Headlines out of Today’s ECOWAS Summit

Between May 15 and 19 (today), Ghana has hosted three important meetings for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): (1) an Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers from May 15-16; (2) a Session of the Mediation and Security Council on May 17; and (3) a Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on May 19.

The Council of Ministers is made up of member states’ Ministers in charge of ECOWAS Affairs, while the Mediation and Security Council is composed of member states’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense. More details about the agendas for these meetings can be found here, with additional information on the Heads of State summit here. I should note also that Ghana’s President John Mahama has been the ECOWAS Chairman since 2014.

Here are some key takeaways, readouts, and headlines from the meetings:

  • Term limits: “West African leaders on Tuesday rejected a proposal to impose a region-wide limit to the number of terms presidents can serve, after opposition to the idea from Togo and Gambia, Ghana’s foreign minister said.”
  • Mahama’s remarks/Jonathan’s farewell: Reiterating his earlier praise for Nigeria’s “historic elections,” Chairman Mahama lauded President Goodluck Jonathan for his “mature statesmanship” in conceding defeat, and “salute[d]” President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his victory. You can read Jonathan’s remarks at the summit here.
  • Youth Employment: Mahama also urged greater focus on job creation for youth, saying, “considering the fact that we have the fastest growing youth population; young people are coming out of school at every level of the educational system in the hope of finding jobs, it’s going to be a major hurdle for us.”
  • Common External Tariff: “Regarding the [ECOWAS Common External Tariff or CET], which entered into force in January this year, the Commission indicated that as at 30 April 2015, only eight Member States had started the implementation, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, with the remaining seven countries, lagging behind due to various reasons, such as legal requirements, public health and other technical considerations. Council commended the eight Member States and urged the remaining seven to take the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the CET before the end of the year in accordance with the decision of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.”

Two Points about Boko Haram’s Recent Maiduguri Attack

Boko Haram, the Nigerian sect, has repeatedly attacked the northeastern city of Maiduguri, its birthplace. Maiduguri was part of Boko Haram’s mass uprising in 2009, it saw sustained guerrilla-style violence from 2010-2013, and it was the site of a massive raid on a detention facility, Giwa Barracks, in May 2014. During Boko Haram’s period of territorial expansion in 2014-early 2015, it sometimes appeared that the group was encircling the city and stood a good chance of taking it. Indeed, in January-February 2015 the group made several major assaults on Maiduguri, but failed (or perhaps never intended) to take it. Soon, however, Boko Haram was thrown on the defensive, as Nigerian and regional forces started to retake its territory.

All this is background to this week’s attack (May 13) on Maiduguri. The violence reportedly began with explosions by three female suicide bombers (a standing Boko Haram tactic), followed by an assault involving hundreds of “militants.” Much of the fighting reportedly took place in the village of Kayamla, about twenty kilometers from Maiduguri, which was the site of a prior attack. Authorities quickly imposed a twenty-four hour curfew in Maiduguri.

I would make two simple points:

  1. Boko Haram is still deadly and will likely remain so for some time to come, even if they are greatly weakened. As Reuters says, “Wednesday’s assault shows [Boko Haram] is still capable of pulling off bloody assaults.” This is a basic point, but an important one: premature triumphalism about retaking territory from Boko Haram could easily lead the military, the incoming administration, and outside observers to forget that Boko Haram has long demonstrated a capacity to adapt – and to resurface with new violence even after the authorities thought they had quashed it. The Maiduguri attack may have signaled some desperation or an attempt at distraction, as Boko Haram is pushed out of other areas. Nevertheless, even if its supply of fighters dwindles, the suicide bombers may remain an intermittent feature of urban life in the northeast.
  2. People are being repeatedly displaced. As one Twitter user, Maina Kachallah, said, “Well that’s Life in Maiduguri. We flee…return…flee…return. our fate, with our IDPs.” Earlier this week I discussed how some Nigerian refugees were being repatriated from Niger after attacks there, with others being further displaced within Niger. Some of the repatriated persons were heading to Borno State – meaning they could be affected by this latest violence in Maiduguri. Many of the survivors are losing years of their lives and existing amid frequent instability.

Niger and Boko Haram: Violence, Refugee Repatriation, and Regional Politics

WFP food distribution in Bosso, funded by ECHO

WFP Food Distribution in Bosso, Niger

 

On April 25, Nigeria’s Boko Haram sect seized the island of Karamga, Lake Chad, leading to a protracted battle with soldiers from Niger. This attack was Boko Haram’s second assault on Karamga, following violence there in February. The aftermath of the recent attack highlights not only Niger’s continued fight against Boko Haram within its territory, but also how the violence is affecting the complicated politics surrounding the displaced.

