Nigeria: Notes on the Ekiti and Osun Gubernatorial Elections

Two southwestern Nigerian states, Ekiti and Osun, hold gubernatorial elections at a critical point in the political calendar, namely some 6-9 months before presidential, legislative, and (most – 30 of 36) gubernatorial elections. Ekiti and Osun are not the only states to hold off-cycle gubernatorial elections, as various court cases, re-run elections, impeachments, and other factors have moved six states’ gubernatorial elections from the main, four-year political cycle to their own, four-year cycles. Ekiti and Osun have become particularly important since 2014 because of the political shift that occurred in Nigeria from approximately 2013-2015 after the formation of the All Progressives Congress (APC), whose presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari won election in 2015 (after running three times previously under other parties’ banners) and then won re-election in 2019. The APC is in crude terms a coalition between the north and the southwest. Political parties’ performance – i.e., the performance of the APC and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP, which held the presidency 1999-2015 and is now Nigeria’s main opposition party) – in the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections can give some indication of where the southwest might go in the presidential elections the following year.

Despite all that, I wouldn’t call Ekiti and Osun “bellwether” states – I’m not sure such a thing exists in Nigeria. The gubernatorial results do tend to roughly presage the presidential results in those particular states, though, whether because the gubernatorial results reflect the voters’ feelings about the parties overall, or because incumbents can assist in tipping elections to make sure their party’s presidential candidate wins.

In 2014, an APC incumbent lost Ekiti while another APC incumbent held Osun. Buhari went on to lose Ekiti and win Osun in the 2015 presidential elections.

In 2018, an APC challenger (and former governor) took Ekiti back from the PDP, although he won by fewer than 20,000 votes out of over 400,000 cast. Meanwhile, the APC held Osun, but after a tumultuous and hotly contested process that saw a re-run election after the initial outcome, a PDP victory, was tossed out. The following year, Buhari won both Ekiti and Osun, although his margin in Osun was very small, roughly 10,000 votes.

In 2022, the Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections both concluded recently – Ekiti on June 18 and Osun on July 16. In Ekiti, the APC candidate won ( Abiodun Oyebanji, who now succeeds term-limited APC Governor Kayode Fayemi) with 53% of the vote as the PDP and another party, the Social Democratic Party, split the rest of the vote – the Social Democrats actually placed second. In Osun, the 2022 election was a rematch of the 2018 election, but with a different outcome – this time, the PDP’s Ademola Adeleke defeated incumbent APC Governor Gboyega Oyetola.

The Ekiti and Osun elections also offer, each cycle, some idea of how Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is performing. You can read a laudatory take on INEC’s performance in Ekiti here. The author notes, “For the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria, INEC  transmitted results electronically, and the Ekiti election was the first to be conducted after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Electoral Act 2022 into law.” The same author has written a separate analysis of the Osun election and the APC’s loss, attributing it to tensions between Oyetola and his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola, as well as to “the pain of the 2018 Osun governorship election – many still believe Adeleke was robbed of his mandate during the last election in the state.”

In any case, if the pattern from 2014-2015 and 2018-2019 holds, the APC and its presidential candidate, the veteran southwestern politician Bola Tinubu, could expect to win Ekiti but not Osun. More broadly, the APC does not have to sweep the southwest to win the entire election, but it does have win big there and in the north, in my view, to win its third presidential election in a row. The rivalry between Oyetola and Aregbesola is just one small example of how many personalities, interests, and decisions Tinubu will have to juggle in the coming months.

Some Thoughts on Blasphemy and Anti-Blasphemy Violence – for Foreign Exchanges

At Derek Davison’s Foreign Exchanges, I wrote last week about “the politics of blasphemy” (that’s also the title of the piece. I found the topic extremely hard to write about with the delicacy it merits, given that I neither want to excuse violence against innocents nor do I want to play into Islamophobia. The piece takes recent violence in Nigeria as a point of departure but also touches on incidents from Mauritania, Sudan, and elsewhere.

