Saturday, January 31, 2015

Video: Islamic State Group Beheads Japanese Journalist

A militant standing next to Japanese journalist Kenji Goto before his beheading by the militant group. Goto was captured in October 2014, after he traveled to Syria to try to win the release of Haruna Yukawa

AMMAN, JORDAN (AP) — An online video released Saturday night purported to show an Islamic State group militant beheading Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, ending days of negotiations by diplomats to save the man.
The video, released on militant websites, heightened fears for the life of a Jordanian pilot whose fate had been linked to that of Goto. Earlier this week, Jordan had offered to free an al-Qaida prisoner for the pilot, but a swap never moved forward.
Jordan's government spokesman, Mohammed al-Momani, declined comment late Saturday on the video of Goto's purported beheading. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Cabinet was convening an emergency meeting and was rushing to confirm the authenticity of the online video.
Suga described the online video as a 'deplorable terrorist act." The video, highlighted by militant sympathizers on social media sites, bore the symbol of the Islamic State group's al-Furqan media arm.
Though the video could not be immediately independently verified by The Associated Press, it conformed to other beheading videos released by the extremists, who now control about a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq in a self-declared caliphate.
The video, called "A Message to the Government of Japan," featured a militant who looked and sounded like a militant with a British accent who has taken part in other beheading videos by the Islamic State group. Goto, kneeling in an orange prison jumpsuit, said nothing in the roughly one-minute-long video.
"Abe," the militant says in the video, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, "because of your reckless decision to take part in an unwinnable war, this man will not only slaughter Kenji, but will also carry on and cause carnage wherever your people are found. So let the nightmare for Japan begin."
U.S. officials said they were trying to confirm the authenticity of the video. "We have seen the video purporting to show that Japanese citizen Kenji Goto has been murdered by the terrorist group ISIL," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, using an alternate acronym for the extremist group. "The United States strongly condemns ISIL's actions and we call for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages. We stand in solidarity with our ally Japan."
Goto, a 47-year-old freelance journalist, was captured in October, after he traveled to Syria to try to win the release of Haruna Yukawa, a colleague held by the Islamic State group. Yukawa reportedly was killed previously, though authorities have yet to authenticate the video claiming that.
Saturday's video made no mention of the Jordanian pilot Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, who was captured after his fighter plane went down in December over an Islamic State-controlled area of Syria. Earlier this week, Jordan had offered to release an al-Qaida prisoner for the pilot. However, in a purported online message earlier this week, the militants threatened to kill the pilot if the prisoner wasn't released by Thursday. That deadline passed, and the families of the pilot and the journalist were left to wait in agony for two days.
Late Friday, Japan's deputy foreign minister reported a deadlock in efforts to free Goto. The hostage drama began last week after militants threatened to kill Goto and Yukawa in 72 hours unless Japan paid $200 million.
Later, the militants' demand shifted to a release of the al-Qaida prisoner, Sajijda al-Rishawi, 44, who faces death by hanging in Jordan for her role in triple hotel bombings in Amman in 2005. Sixty people were killed in those attacks, the worst terror attack in Jordan's history.
Al-Rishawi has close family ties to the Iraq branch of al-Qaida, a precursor of the Islamic State group. Jordan and Japan reportedly conducted indirect negotiations with the militants through Iraqi tribal leaders.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Cairo contributed to this report.
Follow Karin Laub on Twitter at .

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fugitive Treasure Hunter To Appear In Florida Federal Court

In this November 1989 file photo, Tommy Thompson holds a $50 pioneer gold piece retrieved earlier in 1989 from the wreck of the gold ship Central America. According to the US Marshals Service.

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA (AP) — A treasure hunter locked in a legal battle over one of the greatest undersea hauls in American history was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday after two years on the run.
The U.S. Marshals Service captured former fugitive Tommy Thompson at a Hilton hotel in West Boca Raton on Tuesday. The capture was announced Wednesday by Brian Babtist, a senior inspector in the agency's office in Columbus, Ohio, where a federal civil arrest warrant was issued for him in 2012 for failing to show up to a key court hearing. A criminal contempt warrant was unsealed Wednesday.
Thompson had been on the lam for two years, accused of cheating investors out of their share of $50 million in gold bars and coins he had recovered from a 19th century shipwreck. Thompson made history in 1988 when he found the sunken S.S. Central America, also known as the Ship of Gold. In what was a technological feat at the time, Thompson and his crew brought up thousands of gold bars and coins from the shipwreck. Much of that was later sold to a gold marketing group in 2000 for about $50 million.
The 161 investors who paid Thompson $12.7 million to find the ship never saw returns from the sale. Two of them sued: a now-deceased investment firm president and the Dispatch Printing Company, which publishes The Columbus Dispatch newspaper and had invested about $1 million.
That legal battle is ongoing. Thompson went into seclusion in 2006, moving into a mansion called Gracewood in Vero Beach, Florida. Six years later, after the arrest warrant was issued, Thompson vanished.
Thompson was arrested along with his longtime companion, Alison Antekeier. The two had been staying in a two-person suite at the Hilton for two years, Babtist said. The hotel is in an upscale suburban area surrounded by golf courses, country clubs and gated communities. It's less than 10 miles from the beach, and it has a pool and a running track.
The Marshals Service said Thompson and Antekeier had no vehicles registered in their names and that Antekeier used public buses and taxis to move around Palm Beach County. In one of the worst shipping disasters in American history, the S.S. Central America sank in a monster hurricane about 200 miles off the South Carolina coast in September 1857. Four hundred and twenty-five people drowned and thousands of pounds of California gold were lost, contributing to an economic panic.

