Nigeria: Boko Haram Continues to Increase Range and Sophistication of Attacks

Last week, Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement claimed responsibility for a bombing at the police headquarters in the capital Abuja. Boko Haram has struck outside of its base in the Northeast before, but the Abuja bombing and other recent attacks have shown that the group is expanding its geographical range and increasing the sophistication of its attacks, sometimes coordinating multiple strikes at once.

Another example of these trends came yesterday in Katsina State, which is slightly west of the center of Nigeria’s upper North (map), and a fair distance from Boko Haram’s stronghold of Borno State (map). Accounts of the attack vary slightly, but here is AFP’s report:

Suspected members of the radical Boko Haram Islamist sect on Monday staged simultaneous bomb and gun attacks on a police station and a bank killing seven people, witnesses and local journalists said.

The dead included five policemen, witnesses said, in an attack coming just four days after the sect bombed the country’s police headquarters in the capital Abuja killing at least two.

A gang of 10 gunmen launched the two attacks on a police station and a bank in Kankara town, 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of the northern city of Katsina.

AFP’s whole piece is worth reading for a sense of Boko Haram’s tactics.

This attack follows threats by Boko Haram to stage attacks throughout the North and indeed throughout the country. The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau proposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.

Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.

Quick Guide to Nigeria’s Elections

Starting tomorrow, Nigeria will hold a series of three votes to choose members of the National Assembly (April 2), the president (April 9), and state governors and members of state assemblies (April 16). For Nigeria’s domestic politics and for the country’s international reputation, the integrity of the electoral process will be almost as important as the outcome itself. This post gives some basic information that will help non-specialists understand what they are seeing. For the history of elections in postcolonial Nigeria, see this timeline by Reuters.

Nigeria is home to over sixty political parties, but most commentary has focused on four parties: the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP), and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). While the PDP dominates nationally, the other three have pronounced regional bases: the ACN in the South West, the ANPP in Kano State and the North East, and the CPC in the North West and parts of the North East.

Parliamentary elections tomorrow will select members of the Senate (109 seats, three for each of Nigeria’s 36 states and one for the Federal Capital Territory) and the House of Representatives (360 seats, apportioned in the states based on population). Senators and Representatives serve four-year terms, with Representatives limited to two terms (Senators may serve more). The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) currently has a majority in both houses. The National Assembly’s website is here. I do not have a prediction, but some analysts forecast that the PDP will lose seats: Business Day examines the political map and comes to that conclusion in this article.

Presidential elections on April 9 will pit incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against three main challengers: former anti-corruption official Nuhu Ribadu (ACN; home state: Adamawa), former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari (CPC; home state: Kastina), and outgoing Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (ANPP; home state: Kano). If no candidate secures the requisite majority on April 9 (a majority of the votes in addition to at least one-quarter of the vote in at least two-thirds of the states), then the elections will go to a run-off. Polling, for what it is worth, has shown a lead for Jonathan. PDP leaders have expressed optimism that Jonathan will win the first round. Opposition candidates, however, hope to make major inroads into Jonathan’s share of the vote and potentially force a run-off. Here are profiles for Jonathan, Ribadu, Buhari, and Shekarau.

Gubernatorial and state elections on April 16 will determine which parties control Nigeria’s 36 states. Currently, according to what I can determine, the PDP has 26 governorships, the ACN 4, the ANPP 3, and other parties 3. The CPC, formed after the 2007 elections, does not hold state or local seats now, but the balance in the states could shift toward the opposition parties, including the CPC. That picture would accord with analysts’ predictions that Jonathan will win the presidential election but that the PDP will lose some seats nationally and in the states.

As I wrote above, the integrity of the elections will matter a great deal. The last elections, held in 2007, provoked worldwide outcry due to violence and allegations of massive fraud (more here and here). This time, world leaders, including the Obama administration, have placed pressure on Nigeria to ensure a safe and credible vote. Jonathan has entreated the entire nation to help keep the elections peaceful, and has paid special visits to religious leaders to enlist their aid in this effort. Nigerian troops are deploying to supervise the voting, a move that has been read on different sides of the political divide as either a positive measure or as a form of intimidation by the regime. Accusations of rigging are already sounding out, both from opposition parties and from the PDP. Still, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has won many voters’ trust and some international respect over the last year, and may play a strong part in minimizing problems.

I will be following the elections here and on Twitter, and there are a number of other sources you may find useful: Reuters Africa, BBC Africa, VOA Africa, 234 Next, Vanguard, and Amb. John Campbell’s blog. Let us know in the comments if you have questions, comments, predictions, or recommendations for sources.

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?