Nigeria: The Two Major Parties’ Presidential Candidates Face Off for the Next Eight Months

Nigeria will hold an open presidential election in February 2023; current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited. In the last two weeks, both of the two major parties have concluded their presidential primaries. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2015, selected former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) selected former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu (in office 1999-2007) as its nominee. One might say this is the least surprising outcome, given the stature of both men and their longstanding, open ambition to be president. Atiku was the runner-up in 2019 against Buhari, and Tinubu was the main architect of the APC, which formed in 2013 as a vehicle for Buhari’s fourth run for the presidency, but also as a compromise between opposition politicians in the north (Buhari’s turf) and the southwest (Tinubu’s).

The official campaign period is from 28 September 2022 to 23 February 2023 but I would say that the real-life campaign is now in full swing.

Given the advantages of incumbency, I would put Tinubu as the early favorite to win. On the other hand, both of the major parties are fractious coalitions, and a rebellion by part or all of the electorate is a possibility, especially given that both Tinubu and Abubakar represent a political class – septuagenarian, wealthy, careerist, and often vague on policy prescriptions (by choice, not due to lack of awareness of possible policies) – that is inherently distant from the lives of most ordinary Nigerians. Complex expectations about rotational dynamics and ethnoreligious balancing also come into play; Tinubu is a southerner and Abubakar is a northerner, Tinubu is Yoruba whereas Abubakar is Fulani, although both are Muslims.

Biographies of both men are legion, but the profiles from the BBC – of Abubakar and of Tinubu – are a good place to start if you are not familiar with either or both of them.

Nigeria: Readings on the Upcoming All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Primary, May 29-30

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), will hold its presidential primary on May 29-30. The APC candidate can be considered the frontrunner, at least at this early date, for the open 2023 presidential election (current President Muhammadu Buhari is term-limited). Watch out, reader – there’s a lot of speculation out there in the press! But here is some interesting commentary:

Vanguard, May 22: “Seven days to the presidential primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), there is palpable anxiety over the speculation that [former Lagos State Governor and southwestern powerbroker] Asiwaju Bola Tinubu may dump the ruling party at the federal level if the exercise, scheduled for May 29 and 30, is manipulated against him. Tinubu is one of the front runners in the contest for the APC presidential ticket ahead of the 2023 general elections.”

Punch, May 22: “All the presidential aspirants in the All Progressives Congress, except a former  Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, are open to the idea of the candidate of the party emerging through consensus, Sunday PUNCH can confirm. The consensus method will entail the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), anointing one of the aspirants, while the others simply step down for him as was done during the March 26 national convention of the APC, which produced Senator Abdullahi Adamu as the chairman.”

Daily Trust, May 23: “Daily Trust learnt that political leaders within the ruling APC in South West are mounting pressure on presidential aspirants from the zone to agree on a consensus candidate ahead of the primary so as to approach the convention venue from the position of strength…Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former Speaker of House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole; Chairman of Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi as well as former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun; the Senator representing Ondo North Senatorial District, Robert Ajayi Boroffice and Serving Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church, Nigeria, Pastor Tunde Bakare are the presidential aspirants from the South West.”

Vanguard, May 22: “Senate President and frontline presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Ahmad Lawan has refuted reports of him withdrawing from the presidential race to pursue another term in the senate.”

The Guardian, May 22: “In the APC, the deal initially seems to have been concluded that the presidential ticket of the ruling party will go to the South in line with an old, unwritten agreement put together when the party was formed in 2014 [sic, it was 2013]. This was why until about a week ago, all the aspirants in APC except Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello, were southerners. It is also the reason why all the big wigs in the South in all the three geo-political zones are in the race. However, the calculation changed when the APC failed in its determination to coerce or compel the opposition PDP to also follow suit. When it became apparent that PDP will not yield to the game of presenting an all-southern candidates election, the APC suddenly changed gear. And guess who was first used to send the clear signal that APC may also join the PDP in presenting a northerner as its candidate? The incumbent Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan.”

