Nigeria’s State Elections Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Nigeria will hold state elections. Although the victory of Muhammadu Buhari in the presidential vote of March 28-29 has rightly attracted major attention, it is important not to forget about the state contests, which will have a significant impact on the lives of Nigerian citizens – recall that the populations of some Nigerian states (Lagos, Kano) exceed the populations of many entire African countries.

I’ll mention two pieces I’ve written that hopefully shed some light on state-level dynamics. My backgrounder (.pdf) on the elections, written for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, discusses Lagos, Kano, Plateau, and Rivers (pp. 12-15). A follow-up post for the Washington Post‘s Monkey Cage blog discusses Lagos, Kano, and Rivers. Both pieces were written before the six-week electoral delay announced in February, but I think much of the analysis still applies. At a basic level, the most important thing to highlight is that many of Nigeria’s governors are term-limited, so the races in many states are open and will produce new officeholders.

To narrow down my list of key states even further, I will be watching Lagos and Rivers the most carefully. Lagos is a stronghold of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Buhari’s party, and both the outgoing governor and his predecessor are major APC figures. I would be surprised if the APC, in the person of its nominee Akinwunmi Ambode, does not hold the state. Yet the race in Lagos recently had a moment of tension when the Oba of Lagos, a ceremonial hereditary ruler, reportedly made threatening comments regarding any Igbos who might not vote for the APC candidate (the Oba later denied the threat). Lagos is a historically Yoruba area, and Ambode (as well as many other APC leaders in southwestern Nigeria, and the Oba too for that matter) are Yoruba. Ambode distanced himself from the Oba’s comments. The Yoruba and the Igbo are, respectively, the second and third largest ethnic groups in Nigeria. The point is this: just as Buhari is now expected to negotiate a politics of inclusivity as Nigeria’s incoming president, the victor in Lagos will face pressure to show inclusivity in a mega-city populated heavily by immigrants.

Rivers currently has an APC governor, Rotimi Amaechi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, the party of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2013. Amaechi is term-limited, and the gubernatorial election will in some sense represent a contest of wills and resources between Amaechi and Jonathan’s wife Patience, who is also from Rivers. There is significant potential for violence in Rivers. During the presidential vote, Rivers was the site of protests by the APC, which alleged that the PDP had committed massive fraud. Electoral authorities, however, accepted the result from Rivers, which like the rest of the South South and South East zones voted overwhelmingly for Jonathan according to official results. The APC has asked for the removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Rivers, charging that she will not administer the gubernatorial election there fairly. Rivers heads into the weekend, in other words, facing considerable tension.

Which states are you watching?

On Gao, MUJWA, and the ICRC

On March 30, a driver for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was fatally shot outside Gao, northern Mali. The attack was quickly claimed (French) by the Movement for Unity/Tawhid and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA, or MUJAO in French). MUJWA, an offshoot of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb, was a key participant in the jihadist takeover of northern Mali in 2012-2013. MUJWA and other jihadists have continued to trouble Mali since the French-led military intervention swept the jihadists out of power – though not entirely out of Mali – in 2013. MUJWA was a dominant player in Gao during 2012-2013.

One immediate effect of the killing will be a partial withdrawal by the ICRC. In a statement, the ICRC expressed concern over “the rise in violence against humanitarian workers, which is preventing them from coming to the aid of individuals and communities in dire need.” The humanitarian group has now suspended travel (French) in the north. The chilling effect of violence on relief operations is bad news for Mali, particularly for the approximately 100,000 Malians who remain internally displaced.

The attack also calls attention to MUJWA’s complicated trajectory. Since 2013, some fighters from MUJWA have joined the al-Murabitun network, named for an eleventh-century northwest African Islamic empire (al-Murabitun recently claimed an attack on a nightclub in Mali’s capital Bamako). Others have joined the Arab Movement of the Azawad (French), one of the non-jihadist northern rebel movements opposed to the national government but participating in intermittent peace talks. As the former MUJWA fighter interviewed at the link explains, some northern Malian Arabs looked to MUJWA to protect them from the Tuareg rebel group the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, another key northern rebel faction but an enemy of the Arab Movement of the Azawad. The point is not only the astounding complexity of the landscape of armed groups in northern Mali (which there are many experts who can explain better than I can), but also the way in which so many of the major actors from 2012-2013 are still influential, albeit often in different ways and venues than before.