Now On Death Row, Fort Hood Man Hassan To Appear In Court

Former Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan, who killed 13 people in a 2009 shooting spree at a Texas Army base, has a court hearing in his case Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

FORT LEAVENWORTH, KANSAS (AP) — An Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people in a shooting rampage at a Texas Army base is set to appear in court.
Nidal Hasan is scheduled to attend a hearing Thursday at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held on military death row. Army officials say the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, wants to review "routine matters" in Hasan's case.
Among those issues is who defends Hasan during his appeals. His lead defense counsel is now an Army judge but has continued to represent him. Officials at Fort Hood have yet to review Hasan's case nearly 18 months after he was sentenced to death.
That review is one of several mandatory steps in military death penalty cases.

Portugal Approves Citizenship Plans For Sephardic Jews

Jewish prayer shawls are stored on a shelf at the entrance of the Jewish synagogue in Lisbon. Portugal is following Spain and granting citizenship rights to the descendants of Jews it persecuted 500 years ago.

LISBON, PORTUGAL (AP) — Portugal's government on Thursday approved a law granting citizenship rights to the descendants of Jews it persecuted 500 years ago, following Spain's adoption of similar legislation last year.
Cabinet spokesman Luis Marques Guedes said the government passed changes to its nationality law, providing dual citizenship rights for Sephardic Jews — the term commonly used for those who once lived in the Iberian peninsula.
The rights will apply to those who can demonstrate "a traditional connection" to Portuguese Sephardic Jews, such as through "family names, family language, and direct or collateral ancestry." Applicants will be vetted by Portuguese Jewish community institutions, as well as by government agencies. Applicants will also have to say whether they have a criminal record.
Similar legislation is pending in Spain's parliament. The Portuguese Parliament unanimously endorsed the law in 2013. Since then, the government has been drawing up the legal details and establishing administrative procedures. The effective date of the law was not immediately announced, but will be when the legislation is published soon in the country's official gazette.
Jewish community leaders say they expect the application procedure to take four months. Applicants will not need to travel to Portugal. Portuguese monarchs, eager for tax revenue and Jewish talent that helped Portugal become one of Europe's wealthiest nations during the Age of Expansion in the 1400s, had protected their thriving Sephardic community.
After Spain drove out Jews in 1492, some 80,000 of them crossed the border into Portugal, historians estimate. King Joao II charged the fleeing Sephardic Jews a tax to shelter in Portugal. He promised to provide them with ships so they could go to other countries, but later changed his mind.
In 1496 his successor King Manuel I, eager to find favor with Spain's powerful Catholic rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella and marry their daughter Isabella of Aragon, gave the Jews 10 months to convert or leave. When they opted to leave, Manuel issued a new decree prohibiting their departure and forcing them to embrace Roman Catholicism as "New Christians."
The "New Christians" adopted new names, inter-married and even ate pork in public to prove their devotion to Catholicism. Some Jews, though, kept their traditions alive, secretly observing the sabbath at home then going to church on Sunday. They circumcised their sons and quietly observed Yom Kippur, calling it in Portuguese the "dia puro," or pure day.
Though officially accepted, the New Christians were at the mercy of popular prejudice. In the Easter massacre of Jewish converts in 1506 in Lisbon, more than 2,000 Jews are believed to have been murdered by local people.
The Portuguese Inquisition, established in 1536, was at times more cruel than its earlier Spanish counterpart. It persecuted, tortured and burned at the stake tens of thousands of Jews. Now those events are widely viewed as a stain on Portuguese history.
In 1988, then-president Mario Soares met with members of Portugal's Jews community and formally apologized for the Inquisition. In 2000, the leader of Portugal's Roman Catholics issued a public apology for the suffering imposed by the Catholic Church, and in 2008 a monument to the dead was erected outside the Sao Domingos church where the Easter massacre began.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Cliff House By The Sea" By Nina Fabunmi

T’was not the cool summer breeze that snuck up on me
Touched me tenderly
Filtering through my clothing
Tossing my hair to the obedience of the wind
No, it wasn’t
T’was not the calming sound of the rolling waves
Rocking back and forth
Lacing the ocean line with seashells, strange blue jelly fish and crabs astray
Not the kiss of the mid day sun
Shinning down with gentle warmth
Causing the sea to shimmer
A horizon with a silver lining
It looked like precious platinum
How could it be?
Lovely scenery, yes
The beauty of nature, magnificence
Bringing with it with it, peace and serenity
Not even that…..
T’was the presence of the one who made it complete
Holding hands, we strolled by the shore
We left our footprints in the sand
We let the water wash our feet
We made snapshots to define our bond
Watched by the cliff house by the beach
We waited to bid the sun good bye
It gently descended into the sea
And glazed the skies in a violet rage
It looked like the fire the burns between us
The wind became chilly
And we held each other through the scenic makeover
By the Cliff house by the sea