Premium Times, May 22: “Last week, statutory delegates in Kaduna State pledged their votes to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr Tinubu. Their governor, Nasir Elrufai, had asked the delegates who they would give their votes at the convention, and in a unanimous voice, they pledged to give them all to Mr Tinubu, who is also the national leader of the party. However, in the usual twist that has characterised the race, 48 hours after, Mr El-Rufai guided the same delegates to pledge their support to the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.”

BBC Pidgin has a useful breakdown (towards the end) of the delegates by region.

Roundup on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ Trip to Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is wrapping up an April 30-May 5 “Ramadan solidarity visit” to Senegal, Niger, and Nigeria, timed to coincide with the days around Eid al-Fitr. This was Guterres’ first visit (!) to Africa since the start of the pandemic.

Here is the official agenda:

On Saturday, the Secretary-General will begin a Ramadan solidarity visit to Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, during which he will also highlight the impact of the Ukraine war on the African continent.      

The Secretary-General will meet and share an Iftar dinner with President Macky Sall of Senegal, who assumed the Presidency of the African Union earlier this year. He will also take part in Eid celebrations with President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger and he is scheduled to meet President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.     

In the three countries, the Secretary-General will have meetings with senior government officials as well as civil society representatives, including women, youth groups and religious leaders. He will meet families deeply affected by violence and instability in the Sahel, including people internally displaced and refugees. Mr. Guterres will also see first-hand the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities and will assess progress and challenges to the COVID-19 recovery.

Guterres lamented what he called a “triple food, energy and financial crisis” in Africa, now made worse by the fallout from the war in/on Ukraine. In Senegal, he called for “vaccine equity” as well as debt relief for debt relief for African countries, appealing in particular to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. In Niger, he lavished praise on the country’s democracy and military, conforming to a longstanding Western trope that treats Niger as the model Sahelian country. One announcement in Niger was a new role for Niger’s immediate past president, Mahamadou Issoufou, a chair of an Independent High-level Panel on Security & Development in the Sahel. In Nigeria, finally, Guterres is visiting both Borno State and the capital Abuja.

A few tweets:

Post for the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft Blog on U.S. Attack Helicopter Sale to Nigeria

At the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog, I had a post yesterday about the recent approval of a $997 million sale of American-made attack helicopters to Nigeria.

An excerpt:

The Nigerian military’s appetite for more airpower fits with its penchant for flashy, high-casualty operations against both jihadists and bandits. Such operations produce high body counts but do little to break a long-running stalemate in the northeast or to stabilize the increasingly unstable northwest. Selling Nigeria attack aircraft feeds a dangerously exterminationist mentality within the military, whose press releases now constantly trumpet the number of jihadists and bandits who have been “neutralized” or “eliminated,” including from the air.

[…]

More broadly, Nigeria’s inability to contain either jihadism or banditry has much to do with politics: a wealthy and disconnected political and business elite sits atop a growing population suffering from widespread poverty. Even in the face of multiple severe security crises, politicians at both the federal and state levels are often more consumed with intra-elite power struggles than with meeting citizens’ basic needs.

Nigeria 2023: Five Presidential Aspirants to Know

On February 25, 2023, Nigeria will hold presidential elections. Current President Muhammadu Buhari (elected 2015, re-elected 2019) is term-limited and cannot run. The open presidential race will have major implications for the future of Nigeria and for West Africa and beyond.

Major politicians are starting to declare or at least strongly telegraph their candidacies, especially in advance of the presidential primary election for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), slated to be held on May 30-31 of this year, and the primary election for the former ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on May 28-29. The APC is expected to “zone” its candidate to southern Nigeria, as a power rotation after eight years of a northerner in the presidency.