Ten Thoughts on Nigerian President-Elect Buhari’s Victory

Nigeria held national elections over the weekend. As results came through over the past few days, it became clear that General Muhammadu Buhari had defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. The incumbent formally conceded yesterday. I have a few thoughts:

  1. This is a good outcome. It marks the first transfer of power from one civilian party to another at the national level in Nigeria. It strengthens the reputation and credibility of national institutions, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, at a time when many Nigerians and international audiences were nervous about the possibility of manipulation, fraud, and violence. I will also say forthrightly that I think Buhari and his team will do a better job than Jonathan and his circle. Nigeria’s problems are not all Jonathan’s fault, but for most of his time in office the key problems (Boko Haram, corruption, inequality) worsened. Buhari is not perfect, but I think the sophistication his team showed on the campaign trail suggests a higher level of competence than was seen under Jonathan.
  2. This outcome surprised me. For over a year, I’ve been telling people in private that I thought the power of incumbency would allow Jonathan’s circle to ensure that they won, including through manipulation. I also thought that Buhari’s reputation as an anti-corruption fighter would make Nigerian elites broadly nervous about the idea of him coming to power, and that enough of them would cling to Jonathan that it would prevent a Buhari victory. About a month ago my tune changed to uncertainty about what would happen, but I certainly did not foresee a clear and mostly peaceful victory for Buhari. I underestimated the strength of Nigeria’s institutions and the determination of the country’s voters. Also, credit where credit is due: various voices predicted a Buhari win, with varying degrees of accuracy in terms of state-by-state forecasts – see New Africa MagazineEurasia Group, and Damina Advisors.
  3. For Buhari, the map and the strategy changed from 2011 to 2015 – it’s not just “north versus south.” Compare the maps from 2011 (when Jonathan also faced Buhari) and 2015. It’s clear that this time Buhari put together a mostly national coalition, or perhaps became the face of a coalition that harnessed his personal popularity, or perhaps both. In any case, what put Buhari in contention was the support he had from influential politicians in the southwest, symbolized by his running mate Yemi Osinbajo and personified by his party’s informal leader, former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. Southwestern politicians provided not just the votes, but also much of the new strategic thinking that helped Buhari appear to the nation and the world as a candidate ready for prime-time and the big chair (one example of a strategic decision was when his party, the All Progressives Congress or APC, declined to violently protest the six-week postponement of the elections). For his part, Jonathan was unsuccessful in making backroom deals that would restore the southwest to his column. And if the southwest put Buhari in contention, it was the “Middle Belt” or North Central zone that helped put him over the top – winning places like Kwara, Kogi, and Benue testifies both to Jonathan’s unpopularity and to the APC’s success in uniting the opposition and extending its reach into new areas of the country.
  4. Boko Haram was one issue in the election, but not the only issue. Most important, in addition to the opposition’s coalition-building, was Buhari’s image as an anti-corruption reformer. Many Nigerians say that corruption is the core problem in their country, underlying all others – even the problem of Boko Haram, insofar as corruption hamstrings the armed forces and helps provide Boko Haram with talking points. One test for Buhari will be whether he lives up to that image. He will have to strike a delicate balance between showing progress and not alienating necessary allies – so many people have a vested interest in the current system of corruption that it will take creativity and courage to chart a viable path forward on this issue.
