President Sharari of Nigeria is greeted by Brigadier Gen. Archer Durham upon his arrival for a visit in October 1980. (Photo: U.S. Army)



Dec. 31, 2018 (GIN) – Former President Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, a devout Muslim, a former school teacher, son of a farmer, trader and herder, was remembered this month as a nice man, a gentle man but not a particularly strong man.

Nice, gentle and amiable – good qualities – but just short of what the opposition desired for the leader of Africa’s burgeoning colossus.

As a result, Mr. Shagari’s service to the nation from 1979 to 1983 was cut short by a coup led by military men including the current president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

Flags will be flown this week at half-staff for the former President, while eulogies are delivered by the current crop of political leaders. Mr. Shagari passed away on Dec. 28 at the age of 93.

“I mourn the departure of a patriot, who served Nigeria with humility, integrity and diligence,” Mr. Buhari tweeted this week. “Nigerians held him in the highest esteem even when he was out of office, until his demise, and will forever miss his wise counsels.”

Shagari had been a lawmaker, minister, and Chair of Peugeot Automobile Ltd, before becoming President at age 54. He won two elections, both of them disputed by his opponents who accused him of meekness in governing Nigeria.

His term overlapped with a punishing global glut in oil that sent prices tumbling in the early 1980s. In 1983, rioting by an extremist Islamic group in the northern city of Kano led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, 100 policeman and 35 military personnel. Fears that the group was infiltrated by “illegal aliens” produced the massive deportation of immigrants from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Up to two million people, many of them Ghanaians, fled the country in what was denounced in Britain as “an act of heartlessness and a failure of common humanity.” The U.S. State Department described the expulsions as “shocking and a violation of every imaginable human right”. Even Pope John Paul II called it “a grave, incredible drama producing the largest single and worst human exodus in the 20th century.”

Amnesty granted to 1,000 members of the so-called Maitatsine cult — sometimes depicted as the forerunner of Boko Haram — who had been imprisoned since 1980, created more enemies for Mr. Shagari.

Finally, it was on Mr. Shagari’s watch that the building of a new capital in Abuja was advanced to escape the chaos and tribal affiliations of Lagos. The grand project was riddled by questionable construction contracts.

Meanwhile, thousands viewed Pres. Buhari’s tweet and responses were generally dismissive. “Just a question to you sir,” tweeted Wale Popoola.  “If he had all these qualities as you said, then what were your reasons for removing him from power through coup? Just asking.” w/pix of S. Shagari (l) and O. Obasanjo (r)


Dec. 31, 2018 (GIN) – Observers of the contested elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reported so many irregularities that a winner may not be produced in the coming days when the counting of votes is complete.

Millions of votes were counted on Monday amid alleged errors in the voter roll, technical problems and delayed or missing polling materials.

Critics said this messy situation was no accident, but part of a plan to keep the ruling President Joseph Kabila firmly in control. Kabila has remained in office more than two years past the end of his second term.

Bolungu, a young citizen waiting to vote, grumbled: “I came to sanction Mr. Kabila, I want to vote for change, but unfortunately, there is no voting, there are no machines, there’s nothing. Some people could not even find their names on the list.”

For those who chose to line up to vote, many waited more than five hours Sunday in the rain.

Analyst Claude Kabemba, director of the Johannesburg-based Southern Africa Resource Watch, said few analysts think the vote was fair.

The way these elections were organized and the way they happened, it seems to be that it was a planned chaos…” he told the Voice of America in Johannesburg. “And I think (Kabila’s) going to look back and see the mess he has left behind, and I think he will live with that for many, many years to come.”

Two telecoms operators, Global and Vodacom, said the government had ordered them to cut access to the Internet on Monday — a move that opposition supporters said aimed at blocking social-media activism.

The DRC has never had a peaceful transition of leader since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Kabila’s hand-picked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary and Felix Tshisekedi, head of the opposition UDPS, have both claimed victory.

But the scant opinion polls that have been conducted made Martin Fayulu — until recently a little-known legislator and former oil executive – a clear favorite.

Meanwhile, Beni – one of three districts barred from voting because of an Ebola outbreak – held a mock vote in defiance of the exclusion. “We suffer a lot here in Beni,” said one participant in the mock election. “They have now come with an excuse about Ebola. How come they are not shutting down markets, roads and churches?”

Congo’s electoral commission is not expected to announce results for several days. The presidential inauguration is scheduled for January 18 — if a winner is determined by then.  w/pix of women “mock” voting in Beni


Gambian investigative journalists

Dec. 31, 2018 (GIN) – Following the end of the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, journalists in The Gambia are beginning to enjoy press freedoms for the first time in 22 years.

During the two decades of ex-President Jammeh’s rule, journalists were regularly abducted, tortured and killed. The new government has pledged to respect the media.

Outdated sedition laws are still on the books, however, and the public is urged to bring any complaints about journalists to the new Media Council of The Gambia instead of to the courts.

Saikou Jammeh, the secretary-general of the Gambia Press Union, which oversees the new body said there is a need to promote higher professional standards.

“We also set it up to keep the government far away from any attempts to regulate the media,” he said. “It’s not their business and it shouldn’t be their business.”

Under the former regime, many journalists “had to switch on survival mode and they would not publish anything that would get them in trouble,” Jammeh said. “The relationship of the media and the public was characterized by paranoia and mistrust.”

Since the election win of President Adama Barrow in December 2016, new TV stations have opened and online newspapers are publishing investigations and criticism of alleged government mismanagement.

The Gambia Press Union’s president, Sheriff Bojang Jr., pointed to headlines that would have been “suicidal during (Yahya) Jammeh’s time,” but said the greatest change could be heard on radio talk shows, “where on a daily basis people are blasting the (current) regime.”

The new government has promised support.

“We will work with you in this difficult journey,” Gambia’s information minister, Ebrima Sillah, recently told journalists, vowing the government would do what it takes for media to “continue to operate without restrictions.”

At least 30 journalists have returned to the country after more than 100 fled the previous regime, according to Reporters Without Borders, although it said a couple have faced violence upon their return from supporters of the previous government.

Meanwhile, the ex-president is reportedly hiding out in nearby Equatorial Guinea, where he has been offered protection from prosecution by President Teodoro Obiang.