Here are five names to know, including both APC and PDP candidates:

  1. Bola Tinubu: The Governor of Lagos State from 1999-2007, Tinubu has played a central role as a powerbroker in southwestern Nigeria and in national politics. He is widely considered the leading architect of the 2013 inter-party merger that created the present ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Tinubu declared on January 10: “I have the confidence, vision and capacity to rule, build on the foundation of Mr. President, and turn Nigeria better. I’ve done that before in Lagos State. You’ve seen that experience and the capacity to turn things around and that is what we are doing.”
  2. Yemi Osinbajo: Nigeria’s sitting Vice President since 2015, Osinbajo also hails from Lagos, where he was Tinubu’s Attorney General from 1999-2007. As Vice President, Osinbajo has often been particularly visible at moments when Buhari has been on extended medical leaves and my impression has been the Osinbajo travels internally within Nigeria more than Buhari does. Osinbajo announced his intention to run for president on April 11. He presented himself as a voice for ordinary Nigerians: “I’ve stood where you stand and sat where you sit. I know and I understand our hopes, aspirations and fears from a place of relatable proximity; and I believe that in those hopes and aspirations are the seeds for the great Nigeria that we all desire.” For whatever it’s worth, Tinubu is Muslim while Osinbajo is Christian; both belong to the APC.
  3. Rotimi Amaechi: Current Minister of Transportation and former Governor of Rivers State (2007-2015) in the Niger Delta, Amaechi is yet another APC aspirant for president. Announcing on April 9, Amaechi highlighted his long experience in elected and appointed positions. He said: “I pledge my heart, mind and soul to the task of building a Nigeria in which every child can go to school, every young person can find work or support to start a business, every citizen can travel safely around the country and sleep at night knowing that law and order prevails and every Nigerian feels included, heard, and respected.”
  4. Atiku Abubakar: Former Vice President (1999-2007) and runner-up in the 2019 presidential election, Abubakar is from Adamawa State in the northeast. He declared his candidacy on March 23, outlining a five-point agenda that emphasizes national unity, security, economic development, education, and the devolution of power to the states and local governments. As in 2019, Abubakar seeks to contest on the PDP ticket.
  5. Bukola Saraki: Member of a major political dynasty from Kwara State, Saraki served as Governor (2003-2011), Senator (2011-2019), and Senate President (2015-2019). The political landscape is shifting fast in advance of the PDP primary, but Saraki has recently been part of a four-candidate alliance advocating for a PDP unity candidate; the other members of the alliance are Sokoto State Governor Aminu Tambuwal (elected 2015, re-elected 2019), Bauchi State Governor Bala Mohammed (elected 2019), and the investment banker Mohammed Hayatu-Deen. Notably, many of the PDP’s top candidates are from the north, as is outgoing President Buhari.

BBC Pidgin has a list of the major APC aspirants and a separate list of the major PDP aspirants; both lists include a number of governors and former governors not mentioned above for reasons of concision.

Biographies of Contemporary Sahelian Ulama 2: Shaykh Ibrahim Saleh

(This is a series of short biographies of Sahelian and nothern Nigerian ulama from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and may broaden later to include some nineteenth-century figures. The selections and order are determined entirely by whim. See below for previous entries.)

Last month, BBC Hausa put out an interview with Shaykh Ibrahim Saleh, sometimes called Shaykh Sharif Ibrahim Saleh al-Hussaini, who is from Borno in northeastern Nigeria.

The clip provides a good opportunity for me to do a second entry in this nascent series.

Shaykh Saleh is extremely prominent within Nigeria and within various parts of the Muslim world, including Morocco and Egypt, and he has been discussed in some Western academic literature (as I note below) – so I will not try to reconstruct his whole biography here. What stood out to me most about the interview was the range of educational experiences he has had, especially two features of his career and profile that have not been given much attention in other biographies I’ve read of him: (1) his formidable expertise in the study of Hadith, or narrations of actions and statements attributed to the Prophet Muhammad; and (2) his connections to scholarly circles in Mecca, including West African and North African scholars there. For further context, Hadith was often not the central subject in West Africa’s classical Islamic centers of learning, where the study of Fiqh (jurisprudence), grammar, biography, and other subjects was often more central. So being a muhaddith (expert in Hadith) gives Shaykh Saleh a kind of profile that not every senior scholar in West Africa has. Another part of the context, then, is that I’m increasingly struck by how reductive it is, in the Western study of Islam in Africa, to gloss figures such as Saleh as Sufis. Of course he is Sufi and this is arguably the defining aspect of his career and profile – yet when looking at those Meccan networks, for example, at least from the names, what stands out is the shared affiliation to the Maliki legal school (widespread in West and North Africa), rather than the Sufi connection. Worth noting is that Salafis do not have a monopoly over the study of Hadith – indeed, Malikis will often brag (not without justification!) that their founder was distinct in being equally strong in fiqh (jurisprudence) and Hadith.

