A Wave of Boko Haram Micro-Attacks in Damaturu, Bauchi, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, and Elsewhere

Yesterday morning, suicide bombers suspected of being from Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect struck two police targets in the northwestern city of Sokoto (map), claiming at least four lives (more here). Police reportedly repelled a third attack Monday evening.

Assuming Boko Haram is behind these incidents, the attacks in Sokoto mark one of the largest strikes the movement has carried out west of Kano.* Their attacks in Kano since January have themselves represented a significant geographical expansion for the group; a presence in Sokoto is yet another stage in this expansion, particularly if attacks become semi-regular there as they have in Kano.

Yesterday also brought an apparent assassination attempt against Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo, as “gunmen on motorbikes” shot at one of Sambo’s houses in Zaria, Kaduna State.

The Sokoto bombings and the Zaria attack follow a wave of micro-attacks elsewhere in the North: raids on police stations in Borno and Bauchi States last Wednesday and Thursday, clashes in Damaturu on Friday, reported battles in Maiduguri and Damaturu on Sunday, and gun attacks in Kano on Sunday. Despite the fact that these attacks have caused relatively few casualties, their wide geographical range and their somewhat unpredictable character sends a message to ordinary people in Northern Nigeria: violence could come at any time, in any major city, and the authorities have difficulty preventing it. Most people are simply trying to carry on with their lives, of course, but the cumulative effects of these micro-attacks likely include an increase in the tension people feel and a decrease in their faith in the government and the security forces.

Calls for dialogue have continued; many elites believe there is no purely military solution to this crisis, and that resolution must come at the negotiating table. On Sunday, former Nigerian heads of state Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida released a statement on the violence in the country:

Without mentioning Boko Haram by name, they called for “community involvement” in addition to security measures to resolve the crisis, urging efforts from local governments, religious leaders and grassroots organisations.

“Religious leaders, in particular, have an even greater challenge to use the immense virtues of this holy period (Ramadan) to inculcate among the millions of citizens the spirit of mutual respect, humility and forgiveness,” the statement said.

“Ample opportunities are therefore at hand to bring all armed belligerents to table for meaningful dialogue with the authorities for our future and that of our children and grandchildren.”

It is easy to be pessimistic about the prospects of successful dialogue. Obasanjo has already made personal efforts at peacemaking, without great success and even with some backlash, but if nothing else such statements show the deepening concern among Nigerian elites regarding Boko Haram and other violent actors in the country.

*Prior to these attacks, the only major incident I am aware of in Sokoto was this March, when an attempt to rescue to kidnapped Europeans resulted in gun battles (and the deaths of the hostages). The question of what role Boko Haram played in those kidnappings remains somewhat murky in my view. For more, see Andrew Walker’s discussion of the subject here (.pdf, pp. 10-11).

Nigeria’s Presidential Candidates

After a spate of party primaries last week, Nigeria is moving into its general election. Registration has begun (accompanied by some problems), and presidential candidates are starting their campaigns in earnest. Here’s a look at some key figures:

President Goodluck Jonathan (People’s Democratic Party)

The PDP has won all three of Nigeria’s elections since the country’s 1999 democratic transition, and many observers (including me) expect Jonathan to win this year’s contest. The 53-year-old former governor of Bayelsa State, who holds a Ph.D in Zoology, was elected vice president in 2007. Following the illness and death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who headed the ticket in 2007, Jonathan became president (acting from February-May 2010, official from May 2010-present). Jonathan did not immediately proclaim his electoral intentions upon assuming office, waiting until September to declare his candidacy. By running for re-election, Jonathan has disrupted an unofficial agreement about North-South power-sharing in Nigeria: he faces opposition within the PDP from members who believe he should withdraw in order to let a Northerner run for the second term that death denied to Yar’Adua (a Northerner). Nevertheless, Jonathan handily won the PDP primary.

General Muhammadu Buhari (Congress for Progressive Change)

Buhari, who finished second in the 2003 and 2007 elections as a candidate for the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), left the ANPP in 2010 to form his own party, the CPC. Buhari, 68, led a bloodless coup against President Shehu Shagari in 1983, and ruled Nigeria until 1985, when General Ibrahim Babangida displaced him in another palace coup. Today, Buhari enjoys substantial popularity in Northern Nigeria, but potentially lacks a national base. Having mounted legal challenges after his losses in 2003 and 2007, Buhari and many of his supporters view the electoral process with distrust. I have analyzed Buhari’s campaign rhetoric here; briefly, he has focused on themes of corruption and security. Many observers expect Buhari to be Jonathan’s strongest opposition.

