From the February 2000 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 47, No. 2)


Obasanjo's Crackdown

Barry Shelby, World Press Review contributing editor

Nigeria may have a democratically elected president, but in the oil-rich Niger Delta, the government of Olusegun Obasanjo is behaving in much the same way as its military predecessors. On Nov. 19, Obasanjo sent an army battalion to Bayelsa state, where armed dissidents from the Ijaw community, who are fighting for greater control over oil profits, had killed seven policemen. The fishing village of Odi was leveled by mortar fire; at least 43 civilians died and thousands were displaced.

Shortly after the action in Odi, police opened fire on demonstrators in Lagos, killing at least 27 supporters of the Yoruban Oodua People's Congress.

Nigerian press accounts are comparing the crackdown in Bayelsa to military actions taken in 1995 by the late dictator Sani Abacha against another Delta ethnic minority, the Ogoni. The crackdown in Ogoniland ended with the execution of activist and author Ken Saro-Wiwa.

The scale of the destruction wrought by the troops shocked many Nigerians and further stirred the anger of some local people against the central government, the independent P.M News of Lagos reported (Dec. 14). The president may find it difficult to live down his military background, even in the environment of democracy, Osita Nwajah wrote in the
weekly News of Lagos (Dec. 6). Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate and social activist, lamented the heavy-handedness.Obasanjo had no reason forĀ”­unleashing the animalism of the military on Odi because a crime was committed, Soyinka said.

Chris Konkwo reported in P.M. News (Dec. 8) that Ijaw leaders are calling for a judicial inquiry and a national conference of all the ethnic nationalities of the country ­to restructure the Nigerian nation along the lines of true federalism.

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