- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Nigeria’s crisis

A prominent Nigerian human-rights leader is urging President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to denounce the president of the West African nation for creating a constitutional crisis that is threatening civil war and the disruption of the flow of oil from one of the world’s major producers.

“We in the human-rights community see Nigeria degenerating into civil war,” Clement Nwankwo said yesterday during a visit to The Washington Times.

President Olusegun Obasanjo’s campaign to amend the country’s constitution to allow him to seek election to a third term has upset a delicate political deal between rival ethnic groups in the north and south of Africa’s most populous nation. The agreement created a power-sharing arrangement to rotate the presidency between the two areas to prevent one ethnic group from dominating the government.

Mr. Nwankwo said Nigeria already is gripped by ethnic and religious violence that pits Christians against Muslims in the nation of about 128 million people. A separate heavily armed rebel movement in the Niger Delta has added another layer of instability. The rebels have been tapping pipelines to sell oil on the black market and kidnapping foreign oil workers. Their key demand is for more oil money for their region.

“Hundreds have been killed. Violence is erupting at the slightest provocation,” Mr. Nwankwo said.

Riots erupted in one town where Mr. Obasanjo planned to hold a constitutional conference on his desire for another term, Mr. Nwankwo said.

Political opponents have been jailed on trumped-up charges of corruption, and newspapers and radio stations have been closed because they criticized Mr. Obasanjo’s power play, Mr. Nwankwo said.

Mr. Nwankwo also cited reports that Mr. Obasanjo offered to buy the votes of members of the 469-seat National Assembly to get the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution.

“He offered $1 million to any legislator who would support him,” Mr. Nwankwo said.

He said U.S. Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte has criticized Mr. Obasanjo but that stronger voices are needed.

“Miss Rice or President Bush would have a far greater impact,” he said.

Mr. Obasanjo was first elected in 1999 and hailed as a model democratic leader, but since then his government has been widely accused of corruption and intimidation, Mr. Nwankwo said.

“Nigerians are a very capable people held down by a corrupt and incompetent leadership,” he said.

Mr. Nwankwo, the co-founder of the Civil Liberties Organization, Nigeria’s first human-rights group in 1987, returns home tomorrow after a 10 a.m. briefing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Tunisian democracy

The ambassador from Tunisia cited the establishment of a new political party as evidence that democracy is “irreversible” in the North African nation.

The State Department, however, lists Tunisia as a country with a poor human-rights record and dominated by the Democratic Constitutional Party of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, president since 1987. He was re-elected two years ago with 94 percent of the vote and a 90 percent turnout of the electorate.

Ambassador Mohamed Nejib Hachana called the creation of the Green Party for Progress another step toward a multiparty democracy. At least seven other political parties are officially recognized.

“The creation of this political party demonstrates clearly that all tendencies working in the framework of the values and principles of the republic can take part in the political life of Tunisia,” he said this week.

“[It] underscores anew the progressive but irreversible nature of the democratic process and pluralism taking place in Tunisia.”

The State Department’s latest human-rights report said Tunisia’s “human rights record remained poor, and the government persisted in committing serious abuses.”

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

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