---------------NINA FABUNMI

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gunmen Storm Libya Hotel, Killing American, 9 Others

 In this image made from video posted by a Libyan blogger, the Cortinthia Hotel is seen under attack in Tripoli, Libya, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Gunmen stormed the luxury hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on Tuesday, killing several foreigners and guards, officials said. The attack, which included a car bombing, struck the hotel, which sits along the Mediterranean Sea. The blogger, @AliTweel, captured the moments shortly after the blast, when flames rose up from outside the hotel, appearing to be from the aftermath of the car bomb.

TRIPOLI, LIBYA (AP) — In the latest sign of Libya's descent into chaos, gunmen stormed a luxury hotel used by diplomats and businessmen in the capital on Tuesday, killing 10 people, including an American, a French citizen and three people from Asia.
Two attackers were killed following an hourslong standoff that included a car bomb that exploded in the parking lot of the seaside Corinthia Hotel. It was unclear if other gunmen were involved in the attack, which also killed five Libyan guards
In Twitter posts and a statement on social media, a Tripoli affiliate of the Islamic State group was said to be behind the attack, but there was little evidence to back up the claims in a country that has been awash in armed extremist groups who would be equally suspect.
The SITE intelligence group reported that the two dead gunmen were identified online as sympathizers of IS and said the militants said the hotel was targeted because it houses diplomatic missions and "crusader" security companies. However, The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm the claims, which didn't conform with the group's earlier postings from Libya.
Militants claiming the attack on behalf of a group called the Islamic State of the Tripoli Province posted a brief video showing burned cars in the hotel's parking lot and said it was to avenge the 2013 abduction by American commandos of a Libyan al-Qaida operative, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, also known as Abu Anas al-Libi. Al-Ruqai died earlier this month in a New York hospital of complications from liver surgery while awaiting trial for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The assault highlights the growing threat from militant groups that operate with near impunity in a country torn between rival governments since the 2011 toppling and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Since Gadhafi's ouster, the country has been torn among competing militias and tribes vying for power. Libya's post-Gadhafi transition has collapsed, with two rival governments and parliaments — each backed by different militias — ruling in the country's eastern and western regions.
Amid the bloody political rivalry, multiple armed groups have emerged, including radical Islamist militias who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, including one based in the eastern city of Derna, a stronghold of radical groups, as well as regional militias and groups loyal to the former regime.
Tripoli, which has been controlled by Islamist militiamen mostly from the western city of Misrata since the summer, has been hit with a series of car bombs and shootings. The internationally recognized government has been forced to relocate to the country's east, where a former general has waged an offensive against Islamist militias, including Ansar al-Shariah, blamed for the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that left the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead.
A senior U.S. State Department official confirmed that a U.S. citizen was among those killed in Tuesday's attack, but did not provide further details. Cliff Taylor, the CEO of a Virginia security company, Crucible LLC, identified the slain American as David Berry, a contractor with his company.
A French national and three citizens of a former Soviet republic were also among the dead, according to a spokesman for a Tripoli security agency, Essam al-Naas. The Malta-owned Corinthia hotel, among the most luxurious in Tripoli, is frequented by diplomats and foreign businessmen visiting Libya, and is also where the United Nations support mission in Libya usually holds its meetings. The mission is currently hosting political talks with rival Libyan groups in Geneva, trying to resolve the country's political and security crisis.
The hotel had Italian, British and Turkish guests but was largely empty at the time of the attack, according to hotel staff members. There was also a visiting American delegation. The militia-backed government in Tripoli said the target was Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi, who normally resides at the hotel but was not there at the time of the attack. Spokesman Amr Baiou told reporters al-Hassi was unharmed.
A security official in Tripoli, Omar al-Khadrawi, said initial investigations pointed to a group of former Gadhafi loyalists. Reports about how the attack unfolded were conflicting and it was not immediately possible to reconcile the different accounts.
Hotel staffers initially said that five masked gunmen stormed the Corinthia after security guards at the hotel's gate tried to stop them, firing randomly at the staff in the lobby as guests fled out the hotel's back doors into the parking lot.
One staffer said a car bomb exploded in the parking lot after a protection force entered the lobby and opened fire on the gunmen. Two guards were immediately killed, according to the staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted by militants.
The car bomb incinerated at least five cars in the parking lot and damaged windows in the hotel's facade, he said. Al-Naas, the security agency spokesman, said after a standoff of several hours, the attackers threw a grenade at the security forces on the hotel's 24th floor, killing themselves and a security guard. Ten people were also wounded in the attack, including security guards and guests.
"The operation is over," al-Naas said but added that the streets around the Corinthia remained closed. He said an investigation was underway and the car used by the gunmen is believed to be the same one used in an assault on the Algerian embassy 10 days ago that wounded three guards.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the attack "in the strongest terms" and urged all countries to help bring "the perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice." In a statement approved by all 15 members, the council also urged all parties in Libya "to engage constructively" with U.N. envoy Bernardino Leon and resume "an inclusive political process aimed at addressing the political and security challenges" facing Libya.
The Corinthia previously came under attack in 2013 when gunmen abducted then prime minister Ali Zeidan, who was living there. He was released several hours later. __ Associated Press writers Sarah el-Deeb in Cairo and Edith M. Leder at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Ukraine Moves To Shut Russia-Backed Rebels Out Of Talks

