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:

Nigerian Courts Overturn Elections in Ekiti and Delta States

Nigeria’s national elections in 2007 were considered deeply flawed by most international observers. The contest was not an election, former US Ambassador John Campbell said afterward, but an “election-like event.” Observers alleged fraud not only in the presidential results, but also in the results of state elections around the country. The shadow of 2007 looms over next year’s elections, which President Goodluck Jonathan has promised will be free and fair.

Cases attempting to resolve allegations from 2007 have worked their way through Nigerian courts for the last three years. Two concluded in the last month, and in both instances courts overturned the elections of sitting governors from the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in favor of opposition challengers. These outcomes, the latest in a string of approximately a dozen overturned PDP victories, testify both to the problems Nigerian democracy has (how did the system deny seats to rightful winners for three years?) and to a potential for accountability in Nigeria that is rare in today’s world.

The first of the two cases occurred in Ekiti State in Nigeria’s south west. On October 15th, a court installed Kayode Fayemi of the Action Congress of Nigeria as governor, annulling the election of his rival Segun Oni of the PDP. As I said above, this is not the first time a court has overturned a gubernatorial election since 2007, but it is one of the most significant legal defeats for the PDP since President Jonathan took over earlier this year. For this reason, and because it comes so close to next year’s presidential election, Fayemi’s victory has special significance. Professor Richard Joseph explains:

[One] important sign that Jonathan’s promise of electoral fairness is being heeded was the October 15 decision of a panel of Appeals Court judges that Dr. Kayode Fayemi was the duly elected governor of Ekiti State in southwest Nigeria. Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party had been responsible for invidious acts perpetrated to block Fayemi at every turn. Fayemi was promptly inaugurated as governor on October 16 to begin a four-year term, thereby joining “progressive” governors in two neighboring states, Ondo and Edo, who also “retrieved” their mandate thanks to judicial action. Some of the tendrils of developmental governance in Nigeria are acquiring sturdy roots and stalks.

The second of the two cases I am discussing here concluded just yesterday in Delta State, where a court “nullified the election of Delta state governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, a member of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) whose term had been due to end next May, and ordered a fresh vote within 90 days.” Uduaghan may win the re-run, as other ousted PDP governors have, but the nullification reinforces the message courts are sending: the law applies to all parties equally.

Many observers of these decisions have mixed, or even negative, feelings about them. Reuters in its articles on Ekiti and Delta emphasizes the doubts these rulings cast on the integrity of the 2007 elections and the potential credibility of the vote in 2011. An editorial in the Nigerian newspaper 234 Next argues that the election re-run in Delta could decrease, rather than increase, accountability:

By only now getting around to pronouncing on the legality of that election, after Mr. Uduaghan had occupied the post nearly all of the four years allowed by the constitution, proves the adage that justice delayed is most certainly justice denied.

Unlike in other states, such as Edo and, most recently, Ekiti, where other candidates were declared the rightful winners, Mr. Uduaghan is free to run for governor all over again, as if his three and a half years never happened. In effect, Mr. Uduaghan could quite possible preside over the affairs of that benighted state for three terms, for a total of 11 years and 6 months. Where is the justice?

These points are valid. But the nullifications still represent a remarkable and rare legal decision. Many electoral outcomes around the world are disputed every year; few are overturned by courts. In the United States, for example, when courts intervene in elections it is usually to settle them – typically in favor of the projected or announced winner – and not to overturn them. Rarer still is the idea that an election could be overturned long after it occurred. Tragic it may be that a rightful winner waits a long time to take his or her seat, but is it a bad thing that the door to a legal challenge can remain open for years?

The decisions in Ekiti and Delta States highlight the ongoing problems resulting from the 2007 elections in Nigeria. But they also suggest that an independent judiciary is attempting to hold politicians accountable, however long it may take.

Saturday Africa Links: Flintlock 10, Hizbul Islam Split, Nile Controversies

Christian Science Monitor discusses AFRICOM’s Flintlock 10 training exercise in the Sahel:

At one time, a military exercise like Operation Flintlock – which is now in its fifth year – would have set African opinion-page columns aflame and set a fair number of African politicians pounding on tables with their shoes. Some African nations worried that the newly announced but vaguely defined Africa Command (AFRICOM) of the US Army would herald a new colonial presence in Africa, complete with permanent military bases and political interference.

But today, AFRICOM’s military exercises often pass with little notice, and increasingly with the support of African leaders. In part, this is because African leaders now see a common threat: armed violent groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which have carried out a series of murders and kidnappings from Mauritania to Algeria to Niger and threaten to topple any government that dares confront them.

AQIM might have brought a change in attitudes. Or maybe the passage of time has softened criticism. More on Flintlock 10 here and here.

Speaking of AQIM, they’ve abducted another Frenchman in northern Niger.

One of Somalia’s two main Islamist rebel groups, Hizbul Islam, is facing a schism:

An influential splinter group has officially cut it ties with the Somalia’s militant, Hizbul Islam, vowing to wage war against rival Islamist group.

Abdiaziz Hassan Abdi, a spokesman for the Ras Kamboni faction, says senior faction members including Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Islam ‘Madobe have decided to formally walk out of Hizbul Islam.

I’ll try and write a full post on this next week. I would love to hear any insights from readers.

