Nigeria’s latest attempt at democracy has, so far, lasted a decade – just. But with President Yar’Adua in hospital for more than a month, online discussion boards are abuzz with speculation of a coup. Expats have been advised to stock up on essentials, but seem more concerned with heading to the beach than preparing their bunkers.
In Lagos the threat of impending doom is never really far away. It is either the Nigerian version of Eskom conking out, resulting in the air conditioning exploding, or the green morass oozing from the drains splattering on your shiny black Toyota Prado. More recently, however, people have been fretting about a more pressing problem: is there going to be a return to military rule or other civil strife if President Umaru Yar’Adua dies?
The problem has been festering from the onset of Yar’Adua’s rise to power in the wake of a hotly contested and flawed election in 2007. Yar’Adua was seen as a stabilising force after the rocky legacy left by Olusegun Obasanjo, with vice president Goodluck Jonathan – a southerner and a Christian – providing balance in a country bitterly divided along north-south and Muslim-Christian lines. The vice president does not have much in the way of executive power and the role, in Jonathan’s words, is more ceremonial than anything else. Since Yar’Ardua has refused to hand over temporary power to his vice president (as is the norm), all major decision making has been on an indefinite hiatus for the 40-plus days of the president’s hospitalisation in Saudi Arabia – an untenable situation in any country.
The ruling Hausa and Fulani tribes in the north fear the loss of power and valuable oil revenue if a southerner were to take charge, and sources in Lagos feel this explains why the president is not being allowed to hand over government control to Jonathan. If he did so, this could change the balance of power, and the eastern states of Delta and Bayelsa could then use the opportunity to revive the secessionist idea of the country of Biafra, which caused much internal bloodshed in the late 1960s.
For the large contingent of expats living in and around Lagos (many of whom have left Port Harcourt owing to continual strife in the Delta region, swelling the ranks of the capital’s bars and clubs), the idea of a military coup has prompted some emergency procedures. But how is information being spread? There are excellent networks in Nigeria for expats, driven largely by online forums (for example, Oyibosonline.com), which give succour to those who come to Nigeria without knowing the ‘ins and outs’ of the culture and customs. The many bars in Lagos catering for expats are also abuzz with the possibility of a major development in the coming weeks.
Just before Christmas we were given a tip on an oyibosonline discussion board by a veteran French expat to stock up on ready cash, water and other essentials – just in case the president died and we had to hole up in our compound for a bit. That weekend we did spare a thought for the president… while we were at a beach resort 85 kilometres outside Lagos eating grilled fish and nibbling on freshly plucked coconuts. Life carries on in the capital, and I guess we all know what we are in for when we come up here, sort of.
By Nicholas Kuhne
Nicholas Kuhne is an advertising man living in Lagos.