- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Warning from Nigeria

A leading Nigerian human rights lawyer is trying to raise an alarm in Washington over the threat to democracy in his oil-rich West African nation, which is recovering slowly from the end of military rule in 1999.

Olisa Agbakoba yesterday warned of a “fear of democratic retrogression” caused by President Olusegun Obasanjo’s efforts to change the constitution to allow him to run for a third four-year term in 2007.

“Proposed changes have split the country’s ruling party, and they threaten to divide the nation,” Mr. Agbakoba told our correspondent Gus Constantine.

The transition from a military dictatorship to civilian government was supposed to have healed the traditional tribal rivalries among the Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo and Fulani people.

“I came to Washington to make groups and individuals who support democracy aware of the situation in the country,” Mr. Agbakoba said.

His schedule yesterday included a visit to the National Endowment for Democracy, where he also planned to hold talks with representatives of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.

Today he is scheduled to call on the Senate and House foreign affairs committees.

The Nigerian president received mixed reviews from the lawyer.

“Obasanjo comes across as an international statesman, but that’s not how he comes off back home. He is just a politician,” Mr. Agbakoba said.

He said it is obvious that Mr. Obasanjo is planning for a third term.

“He’s not acting as a president who is preparing to leave office,” Mr. Agbakoba said.

The Nigerian legislature is expected to consider a constitutional amendment to allow a third presidential term by March, three months before political parties are scheduled to hold presidential primaries.

The constitutional debate also is keeping potential political opponents from declaring their candidacies because they do not want to spend money on a campaign if Mr. Obasanjo is permitted to seek a third term.

Mr. Agbakoba noted that Mr. Obasanjo receives praise in Washington and London, the former colonial power, “because he says all the things that [President] Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair want to hear.”

The lawyer said the West values stability in Nigeria — the sixth-ranking oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — regardless of whether it is ruled by a corrupt military government or a weak civilian one.

Visiting the sultan

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the leader of the country’s 68 million Muslims denounced American foreign policy as “deliberately against Islam” when he met last week with U.S. Ambassador John Campbell.

The sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, criticized U.S. policies toward the Palestinians and toward Afghanistan and Iraq, as he received Mr. Campbell in his palace.

“Some decisions of the leading members of the international community are not balanced,” he said, according to a report in Nigeria’s Daily Trust newspaper.

The report did not explain why the sultan objected to the U.S. liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq and President Bush’s calls for democracy and statehood for the Palestinians.

The sultan also defended Islamic Shariah law, which is prevalent in the Muslim north of Nigeria. He said that only Muslims are subject to the laws, which require prayer, fasting and charity but also carry sentences of amputations, floggings and stonings for offenses from murder to adultery.

Mr. Campbell said he was paying his respects to the sultan and brought him greetings from Mr. Bush.

“Ambassador Campbell assured the sultan that the U.S. respects all religions,” the Daily Trust reported. “He said he was at the palace to deliver President Bush’s goodwill message to Nigerian Muslims.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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