Ukrainian lawmakers attend a session of the parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The Parliament of Ukraine voted to label Russia a state agressor and called for the world to do so as well. Lawmakers gave their "yes" vote to the bill during the extraordinary session on Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

KIEV, UKRAINE (AP) — The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday declared the Russia-backed separatist republics in the east to be terrorist organizations, formally eliminating the possibility of holding peace talks with their representatives, as fighting escalated.
The move came after Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed the Ukrainian government to speak directly to the rebels in efforts to end the fighting that has killed about 5,100 people in eastern Ukraine since April, according to U.N. figures.
The Kiev government has long called the separatists in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics "terrorists," but now they can be subject to the counter-terrorism law, said Oleksiy Melnyk, a defense analyst at the Razumkov Centre. That means the government has the right to restrict their movements within Ukraine, block their bank accounts, and most importantly stop them from participating in peace talks, he said.
Parliament is sending a message that Ukraine will negotiate only with Russia and not with its "puppets" in the separatist republics, Melnyk said. The parliament also declared Russia to be an "aggressor state" and called on the United Nations, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and parliaments in other countries to formally recognize it as such.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of backing the rebels with troops and weapons. Russia denies that, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.
A lull in fighting in December raised hopes for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, but diplomatic efforts stalled. In recent weeks, the separatist forces have launched a series of new offensives to extend the territory under their control in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along the Russian border.
Some of the fiercest fighting has been around the town of Debaltseve, a road and railway hub northeast of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk. Armed forces spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the rebel forces were attacking from two sides in an attempt to surround the Ukrainian troops.
The fighting has left nine servicemen dead and 29 wounded over the past day, Seleznyov said, adding that artillery and mortar fire was hitting residential areas and there were reports of civilian casualties.
Fighting also has raged on the outskirts of Donetsk. The remaining highway into Donetsk was closed to traffic for the second day running Tuesday following a blast at a Ukrainian military checkpoint that left at least two soldiers dead.
Dozens of vehicles, including long-distance buses taking Donetsk residents home and trucks carrying goods for businesses in the city, were stranded along the road into Donetsk as drivers waited for the way to be reopened.
Bus passengers, some with small children, said Tuesday they battled for sleep as temperatures outside plummeted below freezing. A few hours after morning broke, a crowd angrily confronted soldiers barring the road, but were firmly told no passage would be permitted, even for those willing to make the trip on foot.
Shortly after lunchtime, shells fell in fields nearby, prompting many motorists to flee to safer locations in the nearby town of Kurakhove, which is under government control.
Associated Press writer Peter Leonard in Kurakhove, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

Leaders Mark Auschwitz Liberation 70 Years On Without Putin

US film director Steven Spielberg leaves after attending the unveiling of a memorial plaque at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. Some 300 Holocaust survivors traveled to Auschwitz for the 70th anniversary of the death camp's liberation by the Soviet Red Army in 1945, down from 1,500 who attended the event 10 years ago.

BRZEZINKA, POLAND (AP) — A ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau has started in Poland, with leaders and survivors paying tribute to the victims of the death camp.
Some 300 survivors were attending the ceremony alongside world leaders and "Schindler's List" director Steven Spielberg. President Bronislaw Komorowski spoke Tuesday of the evil inflicted on victims of the camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
he participants gathered under an enormous tent covering the gate and railroad tracks of Birkenau, a part of the vast Auschwitz-Birkenau complex where victims were transported by train and murdered in gas chambers.
The Germans killed some 1.1 million people at the camp, most of them Jews, but also Gyspsies, homosexuals, Polish political prisoners and others.
Follow Vanessa Gera on Twitter at

Purported IS Message Threatens Japanese, Jordanian Hostages

Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, center, answers to a reporter's question in Amman, Jordan. Nakayama expressed hope that both a Japanese hostage and a Jordanian pilot held by Islamic militants will return home "with a smile on their faces," as criticisms mounted Tuesday over the government's handling of the crisis.