As part of the response to the violence on Karamga, Governor Yacoubou Soumana Gaoh of Niger’s Diffa Region ordered an evacuation of civilians from the island. As many as 25,000 people may be displaced within Niger as a result of the evacuation. In addition to the scale of the displacement, there is an international dimension. Last week, Niger’s government began to deport some 6,000 Nigerian refugees and migrant workers back to Nigeria, with more likely to follow. At least 4,000 of these were removed from Karamga. Many of the returnees are fishermen and their families who were displaced by Boko Haram’s violence around Lake Chad.

Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have expressed concern over Niger’s approach. Some refugees have died during the return journey. So far the Nigerian-Nigerien cooperation on the repatriations seems to have been amicable: The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) welcomed the returnees in Yobe State and sent some on to Sokoto, Kebbi, and elsewhere. 1,200 refugees were returned to Borno over the weekend, with another installment of 1,200 coming soon; Borno authorities were reportedly ready to receive them. Nevertheless, there are underlying tensions and conflicting incentives for Nigeria and Niger: Niger is desperately poor and can ill afford to host refugees, especially amid a fight with Boko Haram; Nigeria is re-establishing territorial control in a halting fashion; and Nigeria and its neighbors have had tensions over who bears what responsibilities in the fight against Boko Haram.

Meanwhile, the deportations add to a trend of repeated displacement for victims of Boko Haram, partly driven by the violence inside Niger itself. In February, after violence in Diffa, many of the displaced there fled north, or headed west to Zinder and other regions in Niger. Diffa itself became a “ghost town” at points. For those civilians who have been displaced multiple times, rebuilding could be even harder, especially given food insecurity in Niger.

Finally, one important detail: Reuters reported on Friday that Boko Haram had attacked a village in the Dosso Region of southwestern Niger. If true, that would mark one of Boko Haram’s furthest attacks west – even in Nigeria, the center of gravity for violence has been the northeast, and attacks anywhere west of Abuja have been somewhat rare. If Boko Haram is now raiding in southwestern Nigeria, that might – as with the attack on Karamga – reflect that the group is becoming scattered and desperate. At the same time, though, it might mark a stage of further unpredictability in the conflict.

Oby Ezekwesili, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Corruption in Nigeria

Earlier this week, Al Jazeera interviewed Oby Ezekwesili, a well-known Nigerian governance expert who has worn many hats: co-founder of Transparency International, cabinet minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo (for Solid Minerals and then Education, 2005-2007), World Bank Vice President for Africa (2007-2012), and activist with Bring Back Our Girls.

The interview generated controversy in Nigeria and in the diaspora, especially because of Ezekwesili’s refusal to say that the Obasanjo administration was severely corrupt (see around 13:20 at the link above). Obasanjo was the first civilian president of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic; he served 1999-2007.

To give a sense of the criticisms of Ezekwesili’s statements in the interview, here is an excerpt from a piece by Professor Moses Ochonu of Vanderbilt University, who writes,

When you go around self-righteously castigating the corruption of the present government without even a perfunctory acknowledgement of, or an effort to explain your failure to prevent or punish, the corruption of the government for which you were supposed to act as gatekeeper for public procurement and contracts (the primary conduit for political and bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria), your rhetoric rings hollow and raises questions about the sincerity and consistency of your moral indignation at malfeasance. It is only a matter of time before such duplicity is exposed, and Ezekwesili’s moment of exposure came in her interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera, which has now gone viral.

[…]

It was under Ezekwesili’s stint as czar of transparency that corruption in high places blossomed, including the curious case of [Obasanjo], who, from having only 15,000 Naira in his bank account in 1999 according to [former Obasanjo cabinet minister and economic team member Nasir] el-Rufai* (information which has never been contradicted), transformed into a billionaire and one of the wealthiest Nigerians alive. It was while Obasanjo was president and Ezekwesili was his preeminent transparency enforcement officer that damning revelations on how he and his vice president, Abubakar Atiku, turned the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) into a personal piggy bank surfaced in the media and provided tragic national political entertainment for a whole season.

As commentaries and criticisms of the interview spread, Ezekwesili penned a Twitter essay on corruption. The tweets were interesting not just for her implicit defense of Obasanjo, but also for the general theory of anti-corruption she put forth. I’ve storified her tweets here.

The debate featuring Ezekwesili comes at an important moment, as expectations are rising concerning the incoming administration’s stated anti-corruption agenda. Nigerians are looking both backward and forward now, re-assessing past administrations’ anti-corruption rhetoric and their actual performance, and wondering how the next government will perform.

*El-Rufai is also the governor-elect of Kaduna.