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (All Nigeria People’s Party)

The ANPP holds several governorships in Northern Nigeria, and Kano (the North’s largest city) is one of its strongholds. With Buhari’s departure, Shekarau, the governor of Kano State, has emerged as the ANPP’s candidate for 2011. Shekarau, 55, won the primary decisively, indicating he has strength within the ANPP. He served two terms as governor (and is term-limited from running again), and still commands real support in Kano. But last summer some people I spoke with said his popularity was slipping. My sense is that Buhari has stronger support across the North. The danger for Buhari and Shekarau is that they will compete for the same (Northern) votes, weakening each other without seriously threatening Jonathan.

Nuhu Ribadu (Action Congress of Nigeria)

Ribadu, 50, served from 2003 to 2007 as Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and established a reputation as an anti-corruption stalwart. After his removal from office, he lived abroad and worked as a fellow at the Center for Global Development. Some expected Ribadu to return to Nigeria and work with Jonathan, but he has decided to run as the ACN’s candidate. The ACN (known as the Action Congress or AC at the time) scored around 8% of the official vote in 2007, and ran former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its candidate. Despite Ribadu’s name recognition, it does not seem that he will be a serious threat to Jonathan, and as a Northerner he could split the Northern vote further. His presence in the race may increase the significance of corruption as an issue.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Former President Ibrahim Babangida

Two other Nigerian political heavyweights are not official presidential candidates at the moment. Abubakar, 64, was President Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate in 1999 and 2003. He challenged Yar’Adua for the presidency in 2007 and challenged Jonathan for the PDP nomination last week, but was unsuccessful in both efforts. Some speculate that following his primary loss he will mount an independent challenge for the presidency, but so far his intentions are unknown. Similarly, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, 69, has indicated that he may leave the PDP and run for president. Nevertheless, he congratulated Jonathan for his primary victory, speaking of “our great party” and indicating that he will not depart from the party. Still, Babangida has kept observers guessing. A run by either Babangida or Abubakar could change the dynamics of the race, though probably not tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Many of Jonathan’s major challengers are Northerners, and there is a real possibility that these politicians, by competing for the same votes, will only weaken each other. Still, it’s a relatively long time until April, time enough for the upredictability and dynamism of Nigerian politics to show itself once again.

Have I missed anyone? What do you think of each candidate’s chances?

Nigeria: Security Issues Loom Large in Presidential Race

North-South rivalry has figured prominently in Nigeria’s presidential race, but another issue has also come to prominence: security. Critics of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, including former Northern military rulers, charge that he has responded ineffectively to bombings and other security incidents. Following another bombing on New Year’s Eve in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, Jonathan has been working aggressively to enhance Nigeria’s security apparatuses and dispel concerns about his handling of security issues.

Security threats in Nigeria are occurring in multiple locations (the Niger Delta, Jos, Maiduguri, Abuja) at the hands of diverse groups (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Boko Haram, and various local groups). Out of all the violence, the bombings have perhaps been politicized the most. The New Year’s Eve bombing was perpetrated by attackers whose identity remains unknown, though some authorities and observers hold the Islamic rebel group Boko Haram responsible.

Regardless of who plotted the bombing, it forms a sequel of sorts to a bombing in Abuja on Nigeria’s fiftieth Independence Day, October 1, 2010. Following that incident, Northern politicians issued harsh criticisms of Jonathan’s performance and called for his resignation. General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler and potential presidential candidate, released a joint statement with the governor of Kwara State, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, in which they denounced Jonathan’s handling of the bombings and “accused him of failing to provide security around the country.”

Jonathan’s campaign quickly fired back at critics after Independence Day, but following the New Year’s Eve bombing the president called an emergency meeting on security issues and initiated high-profile policy changes. These include the appointment of a special terrorism adviser, the creation of new committees to monitor explosives and promote public awareness, the passage of an anti-terrorism law, and the introduction of CCTV in some public places. The government also announced it will tighten security at public events.

