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Tuesday, 17 September, 2002, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Nigeria's turbulent prospects
Soldier and civilian in Jos
Social stability has not materialised under civilian rule
By the BBC's Dan Isaacs in Lagos

There are already strong indications that the political campaigns for elections due to be held in early 2003 will be turbulent.

President  Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo has made it clear he will not tolerate unrest

President Olusegun Obasanjo has already said he intends to stand for re-election and, as yet, no clear opponent has emerged to challenge him.

Former military rulers such as Ibrahim Babangida still wield immense power behind the scenes, and although unlikely to contest the election personally, may well back strong opponents to Mr Obasanjo.

After 15 unbroken years of military rule, it was hoped that a civilian government - elected in 1999 - would bring greater social stability and a platform for sustained economic growth.

This has not been the case.

Religious tensions

At least 10,000 people have died in communal or religious violence across the country over the last three years.

For the most part these have been localised disputes, but there are increasing fears that such clashes could ignite reprisal actions elsewhere in the country.

Former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida
Former military rulers still wield immense power

Of particular concern are the tensions between the country's Christian and Muslim communities, which politicians may seek to exploit in their struggle for political power ahead of the elections.

These religious tensions have severely worsened following the introduction of harsh Islamic punishments in the country's northern states over the past two years.

Christians are technically exempt from these punishments, which include amputation of limbs for theft and stoning to death for adultery.

But the increasing Islamisation of political structures in the north has provoked a great deal of unease among the substantial minority of Christians in northern cities who increasingly fear for their security.

Army influence

The army has been used on frequent occasions to control civil unrest, which President Obasanjo has made clear he will not tolerate.

Soldiers have been deployed in Kaduna, Jos, Kano, Benue and other areas under the orders of President Obasanjo, who also not hesitated to use the full force of the army if necessary.

Amputee after Sharia punishment
The introduction of Sharia law has caused widespread unease

This determination to maintain order was made very clear in October last year when the army was deployed in Benue state.

Troops killed more than 200 unarmed civilians in reprisal at the murder of 19 soldiers by a local militia group.

The president was unrepentant at the army's actions, saying that soldiers are trained to kill and if they are deployed, that is what they will do.

However, Mr Obasanjo may have had little choice but to allow the army to carry out this show of strength.

For him to oppose senior military officers might well not have been a wise course of action.

The incident was a clear reminder of the continuing influence of the Nigerian military, and their central role in Nigerian politics.

Diplomatic backing

This willingness to deploy the army in this way has caused some consternation from the president's opponents.

Dead body
Up to 10,000 people have died in Nigerian clashes in the past three years

But there has been very little public criticism from the international community.

Most foreign diplomats in Nigeria would rather maintain good relations with a civilian government - whatever its faults - than risk raising issues that might destabilise the country and provoke a return to military power.

But the election process itself has also become a contentious issue.

The number of parties registered to contest the has been limited to just six - despite protests from more than 20 others that they have been unfairly excluded. Although many months behind schedule, voter registration was finally undertaken in September 2002.

This has delayed local council elections, which our now expected to be held not earlier than the beginning of 2003.

These will be followed by a series of state, legislative and finally the presidential election election, which must held before Mr Obasanjo's four year mandate expires in May.

Key stories

Election issues

Economic woes


See also:

04 Jan 02 | Africa
18 Dec 01 | Africa
24 Oct 01 | Africa
07 Sep 01 | Country profiles
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