: But democracy has never looked after the poor in Nigeria. And for now, it just means growing uncertainty over whether the country can avoid an accelerating spiral of violence and economic collapse.

Christian Purefoy, CNN, Lagos, Nigeria.


AMANPOUR: We'll be talking with the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner Wole Soyinka in a moment, but first, joining us on the phone from Nigeria's capital, Abuja, the attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, at the center of this political crisis.

Mr. Aondoakaa, thank you for joining us. Can you tell me, why has it taken the system so long to fill the power vacuum of the president's absence?

MICHAEL AONDOAKAA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NIGERIA: Absolutely there has not been a power vacuum. But clearly, the courts in Nigeria are the ones vested with the duties of interpreting the constitution.


And they clearly ruled that there has not been a power vacuum. The (inaudible) clearly that when the president was leaving on the 23rd of November, 2009, it delegated all his (inaudible) power to the vice president, on the basis of which the vice president has been exercising the powers of the president.


AONDOAKAA: So there has not actually been a power vacuum, so--

AMANPOUR: So just to confirm, the cabinet will approve this, and this will take place now, that the vice president--

AONDOAKAA: Well, we have to look at the resolution first, but as I've indicated, the president has already -- since the president left -- recognized the vice president as the leader of the country pending when Mr. President returns.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, what does the -- what does the -- the houses of parliament, what do they base their ruling on? Because it seems that they base it on a radio interview that the president gave, you know, a couple of weeks ago.

AONDOAKAA: Well, incidentally, I don't go much into what they did, because, you see, what they did can override a decision of the court. But what is important now at this stage is to move the country forward. The most important is for the three arms of government to come and certainly support the vice president to carry out his duties and move the country forward.

AMANPOUR: All right.

AONDOAKAA: I think that is the paramount consideration for every Nigerian.

AMANPOUR: OK. Just before I get to some of those challenges, has anybody -- has any minister, has any Nigerian official actually seen the president since he went to Saudi Arabia?

AONDOAKAA: No, precisely. People -- he spoke to some people. He spoke to the vice president himself. The vice president confirmed to us (inaudible) president spoke to him briefly--


AONDOAKAA: -- and also -- that was (inaudible) about three weeks back.

AMANPOUR: Did the vice president see the president?

AONDOAKAA: No, he didn't say he saw the president, but he's told us that he spoke to the president.

AMANPOUR: Isn't it strange, Mr. Attorney General, that the president of a country can disappear for months and that nobody has seen him and -- and these decisions are being taken? Isn't that just strange?

AONDOAKAA: No, no, no, no. The issue of it being strange is not right. The issue of whether people have seen him is not a main issue here. Of course people have seen him. The (inaudible) president was delegated to go there when the issue of budget accord, and he went there. The president signed the budget. He saw him, and he reported back to us.

But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that (inaudible) paramount, is that there must be ways of resolving our problems constitutionally, and that is -- I feel that the system is working fine, because nobody has taken up arms. The most important point is that the three arms of government are working out a way to have a situation that we come out in the best interests of Nigerians--

AMANPOUR: Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Abuja.

And now--

AONDOAKAA: Well, thank you.

AMANPOUR: -- let's turn to Wole Soyinka, who's in Los Angeles. For six decades, Mr. Soyinka has been a leading figure in Nigeria's literary and political life. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- or, rather, the Nobel Prize in Literature -- in 1986.

Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Soyinka. You heard--


AMANPOUR: -- what the attorney general just said, that everything's OK, there's no power vacuum, there's no risk of -- of armed violence. What do you make of the vote by the legislature today?

SOYINKA: Well, let me begin by saying that I -- I just sit here astonished that someone in a responsible position, like Aondoakaa, can come here and talk from all four compass points of his mouth. He's told so many untruths.

He suggests, for instance, that there is absolutely no breakdown in the amnesty procedure in Nigeria. That is a lie. Everybody knows that.

He's now blaming the (inaudible) on different causes from what he's said before. At the beginning, he said -- and he said this publicly -- that there was no need to be excited, that the president could rule from anywhere in the world, anywhere in the world. And he's--


AMANPOUR: So what's really going on, then? Why is it -- whose interest is it that there be this absence, this vacuum?

SOYINKA: That's very -- a very good question. Yes, whose interest is it? Now, let me begin by saying that it's not a regional interest, because I noticed you kept referring to the Muslim north and the Christian south. No, no, no, no, that is not the issue.

The issue is that certain elements within the ruling party love this hiatus. They love the headlessness of government because they can proceed to loot and create their own little empires while the president is away.


AMANPOUR: So can you tell me--


AMANPOUR: -- why -- what -- I mean, when you think about it, what do you think is going on? Why is the president away for so long? And why hasn't anybody seen him?

SOYINKA: I have my theory. My theory is that the president is in no position to sign anything at the moment. I have a feeling that he's so ill and those who are around him know very well that he's very ill.