BEIRUT (AP) — An online message purportedly from the Islamic State group warned Tuesday that a Japanese hostage and Jordanian pilot the extremists hold have less than "24 hours left to live."
The message again demanded the release of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for involvement in a 2005 terror attack that killed 60 people. It also mentioned for the first time Jordanian pilot 1st Lt. Mu'ath al-Kaseasbeh, who is a captive of the Islamic State group, setting a Wednesday afternoon deadline.
Tuesday's video matched a message released over the weekend, though neither bore the logo of the Islamic State group's al-Furqan media arm. The weekend video showed a still photo of Kenji Goto holding what appears to be a photo of the body of Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa.
The Associated Press could not independently verify either video. However, several militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group referenced the video and posted links to it late Tuesday afternoon.
The message says that unless the Jordanian government frees al-Rishawi within 24 hours, Goto and the pilot will be killed, adding that this would be the group's last message. The message warns any delaying tactics by the government will result in the death of both men.
Goto has only "24 hours left to live and the pilot has even less," the message said. Japanese officials held emergency meetings after the video's release. Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said he had seen the video released, but did not comment on its authenticity.
"In this extremely tough situation, we are continuing as before to request the cooperation of the Jordanian government to work toward the immediate release of Mr. Goto," Suga said. A Japanese envoy in Jordan, Deputy Foreign Minister Yasuhide Nakayama, earlier expressed hope the two hostages would return home "with a smile on their faces."
"I hope we can all firmly work hard and join hands to cooperate, and for the two countries (Japan and Jordan) to cooperate, in order for us to see the day when the Jordanian pilot and our Japanese national Mr. Goto, can both safely return to their own countries with a smile on their faces," he told reporters late Monday night after another day of crisis talks in the Jordanian capital.
Japanese officials had no immediate comment on the new message. Tuesday marked the first time a Japanese official mentioned al-Kaseasbeh, who has been held by the extremist Islamic State group after his Jordanian F-16 went down near the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa in December. It wasn't immediately clear when the pilot's possible release had entered into the negotiations.
The 26-year-old Jordanian is the first foreign military pilot to fall into the extremists' hands since an international coalition began its aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in September. Jordan is part of the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants in Syria.
Goto, a freelance journalist, was seized in late October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was captured by the militants last summer. The weekend message retracted a demand for payment of $200 million in ransom for the two Japanese, made in an earlier online message. It threatened to kill Goto unless al-Rishawi was released.
Japanese officials have indicated they are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Yukawa was dead. Securing the release of al-Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State and would allow the group to reaffirm its links to al-Qaida in Iraq.
The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, told the AP on Tuesday that her family was told that the Islamic State group also was seeking his release as part of a swap. It was unclear whether it was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.
Al-Karboli, an aide to a former al-Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.
Kageyama reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, Jon Gambrell and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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History Of Buhari


Larry Diamond is a Senior Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of a forthcoming book, Class, Ethnicity and Democracy in Nigeria: The Failure of the First Nigerian Republic. Currently he is co-editing a multi-authored comparative study of democracy in developing nations. Through the improbable device of a military coup, Nigeria has been delivered from dictatorship. 

To be sure, the form of government remains a military regime, and almost certainly will for many years to come. In fact, much of the top leadership remains the same: the August 27 coup d’état was engineered by high-ranking officers in the fallen government of Major-General Muhammed Buhari and his powerful second in command, Major-General Tunde Idiagbon. Many officers who held key command and government positions under General Buhari continue in power. But the nature and style of rule have been transformed in ways that may have lasting implications for Nigeria’s political future.

The man behind the coup, and the subsequent changes, is Major-General Ibrahim Babangida, who was army chief of staff and the third-ranking member of the Buhari regime. He has been described as a popular officer, having "the soldier’s love of action and the politician’s populist instinct." Like four of Nigeria’s seven previous leaders, Babangida is a northern Muslim, born in Niger state 44 years ago.

His support within the military is broadly based. He is said to be widely admired in the army for his professionalism and courage (dramatically evidenced when he risked his life to foil a coup attempt in 1976), and for his openness and rapport with the rank and file. Babangida played an instrumental role in Nigeria’s last three successful coups, but he was content to concentrate on army functions and play only a background role in government. As someone who might have seized the principal position of power twice before, but deferred, he does not appear to be a man of insatiable political appetite. 

This contrasts sharply with Generals Buhari and Idiagbon, whose eager monopolization of power alarmed their fellow officers and contributed to their downfall after ruling for just 20 months. Like four of its six predecessors, the Buhari government dashed the high hopes that had attended its accession to power at the end of 1983. The December 31, 1983, coup removed the civilian regime of Shehu Shagari, which had itself betrayed popular aspirations—and the constitution—in Nigeria’s second attempt at liberal democratic government. Four and a quarter years of chaotic competition among political parties had left a shattering legacy of corruption, economic mismanagement and treacherous electoral violence and fraud. 

Thus, Nigerians welcomed the military government, expecting it to bring to justice corrupt former officials; reinvigorate an economy that was on the edge of collapse; and effect structural and cultural changes that would eventually make possible a successful transition to democratic government. Initially, the high expectations seemed justified, as the Buhari government arrested hundreds of politicians, fired hundreds of public officials, and seized huge sums of cash from politicians’ homes. Its pledges to restore accountability to public life elicited enthusiastic support from the press, students, trade unions, intellectuals and various other segments of the rich panoply of associational life in Nigeria. But before long, the Buhari government began to overstep its popular mandate as it turned with arrogance and impunity on virtually every one of the groups and institutions that had welcomed its arrival.

