CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, an attempt to head off the
political chaos engulfing one of the world's biggest oil-producing
nations: an absent president, a government divided, and a reignited
insurgency. Tonight, Nigeria is our focus.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Welcome to the program.
Nigeria's parliament has had enough. Today, after weeks of political
conflict, a dramatic vote to suspend its Muslim president, Umaru
Yar'Adua, who has long been missing in action, and to hand power over
to his Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan. The vote isn't
binding, and the cabinet still has to respond, but it could spark an
explosive new power struggle between the country's Muslim north and its
President Yar'Adua went to Saudi Arabia in
November, he said for treatment of a serious heart condition, but he
hasn't been seen since in public. His departure left peace efforts in
the troubled Niger Delta hanging in the balance. He was also absent
when a Nigerian man, Umar Abdulmutallab, allegedly tried to blow up a
U.S. airliner with a bomb that was hidden in his underwear on Christmas
So it's a volatile situation, and no one can predict just how it will end, as CNN's Christian Purefoy reports from Nigeria.
CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nicknamed "Old
Soldier," Nehud Balagi (ph) fought to keep Nigeria together during the
country's civil war in the 1960s. Sixty-five years old now, he's a taxi
driver and says the present state of Nigeria is not what he fought for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people who is ruling Nigeria, they are so corrupt, so corrupt.
PUREFOY: Nigerians are angry at rampant corruption and now political
paralysis. President Yar'Adua was flown to a Saudi Arabian hospital
last November with a heart condition. He's been there ever since, not
seen in public once, yet he has refused to hand over power to his vice
Nigeria's attorney general insists it's all constitutional.
MICHAEL AONDOAKAA, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NIGERIA: No single provision of
the constitution has been violated. Nothing has been violated. The
government has no vacuum.
PUREFOY: But lawyers and civil
rights groups are challenging that claim amid public outcry that
Yar'Adua is being kept in office for the personal gain of corrupt
OLUWAROTIMI AKEREDOLU, PRESIDENT,
NIGERIA BAR ASSOCIATION: What our attorney general is dishing out to
the public and every other person (inaudible) he's fit enough to be in
office, and he's not been around for 80 days.
since the president has been absent, armed groups in the country's
oil-rich Niger Delta region have resumed attacks and kidnappings on oil
facilities. The military has fanned out across the north after
religious clashes left hundreds dead last month. And tensions are
rising as nationwide fuel shortages have meant people must queue for
hours to buy petrol in this oil-rich nation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the time you are supposed to do your work, you are wasting time in the petrol station.
PUREFOY: Military coups have been frequent in Nigeria, but this old soldier believes now is not the time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democracy -- let the democracy rule Nigeria to look after the welfare for poor man.
PUREFOY: But democracy has never looked after the poor in Nigeria. And
for now, it just means growing uncertainty over whether the country can
avoid an accelerating spiral of violence and economic collapse.
Christian Purefoy, CNN, Lagos, Nigeria.
AMANPOUR: We'll be talking with the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner Wole
Soyinka in a moment, but first, joining us on the phone from Nigeria's
capital, Abuja, the attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, at the center
of this political crisis.
Mr. Aondoakaa, thank you for joining
us. Can you tell me, why has it taken the system so long to fill the
power vacuum of the president's absence?
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NIGERIA: Absolutely there has not been a power
vacuum. But clearly, the courts in Nigeria are the ones vested with the
duties of interpreting the constitution.
And they clearly ruled that there has not been a power vacuum. The
(inaudible) clearly that when the president was leaving on the 23rd of
November, 2009, it delegated all his (inaudible) power to the vice
president, on the basis of which the vice president has been exercising
the powers of the president.
AONDOAKAA: So there has not actually been a power vacuum, so--
AMANPOUR: So just to confirm, the cabinet will approve this, and this will take place now, that the vice president--
AONDOAKAA: Well, we have to look at the resolution first, but as I've
indicated, the president has already -- since the president left --
recognized the vice president as the leader of the country pending when
Mr. President returns.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, what does the
-- what does the -- the houses of parliament, what do they base their
ruling on? Because it seems that they base it on a radio interview that
the president gave, you know, a couple of weeks ago.