There's a huge contention, for instance, about the signing of the appropriation bill, that, in fact, it was forged. I mean, this one has not yet been thoroughly examined by an independent commission, so all kinds of lies, all kind of manipulations are going on around somebody whom I suspect doesn't even know what is going on.

AMANPOUR: So where do you see--


SOYINKA: -- like Nigeria.

AMANPOUR: Where do you see the next few weeks, the next -- oh, I don't know -- few days, now that the legislature has voted, that they've put Mr. Goodluck Jonathan as acting president? Do you think this will calm things down?

SOYINKA: I don't believe so, because those who are behind this game, this very sinister, bizarre game, are not about to give up very quickly. They're going to find other forms of delaying tactics, and I'm talking about certain criminal elements within the ruling party, the PDP. They are the ones really responsible for this.

AMANPOUR: And what -- what is the solution that you've been calling for?

SOYINKA: Well, we went there, for instance, and asked them, you know, had a rally, and there have been other rallies, and we demanded that the constitution be followed.

Now, the constitution demands very clearly that when the president is going to be away, it's a very smooth, temporary transition. The president writes to the assembly saying, "I'm going away on sick leave," "I'm going away on annual leave, and my deputy takes over." When he returns, he writes a letter.

Now, I've met Yar'Adua. He's not a stupid man. He's an intelligent man. And he knows what he ought to have done.

But, unfortunately, I think by the time he realized -- that's my theory -- by the time he realized that he was very ill, it was really too late for him to do anything. He's become incapacitated. And that's why I don't believe, for instance, that he signed the appropriation bill.

AMANPOUR: All right.

SOYINKA: And that is when the assembly should take action and formally invest his deputy--

AMANPOUR: Well, they seem to have done that now. Stand by, Mr. Soyinka. We're going to take a break, and we'll be back with you in just a moment. And we'll also be talking with a mediator in the Niger Delta.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the coming of oil, we had good fishes, good, rich estuaries, good coastal lands. We had no pipe-borne water, but we had fresh water that was floating, unpolluted that our parents and our grandparents had. And we held it. They were just living, and they were getting by. And then this thing called oil came.


AMANPOUR: That was a clip from the documentary "Sweet Crude" that tells the story of communities living in the Niger Delta, surrounded by Nigeria's vast oil wealth, but not sharing in its bounty.

Joining us now on the phone from the Niger Delta is Joel Bisina, mediator between the rebels and the Nigerian government.

Mr. Bisina, thank you for joining us. Tell me, what do you think the effect of this legislative vote to transfer power to Goodluck Jonathan, what will the effect be in the delta there with the -- with the rebels?

JOEL BISINA, FOUNDER AND REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF NIGER DELTA PROFESSIONALS FOR DEVELOPMENT: First, I can say thank you very much for the opportunity to be on this program. As far as I can say, the vote in the national assembly and (inaudible) vice president to have (inaudible) doesn't make any difference. I don't see the vice president (inaudible) significance.

AMANPOUR: Give me, in a nutshell, the heart of the conflict as it stands today.

BISINA: (inaudible) lack of direction. The -- the militants (inaudible) laid down their weapons (inaudible) direction as to where to go. No one (inaudible) what to do. And my (inaudible) the impact this will have on peace and security in the Niger Delta.

AMANPOUR: All right. Mr. Bisina--

BISINA: Yeah, and--

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much there for joining us. I appreciate that. And we wish you good luck with your mediating efforts there.

BISINA: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And we're joined again by the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner, Wole Soyinka, who's in Los Angeles.

So you heard a mediator there, Joel Bisina, say that he didn't think the latest political twist would make any difference in the Niger Delta. What do you think?

SOYINKA: Well, let me say straight that it's a major challenge for Jonathan -- if he does, indeed, become the substantive acting president -- because I can tell you that, in early November, I met together with the so- called errand team (ph), of which I'm just an observer -- I'm not a negotiator exactly -- we met the president. And the president actually outlined a timetable for discussions.

Afterwards, I heard the -- I met the president on a one-on-one, together with his secretary only, in which he affirmed what had been decided with the entire team. And this meeting was supposed to have begun immediately after the Muslim Ramadan. The time was actually set down.


SOYINKA: Now, it's up to Jonathan to pick up that -- to pick up that program and run it fast.

AMANPOUR: Because -- because you heard Joel Bisina say that they've put down their weapons, those who have, and yet there's no direction, there's no answers, they don't know where to go. Is that legitimate?

SOYINKA: It's always a legitimate comment. And this is what I'm saying that Jonathan has to do. He has to pick up where Yar'Adua left off. Too much time has been wasted. The militants are disgusted. They also -- they've begun cynical. And, of course, they've called off the cease-fire.

AMANPOUR: So in general -- in general, where do you see your country going now? I mean, you've got this huge oil-producing nation, you've got this huge population, you've got a bit of a power vacuum, to put it mildly, and you've got a reignited insurgency. All of those combined, where does it -- where does it go in the next, let's say, week, now that Mr. Goodluck has been named officially the acting president?