Turning to the interview, the interviewer asks the shaykh about his biography and his career (as well as some lighter questions such as “What is your favorite food?”). To start with his name, as one often finds in northern Nigeria, what might at first look like a surname (Saleh) is in fact his father’s name – using the Arabic style, he introduces himself as Ibrahim bin Saleh, or “Ibrahim, son of Saleh.” Ethnically, he is Shuwa Arab, a group that is a minority but significant group in his home state of Borno, where he was born in 1938.

He began his education by studying the Qur’an with his father. After his father passed, he studied with his father’s students. He studied with many shaykhs, partly in order to collect salasil (singular silsila), or chains of oral transmission stretching back to the Companions of the Prophet and thus to the Prophet himself – he mentions a book he wrote later detailing more than 100 such chains reaching from Nigerian scholars back to the Prophet. After completing the memorization of the Qur’an, he turned to what is called in Hausa “karatun ilimi,” or Islamic education. He names numerous teachers, among them Abu Bakr al-Waziri and Ahmad Abulfathi (d. 2003), both in Borno. Shaykh Ibrahim Saleh refers to the latter as “my teacher (malamina).” He was a major figure in Borno, and you can read his biography here. Both Saleh and Abulfathi are known as shurafa’ (singular sharif), meaning descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Shaykh Saleh also studied with some of the most prominent scholars of the mid-20th century in Kano, namely Shaykhs Tijjani Uthman (d. 1970) and Abu Bakr ‘Atiq (d. 1974). To some extent one can see the outlines of a Borno-Kano axis here, given that Shaykh Tijjani Uthman was of Kanuri descent, the Kanuri being the dominant ethnic group in Borno. Many of Shaykh Saleh’s teachers, meanwhile, were leading figures in the Tijaniyya order, specifically the branch associated with the Senegalese Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (1900-1975); with the two Kano teachers he studied Sufi texts. Shaykh Saleh is himself a major leader within the Tijaniyya and perhaps, along with Shaykh Dahiru Usman Bauchi, one of the two most famous living leaders of the order within Nigeria.

Shaykh Saleh also spent time, as I mentioned above, in Mecca, largely focusing on the study of Hadith or narrations of actions and statements attributed to the Prophet. There he first studied with Shaykh ‘Alawi bin ‘Abbas al-Maliki (d. 1970, per my conversion from the hijri date listed on his Wikipedia page). That Saleh could travel to Saudi Arabia and study with a Maliki shaykh is a reminder to me, and perhaps to readers, that one could find major non-Hanbali scholars in contemporary Saudi Arabia and especially in the Hijaz. He then studied with the Algeria-born, Mecca-based Shaykh Muhammad al-Arabi al-Tubbani (d. 1970 as well; see his Wikipedia page here, where ‘Alawi al-Maliki is listed among his students). Interestingly, one of his teachers in Mecca was the Nigeria-born Shaykh Abu Bakr al-Kashnawi (d. 1977), who came to Mecca in 1922/1923 and studied with the previously-mentioned al-Maliki, among others; Kashnawi is the Arabic adjective for “from Katsina,” and al-Kashnawi was from Kusada, Katsina according to this biography. Relevant here is Chanfi Ahmed’s book on West African shaykhs in the Hijaz, though I do not recall Ahmed discussing these figures in particular. The list goes on from there…Egyptian scholars, Pakistani scholars, and more. Turning back to the question of the silsila, Roman Loimeier writes a great deal about different Nigerian shaykhs’ efforts to collect salasil in his book Islamic Reform and Political Change in Northern Nigeria; Loimeier discusses some of Shaykh Saleh’s salasil, particularly within the Tijaniyya Sufi order, on p. 272.