Buhari’s fall from grace was due primarily to his anti-democratic behavior; regionalism, factionalism and economic woes also contributed to his demise. Although the announcement of investigations and trials for political corruption was highly popular, many Nigerians became concerned about the uniform severity of the penalties (a minimum of 21 years in prison). They also objected to procedures that placed the onus of proving innocence on the accused, prohibited appeal of the verdict, closed the proceedings to the public and entrusted the trials to military tribunals. 

The Nigerian Bar Association boycotted the trials in protest over these provisions, even though this left many of the accused without legal representation. Nigerians were gratified when many of the country’s most notoriously corrupt politicians—including governors from a majority of the 19 states—were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Acquittals of some individuals who had not been widely suspected of venality in office suggested that the tribunals were capable of fair and independent verdicts. Consternation grew, however, over the dearth of convictions of the most powerful kingpins of the former ruling National Party, especially those from the party’s northern power base. Some of these figures remained in detention, and some remained abroad, beyond the reach of Nigerian justice, notably former Minister of Transport Umaru Dikko, who was the target of a bungled kidnapping attempt, allegedly by agents of the Buhari regime. Nigerians were also outraged at the continued detention without trial of some politicians who were viewed as honest and dedicated public servants. In a particularly notorious case, former Ondo state Governor Michael Ajasin remained in prison even though he was twice cleared of any wrongdoing by military tribunals. 

The Buhari regime’s draconian internal security laws violated civil and political liberties more severely than anything Nigeria had previously experienced, even under colonial rule. Decree Number 2, imposed in January 1984, provided for the detention of any citizen deemed a security risk. 

Under this classic instrument of authoritarian domination, the Nigerian Security Organization was given a virtual blank check to arrest and intimidate critics. Some of Nigeria’s most astute social commentators were imprisoned under this measure—without trial, appeal or any indication of when they might be released. With unsettling speed, the NSO became a virtual power unto itself, introducing heretofore unfamiliar cruelties of dictatorship. After the August coup, journalists were escorted through an NSO detention center where 63 people, many of them beaten and tortured, had been imprisoned in squalid conditions. Under the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, repression had become a reflex. 

In a typical incident last March, the NSO broke up a press conference of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, detaining four of its officers. Many of Nigeria’s clamorous interest groups were banned, including the National Association of Nigerian Students, whose September 1984 national conference was violently dispersed. After long-running tension between doctors and the government erupted in a strike in February 1985, the Buhari government banned the Nigerian Medical Association and another doctors’ association and arrested their leaders. Many critics who were not arrested were watched and warned by the NSO.

Normally vigorous centers of articulate opinion fell silent in a spreading climate of fear. Journalists were among the chief targets of the regime. Although it has been marred by periods of harassment, press freedom has historically been one of the strongest bulwarks against tyranny in Nigeria. Over the past several years the print media have improved in accuracy and sophistication, and the number of serious publications has mushroomed. Particularly significant has been the growth of private newspapers like the National Concord and the Guardian (both of Lagos), which took the lead in exposing corruption and abuse of power. Private book publishers have become indispensable in facilitating social criticism and alternative formulas for socioeconomic and constitutional development. 

The flowering of Nigeria’s capitalist and critical traditions in these private publishing ventures was among the most vital forms of democratic progress to survive the Second Republic (1979-1983). That the Buhari government was not serious in its promise of accountable government was apparent early when it attempted to shackle the communications media. Decree Number 4 of April 1984 forbade the publication or broadcast of anything that brought the government or any of its officials into ridicule or disrepute. Like Decree Number 2, it placed the onus of proof on the accused and stipulated heavy penalties for offenders. Under these two measures, a number of prominent journalists and editors were arrested. 

Two Guardian newspapermen spent nearly a year in prison, becoming heroes in the struggle for a free press, and were adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International. Although journalists continued to test the regime’s narrowing limits, the arrests and decrees had a visibly chilling effect on news coverage and editorial commentary. In trying to impose a monolithic order on Nigeria’s irrepressibly pluralistic society, the Buhari-Idiagbon dictatorship did more than violate Nigeria’s deep commitment to personal freedom; it risked a convulsion of enormous proportions. 

The danger was intensified by the perception that the Buhari government was inordinately dominated by northerners, particularly the Hausa- Fulani from the Muslim areas of the upper north, who had also been the dominant ethnic group in the Shagari government. This distressed many opinion leaders from among the Yoruba, the Igbo and the many smaller ethnic groups, and prompted a number of prominent Yorubas, such as retired Lieutenant- General Alani Akinrinade (former defense chief of staff), to propose some form of "confederal" government. Their proposals must be seen in retrospect not as assaults on Nigerian federalism and national unity but rather as warning signals that the regime itself was threatening these principles by its growing intolerance and its narrow regional power base. The coup last August 27 can also be interpreted as a pragmatic attempt by the military command to preempt an explosion, possibly a bloody coup attempt by radical junior officers. 