Jonathan’s response to the New Year’s Eve bombing says to me that he takes the security problem seriously both at a policy level and a political level. Where the policy calculations end and the political calculations begin I cannot say, but politically it is clear that he hopes to quash any possible perception that he is “soft on terror.” If such a feeling became widespread in Nigeria it would hand a rhetorical advantage to a military man like General Muhammadu Buhari, freshly nominated by the Congress for Progressive Change to run in the general election. Attention to security has featured in Buhari’s campaign so far. Jonathan’s rival for his own party’s nomination, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has also made use of the security issue.

I do not think that debates over security will seriously damage Jonathan, but to the extent that security problems continue we will likely see terrorism remain a large issue in the campaign, and we may see further policy changes coming from the president.

Nigeria Elections: Muhammadu Buhari Announces Presidential Run

General Muhammadu Buhari was military ruler of Nigeria from December 1983 to August 1985. The shortcomings of his administration, including a failure to resolve Nigeria’s economic and political problems, resulted in his ouster in a palace coup. But Buhari remains tremendously popular in much of the North. Among many elites and ordinary people I talked to in Kano last summer, Buhari enjoyed a reputation for personal integrity and incorruptibility. He ran as the presidential candidate of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) in 2003 and 2007, officially receiving around 32% of the vote in 2003 and 18% in 2007 – though he mounted (unsuccessful) legal challenges to the results each time. Buhari quit the ANPP in January of this year, citing “fundamental and irreconcilable ideological differences between the leadership of the Party and myself,” and founded the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). On Thursday, Buhari declared that he will run for the presidency in 2011 against President Goodluck Jonathan (of the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) and other figures both inside and outside of the PDP, including former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida (whose recent actions I analyzed here). In this post I look briefly at Buhari’s message and potential impact on the race.

Buhari’s announcement included both attacks on his opponents and ideas for the future of Nigeria. Here is a look at the former:

Describing the last 12 years of the country’s democratic experience under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as a catalogue of betrayals and bungled opportunities, Buhari expressed his loss of faith in the nation’s judiciary, believing it had compromised and did not act independently in upholding the 2003 election of Olusegun Obasanjo and the 2007 election of Umaru Yar’Adua.

His words: “Our experiences at the polls are supported by credible reports from several independent, local and international observers and showed clearly that those elections were not transparent, credible, free or fair. Nor did they reflect the true will of the people.”

Recalling the judgment of the Supreme Court in the 2007 election, he said, “In the face of such overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it hardly conformed with the idea of justice and it creates the common feeling that the judiciary was not acting independently.

“This time, we are not going to court”, he said. “Democracy cannot survive if its operators refuse to play by the rules and those in authority continually conspire to subvert the system.

“Unfortunately, this country witnessed in 2003 and 2007 elections that were characterized by massive fraud, unprecedented in electoral exercises in this country.”

One could call this framing pessimistic – Buhari sounds as though he expects fraud to occur. And one could say that his words raise the stakes – Buhari sounds as though he feels this is Nigeria’s last chance to have a credible election. But if democratic politics in Nigeria cannot survive another flawed election, what is Buhari implying will come after?

At any rate, his criticism of the PDP is clear and harsh.

In terms of ideas for change, Buhari focused on the Niger Delta:

On the vexed issue of the Niger Delta crisis, he regretted that it has been allowed to turn into a full scale and sophisticated insurgency rather than the government proffering solutions to the grievances of the people of region.

According to him, “The situation has escalated from random vandalisation of pipelines, often dismissed as the work of hoodlums, to full scale sophisticated insurgency. They are well armed, have their website and established coherent communication network to both local and international media.”

Consequently, he said, “If elected as president, my promise is to engage the region’s people in dialogue. We intend to make genuine effort to tackle the problems of Niger Delta from the roots.

“The roots of the problems are corruption and the failure of the Nigerian elite to understand the grievances and deep-seated feeling of the people of Niger Delta.”

Talk of problems in the Niger Delta also, to state the obvious, reinforces Buhari’s message that the PDP is failing Nigeria.

Buhari also discussed security issues in the country as a whole:

Buhari promised to evolve an overall security effort involving the Police, armed forces, civil society, traditional authorities and the public, with a view to arresting the country’s rapid and palpable descent into anarchy.

“The main task of my government will be immediately to tackle rampant insecurity across the land because Nigerians do not feel secured in their homes,” Buhari said.

