The news comes as Nigerian President and Petroleum Minister Olusegun Obasanjo is in danger of being undermined as the country's leader - a development that most observers think is unlikely to change the outcome of the awards.
The problem began after the Obasanjo givernment permitted the removal of the governor of Anambra State - the home of ERHC chairman Sir Eemeka Offor, who was once its political "godfather" as well - by his jilted "godfather," Chris Uba. Thugs burned down the governor's office, and his security team was disbanded (but later re-formed). Uba later confessed to rigging the polls that elected Chris Ngige, the Anambra governor.
In the continuing fallout, and in protest of the removal of the party's national chairman, Audi Ogbeh, by Osbasanjo allies last week, some 22 Nigerian state governors are reportedly now in the process of breaking away from Obasanjo's People's Democratic Party (PDP) and forming another. Other observers say the party leadership will successfuly resist that move.
It is unclear what may happen to the awards process if Obasanjo's power base becomes sufficiently eroded. Both ERHC chairman Sir Emeka Offor and another top bidder for the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea blocks are key supporters of the President, a former general and national hero who tried but failed to overthrow the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and was jailed for his efforts.
Political upheaval is not unusual in Nigeria, a nation where democracy has been thriving anew after a spate of military rule, and where the constitution gives the President exceptional powers to enforce policy. But Obasanjo's standing has rarely been more criticized, largely because he, too, has found the ethnically-divided nation as impossible to lead as his forebears did. In an essay in Nigeria's Daily Trust published Jan. 11, writer Adagbo Onoja lamented:
But now, it is a settled reality that contrary to the great expectation that [Obasanjo] would use the golden opportunity of a second time in power to transcend the street wisdom about Nigerian politics and make a difference, he has relied rather exactly on those categories. Dried of the high mindedness of icons, he has compounded the crisis. And with that has come the frustration that we as a country are again farther from a qualitative Nigerian leader as a resolution of the social impasse in the country.
That was one of the tamer quotes from the feisty Nigerian press that has followed the ouster of Ogbeh, a powerful political figure in his own right and an ally of Nigeria's Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is a likely candidate for President in 2007.
Said another editorial writer:
What kind of democratic institutions and culture is this president erecting if those who disagree with him are hounded out of office in disgrace even when there are no indications they have committed any crimes? Did we elect a human being to be our president or a god? I suspect retired Gen. Obasanjo has started thinking of himself as a god, who cannot be challenged. This will not augur well for our democracy as this President is destroying any little faith people of goodwill had in Nigeria.
The other troubling thing about this President is his penchant for using State institutions in his fight against opponents. There have been reports that Ogbeh had to write his resignation letter at the prompting of members of the State Security Service who held him at gunpoint. There were also reports that he was placed under house arrest by men of the State Security Service (SSS). Ogbeh is quoted as saying that the last straw for him was the harassment of his daughter by men of the State Security Service right in front of his house. Like I have asked in the past: Where is the outrage against this president?
But apart from the political travails of Obasanjo, the elected leader of Nigeria's 130 million people, the sources say, the awards process has been settled - possibly due to his last-minute intervention as reported exclusively here on Friday, Jan. 14.
What remains unknown is whether or not ExxonMobil's rights in Block 2 and 4 have been assigned to the Devon Energy/Pioneer Natural Resources/ERHC partnership that would take control of the blocks, and what preferential rights in other blocks may have been granted to ERHC in satisfaction of their pre-existing entitlements in Blocks 2 through 6.