April 19, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, discusses the elections currently taking place in Nigeria, where voters went to the polls last Saturday, April 14, to choose state governors and legislators and will do so again this coming Saturday, April 21, to elect a new president, vice president, and parliament.

According to Dr. Pham, “ Nigeria’s elections have regularly precipitated crises which have paved the way for self-appointed ‘national saviors’ to emerge from the barracks. Since independence in 1960, no elected leader has ever handed over power to an elected successor. And today the situation is particularly dire, as the violence surrounding last Saturday’s balloting, in which at least twenty-one people died, demonstrates.”

Dr. Pham went on to observe:

All in all, it is bad enough that, as the International Crisis Group noted in a recent report, “ethnic and religious conflicts have caused over 15,000 deaths and displaced more than three million during [incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo’s] presidency,” but in the midst of a global war against terrorism, the U.S. and other allies must also confront the fact that radical Islamist elements have been increasing their activities to exploit the West African country’s local religious and political tensions and to prepare the ground for further penetration and the opening up in Africa a full-fledge new front in their fight against the West, as a number of jihadi strategists have explicitly advocated.

 On the other hand, free, fair, and credible elections—and, they are still possible even at this late hour, given Nigerians’ incredible capacity to pull themselves back from the brink and the vast resources that they have at their disposal—would lead to the inauguration of a legitimate political order (one of the upsides of the Nigerian constitutional arrangement is the possibility of renewing the entire structure of government without staggered terms of office). The transition to such a government would not only consolidate democracy in Nigeria, but also endow the regime elected with a national mandate to tackle the country’s endemic conflicts, including the insurgency in the southeast where increasingly tactically-sophisticated attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have slashed Nigerian petroleum production by an estimated 500,000 barrels per day, a margin of approximately 25 percent of output capacity without which cut the West African nation would have already surpassed Saudi Arabia as a supplier of America’s energy needs.

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “Decision Time in Nigeria,” click here.