High- level rivalry was also a factor. Without question, the coup was precipitated in part by resentment within the Supreme Military Council of the arrogation of power by Generals Buhari and Idiagbon. When they were deposed, the coup-makers denounced them for their "stubborn and ill-advised unilateral actions" and their paranoiac intolerance of debate and criticism even within the military councils. Furthermore, the continuing economic crisis contributed heavily to the public’s profound disaffection. The Buhari government’s progress toward balancing Nigeria’s external payments came at the price of deepening austerity and recession. As industries remained desperately short of raw materials and spare parts, tens of thousands more workers lost their jobs and severe shortages pushed inflation to an annual rate of 40 percent. After three years of steep decline in gross domestic product, no relief was in sight. Forecasting only one percent growth in GDP, the 1985 budget cut imports by more than half and devoted 44 percent of foreign exchange to debt service. The pervasive hardships would have threatened any government.

Finally, the Buhari-Idiagbon regime’s vows to rid the country of corruption rang increasingly hollow. A postmortem on the regime noted the Nigerian public’s "widespread skepticism . . . about the army’s claims to have reduced corruption. Not only were senior ministers alleged to be making fortunes in the time-honored fashion—from kickbacks on contracts and import license allocations—but suspicion was also aroused by big oil barter deals in which middlemen in or close to government were alleged to have made fortunes." Notwithstanding these factors, the primary reason for the coup and the primary issue in its wake was the dictatorial character of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime. 

Most of all, the August coup appears to mark the decisive rejection of authoritarianism in Nigeria. This was forcefully signaled in President Babangida’s maiden address to the nation, an extraordinary statement for a military ruler. In it, Babangida recognized that even a military government "needs the consent of the people" to govern effectively. Promising to uphold human rights, he announced an immediate review of the status of political detainees. Most significant, he announced the repeal of Decree Number 4 and vowed, "We do not intend to lead a country where individuals are under the fear of expressing themselves." III Words are easily offered to an angry nation; the test will be in the way President Babangida governs. But having figured so centrally in the last four coups, he is acutely aware that Nigerian leaders ultimately cannot escape accountability for their actions. His initial actions indicate that—whether through real commitment to liberal government or simply shrewd political instinct—Nigeria’s new president means to govern liberally.

Among his government’s first actions was the release of all journalists in detention. Dozens of politicians who had been in prison up to 20 months without charge or trial were also released, many to heroes’ welcomes. In addition, public exposure of the NSO’s violations of human rights was encouraged, the top leadership of the NSO was dismissed, and a thorough probe and restructuring were undertaken. Amnesty International praised Babangida for these steps. Another augury of a more consensual and accountable style of rule is the new government’s structure and composition, which is both more open to criticism and internal debate and more representative of the country’s many ethnic and interest groups. To disperse power at the top of government, the functions of the domineering former chief of staff, Idiagbon, were split between two positions. 

Political administration was assigned to the chief of general staff, Naval Commodore Oko Ebitu Ukiwe—the first Igbo military officer to hold such high government office since the 1967-70 civil war. Military administration was assigned to a newly created Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by the powerful Defense Minister Domkat Y. Bali. All but five members of the former Supreme Military Council were appointed to the new and enlarged Armed Forces Ruling Council. The five who were dropped were those primarily responsible for the previous regime’s abuses: Buhari, Idiagbon, the internal affairs minister, the NSO director and the attorney- general. 

The ethnic balance of the council’s membership was also altered, with the center of gravity shifting from the far north to the ethnic minority states of the middle north. And at the state level, Babangida replaced 13 of the 19 military governors, a shrewd move that gave younger officers—including several populists and an avowed socialist—a share in the running of the country. The cabinet appointments are even more striking, both for those who were retained (only six of the previous 18 ministers) and those who were newly selected. Signaling that open dissent will not be unwelcome, the new president retained Petroleum Minister Tam David-West, an independent academician who had condemned the policy of negotiating massive countertrade or barter deals exchanging Nigerian oil for foreign goods.

It was rumored at the time of the coup that David-West would be fired for his candor. Instead, he is joined in the cabinet by other forceful and capable figures who were not afraid to speak out in opposition to the Buhari regime. These include Akinrinade (Agriculture), Professor Bolaji Akinyemi (Foreign Affairs), who condemned the Buhari government’s expulsion of illegal immigrants, and Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu (Finance), who argued, in opposition to the former regime, that Nigeria should take an IMF loan. Babangida named the president of the previously banned Nigerian Bar Association, Bola Ajibola, attorney-general. Given the explicit pledges, personal inclinations, appointments and early actions of President Babangida, his government seems unlikely to sink into the kind of narrow dictatorship that preceded it. Nevertheless, symbols and good intentions lack the force of law and the stability of institutions.

Verbal commitments can wither in the heat of crisis and opposition, which are sure to greet the difficult economic decisions that will have to be made in future months. If there is a lesson in the misrule of the Buhari regime, it is so basic as to seem banal: unlimited power corrupts its holders and perverts its original ends. The Buhari-Idiagbon regime had promised to bring its predecessors to account, but put itself beyond public scrutiny or criticism. The current government likewise has pledged retribution for offenders. For example, in proclaiming the recent coup, the Babangida regime denounced the "glaring fraud" in the Buhari government, and then appointed a committee to investigate corruption in the negotiation of oil countertrade agreements. But, again, this is to establish accountability for past actions of other officials; it remains to be seen how those now in power will conduct themselves. How can accountability be advanced from the past to the present, so that it is not merely retroactive but also preventive? IV In my analysis of the December 1983 coup, I suggested that stable and accountable government in Nigeria might be achieved through a "diarchy" of shared civilian and military rule, in which civilian democratic rule was further checked and balanced by military control of certain crucial regulatory functions. 