AONDOAKAA: Well, incidentally, I don't go much into what they did,
because, you see, what they did can override a decision of the court.
But what is important now at this stage is to move the country forward.
The most important is for the three arms of government to come and
certainly support the vice president to carry out his duties and move
the country forward.
AMANPOUR: All right.
AONDOAKAA: I think that is the paramount consideration for every Nigerian.
AMANPOUR: OK. Just before I get to some of those challenges, has
anybody -- has any minister, has any Nigerian official actually seen
the president since he went to Saudi Arabia?
precisely. People -- he spoke to some people. He spoke to the vice
president himself. The vice president confirmed to us (inaudible)
president spoke to him briefly--
AONDOAKAA: -- and also -- that was (inaudible) about three weeks back.
AMANPOUR: Did the vice president see the president?
AONDOAKAA: No, he didn't say he saw the president, but he's told us that he spoke to the president.
AMANPOUR: Isn't it strange, Mr. Attorney General, that the president of
a country can disappear for months and that nobody has seen him and --
and these decisions are being taken? Isn't that just strange?
AONDOAKAA: No, no, no, no. The issue of it being strange is not right.
The issue of whether people have seen him is not a main issue here. Of
course people have seen him. The (inaudible) president was delegated to
go there when the issue of budget accord, and he went there. The
president signed the budget. He saw him, and he reported back to us.
But that is not the main issue. The main issue is that (inaudible)
paramount, is that there must be ways of resolving our problems
constitutionally, and that is -- I feel that the system is working
fine, because nobody has taken up arms. The most important point is
that the three arms of government are working out a way to have a
situation that we come out in the best interests of Nigerians--
AMANPOUR: Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us from Abuja.
AONDOAKAA: Well, thank you.
AMANPOUR: -- let's turn to Wole Soyinka, who's in Los Angeles. For six
decades, Mr. Soyinka has been a leading figure in Nigeria's literary
and political life. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize -- or, rather,
the Nobel Prize in Literature -- in 1986.
Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Soyinka. You heard--
WOLE SOYINKA, NIGERIAN AUTHOR AND NOBEL LAUREATE: You're welcome.
AMANPOUR: -- what the attorney general just said, that everything's OK,
there's no power vacuum, there's no risk of -- of armed violence. What
do you make of the vote by the legislature today?
Well, let me begin by saying that I -- I just sit here astonished that
someone in a responsible position, like Aondoakaa, can come here and
talk from all four compass points of his mouth. He's told so many
He suggests, for instance, that there is
absolutely no breakdown in the amnesty procedure in Nigeria. That is a
lie. Everybody knows that.
He's now blaming the (inaudible) on
different causes from what he's said before. At the beginning, he said
-- and he said this publicly -- that there was no need to be excited,
that the president could rule from anywhere in the world, anywhere in
the world. And he's--
AMANPOUR: So what's really going on, then? Why is it -- whose interest is it that there be this absence, this vacuum?
SOYINKA: That's very -- a very good question. Yes, whose interest is
it? Now, let me begin by saying that it's not a regional interest,
because I noticed you kept referring to the Muslim north and the
Christian south. No, no, no, no, that is not the issue.
issue is that certain elements within the ruling party love this
hiatus. They love the headlessness of government because they can
proceed to loot and create their own little empires while the president
AMANPOUR: So can you tell me--
AMANPOUR: -- why -- what -- I mean, when you think about it, what do
you think is going on? Why is the president away for so long? And why
hasn't anybody seen him?
SOYINKA: I have my theory. My theory
is that the president is in no position to sign anything at the moment.
I have a feeling that he's so ill and those who are around him know
very well that he's very ill.
There's a huge contention, for
instance, about the signing of the appropriation bill, that, in fact,
it was forged. I mean, this one has not yet been thoroughly examined by
an independent commission, so all kinds of lies, all kind of
manipulations are going on around somebody whom I suspect doesn't even
know what is going on.
AMANPOUR: So where do you see--
SOYINKA: -- like Nigeria.
AMANPOUR: Where do you see the next few weeks, the next -- oh, I don't
know -- few days, now that the legislature has voted, that they've put
Mr. Goodluck Jonathan as acting president? Do you think this will calm
SOYINKA: I don't believe so, because those who
are behind this game, this very sinister, bizarre game, are not about
to give up very quickly. They're going to find other forms of delaying
tactics, and I'm talking about certain criminal elements within the
ruling party, the PDP. They are the ones really responsible for this.