To achieve this, Buhari said recourse would be made to rural constabularies, neighbourhood watch and other forms of local and community based supervision, stressing that “deployment, remuneration and discipline would be examined and implemented in the context of their suitability to localities, culture zones, communities and traditions.”

Finally, he promised to tackle corruption.

Buhari has real support in the North, but he may lack the resources to translate that support into victory, especially if other Northerners like Babangida or other parties like the ANPP divide the Northern vote, or if some Northern governors line up behind Jonathan. At the announcement, Buhari appeared surrounded by elites, but some of the most prominent figures in attendance were former governors, not sitting ones. It is also not clear to me whether Buhari has substantial support outside of the North. Still, given the North-South tensions at play in this election and intensity of the support he does have, his candidacy will be a major factor in the race and after. Undoubtedly some of Buhari’s supporters share the general’s feeling that Nigerian democracy has reached a dangerous crossroads, and some of them may feel bitter and lasting disappointment if he loses for a third time. That bitterness could, in the event that Jonathan wins, severely undermine Jonathan’s legitimacy in the North.

Nigeria: Babangida to Leave PDP?

Ibrahim Babangida was military ruler of Nigeria from 1985 to 1993, and remains politically active. In 2007, Babangida considered running to be the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, but ultimately withdrew from the race, allowing the late President Umaru Yar’Adua to secure the PDP nomination and ultimately the presidency. During this cycle, Babangida (or “IBB,” as he is sometimes called) has also taken steps to run. A few weeks ago, the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the Northern “consensus candidate,” who will run for the PDP nomination against President Goodluck Jonathan (a Southerner), seemed to put an end to Babangida’s candidacy. Now, however, Babangida may leave the PDP, a decision that could complicate the electoral picture in Nigeria and widen the political split between North and South.

Babangida’s complaint to the PDP about North-South “zoning” issues is the source of speculation that he will quit the party. Here are his remarks:

The party’s constitution backs a “policy of rotation and zoning” of elective offices, which Babangida said means the presidency should alternate between the north and the Christian south. President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian, has said he will seek re-election.

“If the party has become so helpless in the face of these gross violations of its own constitution by its officers and its highest elected representative, then many of us shall have no alternative but to reconsider our continued membership,” Babangida said in a letter to Okwesilieze Nwodo, chairman of the party.

It is not clear what Babangida will do, but the rumors of his potential departure from the PDP are drawing a lot of attention, so much so that Babangida’s team issued a denial that he will abandon the Northern consensus. Rumors are saying that the opposition All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP) is courting Babangida.

In a further sign of intra-PDP tensions, the party’s National Legal Adviser fired back at Babangida over the zoning issue:

Chief Olusola Oke said: “Though he has not formally made the threat to the party, it will be petty for a man that has tasted power before as a head of state of this country to be seen as championing a sectional interest to the effect that he will abandon the PDP if a northerner failed to secure the presidential ticket of the party in the 2011 general elections.

“He is fully aware that the issue of zoning can only be determined at the national convention of the party; I wonder why he has decided to issue threats on the pages of the newspapers. I will not say that we are going to enlighten him; our first approach will be to convince him that this time around cannot be different from the other occasions.”

President Jonathan’s campaign reacted with even harsher language:

“Clutching at the straw of zoning seems attractive to a drowning man. But regional jingoism is unsuited for a man who once held the highest office in the land.

“IBB should learn to live with his changing political fortune and not further diminish himself by playing games which only political novices should play. If he wants to go to another party, he does not need to blackmail anyone to do so. He should just go. The PDP has taken a decision on zoning and rotation; IBB can either live with it or leave the party”.

This exchange interests me for two reasons, and prompts two questions.

First, if Babangida leaves the PDP and runs for the presidency on another ticket, that could split the North politically and damage Abubakar’s credibility as a consensus candidate within the PDP. A Babangida departure would probably diminish Abubakar’s chances of winning the nomination, and in the general election would siphon votes away from whatever Northern challenger looks strongest against Jonathan – for example, former President Muhammadu Buhari. My question: if Jonathan wins, how will a divided North feel about the election, and what consequences will that feeling have for national unity?

