Nigeria could collapse and drag west Africa with it: US experts
    by Ola Awoniyi
    ABUJA, May 24 (AFP) - Nigeria could collapse into anarchy and drag its whole region into bloodshed and chaos, according to a report by US intelligence experts sent to Nigerian lawmakers by President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday.

    The Nigerian leader said he had taken the unusual step of passing out a report from the US National Intelligence Council on Africa's medium-term prospects in order to encourage Nigerians to work together for stability.

    "I am sending this to you not because I am alarmed by the report but because if we know what others think of us and about us, we can prevent what they project for us," Obasanjo said, in a letter to the Nigerian Senate president.

    Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation, with a population of over 130 million people, and its 45-year history since independence from colonial rule has been punctuated by eight coups d'etat and a brutal civil war.

    With violent unrest continuing in several regions, including the oil-rich Niger Delta and the restive Muslim north, many here worry that the country's shaky six-year-old experiment with democratic rule may yet end in disaster.

    The American report, which is entitled "Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa", notes in a section on violent disorder that: "20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria while that country has maintained its democratic facade."

    The document does not represent the US government's official views, but was published on the website of the Central Intelligence Agency in March as the conclusions of a conference of experts on the continent.

    The panel paints a bleak picture for Africa over the next 15 years, warning that poverty, corruption and disease will continue to undermine fragile states. They point to several factors which could provoke conflict and collapse.

    "The most important would be the outright collapse
of Nigeria," they warn.

    "While currently Nigeria's leaders are locked in a bad marriage that all dislike but dare not leave, there are possibilities that could disrupt the precarious equilibrium in Abuja," the report adds.     "The most important would be a junior officer coup that could destabilise the country to the extent that open warfare breaks out in many places in a sustained manner," it continues.

    "If Nigeria were to become a failed state, it could drag down a large part of the west African region. Even state failure in small countries such as Liberia has the effect of destabilising entire neighbourhoods.     "If millions were to flee a collapsed Nigeria, the surrounding countries up to and including Ghana would be destabilised.

    "Further, a failed Nigeria probably could not be reconstituted for many years -- if ever -- and not without massive international assistance," it says.     In his letter to lawmakers, Obasanjo, a former military ruler who was elected to office in 1999 and who must stand down in 2007 after two terms in office, defended his record of slow economic and political reform.

    "I believe that we can and should disprove themodern experts of the United States IntelligenceCouncil who are like prophets of doom," he wrote.    "We must be determined to show that we are neithera basket case nor walking on a banana peel," he added.