This reflected the active search then under way in Nigeria for a constitutional formula to overcome the abuses of power that spoiled the country’s two attempts at democratic government. Before the Buhari regime banned all discussion of the country’s political future, this public debate accelerated, and numerous variations of diarchy were advanced and debated. Now that the Buhari regime, like the military government in the post-civil war era, has soured public confidence in the military as rulers, there may be an even more compelling case for diarchy as a way out of what one observer called "Nigeria’s ruinous political cycles." Diarchy is typically conceived as civilian government making some permanent institutional place for the military in the constitutional system. It could, however, be implemented in reverse; the military could create and gradually enlarge institutional roles for civilians. Indeed, if the Babangida government is serious about allowing itself to be held accountable, and about building a consensus for a long-term attack on Nigeria’s economic problems, power-sharing may be indispensable to its success. 

To some extent, it has already shared power by appointing prominent civilians to the federal and state cabinets. But there is nothing institutional about this participation. Similarly, it has recognized that the free press is a cornerstone of accountable government. But with the constitution in suspension, this freedom exists only at the pleasure of those in power. There is no reason why a military government cannot draw up a constitution or bill of rights to which it can be held accountable in the courts. Such a document would be a first step back to democracy in that it would recognize the supremacy of the judiciary in interpreting and protecting fundamental liberties. There is also no reason why a military government cannot subject itself to a code of conduct for public officers, to be enforced by an independent bureau and tribunal. While the military remains dominant in government, the appointment and supervision of this framework could be entrusted to the Supreme Court, or the bar association, or a council of traditional rulers, or some other independent, civilian body commanding general respect. No government can ever be fully trusted to watch itself; nor can it root out corruption if it does not set up independent structures for doing so. 

These structural innovations would provide established means for ensuring accountability and thus enhancing public confidence in military government. Moreover, such changes would not threaten the military’s basic control of the government. Yet it is difficult to imagine any government, including this government— for all its apparent democratic intentions—limiting its power in the absence of explicit, sustained pressure from opinion-makers and organized interest groups. The military government could also be strengthened, as an editorial in the journal West Africa suggested, "by announcing early a program for a return to a more representative form of government no matter how far in the future." President Babangida has signaled his intention to present a program of political transition, with initial emphasis on revitalizing local government. This might allow experimentation with new forms of electoral representation, reintroducing political competition and participation first at the grassroots. 

Phasing in democracy in this way could defuse grievances and pressures and give the government a stronger basis of legitimacy. With the economy in dire straits, there will be no shortage of grievances and pressures in the months to come. Nigeria’s external debt remains in excess of $20 billion, and payment on short-term trade debts is lagging months behind. Oil production remains low and petroleum prices are likely to tumble further, as Babangida himself recently warned the nation. Hence, the prospect is for even less than the 1984 oil income of $10 billion, which is less than half the peak figure of four years ago. Most economists believe that the only way out of the crisis is for Nigeria to reach agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year $2.5 billion loan; negotiations on this have been deadlocked for three years because Nigeria has refused to accept the IMF’s stringent adjustment program. Upon taking office, President Babangida seemed determined to come to an agreement quickly but then threw the question open to public debate, and the consequent intense opposition has clearly reduced his freedom of maneuver.

Reaching agreement on an IMF loan would unlock perhaps another $2.5 billion in loans and credits from other sources; it would also enable Nigeria to resume imports necessary to regenerate industrial production and employment. But critics denounce the hardships that would follow the required currency devaluation and subsidy cuts. They also dismiss the utility of another huge infusion of cash, which, they maintain, the country is no better equipped to manage than the massive infusions of the oil boom. As President Babangida recognized in his recent independence- day address, "with or without the IMF loan facility," all Nigerians "must make hard choices involving great difficulties and requiring sacrifices from everyone in every sector, including the Armed Forces." With or without the loan, the prospect is for a prolonged period of economic austerity, in which consumption has to be limited severely and productivity sharply increased. Knowing this, the Babangida government may well determine that the urgent need for government to be responsive to the popular will, in particular the opposition to the loan, outweighs the urgent need for new foreign exchange and restructuring of debt. The Reagan Administration’s new policy emphasis on economic growth as the best relief for debt crises in the Third World may eventually benefit Nigeria. 

Further, since the Babangida government has struck a surprisingly cordial stance toward the United States and promised to remove bureaucratic and other obstacles to foreign investment, the time might be propitious for the United States to take the lead in helping Nigeria to restructure its international obligations. Ultimately, however, the success of the new government is likely to depend on whether it can build a national consensus around a coherent economic strategy, distribute the sacrifices fairly, and put a stop to the disastrous leakage of the country’s resources through corruption and mismanagement. This will be difficult to do without some institutional means for ensuring open and accountable government. In this sense, 20 months of repression may have taught the valuable lesson that the choice between democracy and economic recovery is a false one.