  5. Boko Haram’s violence is not as closely calibrated to the political calendar as many people think, nor does the group show evidence of being able to think and plan at a national level. There were some attacks during the voting this year, notably in Bauchi, but they did not severely disrupt the elections. If I were Abubakar Shekau, I would have organized coordinated bombings in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Jos, and Maiduguri on election day – a move that I think would have dominated headlines and thrown many voters into a panic. Perhaps Shekau was capable of doing something like that but chose not to, opting to save resources for a later time or to avoid the unpredictable consequences that such attacks could have had for the elections. But to me the lack of well-coordinated and far-reaching attacks on election day suggests that (a) Boko Haram is neither as strong nor as sophisticated as many people think; (b) Boko Haram is and has long been an essentially northeastern group with a limited ability to strike outside that zone; and (c) Boko Haram is under severe pressure from Chadian, Nigerien, and Nigerian forces. It’s also worth recalling that despite all Boko Haram’s talk about hating democracy, the group has never tightly linked its actions to the political calendar. In 2011, for example, it concentrated on assassinating northeastern politicians associated with a former political ally. In general, Boko Haram’s attacks follow a particular logic – one driven by the group’s need to survive and its ambitions to rule the northeast. On the other hand, Boko Haram’s attacks became much more dramatic after the 2011 elections. What they will do now remains to be seen.
  6. One major question will be to what extent Buhari’s party, the APC, can bring a coherent economic vision to federal policymaking, particularly in a period of low oil prices. Two sub-questions are: (a) to what extent will southwestern APC politicians seek to replicate the model they have built in Lagos, where they have emphasized tax collection and service delivery over reliance on oil rents? and (b) to what extent will Buhari seek to implement the policies outlined by Tinubu here, where he talked about running deficits to finance job-creating infrastructure projects? In my view, both moves would be good. If the APC doesn’t create jobs, it will be in big trouble politically.
  7. Buhari’s win testifies to the importance of patience for African opposition candidates. Buhari’s victory reminds many observers of Abdoulaye Wade’s victory over Abdou Diouf in the Senegalese alternance of 2000. Wade ran unsuccessfully against Diouf (and his predecessor Leopold Senghor) four times before he won on the fifth attempt, just as Buhari unsuccessfully ran three times against the People’s Democratic Party (Jonathan’s party, which has ruled Nigeria since the civilian transition of 1999) before winning on his fourth attempt. The message to other African opposition leaders seems clear: you have to build support over multiple elections and outlast the ruling party until popular discontent leaves the incumbents no choice but to bow to the will of the voters.
  8. More mathematically-inclined minds than my own will be poring over the numbers and will have more sophisticated comments to make, but already there has been some speculation about whether the 2015 results call into question any of the 2011 results. 2011 was hailed as one of the best elections Nigeria ever had, but there are questions about the integrity of the numbers, especially high turnout and high Jonathan margins in the South East and the South South (Jonathan is from the latter zone). In any case it seems 2015 was an improvement over 2011 in terms of transparency and integrity.
  9. There is a generation of Nigerian men, born in the 1930s and 1940s, who have decisively shaped Nigeria’s postcolonial trajectory. They include Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, T.Y. Danjuma, and Buhari. Buhari’s win reflects the continued influence of that generation, but this decade may be the last where they are still so prominent. The 2020s will likely see the torch decisively passed to a new generation of politicians who did not serve in the military and were born after, or just shortly before, independence.
  10. Don’t forget that state elections are coming up on April 11. The outcomes of those elections will matter tremendously for Nigeria, and will shape the political futures of major states (Lagos, Kano, Rivers, etc.) whose populations sometimes exceed those of many entire African countries.

