Tag Archives: Nigeria

Nigerian football goes forth (in two years time. We hope)

When I first heard the news that Goodluck Jonathan had suspended the Nigerian football team from international football for two years after their abject performance in the World Cup, I thought he’d gone crazy. Nigeria were bad, but they weren’t that bad. France were worse. And Nigeria were lucky to be in the World Cup at all, only getting there after a playoff with Kenya. So no one should really have been surprised at their early, undistinguished exit. The team don’t deserve to be sent into the footballing equivalent of Siberia (although even Siberians remain eligible for international football).

And it makes Goodluck Jonathan – and Nigeria – look rash, amateurish, and generally incompetent. But maybe, just maybe, he’s not. Nigerian football is notoriously corrupt, and a two year clean up could be exactly what it needs. Jonathan’s ordered a detailed financial audit of the Nigerian Football Association, and I imagine some senior heads will roll. Two years is enough time to restructure the Football Association into something that might be able to effectively steer Nigerian football for many years to come.

Once again with Goodluck Jonathan, too little is really known about him to understand whether this is serious reform or a publicity stunt. Once again, we’re cautiously optimistic.

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Reporting on Yemen goes 4th inaccurately

OK, so it’s a nice story. Semi-nice, at least. Two German girls, aged 3 and 5, were released after being kidnapped 11 months ago by persons unknown in Yemen. The whereabouts of their parents, and their younger brother, and the five other people kidnapped within them, are unknown; the prognosis doesn’t look good. Cue a celebratory headline in the London Times. “Little girls snatched by ‘al-Qaeda group’ are set free”. Of course, the Times is not the place to go for especially informed reporting on Yemen, but nonetheless it is a very lazy connection to make. Yemen is a lot more complicated than that.

I’m no expert on the country – for that, go to the legendary Waq-al-Waq or its recent successor, Always Judged Guilty – but there are two points that need to be stressed.

Firstly, Al-Qaeda is not really the issue in Yemen at the moment. The country has three insurrections, of various intensities; its economy is shambolic, at best; and it is rapidly running out of food (including, of all things, dates). Water shortages are also on the horizon. Al-Qaeda, while a threat, is the least of the country’s problems.

Secondly, I think it unlikely that Al-Qaeda was behind the kidnapping (and release). Hostage-taking in Yemen has tended to be the preserve of the various rebel and tribal movements which display significantly less discipline than that practised by AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and the Times‘s ‘sources in Yemen’ sound suitably vague – sounds like someone needed a catchy headline. What further damages the credibility of the story is its claim that “Al-Qaeda has regrouped in Yemen behind the jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki”. Al-Awlaki, as you probably won’t remember, was the preacher said to be behind both the Christmas Day Nigerian wannabe-bomber Umar Abdul Mutallab, and the US servicemen who went on the rampage in Fort Hood. A nasty character, without doubt, but certainly not the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Yemen. His prominence is only due to his connection with those two high-profile incident, and, crucially, because he speaks and preaches in English, making him easily accessible to western reporters.

Yemen is undoubtedly fragile, and will depend to a large degree on the largesse and actions of the international community. However, if the right decisions are going to be made, the people making them are going to need much better information than that provided by the Times (it should be noted that western reporting of Yemen is generally poor; the Times just gave me very current example).

But the most interesting part of the article went completely unremarked by the authors – that the two girls were rescued as result of a Saudi Arabian cross-border raid. The Saudi security forces were extremely effective in knobbling Al-Qaeda in Saudi, which is why they were forced into Yemen; that they’re now crossing into Yemen at will is an interesting, and unexplained development.

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Goodluck Jonathan goes forth (for now)

Goodluck Jonathan is perhaps the most unknown quantity in world politics; even Nigerians are somewhat hazy about his background and exactly how he managed to land Nigeria’s top job. True to his name, his career has been characterised by being in the right time at the right place. First as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, in the Delta region, when his boss was impeached on corruption charges: step forward Jonathan. Then again two years later, when Umaru Yar Adua, alive and well and making his own decisions, picked him as his running mate. The logic was simple. He was a southerner, complimenting the northern Yar Adua, and he posed no political threat, having no significant power base. Then Yar Adua went on his little medical vacation to Saudi Arabia: step forward Jonathan, this time as president.

In a country where backroom deals are the currency of power, Nigeria’s biggest Big Man is someone with few favours to return and no specific constituency to favour. He has little political baggage, and this could mean that he, alone of Nigeria’s post-independence leaders, has the power to make decisions purely on their merits. The initial signs are promising. He’s cleaned out the cabinet, and has just sacked the notorious head of the electoral commission, who presided over intimidation, ballot-stuffing and fraud on a massive scale.

There are new elections just around the corner, in 2011, and a lot hinges on whether Goodluck decides to participate. If he does not, he has a once in a lifetime opportunity to clean up Nigeria’s electoral system. If he does run for president, then chances are all reform will be designed with his victory in mind (especially given the track record of his party). We are cautiously optimistic, despite his trademark hat.

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Nigerian politics takes its clothes off to go 4th

Another great leader in a great hat

Nowhere does politics better than Nigeria. Take this story. There’s a manhunt, there’s corruption, there’s money, there’s death threats. There’s even public nudity. Here are the very basics: former Governor Ibori, of Delta State, is being investigated for corruption. He’s on the run, but still able to fight back, loudly proclaiming his innocence and saying that this is just a witch hunt because the head of the investigating body – Chief Edwin Clark – wants the Delta State governorship (and is unseemingly close to President Jonathan). Supporting Ibori are hundreds of women from his hometown. They show their support by taking all their clothes off and marching down the street in protest. This is not as crazy as it sounds: in local tradition, a nude protest makes the evil intentions of one’s enemy rebound upon themselves. So whatever harm Clark wishes Ibori will come back to haunt him (or so the theory goes). And this has got Clark very worried indeed – he’s claiming that Ibori is trying to kill him, and cites a previous assassination attempt in 2008 as evidence to back his claim. We await the next development eagerly. Who needs Hollywood – or Nollywood – when politics is this much fun?

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