Ambassador John Campbell Responds to ‘Adding Fuel to the Fire in Nigeria’

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Adding Fuel to the Fire in Nigeria” is the most thought-provoking, convincing analysis I have seen of the Jonathan administration’s attempts to end the fuel subsidy. The anonymous author makes the fundamental point that ending the fuel subsidy is not about economics – it is about the patronage politics that govern Nigeria—a point with which I whole-heartedly agree.

Anonymous concludes his insightful essay by raising the question of whether as the central government retreats, “which devolved, democratised or fissiparous forces are coming in to fill the vacuum that has been created by the retreat of the centre.” The author seems to recall the success of protests across the country and raises the possibility of a shift in power towards the public.

While I agree that something new happened during these fuel subsidy protests, I also have two thoughts about the possibility of more radical and possibility damaging change.

The military, especially the army, still has guns. While the upper reaches are co-opted by the administration, and are probably doing very well out of the ‘system,’ that is much less true of the rank of file and of junior and mid-level officers, whose families and friends feel the effects of the fuel subsidy cut as well as the country’s general decline.

Nigerian elites are terrified of the possibility of a junior officer coup. They ought to be. If one happens, it is likely to be bloody, because it might take the form of a mutiny against senior officers.

Another possibility is the much feared “Road to Kinshasa,” in which, according to John Paden, “societies were based on strife, with beleaguered dictatorships, minimum social control, the economics of isolation, and the tearing of the social fabric.” In conjunction with Boko Haram in the North, an ethnically divided and “ghettoized” Middle Belt, and a revival of the MEND insurrection in the Delta, the pressures might be too great for Nigeria’s current political economy to sustain, leading to an implosion in unpredictable ways.

Either of these possibilities would likely be a disaster for the Nigerian people. But, the strike and the demonstrations associated with ‘Occupy Nigeria’ did bring together Nigerians across religious and ethnic lines. That could happen again. Their solidarity – if only for a week – provides hope for the future.

For Ambassador John Campbell’s website click here

For his blog click here

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