Saleh also did some correspondence courses with Imperial College London, to improve his English,

In terms of his institutional roles, they are almost too many to list, both in Nigeria and at the level of the Muslim world as a whole. Three stand out to me (and here I am drawing on this essentially official biography, along with some background knowledge):

  • Chairman, Fatwa Council, Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA, an umbrella body for Nigerian Muslims);
  • Chairman, Fatwa Council, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam (The Society for Victory of Islam, another umbrella body, though more northern-focused);
  • A prominent member of the Mohamed VI Foundation of African Oulema, a Moroccan governmental effort. You can read the Shaykh’s speech at the Foundation’s launch here.

He also comments frequently in Hausa, English, and Arabic media.

Shaykh Saleh is mentioned in numerous Western academic works but the main references that come to mind now are the following:

  • Rudiger Seesemann’s article “Three Ibrāhīms: Literary Production and the Remaking of the Tijāniyya Sufi Order in Twentieth-Century Sudanic Africa,” in which the other two Ibrahims are Ibrahim Niasse and Ibrahim Sidi (d. 1999) of Sudan.
  • Gunnar Weimann’s book Islamic Criminal Law in Northern Nigeria, where Saleh and one of his books are the subject of Chapter 4.
  • John Hunwick’s compilation Arabic Literature of Africa, Volume 2, where he comes up frequently. The biographies of Shaykh Ahmad Abulfathi, Shaykh Tijjani Uthman, and Shaykh Abu Bakr ‘Atiq can also all be found in this volume.

Previous Entries in the contemporary Sahelian ulama series:

  1. Shaykh Mohamed Salim Ould Addoud of Mauritania.

Roundup of Recent Writing on Jihadism in the Sahel, and Comments on ICG’s New ISWAP Report [Updated]

Héni Nsaibia and RIda Lyammouri, “Digital Dunes and Shrublands: A Comparative Introduction to the Sahelian Jihadi Propaganda Ecosystem,” Global Network on Extremism and Technology, October 27. You cannot ask for a better duo of authors for this topic. An excerpt:

The Sahelian propaganda ecosystem could be divided into two spheres: the global and the local. The global sphere includes the propaganda intended for the international community broadly, and consists primarily of ‘official’ public messaging in the form of claims of responsibility for military operations, videos, and audio-visual statements. Media products are communicated in world languages: Arabic, French, and English. The local sphere encompasses propaganda for local consumption and is disseminated in local languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Tamashek (or Tuareg language), Fulfulde (or Fulani language), Bambara, Songhai, Zarma, and other local languages and dialects. Locally-oriented items often come out as low-quality videos and audio diffused via closed local WhatsApp groups, including community-focused platforms, and as printed statements handed out to residents. The linguistic barriers and limited accessibility to locally-distributed items represents a gap that should not be neglected in terms of our understanding of these groups.

Luca Raineri, “Explaining the Rise of Jihadism in Africa: The Crucial Case of the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara,” Terrorism and Political Violence, published online October 22. The abstract:

While jihadism appears to be on the rise in Africa, the explanations of violent extremist groups’ capacity to foment jihadi insurgencies and mobilize recruits remain poorly understood. Recent studies have challenged the assumption that the rise of jihadism in Africa is the result of poor governance in areas of limited state reach, highlighting instead the significance of the (perception of) abuses perpetrated by state authorities. Looking at collective action and its structural determinants, it is rather state action—and not the lack thereof—that best explains the capacity of mobilization of jihadi insurgencies in African borderlands. In order to test this theory in a least-likely case, the article explores the genealogy and evolution of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), mobilizing extensive qualitative evidence. Borrowing the analytical framework from civil war studies, it argues that the contentious political dynamics observed in Niger’s borderlands amount to a case of symmetric non-conventional warfare, where abuses perpetrated by state proxies trigger an escalation of homegrown terrorism. It therefore supplies a further specification of the theories investigating the complex interplay between the processes of jihadi mobilization/rebel governance and the practices of counter-terrorism in weak states.