AMANPOUR: And what -- what is the solution that you've been calling for?
SOYINKA: Well, we went there, for instance, and asked them, you know,
had a rally, and there have been other rallies, and we demanded that
the constitution be followed.
Now, the constitution demands
very clearly that when the president is going to be away, it's a very
smooth, temporary transition. The president writes to the assembly
saying, "I'm going away on sick leave," "I'm going away on annual
leave, and my deputy takes over." When he returns, he writes a letter.
Now, I've met Yar'Adua. He's not a stupid man. He's an intelligent man. And he knows what he ought to have done.
But, unfortunately, I think by the time he realized -- that's my theory
-- by the time he realized that he was very ill, it was really too late
for him to do anything. He's become incapacitated. And that's why I
don't believe, for instance, that he signed the appropriation bill.
AMANPOUR: All right.
SOYINKA: And that is when the assembly should take action and formally invest his deputy--
AMANPOUR: Well, they seem to have done that now. Stand by, Mr. Soyinka.
We're going to take a break, and we'll be back with you in just a
moment. And we'll also be talking with a mediator in the Niger Delta.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before the coming of oil, we had good fishes, good,
rich estuaries, good coastal lands. We had no pipe-borne water, but we
had fresh water that was floating, unpolluted that our parents and our
grandparents had. And we held it. They were just living, and they were
getting by. And then this thing called oil came.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was a clip from the documentary "Sweet Crude" that tells
the story of communities living in the Niger Delta, surrounded by
Nigeria's vast oil wealth, but not sharing in its bounty.
Joining us now on the phone from the Niger Delta is Joel Bisina, mediator between the rebels and the Nigerian government.
Mr. Bisina, thank you for joining us. Tell me, what do you think the
effect of this legislative vote to transfer power to Goodluck Jonathan,
what will the effect be in the delta there with the -- with the rebels?
JOEL BISINA, FOUNDER AND REGIONAL DIRECTOR OF NIGER DELTA PROFESSIONALS
FOR DEVELOPMENT: First, I can say thank you very much for the
opportunity to be on this program. As far as I can say, the vote in the
national assembly and (inaudible) vice president to have (inaudible)
doesn't make any difference. I don't see the vice president (inaudible)
AMANPOUR: Give me, in a nutshell, the heart of the conflict as it stands today.
BISINA: (inaudible) lack of direction. The -- the militants (inaudible)
laid down their weapons (inaudible) direction as to where to go. No one
(inaudible) what to do. And my (inaudible) the impact this will have on
peace and security in the Niger Delta.
AMANPOUR: All right. Mr. Bisina--
BISINA: Yeah, and--
AMANPOUR: Thank you so much there for joining us. I appreciate that.
And we wish you good luck with your mediating efforts there.
BISINA: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And we're joined again by the Nigerian Nobel Prize-winner, Wole Soyinka, who's in Los Angeles.
So you heard a mediator there, Joel Bisina, say that he didn't think
the latest political twist would make any difference in the Niger
Delta. What do you think?
SOYINKA: Well, let me say straight
that it's a major challenge for Jonathan -- if he does, indeed, become
the substantive acting president -- because I can tell you that, in
early November, I met together with the so- called errand team (ph), of
which I'm just an observer -- I'm not a negotiator exactly -- we met
the president. And the president actually outlined a timetable for
Afterwards, I heard the -- I met the president on
a one-on-one, together with his secretary only, in which he affirmed
what had been decided with the entire team. And this meeting was
supposed to have begun immediately after the Muslim Ramadan. The time
was actually set down.
SOYINKA: Now, it's up to Jonathan to pick up that -- to pick up that program and run it fast.
AMANPOUR: Because -- because you heard Joel Bisina say that they've put
down their weapons, those who have, and yet there's no direction,
there's no answers, they don't know where to go. Is that legitimate?
