Article written

  • on 19.03.2011
  • at 08:00 AM
  • by Staff

Nigeria’s elections: “The environmental challenge is a priority” local activists say 0

Nigerian environmental and human rights activist Nnimmo Bassey talks to The Africa Report’s Khadija Sharife about Nigeria’s upcoming elections, the prospects for political change and whether Nigeria will go the way of North Africa.

Will the uprising in Egypt and Tunisia spark a similar response in Nigeria?

Nigerians at the moment are demonstrating their desire for change and for the respect of their right to choose who leads them through the eagerness they are showing in the ongoing voter registration exercise in the country. People have had to go to the registration centres as early as 4am to be sure they get attended to early enough in the day. If the political elite scuttle the next election coming up in April through rigging, violence and ballot box snatching or stuffing, I believe what we appear to be cushioned from by the desert buffer will happen here. The energy of people power released in Tunisia and Egypt will find a place here. There is no doubt about it.

Is there a similarity between the repression of the North African states, where regimes are interlocked with foreign governments, and Nigeria’s historical and present reality?

In the case of the North African states, the US interest is greased by the need for unrestricted access to crude oil and gas. Their security interests are locked into this. It is clear that the US diplomacy in Nigeria is also hinged on open and unhindered flows of crude oil and gas.

When it comes to crude, there is no sync between diplomacy and democracy. It appears dictatorships and repression serve the interest of the volatile industry and US leaders. This explains why we do not hear any denunciations of the rampant impunity and human rights abuses recorded since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.

Whole communities have been attacked by state military forces and thousands have been killed, hundreds of women raped and properties destroyed. I name a few here: Odi, Odioma (under Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency), Gbaramatu (under late President Umaru Yar’Adua) and recently Ayakoromo (under President Goodluck Jonathan).

Are ballots perceived by Nigeria’s youth as a means of change or is there a general feeling that the current rot in the political system cannot be upended by voting?

Nigerians are incurable optimists and believe the ballot is the way to effect change. This will clearly not go on forever. As it is said, if you fool a person once you are a fool, but if you fool that person twice then for sure that person is a fool. I don’t think the Nigerian youth is a fool.

What are your thoughts on President Goodluck Jonathan?

If he wins the election he will have a moral duty to take up the environmental challenge not only of the Niger Delta, where he comes from, but the entire devastated Nigerian environment. He will have to tackle the rising violence in the land and also tackle corruption and sectarian politics. He will have no excuses. Nigerians will not be patient with him.

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