SOYINKA: Well, let's hope it doesn't go where the ruling party is going to take it.

We have the PDP, an illegitimate, unelected, corrupt, and murderous party, as I've said at home over and over again. Now, it's the civil society now which has to rise and put a stop to the machinations of the PDP.

Anything short of that -- don't forget that part of the plans of the PDP is, of course, to perpetuate itself by making sure that there is electoral reform, which, incidentally, Yar'Adua has also put in motion to ensure that next year's elections are credible.

Now, if the country goes to election next year under the present law, the present system, with a corrupt electoral commission, headed by a totally discredited individual in Professor Iwu, I cannot predict where the nation will end.

AMANPOUR: Now, you spoke about some of -- you spoke about leading, you know, demonstrations and things. Are you calling for civil disobedience now?

SOYINKA: Well, we begun with rallies, as you know, and we have warned that the next stage will be civil disobedience.


There will be civil disobedience if the various measures to put this country back on a democratic path -- this includes, as I said, the electoral reform, a panel was set up. Its recommendations have been accepted by the majority of the nations, from the media commentary, and all that needs to be done is to implement it. Then there has to be a constitutional review.

We've seen, for instance, through the absence of the president, how very weak and imprecise the constitution is in many aspects. There's got to be a review.

Failing all this, the citizenry will embark on a civil disobedience campaign. I see no other course for the nation.

AMANPOUR: And what exactly -- what form will that take? What does that mean, a civil disobedience campaign?

SOYINKA: It'll mean a de-recognition of the government, to start with, flouting the laws wherever possible. It will begin on a -- on a small scale, and then it will escalate until these so-called legislators are made to rise up to their responsibilities.

AMANPOUR: Are you not concerned that that will escalate into violence, rather than into political reform?

SOYINKA: No, I think we're getting practice in the strategies, the tactics of civil disobedience. I do not think -- and we've demonstrated in the last few rallies that the rallies need not be violent as long as civil rights are not trampled upon. I think exactly the same kind of discipline will be maintained. We'd just withdraw recognition in various ways from the government.

AMANPOUR: And in the meantime, the whole premise of Nigeria's vast oil wealth that is not being, you know, shared or at least enjoyed by many of the people in the delta, how -- do you have -- do you have plans to -- to deal with that? What do you think should be done about that?

SOYINKA: Well, this is why I agreed in the first place to act even just as an observer in the process of negotiations between the government and the various militant groups. Discourse, debate, the usual, to offer a cliche, give-and-take, that system of -- of negotiation is what has to be embarked upon as quickly as possible.

AMANPOUR: Now, the U.S. has obviously got a big role to play. It's very interested in Nigeria's oil and -- and pursuing democracy there. Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, was recently there, and the assistant secretary for Africa has just met today with -- with Goodluck Jonathan and talked about the importance of the democratic process and the political process.

What influence do you think the U.S. can exert right now? Will it be effective?

SOYINKA: Putting pressure on the ruling party or members of the ruling party, including the vice president, whatever title is given, the legislators, assisting us in getting rid of irresponsible ministers like Aondoakaa, compelling, for instance, a change in the composition of the electoral commission, insisting on the adoption of the Uwais panel (ph) report on electoral reform, and insisting on the prosecution of corrupt, exposed, patently corrupt officials.

Now, if we receive that kind of moral pressure -- we're not talking about intervention now; we're talking about moral pressure being exerted on these various arms of leadership -- then it is possible that this make-or- break period -- because this is what it is; this is a make-or-break period for Nigeria -- it is possible that we may just come through it still intact.

AMANPOUR: Wole Soyinka, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us. What a fascinating story, and we will stay on top of it and keep watching. Thanks for joining us.

And next, more on the human cost of exploiting Nigeria's oil wealth, when we return.



AMANPOUR: And now tonight's "P.S." We have one more look at the very human cost of Nigeria's oil wealth. One community activist in the film "Sweet Crude" describes how much it's changed her world, and not necessarily for the better.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (inaudible) animals used to have (inaudible) describe to our children (inaudible) big fishes we used to have in this river (inaudible) we see them on movies (inaudible) watch TV, we see dolphins and all that. We can't see that (inaudible) used to be here.

We don't know what we are going to leave for our children, because the oil company wants to stay and operate. They don't care about the human beings who are here. All they care about is the money they make. Let them leave our lands.


AMANPOUR: And to see a longer clip from the documentary, check out our Web site,

And in a shocking look at the power of text messages, you can also find out about a massacre in Nigeria last month that left 300 people dead. Text messages were used to incite the violence.

Now, Nigerians are one of the most active communities on our Facebook page, so we're asking people with accounts of that violence to share their stories at

And that's it for now. Tomorrow, we'll have a fascinating discussion that includes fashion legend Diane von Furstenberg. It's about truth in advertising and the industry's obsession with an unattainable beauty.

For all of us here, goodbye from New York.