Monday, January 11, 2010

US official arrives Nigeria over political crisis

US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, is due to arrive Nigeria this week as part of his country's efforts to deepen diplomatic engagement with Nigeria which is navigating a leadership crisis at the moment, NEXT diplomatic sources revealed yesterday.

Sources in Washington D.C. and Abuja, told NEXT that Mr. Carson's proposed visit to Nigeria is aimed at carrying out a ‘broad spectrum feel of the political temperature in the light of the succession politics now frantically apace in Abuja'. The US diplomat is also expected to seek reasons for the delay in debating the anti-terrorism bill that has been with the National Assembly for the past four years.

Nigerian officers in Abuja confirmed the visit yesterday, saying Mr. Carson is expected to hold talks with the vice-president, Goodluck Jonathan and the Senate president, David Mark.

"The Senate is a critical actor in the game of authorising the Vice president. The senate has a one-week window of relevance," our sources said, explaining the critical need for a meeting with the senate president.

Sources, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, say talks have already begun between Mr. Carson and the Nigerian vice-president; adding that last week, a telephone conversation between the two was facilitated by the American embassy in Abuja.

International interests in Nigeria

There are indications that Nigeria's 2011 elections is becoming a source of concern in international quarters. Ahead of Mr. Carson's visit, a multinational mission comprised of representatives from the European Union, U.S., Canada, and Japan are already in Nigeria. Sources believe that their presence in Nigeria is to assess Nigeria's preparations for the upcoming elections.

"The rationale of this mission is to emphasize that whatever the resolution may be, a credible election in 2011 in Nigeria is central to the international acceptance of a new place for Nigeria in the international community," a source told NEXT.

In 2009, the US president, Barack Obama and the US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, on at least three occasions, expressed their displeasure with the current state of affairs in Nigeria - especially as it concerns governance, development, and anti-graft activities.

Mr. Obama, during his visit to Ghana in July, had sent a veiled barb against Nigeria while simultaneously praising Nigeria's neighbour, Ghana on matters of democracy and the pursuit of free and fair elections.

Barely three months after her visit to Nigeria during which she doled out a couple of reprimands to Nigeria on matters of corruption, Mrs. Clinton, in an address at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall, Washington D.C in December, 2009, again criticized Nigeria's Human Rights policies.

"In other cases, like...Nigeria, governments are able but unwilling to make the changes their citizens deserve," she said.

Last week, the American government, through its Transportation Security Administration (TSA), announced that it would begin enhanced screening procedures on any US-bound air passenger travelling through a list of 14 nations, in which Nigeria was included.

Suffice it to say that Nigeria has not occupied a favourable position in the diplomatic circles for the past few months.

Mood in Washington and Abuja

In Nigeria and the U.S., there are growing concerns for the succession plan for the Nigerian president, who is critically ill in a hospital in Saudi Arabia.

In Washington D.C., two camps are pitched against each other - the constitutional succession camp and the national security resolution camp with interests in a possible military regime.

"There are those who are rooting for a constitutional succession versus a tiny, but influential, power wonks who promote a national security resolution in the light of the ‘crotch bomber'," sources said.

Inside sources in the Obama administration however said the American president will stay on the constitutional succession track, although there are muted concerns about ‘Goodluck Jonathan's ability to steer a potentially difficult Nigeria', sources said.

In Abuja, diplomatic source said, there is a frantic ‘horse trading by the Hausas'. There are reports of a scramble to fill in a suitable candidate from Northern Nigeria for the impending vacancy in the office of the vice-president of the country.

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