Second, the Jonathan campaign has confirmed its position – already implicit in his decision to run – that the North-South zoning issue should not determine who the PDP chooses as its presidential candidate. The tone of the Jonathan campaign’s reply to Babangida reflects the campaign’s confidence that it can win the argument about zoning and win the nomination for its candidate. Put differently, I do not think Jonathan fears either Babangida or Abubakar, and is willing to have major figures bolt from the party. My question: if Jonathan gets the PDP nomination, how much of his party will he keep together – and how much party unity does he need to prevail the general election?

We will have to stay tuned to see what Babangida does, but even his actions so far have raised a number of important issues for Nigeria.

Here is a CNN interview with Ibrahim Babangida from September, discussing Nigeria’s 1993 elections and his current candidacy:

Outlines of Nigerian Election Taking Shape

With around four and a half months to go, the details of Nigeria’s 2011 elections – and the central actors in the competition – are becoming clear.

Yesterday Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced dates for the elections: parliamentary elections will take place on April 2nd, the presidential contest on April 9th, and gubernatorial votes on April 16th. May 29th remains the date for the swearing-in ceremony of the president-elect, leaving Nigeria around seven weeks to resolve any irregularities, problems, or complaints stemming from the elections.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is also heading toward its nominating convention. What happens there will likely have a decisive impact on the general election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan faces significant opposition from within the PDP, especially from some Northern members who feel that because a Southerner (President Olusegun Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, Jonathan should step aside and let a Northerner complete the eight-year rotation begun by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

On Monday, Northern elites in the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) moved to defeat Jonathan and restore Northern primacy. The NPLF officially put forward former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its consensus candidate for the PDP primary. Abubakar hails from Adamawa State in Nigeria’s North East.

yola-bankroad

Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria

Different Nigerian outlets characterize the contest between Jonathan and Abubakar differently. For example, Vanguard depicts the country’s six “geopolitical zones” as somewhat evenly split between the two men, while the Nigerian Tribune argues that the support of powerful governors across the country for Jonathan means that “though politics is no Mathematics,  with all these, the fact that the North has a consensus candidate may not really negatively affect the chances of Jonathan at the primaries.” (I highly recommend both links if you want a zone-by-zone view of the contest.)

What many Nigerian media outlets agree on is that the PDP race is narrowing down to Jonathan and Abubakar. Other Northern political heavyweights such as former President Ibrahim Babangida have reportedly thrown their backing to Abubakar. If you believe, as I do, that the PDP’s nominee is the favorite to win the general election, then the pool for the general has shrunk considerably with the elimination of such PDP giants. And if you go the extra step of thinking, as I do again, that Jonathan will win the nomination, then trends still seem to favor him in the general.

Whatever one’s take on the PDP primaries, we have a lot more information about the elections than we did a week ago: a firm date, clearer electoral battle lines, and a stronger sense of what lies ahead. Now I will be looking out for when the PDP sets a date for its primaries, and for a sense of how opposition parties are planning their electoral strategies.

Goodluck Jonathan to Run in Nigeria’s 2011 Elections

The incumbent president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, announced on Wednesday that he will contest the January 2011 elections.

He made the announcement on his Facebook site, saying the decision had been taken “after wide and thorough consultations”.

Mr Jonathan, a southerner, became president in February after the death of Umaru Yar’Adua.

The governing party has previously said its candidate should be a northerner.

The president’s Facebook statement said he would make a formal declaration of his intention to stand for election on Saturday.

[...]

The announcement came as one of Mr Jonathan’s main rivals for the governing People’s Democratic Party’s nomination, former military leader Gen Ibrahim Babangida, launched his campaign.

Thousands of people gathered for his rally in the capital, Abuja.

Some coverage has made ado over the Facebook announcement, saying that Jonathan’s use of the medium “send[s] a message to Nigeria’s media that he will go around them, if he thinks by speaking directly he can get a fairer deal.” I think other readings are possible, including the one that Jonathan wanted to make his move in an attention-grabbing way that would favor no particular news outlet but would attract interest from all of them.

I had expected Jonathan to run, and now I suppose I should say that I expect him to win. I may well be wrong. And I have no firm idea what the repercussions of his victory would/will be, for the PDP, for North-South relations, and for Nigeria. Jonathan has considerable talents as a politician and now has some experience governing the nation under his belt, but his personal abilities matter less, in a sense, than what he and his candidacy represent to different people. A Jonathan win would elate some and crush others, which is true of every politician certainly but may be even more pronounced in this circumstance. Those reactions, for and against, will matter almost as much as the election results.