Resources on the PWC Audit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

In 2013, the Nigerian press obtained a letter from then-Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to President Goodluck Jonathan. In the letter, Sanusi stated that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria’s state oil company, had failed to “repatriate” some $49 billion to the Federation Account. The ensuing controversy resulted in Sanusi’s suspension by the president, and became one of the major scandals associated with Jonathan’s presidency. In an attempt to demonstrate transparency, in early 2014 the government asked PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit the NNPC.

This week, after President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s team vowed to release the full report of the audit and probe the NNPC, the Jonathan administration publicly released the report (.pdf), which covers the period January 2012-July 2013. Its contents have occasioned major comment in Nigeria. For example, one important finding is that “forty-six percent of domestic crude oil revenues for the review period was spent on operations and subsidies.” That’s a lot of overhead.

Here are a few resources for understanding what’s going on.

Background:

  • Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter (.pdf) to Goodluck Jonathan (dated September 2013, leaked December 2013)
  • Bloomberg on Jonathan’s suspension of Sanusi (February 2014)
  • Nigeria’s The Nation on Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s announcement that the PwC audit would go forward (May 2014)
  • PwC audit report (.pdf) on the NNPC (dated February 2015, leaked April 2015)
  • Statement from Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati
  • Comments by the Auditor General of the Foundation to the effect that Jonathan interfered with initial efforts to publish the report
  • Websites of the NNPC and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a key entity in the affair

Current commentary and analysis:

  • BudgIT infographics one and two on the PwC report (essential reading)
  • Aguntasolo (the best commentary I’ve seen so far)
  • Vanguard (another great examination)
  • Reuters (an excellent summary)

Buhari’s Potential Balancing Acts on Corruption

Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari won a decisive victory in large part because voters expect that he will reduce government corruption. The political survival of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), could depend on the new government’s ability to show progress against corruption and demonstrate corresponding success in redirecting public money toward job creation.

It will not be easy. Buhari’s image as an anti-corruption reformer derives from his time as military head of state from 1983-1985, but the “converted democrat” will face a different political environment after he takes office on May 29. Here are two balancing acts he may have to perform:

1. Balancing Coalition-Maintenance and Anti-Corruption

The APC is a big tent. Buhari brings his own personal popularity, especially at the grassroots level in northern Nigeria, but there are other components. One major portion of the party is the Action Congress of Nigeria from the southwest, which includes a number of reformist governors but also, like other parties, a number of “godfathers.” Another portion comes from the All Nigeria People’s Party, a primarily northern party. Another portion represents disaffected politicians from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the outgoing ruling party. Some of those who have defected from PDP to the APC were motivated by conviction, but others were motivated by opportunism. The APC is not just a meaningless collection of self-interested individuals – it does have a coherent leftist economic policy framework and an ethos about the future direction of Nigeria – but not all members of the big tent share the same attitude toward public monies.

It has been to the APC’s political advantage to build a diverse coalition – it helped enable Buhari’s victory this year (whereas in 2011, he won only the far northern states). But when it comes to fighting corruption, the coalition will complicate matters, because some people have joined the APC expecting to profit, both politically and financially. If those people don’t get the rewards they expect, that could cause political problems for Buhari, whether in the legislature, with the states, or on the road to 2019.

There may be a way to strike the necessary balance. One question will be whether Buhari and his southwestern advisors can transfer any models from the southwest, especially Lagos, to the national stage. That wouldn’t necessarily mean an end to all corruption, but it could mean better governance, more tax collection, higher employment, etc. On this topic, it’s worth reading Diane de Gramont’s paper on governance in Lagos, where she highlights how former Governor Bola Tinubu – now a key leader in the APC – pursued improvements in trash collection and security not just out of technocratic idealism, but out of political calculation. The Lagos model has proven politically effective, as evidenced by Tinubu’s ability to pick not only one but two successors as governor.

On the other hand, the southwest also offers an example of a reform program that faltered politically, namely in Ekiti, where an incumbent APC governor lost to an infamous PDP politician in 2014. Reforms necessarily generate enemies; the question for Buhari is whether he can make reforms that deliver what he promised to ordinary Nigerians, while not fatally antagonizing key allies.

2. Addressing Both Personal and Structural Causes of Corruption

For many of his supporters, the “theory of Buhari,” if that phrase makes sense, is that his personal integrity and toughness guarantee that he will eliminate corruption. A corollary, sometimes articulated and sometimes not, is that he will initiate a domino effect within the government: he will select the right people for senior positions, who will in turn select the right people and eliminate scoundrels, all the way down the chain, until corruption declines.

There is something to be said for this theory. Individuals can make a huge difference in terms of both practice and tone within an organization. Reformist ministers and committed senior staff could eliminate “ghost workers,” refuse to pad contracts, ensure that bidding is truly competitive, and so forth. But if Buhari relies primarily on personalities to fight corruption, structural factors could complicate even the best of intentions, especially at the middle and lower levels of the civil service, the military, and the police.