What do you think of the elections?

Five Recommendations to the USG on Engaging the Buhari Administration

Yesterday, after a hard-fought election, Nigerian President Gooduck Jonathan conceded to General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military and four-time presidential candidate. Buhari will take office May 29. His party is the All Progressives Congress or APC.

Nigeria is by many measures (population, economy, cultural production, etc.) the most important country in Africa, and it is a key partner for the United States. Under Jonathan, the U.S.-Nigeria relationship has been strained at times. Buhari’s presidency will offer an opportunity for a fresh start.

The issues the two countries can work on together are obvious – countering Boko Haram, strengthening democratic institutions and economic development, etc. But just as important as the substance of the partnership will be its form. Jonathan often seemed isolated behind a wall of sycophants, which made him difficult to reach – not that the U.S. has major leverage over Nigeria in any event, but it’s even harder to have influence when you don’t have a strong relationship. Here are a few basic suggestions about how to get off on the right foot with Buhari and his administration:

  1. Treat Buhari as an equal. Don’t start the conversation with a list of “asks” or “advice” that are in reality just demands. Talk to Buhari the way you would expect a foreign leader to talk to the United States. Send someone very senior (cabinet rank at least) to his inauguration. And President Obama should visit Nigeria at some point in 2015 or 2016. In light of this election and this historic transition, the old justifications for not visiting (worries about seeming to endorse the incumbent, tolerate corruption, etc.) no longer seem strong enough to warrant ignoring Nigeria.
  2. Engage Vice President-elect Yemi Osinbajo early and often. Buhari’s allies in the South West played a major role in his election – perhaps even making the difference between 2011 and 2015. Osinbajo will be that southwestern cohort’s most senior formal representative in Buhari’s government. As an accomplished politician in his own right (he was Lagos Attorney General from 1999-2007) and an influential Christian leader, he will likely play a stronger role in Buhari’s government than outgoing Vice President Namadi Sambo played in Jonathan’s. If I were a US policymaker, I would figure out what issues Osinbajo cares about and stay in touch with him about them. In other words, don’t just call him when you have an ask – cultivate a real relationship, and not just an ad hoc one managed by the Embassy in Abuja. A congratulatory phone call from Vice President Biden would be a good way to start.
  3. Keep in close touch with Bola Tinubu. If Osinbajo is the southwest’s formal representative in the next government, former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu was the campaign’s mastermind and will likely remain the APC’s informal leader. As such, he will likely have an influential voice in shaping the government’s decisions, especially with an eye to politics and 2019. This relationship, too, is worth cultivating and maintaining. A quarterly call from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield to Tinubu would give Washington a strong line to the new administration’s political nerve center.
  4. Bring all the governors to Washington. It’s not just about engaging the federal government – sub-national actors, especially state governors, are hugely influential in Nigeria, including on security and development issues. In March 2014, the U.S. Institute of Peace brought most of the northern Nigerian state governors to Washington for a symposium and for meetings around town, including with National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Given that many of the governors elected on April 11 will be new faces (due to term limits), it would be wise to repeat the endeavor, and this time by inviting all thirty-six governors.
  5. Continue to think long-term about Boko Haram. The final weeks of the presidential campaign saw some military progress against Boko Haram, although the effort was marred by the murky quality of some information (making it unclear whether some towns had really been recaptured or not) and by the complaints of Nigeria’s neighbors that Nigerian forces were not coordinating with them effectively. Hopefully Jonathan will sustain the gains and improve the regional coordination in his final weeks in office, and then Buhari will consolidate the progress and address any remaining problems of coordination after he is inaugurated. Even in this best case scenario, however, long-term challenges will remain: preventing Boko Haram from regrouping, prosecuting and/or reintegrating its fighters, holding security forces accountable for abuses, addressing joblessness and underdevelopment in the northeast, etc. There is even a danger that a moment of euphoria over recapturing territory could divert attention away from these long-term issues and encourage a premature declaration of victory. Washington should give the new administration time to breathe, but should from time to time respectfully remind them that the goal is not just to defeat Boko Haram, but also to prevent it – or anything like it – from re-emerging in the years to come. As I said above, though, a conversation like that can only happen if deep relationships are cultivated from the start.

Three Perspectives on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria will hold presidential elections on Saturday, pitting incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against former military ruler and four-time opposition candidate General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Here are three perspectives on the election – one from a Nigerian analyst, one from the Jonathan campaign, and one from APC.

