Monday, August 29, 2011

Nigeria: Why Nation Broke With Gaddafi

Nigeria's recognition of the Libya's National Transition Council (NTC) as the "legitimate representative of the Libyan people" did not just surprise many Nigerians, it has been seen as a threat to South Africa and a shock to the African Union (AU). Indeed, South Africa has condemned the Nigerian action with foreign commentators saying Nigeria's profile surged because of the backing.

Unknown to South Africa, though, Nigeria's financial and political influence could loom larger in a post-Gaddafi Africa, where Libyan petrodollars and his machinations are no longer the force they once were. Political experts however say Gaddafi's fall makes Nigeria a stronger player in African affairs and that through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), headed by President Jonathan, Nigeria could take advantage of Gaddafi's fall and the resulting power vacuum to push its goals of increased political stability in West Africa and beyond.

Seeing Nigeria's backing as a clash of African power, an American analyst said, "If Nigeria and South Africa are indeed the two "African superpowers," South Africa may feel threatened by Nigeria taking the initiative in this fashion. South Africa may fear that other countries will soon follow Nigeria's lead, which would make the AU a follower, and not a forger, of the African stance on Libya."

In fact, the move has reignited the superiority tussle between South Africa and Nigeria. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa , in a press conference said Nigeria is "jumping the gun" by recognising the rebels before the African Union (AU) makes its decision. Nigeria and South Africa, which are both members of the United Nations Security Council, voted in favour of imposing a No Fly Zone on Libya, but South Africa objects to NATO's military intervention in Libya.

Perhaps, the ANC's criticism of Nigeria reflects how difficult South Africa's balancing act has become, as South Africa strives to stay involved in negotiating political outcomes in Libya while at the same time seeking to stand as a champion of African opposition to outside interference.

Nigerian deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Viola Onwuliri on Tuesday said, "It is my honour and privilege this morning to inform you that the Federal Government has formally recognised the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya as a legitimate representative of the Libyan people." The minister also called on longtime Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to give up power immediately.

This is seen as a sudden turn around of the federal government on the Libyan crisis. Aside voting for the UN resolution, Nigeria had been mute on Libya. Even last Monday, in a media briefing in Lagos, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, was evasive on whether Nigeria was recognising the NTC as legitimate voice in Libya. Rather, he had said, "Nigeria stands ready to work with the democratic forces in Libya in the transition process."

Asked why Nigeria was slow in coming to speak on Libya and condemn Gaddafi's long stay in office and violence against his people, and why it did not join NATO in its military action, Ashiru could only say the country voted in the UN resolution to enforce a no fly zone over Libya, adding, "the unmistakable message from the battle for the control of Tripoli and other cities is that the people of Libya are anxious and determined to take their destiny in their own hands and to ensure the realisation of their own quest for freedom and democracy."

The only reference the minister made on the Transitional Council of Libya, was that, "the federal government regrets the sufferings, hardships and needless loss of lives that struggle has caused Libyans," adding that Nigeria would back Libya in its bid to install democratic rule and enforce the rule of law.

In fact, acting director general of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA) while defending NATO 's role in Libya, said the import of the minister's message was to reconcile the warring groups in Libya for the good of the people. Nigeria, he said, was not backing any group but was concerned with the plight of the people.

His view was equally shared by Prof Ogaba Oche of the same institute who while saying NATO is committing the same crimes UN accused Charles Taylor on Sierra Leon, said the UN resolution was purely on humanitarian ground, and that Gaddafi's fall may become another era of tribal conflict in Libya.

But the way things appear now, it shows that the government was testing the minds of Nigerians, and when it found out that many people welcomed the idea, it announced the recognition of the NTC which has . caused an uproar in Africa. Nigeria was not the first to recognise the NTC. Gambia first did, followed by Senegal. But Nigeria's backing changes Africa's position.

Why would Nigeria suddenly break with Gaddafi? Perhaps, the government believes that Gaddafi has lost, and that future harmony between the two countries will be enhanced if Nigeria recognizes the TNC now. Also, Nigerian leaders may not be sad to see Gaddafi go. Gaddafi has riked Nigeria in several ways. Nigeria strongly objected last year when Gaddafi advocated the breakup of Nigeria as a solution to interreligious conflict, so much that Nigeria withdrew its ambassador from Tripoli for a time.

The fall of Gaddafi, however, may be to Nigeria's advantage. Oil experts say disruptions in Libyan oil production could increase Europeans' reliance on and willingness to pay top dollar for Nigerian oil.

Sabotage continues to damage Nigerian production, but with Libyan output likely to be short of full capacity for quite some time, Nigeria may yet reap the benefits.

Source: Vanguard News

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