SOYINKA: It's always a legitimate comment. And this is what I'm saying
that Jonathan has to do. He has to pick up where Yar'Adua left off. Too
much time has been wasted. The militants are disgusted. They also --
they've begun cynical. And, of course, they've called off the
AMANPOUR: So in general -- in general, where do
you see your country going now? I mean, you've got this huge
oil-producing nation, you've got this huge population, you've got a bit
of a power vacuum, to put it mildly, and you've got a reignited
insurgency. All of those combined, where does it -- where does it go in
the next, let's say, week, now that Mr. Goodluck has been named
officially the acting president?
SOYINKA: Well, let's hope it doesn't go where the ruling party is going to take it.
We have the PDP, an illegitimate, unelected, corrupt, and murderous
party, as I've said at home over and over again. Now, it's the civil
society now which has to rise and put a stop to the machinations of the
Anything short of that -- don't forget that part of the
plans of the PDP is, of course, to perpetuate itself by making sure
that there is electoral reform, which, incidentally, Yar'Adua has also
put in motion to ensure that next year's elections are credible.
Now, if the country goes to election next year under the present law,
the present system, with a corrupt electoral commission, headed by a
totally discredited individual in Professor Iwu, I cannot predict where
the nation will end.
AMANPOUR: Now, you spoke about some of --
you spoke about leading, you know, demonstrations and things. Are you
calling for civil disobedience now?
SOYINKA: Well, we begun with rallies, as you know, and we have warned that the next stage will be civil disobedience.
There will be civil disobedience if the various measures to put this
country back on a democratic path -- this includes, as I said, the
electoral reform, a panel was set up. Its recommendations have been
accepted by the majority of the nations, from the media commentary, and
all that needs to be done is to implement it. Then there has to be a
We've seen, for instance, through the
absence of the president, how very weak and imprecise the constitution
is in many aspects. There's got to be a review.
Failing all this, the citizenry will embark on a civil disobedience campaign. I see no other course for the nation.
AMANPOUR: And what exactly -- what form will that take? What does that mean, a civil disobedience campaign?
SOYINKA: It'll mean a de-recognition of the government, to start with,
flouting the laws wherever possible. It will begin on a -- on a small
scale, and then it will escalate until these so-called legislators are
made to rise up to their responsibilities.
AMANPOUR: Are you not concerned that that will escalate into violence, rather than into political reform?
SOYINKA: No, I think we're getting practice in the strategies, the
tactics of civil disobedience. I do not think -- and we've demonstrated
in the last few rallies that the rallies need not be violent as long as
civil rights are not trampled upon. I think exactly the same kind of
discipline will be maintained. We'd just withdraw recognition in
various ways from the government.
AMANPOUR: And in the
meantime, the whole premise of Nigeria's vast oil wealth that is not
being, you know, shared or at least enjoyed by many of the people in
the delta, how -- do you have -- do you have plans to -- to deal with
that? What do you think should be done about that?
Well, this is why I agreed in the first place to act even just as an
observer in the process of negotiations between the government and the
various militant groups. Discourse, debate, the usual, to offer a
cliche, give-and-take, that system of -- of negotiation is what has to
be embarked upon as quickly as possible.
AMANPOUR: Now, the
U.S. has obviously got a big role to play. It's very interested in
Nigeria's oil and -- and pursuing democracy there. Hillary Clinton,
secretary of state, was recently there, and the assistant secretary for
Africa has just met today with -- with Goodluck Jonathan and talked
about the importance of the democratic process and the political
What influence do you think the U.S. can exert right now? Will it be effective?
SOYINKA: Putting pressure on the ruling party or members of the ruling
party, including the vice president, whatever title is given, the
legislators, assisting us in getting rid of irresponsible ministers
like Aondoakaa, compelling, for instance, a change in the composition
of the electoral commission, insisting on the adoption of the Uwais
panel (ph) report on electoral reform, and insisting on the prosecution
of corrupt, exposed, patently corrupt officials.
Now, if we
receive that kind of moral pressure -- we're not talking about
intervention now; we're talking about moral pressure being exerted on
these various arms of leadership -- then it is possible that this
make-or- break period -- because this is what it is; this is a
make-or-break period for Nigeria -- it is possible that we may just
come through it still intact.
AMANPOUR: Wole Soyinka, thank
you so much, indeed, for joining us. What a fascinating story, and we
will stay on top of it and keep watching. Thanks for joining us.