I like that approach.

[UPDATE – November 2, 2020]: Because it fits so well with this roundup, I’m adding Anouar Boukhars’ new article “The Logic of Violence in Africa’s Jihadist Insurgencies,” out at Perspectives on Terrorism. An excerpt (p. 119):

Two implications can be drawn from the relative target preferences of IS affiliates in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin. First, if insurgent groups are dependent on support from local populations, they may exercise restraint in their violence against civilians. Second, in multi-actor conflict environments, locations marked by intense in-group–out-group divides—a dynamic that comes about because of pre-conflict tensions and tensions endogenous to the conflict—tend to be places of violent attacks against civilians, as out-group members are suspected of being sympathizers of VE groups or collaborators with the government and allied ethnic militias.

For RFI, Kaourou Magassa reports from Bamako, Mali on the trial of Fawaz Ould Ahmed or “Ibrahim 10,” a Mauritanian who killed five people at a Bamako bar in March 2015. He also helped plan the even more infamous attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako later in 2015. He and a co-defendant have now been sentenced to death. He was initially reported in some accounts to have been among those prisoners released earlier this month in Mali – but, obviously, he wasn’t, and perhaps the timing of the trial (pure speculation on my part!) is meant to make that very clear.

Finally, International Crisis Group has an important new report out on the relationship between Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram, the Islamic State, and what became the breakaway Boko Haram faction now known as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). [Note that the report sometimes uses ISWAP to refer to Boko Haram during the period between Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015 and the split within Boko Haram in August 2016, so the meaning of ISWAP within the report can depend on where in the chronology you are. This usage accurately reflects how the name ISWAP was applied both pre-August 2016 and post, but can be confusing for the reader.] The report is based on interviews with sixteen defectors, the last of whom left the group in 2018 – and so the report mostly only transmits other analysts’ perspectives when discussing post-2018 Islamic Stat influence on ISWAP.

I found the report pretty balanced in how it assesses the relationship and the evidence. On the one hand, the report contains major findings pointing to substantial Islamic State influence, such as the reported presence of a group of Islamic State trainers in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest who arrived after Shekau’s pledge. Here though it is important to underline that the report’s account adds weight to something that I have argued before, namely that the decisive factor in the timing of Shekau’s pledge was the military pressure Boko Haram was under in early 2015. Note then that the Islamic State, as the relationship is described in the report, does not appear to have played any significant role in Boko Haram’s conquest of territory in northeastern Nigeria in 2014 or even early 2015. And even the most bullish accounts of Shekau’s relationship with al-Qaida tend now to acknowledge that his relationship with al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb had frayed well before 2014. So at its peak, Boko Haram was more or less independent.

The report also details what are, to my mind, surprisingly complex financial processes: “Assistance [this is 2015 and perhaps early 2016, if I’m reading correctly] came at least every two weeks in amounts varying from $10,000 to $100,000 via occasional transfers to associated individuals or companies in Nigeria or deliveries by Nigerian couriers who would visit Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to collect the cash on ISWAP’s behalf.” There are a lot of explosive claims here, and whereas the account of the trainers I can accept without pause, the description of the transfers – if it rests solely on the testimony of defectors, even if they corroborate each other’s accounts – would need to be corroborated by some other source, in my view. This is not because of the amounts involved,* but not so much that I doubt them; it is more the asserted mechanisms that give me a bit of pause.

There, then, are some of the report’s most serious details concerning the Islamic State’s impact. On the other hand, the report points out some serious instances of parochialism and idiosyncrasy on Boko Haram’s part that made it hard for the organization to maximize and sometimes sustain what the Islamic State had to offer. Weak internet connections, inconsistent application of the trainers’ teachings, Shekau’s resistance to directives and his suspicion of the on-site trainers, etc.

