A New Threat Of Civil War In Nigeria

Op-ed: Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is also one of the continent’s most promising. But it has become synonymous with danger. The oil giant, which has already proven its ability to sink into terrible ethnic and religious wars, appears once agai

Young men along the Niger delta area (sosialistiskungdom)
Young men along the Niger delta area (sosialistiskungdom)

Thanks in large part to high oil prices, Nigeria is enjoying a period of sustained growth. Last year its economy grew by 8.4%. The new year has begun, however, against a backdrop of social unrest. And far more troubling for this country of 160 million inhabitants, Africa's most populous, is the very real threat of a civil war.

A general strike that could extend throughout the entire country began Monday. The strike was called by two of Nigeria's largest unions, which are protesting a decision by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to do away with a major oil subsidy that made fuel cheaper in Nigeria than in neighboring countries. Nigeria is Africa's leading oil producer.

The government says the subsidy, which halves gasoline costs, is unsustainable and most benefited the middle and upper classes, which are far more likely to own large gas-guzzling cars. But the government failed to take into account that transportation costs fall disproportionately high on the 70% of Nigerians who live below the poverty line.

Christian churches have called the decision to drop the subsidy "immoral." President Jonathan would do well to loosen fiscal policy: he should take measures to compensate Nigeria's poorest citizens. If not, Nigeria – which is already looking at the beginnings of a civil war in the north – could be facing a long, tough and violent strike.

Religious divide

The immense country has as many Christians as Muslims. It's normal for them to mix, even as Christians are a clear majority in the south. In the north, an armed insurrection led by the Boko Haram movement, an Islamist group, has gained momentum since Christmas. Boko Haram fighters are seizing banks, public buildings and, in some cases, going directly after Christians. They have carried out multiple attacks on Christian churches, schools and neighborhoods, killing as many as 100 people since December. Here and there, the army has deployed tanks. There have been street battles as well between government forces and jihadist fighters.

Even before these latest difficulties, the army – which has a reputation for brutality – had its hands full dealing with another insurgency by people in the Niger Delta area. The Boko Haram movement, which no doubt has links to other jihadist groups – particularly from Africa's Sahel region – wants Christians out of the north. They speak openly of "religious cleansing." All of this is reminiscent of the civil war that raged in Nigeria during the late 1960s, leaving nearly a million dead.

The tragedy in the north is symptomatic. Nigeria is in the midst of a real boom and boasts an admirably dynamic economy that's driven by the private sector. But it remains under-equipped and insufficiently administered. Nigeria urgently needs to build a functioning public sector, and certainly has the capacity to do so.

Read the original article in French

Photo - sosialistiskungdom

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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