On the Killing of Olaitan Oyerinde


On the Killing of Olaitan Oyerinde

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Faced with an oil-export based economy, intra factional clashes coupled together by a feeble and corrupt centralized government, Nigeria has struggled to become more than a transitional democracy. Armed groups and violence, fueled by disputes over oil revenue sharing efforts have exacerbated internal security problems and continue to undermine domestic stability as well as thwart progress to establish democratic norms.

In May, Olaitan Oyerinde, the Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to the Governor of the State of Edo was killed in an apparent assassination. The attack on the PPS occurred at his private residence, little more than 3 months before the July 14 Gubernatorial elections in the state of Edo. The successful assassination follows two unsuccessful suspected attempts on the Governor of Edo and on the Governor’s Commissioner for Information. It does not appear that this is the work of the Islamist terrorist organization, Boko Haram, instead it is probable that internal constituencies and political machinations are likely to be blamed. This raises the probable specter of further near-term turmoil in Nigeria.

According to the CIA World FactBook Nigeria has the 10th largest reserve of commercially recoverable crude oil reserves. The Nigerian government also claims that it is the 12th largest producer and 8th largest exporter of petroleum in the world. Nevertheless, disputes continue to rage between State Governors and the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) tasked with developing the oil resources within the country. Nigerian oil reserves and its supporting infrastructure are concentrated to the South in the region known as the Niger Delta. This area spans the Nigerian States of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Rivers and Edo.

Oil revenue sharing at the State-level is particularly acute, in February of this year, Governor Oshiomhole of the Nigerian State of Edo accused the NDDC of misappropriating oil production levels from Edo and wrongly allocating funds to other jurisdictions. As the Governor observed then, “we do not have to go cap in hand begging for what is our entitlement.”

This is not to conclude that infighting over oil revenue sharing caused the recent assassination, as details surrounding the assassination of PPS Oyerinde remain unclear.

Following the PPS Oyerinde’s death, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo stated, “So there is no doubt at all that Olaitan was assassinated. They shot him in a manner that he had no chance to survive.” Gov. Oshiomhole asserted that the killing was particularly unnerving as two days before the Governor had submitted a request for undefined intelligence reports from the state Commissioner of Police. However, the governor did not explicitly link the two events as directly related. Even so, the Governor did make his sentiment on the potential implications clear when he warned, “If it becomes so clear that we cannot rely on the security apparatus, then we must look at other options because we must protect ourselves.”

Governor Oshiomhole continues to press Nigeria’s security establishment saying that he “travelled to Abuja to complain to the Inspector General of Police…and the President who agreed to convene a national security meeting.”

Nigeria’s weak central government, continuing religious, ethnic and tribal tensions, the presence of Boko Haram, and systemic oil-related corruption dilute the domestic security picture. Whether the impetus for the overt actions against the current power structure within the State of Edo was taken by inter or intra political adversaries, opposing oil revenue sharing entities, or a resistance to the Governor’s request for intelligence reports is immaterial.

With the upcoming Gubernatorial elections in the State of Edo, the successful assassination of PPS Oyerinde and the suspected attempts on Gov. Oshiomhole and his Commissioner of Information appear to be the start of a very dangerous game. Calls for reform efforts aimed at improving and enhancing the national security apparatus are already underway, but such efforts under the burden of preventing future assassinations are likely to devolve into a domestic power struggle for realignment.

In the short term, reprisals and follow on violence appears probable. Further instability could materialize in the oil-rich Niger Delta region. Resulting upheavals could also present a medium term opportunity for Boko Haram to become more geographically profuse. Lastly, should political elements escalate and Boko Haram seize the opportunity, it is conceivable that these events could precipitate or expedite the disintegration of a unified Nigerian State in the long term.

The assassination of PPS Oyerinde further confirms the underlying narrative that Nigeria has a weak, unstable central government and that its internal security apparatus is incapable of protecting its own senior security officials. Further, as domestic turmoil increases it is likely to impact Nigerian oil production. With world markets concerned about conflicts in oil producing regions around the world, escalating tensions within Nigeria serve as a warning for things yet to come.

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