  • Zainab Usman: “A changing demographic – 70% of the over 170 million Nigerians are under the age of 30 – has laid bare the ruling party’s dismal record in economic and human development. After more than a decade of sustained economic growth, the number of people living under $1.25 a day poverty line according to World Bank figures, hardly budged from 61.8% in 2004 to 62% in 2010. The PDP’s intimidation of party members, elections manipulation and militaristic political culture are also becoming obsolete…It is within this context that the APC emerged as an alternative platform for reconciling competing elite interests, and whose victory would herald the most unprecedented generational power shift in Nigeria since the civil war in the 1960s. Paradoxically the very forces that give the APC its best shot of unseating the PDP undermine its populist-progressive credentials. Key members including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the defacto leader of South-West politics Bola Tinubu are beneficiaries of the current system. To cap it all, the APC’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari was a military ruler in the 1980s.”
  • Former Governor Peter Obi, currently Deputy Director-General of Jonathan’s campaign: “Clearly, President Jonathan has achieved more in economic develop­ment than any of his predecessors. All sectors have been positively affected since 2011, when he came into of­fice. The rebasing of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product ranked the nation’s economy 1st in Africa and 26th glob­ally; from third and 46th respectively. It also showed that the economy has been more widely diversified than before. It will bear repetition to be reminded that Nigeria successfully hosted a World Economic Forum in 2014, Foreign Di­rect Investments were boosted from US$24.9 million as at 2007 to over US$35 billion by 2014; and virtually all quoted companies doubled in size, assets and profit. The marvels in the road sector show that the Jonathan ad­ministration has rendered over 25,000 kilometres of federal road motorable, from barely 5,000 kilometres as at 2011; work is on-going for a second bridge over the River Niger and on the Loko-Oweto Bridge over River Benue; Onitsha now has a port and the dredg­ing of the River Niger is opening up our inland waterways; Nigerian Railways has been resuscitated from a 30-year-old coma, with over 3,500 kilometres of lines now operational. In the meantime, 22 airports have been remodelled to meet international standards. He is si­multaneously constructing five interna­tional terminals, as has never witnessed anywhere in the world, in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu.”
  • Outgoing Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (APC): “As far as roads are concerned, and they are critical to the economic development and prosperity of our people for the movement of people, goods and services, the record of performance offered by the Federal Government is that they have constructed 25,000 kilometers of road. How true that is, is to be measured by the complaints of PDP Governors themselves, who say Federal roads in their States have been neglected. How bogus this is, is the realization that the distance between Lagos and London is approximately 5,025 kilometers. Has the PDP Federal Government constructed roads that go the distance of Lagos to London five times? Is it possible to do this by a Government that has never had a capital budget of up to 40% in 6 six years?”

Chad: A Snapshot of Intra-Muslim Tensions Around Boko Haram

A brief report from a Chadian online source caught my eye yesterday. It relates (French) how a prominent Chadian Muslim shaykh “opened fire on the Wahhabis whom he branded Boko Haram members, even terrorists.” This incident occurs in a context where Chadian forces are fighting Boko Haram, including inside Nigerian territory (read about Chad’s latest advance here [French]). The shaykh’s equation of “Wahhabis” with Boko Haram raises questions about how Boko Haram’s violence and Chad’s involvement could affect intra-Muslim relations inside Chad – an overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The Chadian shaykh in question is Shaykh Hassan Hissene, better known as Shaykh Husayn Hasan Abakar. He serves as president of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Chad, a state-sponsored body that regulates some religious and educational matters in the country. Similar councils exist or have existed in other Sahelian countries.

Abakar has been called one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, and is a signatory to the Amman Message, a 2004 declaration calling for Muslim unity and tolerance. He is thus a respected figure in Chad and around the world. He has paid particular attention to questions of extremism in Chad; in a 2010 interview (Arabic) with an Egyptian newspaper, he said, “These extremists and zealots don’t appear in a country except through negligence and in the absence of rigorous rules, or when they incorrectly use the freedoms provided. Chad, thanks to Allah, works to prevent the spread of the factors that lead to the appearance of such elements.”

His accusations against other Chadian Muslims have drawn hostility and charges that Abakar plays sectarian and partisan politics (the Council is seen as favoring the Tijaniyya Sufi order, a widespread order in West and Sahelian Africa). Critics (French) in the Chadian online press have called Abakar a stooge of President Idriss Deby, a “hysterical mullah of the MPS [the Patriotic Salvation Movement, Deby’s party].” The piece that triggered this blog post takes a similarly critical tone and suggests that Abakar is using this moment of tension around Boko Haram to “settle his scores” with movements like Ansar al-Sunna, a Salafi organization with branches in Egypt, Sudan, and Chad. (Find one snapshot of the Chadian Ansar al-Sunna in Arabic here.)

It’s important to point out that just because an organization is Salafi does not mean it would support a movement like Boko Haram – there are Salafis around the world who vehemently reject jihadism. Indeed, the most prominent Nigerian Salafis have condemned Boko Haram. Moreover, Ansar al-Sunna is widely considered to represent a quietist form of Salafism. Given that, it will be important to see how Abakar’s accusations play out in Chad, and how the Salafi movement there responds to charges that it is linked to Boko Haram. In any case, this incident sheds light on rhetorical struggles that are playing out far from the battlefield.