The UN to hold a conference on Somalia. Meanwhile, IRIN updates us on the economic effects of the pirates’ departure from Harardheere. (Can we standardize the spelling of this town? Is it Haradhere, Harardhere, Harardheere, or Xharadhere, or something else?)

Vincent Ogbulafor, chairman of Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party, will resign next month.

The AP profiles Juba, South Sudan.

US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration’s testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Food shortages in Burkina Faso affect livestock as well as people, producing a cycle of loss.

Controversy continues around a water-sharing agreement in Nile Basin countries. More here, and below is a video from Al Jazeera English:

Goodluck Jonathan Picks Namadi Sambo as Vice President

Since Goodluck Jonathan became official president of Nigeria, observers have speculated about who he would choose as his new vice president. Yesterday we learned the choice: Namadi Sambo, who was elected governor of Kaduna State in the North in 2007.

Kaduna, Nigeria

Mr Sambo, 57, must now be approved by both houses of parliament.

[...]

Whoever is named as vice-president is seen as a strong contender for the 2011 presidential elections in Africa’s most populous nation, analysts say.

[...]

The BBC’s Caroline Duffield in Lagos says Mr Sambo is not a prominent politician, does not have a big power base and his name did not figure in public speculation about likely vice-presidents.

But she says he is likely to be confirmed by the Senate, which is expected to meet later on Thursday.

Married with six children, he is a qualified architect who became governor in 2007.

He is an ally of former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, who recently said he would seek to contest the elections, our correspondent says.

She says he has taken security very seriously since becoming Kaduna governor.

Some analysts say he may have been chosen because he would not pose a threat to President Jonathan.

Jonathan has not yet announced a run, though close advisers say he will be a candidate. Based on what people are saying about Sambo, it seems Jonathan has left that route open. Will the choice of a Northerner for vice president reassure leaders in the region that Jonathan is taking their interests into account? Or would a presidential run by Jonathan cause some Northern politicians to split away from the ruling party regardless? And what of Sambo’s ties to Babangida – how does this affect the retired general’s campaign for the presidency? Questions galore, but with the major elements of the transition from Yar’Adua to Jonathan concluded we have much more information than we did a week ago.

Nigeria: Goodluck Jonathan to Run in 2011 Elections?

Yesterday, news outlets quoted an aide to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan who said that Jonathan will likely run in Nigeria’s 2011 presidential elections. If he does, that decision would disrupt the understanding within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) that the eight years of Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency were a “turn” for the South and that the two terms extending from 2007 to 2015 should be a “turn” for the North. Indeed, much speculation recently has focused on the questions of who that Northern candidate will be and whether Jonathan’s upcoming selection of a new vice president will in fact be a selection of that candidate. If Jonathan enters the race himself, it could widen existing rifts within the PDP and intensify the competition for votes.

Reuters (linked above) has more on the vice presidency speculation:

A presidency source told Reuters on Wednesday the National Assembly had written to Jonathan endorsing Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor of the northern state of Kaduna, as its preferred candidate for the job.

“(Makarfi) is from the north-west, which is the zone the late president came from, which is where it has been agreed that the vice president should emerge from,” the source said.

“The president has already finished consultations on the matter and … his letter to the National Assembly containing the name of his nominee … may leave to the legislature today.”

Makarfi had been seen as a potential presidential candidate ahead of the 2007 polls, until Yar’Adua emerged as the PDP’s favoured choice from the north-west.

The BBC gives more details about how behind-the-scenes politics is already shaping the presidential race:

Mr Obasanjo [who was instrumental in arranging the late President Umaru Yar'Adua's nomination in 2007 - Alex] is said to be making a play to get the party to accept Mr Jonathan as their next candidate, but he is opposed by other factions in the PDP.

To settle the argument, a big political player will have to emerge and placate all the factions in order to find what is called a “consensus candidate”.

Whoever this kingmaker is, he will have to have very deep pockets, or make promises which the eventual candidate will have to stick by.

One of the tasks Mr Jonathan set himself when he became acting president in February was to push through electoral reform that would see elections brought forward by four months to January.

This makes the probable date of the PDP convention around mid-September, just four months away.

The one thing that Nigerians can be certain of is that the real election for president is happening right now.

Some helpful background on the PDP’s internal issues here, though the tone of the article is somewhat condescending.

If I were advising Jonathan (which would probably be a bad idea!), I would have told him to wait until 2015 to run. Theoretically, if the rotational principle holds, a grateful North might have been willing, even eager, to support the man who let the North have their full “turn.” But there are definitely incentives for Jonathan to run now, if he wants the presidency – four years is a long time in politics anywhere, and by 2015 an ex-President Jonathan might be eclipsed by other political figures. A professor of mine compared the situation to Obama’s in 2006: people told him to wait, but he saw his moment and seized it. Perhaps Jonathan is doing the same. Still, running now brings major risks too, including the risk that PDP rifts will become permanent schisms. Those schisms could, in turn, render the outcome of 2011 a lot less certain (the PDP never got less than 60% of the official vote in 1999, 2003, and 2007).

It’s going to be a dynamic campaign in Nigeria, that’s for sure.

Al Jazeera looks at the reaction to Jonathan’s ascension to the presidency in his home state of Bayelsa.