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Daily Telegraph: Obasanjo's greed for power 'risks civil unrest' in Nigeria

Obasanjo's greed for power 'risks civil unrest' in Nigeria
By David Blair, Africa Correspondent
(Filed: 06/05/2006)

Nigeria's leader was yesterday accused of risking chaos in Africa's most populous and oil-rich country as he began rewriting the constitution in order to retain power.

President Olusegun Obasanjo, a favourite of western governments and key ally of Tony Blair's campaign to aid Africa, is pushing the national assembly to extend his rule.

  President Olusegun Obasanjo
President Olusegun Obasanjo

He proposed 102 constitutional amendments, including a measure allowing him to serve three terms instead of the present maximum of two.

If passed, this would save Mr Obasanjo, 69, from stepping down next year and allow him to seek re-election after eight years in power.

Critics say this crucial change would destroy the credibility of term limits in African constitutions and plunge Nigeria into crisis.

Ethnic and religious rivalry threatens the very future of the giant country of 130 million people. A bitter struggle for power and resources is being waged between the Muslim north, the Christian south-west, the oil-rich Niger Delta and the homeland of the Ibo tribe in the south-east.

Nigeria's unity can only be guaranteed if power rotates between these groups. If Mr Obasanjo, a Christian from the Yoruba tribe of the south-west, stays in office, this delicate balance could be upset, with disastrous consequences.

“This is a very grave threat to the stability of the country,” said Clement Nwankwo, a human rights lawyer and co-founder of Nigeria's Civil Liberties Organisation.

“There will be a crisis if he succeeds. The Niger Delta situation will escalate, the tension between north and south will become almost uncontrollable and it could lead to a very serious civil crisis. No one can tell what the long-term consequences will be.”

Turmoil in Nigeria would have global repercussions. It has 35 billion barrels of proven oil reserves – more than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. The 2.5 million barrels exported every day are critical to the international oil market.

A guerrilla campaign against oil installations in the Niger Delta – where most of the reserves are found – has inflated world oil prices. If Mr Obasanjo manages to extend his rule, critics say the chaos will only worsen.

Some legislators have said that the government has offered inducements to ensure the “third term” amendments are passed.

Mr Nwankwo said: “We're not underestimating the amount of money that has been set aside for this project.”

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