Speaking of parochialism, one detail that surprised me, though maybe it shouldn’t have, was that Shekau submitted the 2009 manifesto of the late Muhammad Yusuf as part of the vetting process for the Islamic State; the 2009 manifesto is certainly a crypto-jihadist document, but it was written under far different circumstances, still in the context of an above-ground movement rather than an underground, full-blown insurgency. It points to Shekau’s and Boko Haram’s sloppiness that in the roughly six years between the writing of that manifesto and the pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State, the group could generate no fresher manifesto. Shekau killing some of the top clerics within the group circa 2011-2012 didn’t help with ideological production, obviously, but still, the group seems to have suffered from a lack of talent in that department.

More importantly for the purposes of assessing Islamic State influence, we see that the most fundamental decisions, even among Shekau’s internal rivals, were taken locally: “The breakaway group [now known as ISWAP] only informed ISIS [sic] of its decision once the split [announced in August 2016, but undertaken months earlier] was a fait accompli.” The Islamic State central leadership apparently bowed only reluctantly to realities on the ground in northeastern Nigeria, trying to reconcile the two factions before eventually backing the breakaway group.

Given its own findings, moreover, the report’s framing that “ISWAP [i.e., post-split] has continued to progress in adopting the global movement’s doctrines on governance and other matters” is too simplistic. The idea that ISWAP’s efforts at administrative sophistication and military professionalism reflect Islamic State influence makes a lot of sense; the report is less persuasive when it suggests that Islamic State guidance spurred ISWAP’s overall efforts “to mend fences with Muslim civilians in the areas under its influence.” If concerns with Shekau’s bloodthirstiness, capriciousness, predatoriness, etc. were what prompted a split that was a “fait accompli” before the Islamic State was informed, then it stands to reason that ISWAP’s political orientation towards Muslim civilians largely reflects the core impetus for the split in the first place. And again, according to the report that impetus came out of facts on the ground first and foremost. If you break with your emir because he kills everyone who disagrees with him and hoards money, and if you’re eating leaves and bark in the forest after getting routed by multiple armies and South African mercenaries, you don’t need some guy in Syria to tell you it’s time to try something new. But you would probably take their money and their tips on administration.

So, in short, a very mixed picture of Islamic State influence over ISWAP emerges – stronger than I would have thought in many dimensions, but even I, a perennial skeptic about global jihadist influence in West Africa, was equally surprised by some of Boko Haram’s parochialism as described in the report, as well as by the ways the Islamic State was either ignored or rebuffed at key moments in this history. My main critique would be that I wish the author/s would have more systematically compared the account from defectors to the account in ISWAP’s book Removing the Tumor; I will have to compare at some point myself, but if memory serves there are some interesting parallels, as well as some key details mentioned in this report that are not mentioned at all in Removing the Tumor (the trainers and the money, for example, if memory serves), and then perhaps some instances of contradictions. Anyways, the Crisis Group report is worth reading in full, as are the other pieces mentioned above.

*Is the amount of money described here large or small? At first it sounded huge to me – a steady flow of sizable chunks of money. But if you do the math over a year, it actually starts to sound smaller. Assume for example that we take an estimate toward the high end of the numbers and frequency described above, and we say that $100,000 arrived every two weeks for a year, or $200,000 a month: that’s $2.4 million in the first year. But on the sending end, this seems to have represented a tiny portion of the Islamic State’s wealth and income circa 2015-2016, and on the receiving end, I wonder how far the money went. Just a few years earlier, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb was collecting that kind of sum per hostage in some of its biggest ransoms, and yet such cash infusions only went so far – and AQIM had fewer fighters than Boko Haram at their respective peaks, most likely. How far does $2.4 million go in terms of paying fighters and buying loyalty? I’ll have to think about it more. Not saying the money doesn’t matter, but even the high end estimate may be relatively modest even in the context of African jihadist groups’ budgets. Or one could say the money had a much greater impact because of the tough circumstances Boko Haram was in when the money started flowing. Or one could say the money’s impact was less than it might have been, because Shekau may have hoarded some of it…etc. The point is, it’s easier to argue that ties between jihadist groups occurred than it is to say exactly what those ties meant.