Why does the policeman take bribes? Why does the civil servant embezzle money, or ask for a kickback on a contract? Is it because they are bad people? Moral degeneracy cannot be the only factor – there are also the pressures of supporting dependents, the anxiety about losing one’s job, the norms set by peers and superiors and institutional history, and the specters of debt and intimidation.*

These are not all problems that toughness or integrity can solve, especially not quickly. Skilled and experienced bureaucrats can find ways to freeze out and undermine a reformist boss. Reformers don’t always get to pick their own staffs, who sometimes answer ultimately to other powerful individuals whom the reformer cannot gainsay. Finally, political calculations emanating from the president, the party, or other influencers can throw a wrench into reform efforts inside bureaucracies.** This dynamic leads us back to my first point above, about the need for coalition-maintenance.

In any case, if Buhari’s government cannot address some of the structural factors – for example, if they cannot ensure that civil servants’ salaries are adequate – then personalities alone may fail to eliminate corruption.

Buhari’s Plans on Corruption

So far, Buhari’s discussion of his plans on corruption has been politically pragmatic, though not entirely consistent. Perhaps most famously, he and his team have repeatedly stated that they will “draw a line” (see here, starting at 13:30) – meaning that they will consider past offenses off limits for investigations and prosecutions. That attitude could have the benefit of making Buhari’s opponents feel that their situation now is not life-or-death, and that they can walk away from nefarious activities without going to war with the new president. On the other hand, drawing a line could mean that grievous financial crimes go unpunished.

There are already indications that the “line” may not exclude all parts of the past. Buhari recently said he would open a “fresh probe” into allegations that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mis-allocated $20 billion under outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. (This issue has been in the public eye again with the release of an audit on the NNPC, which raised as many questions as it answered.) Political pressures may mean that “drawing a line” proves impossible.

Beyond these issues, however the dominant rhetoric about corruption coming from Buhari still focuses on personalities. In one interview (14:10), he compared Nigeria to a fish: “If the head is rotten, the rest of the body will go rotten as well.” But given how many hooks are in this fish, simply replacing the head may not be enough to restore the health of the body.

**********************

*My thoughts on this point have been influenced by a recent talk I heard by M.A. Thomas on her new book Govern Like Us: U.S. Expectations of Poor Countries, though I am still thinking through my reactions to her overall arguments.

**My thoughts on this point have been influenced by Nasir el-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant.

More on the Economic Vision of Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress

As observers try to anticipate the economic policies of Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), I’ve repeatedly mentioned APC bigwig Bola Tinubu’s November 2014 op-ed “Slump in Oil Prices: A Progressive Way Out.” That piece advocates running deficits and decoupling the naira from the dollar in order to fund massive, job-creating infrastructure projects. I don’t want to naively assume that an op-ed will become a blueprint for policy once the messiness of governing begins, but I wanted to flag a recent speech by Tinubu where he reiterated many of the same ideas. In a convocation address last week, Tinubu said:

A progressive government must turn its face from the austerity policies of the outgoing administrative that tried to manage poverty, but not end it. Such policies serve only to deepen and prolong the hardship of the average person. Such policies would lock us in a room without hope or safe exit. We dare not go in.

In response to the downturn in private sector activity, a progressive government must exercise the creative boldness to generate economic growth, productive and equal opportunity. Under the circumstances that now confront us, government must use fiscal and monetary policy to enlarge the economic space by embarking on ambitious infrastructural development, housing and agricultural programs.

These programs will provide jobs directly. Moreover, the enhancement of our infrastructural base and sharpening of our productive capacity that results from these programs will initiate multiple rounds of job creation. This is how economic growth and employment are sustained over the long term.

This is what the APC manifesto pledged to you. This is what an APC government will seek to deliver.

So again, Tinubu comes out against austerity and in favor of using infrastructure projects to create jobs. The APC’s political survival may ultimately depend on its ability to alleviate poverty, so it will important to see whether and how these ideas translate into policies and projects after Buhari’s inauguration on May 29.

The speech, and the reference to the manifesto, bring up another important point. The trope of “African politics is not about issues” is so deeply entrenched in international media coverage that you can frequently watch Western journalists reflexively assume that Buhari and the APC have only vague policies, despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, at the link above, we read that “in lieu of a detailed policy platform from Mr. Buhari, who was short on specifics during his campaign, his vow to defeat Boko Haram amounts to a national security strategy, while fighting corruption has become an economic one.” Tinubu’s speeches and op-eds could of course include more details (as could all pronouncements by politicians!), and the manifesto is by turns general and specific, but the idea that Buhari has no economic vision beyond fighting corruption is demonstrably false.