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.

Mali Roundup – 19 July 2022

The story of the 49 Ivorian soldiers arrested in Mali on July 10 continues to play out; Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé is attempting to mediate between Mali and Cote d’Ivoire. The soldiers were arriving as part of rotations in the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA. Jeune Afrique (French) looks at the tensions between MINUSMA and the Malian government.

The executive bureau of the ex-rebel bloc the Coordination of Azawad Movements (French acronym CMA) held one of its ordinary meetings in Kidal on July 16-17, and is not so happy (French) with the transitional authorities, especially over their handling of the Algiers Accord (a 2015 peace agreement), the ongoing violence in Menaka, the seeming lack of progress in investigating the assassination of top CMA figure Sidi Brahim Ould Sidatt, and more. The presidency of the CMA rotated from Bilal ag Acherif to Alghabass ag Intalla. Full communiqué here (French).

A presumed jihadist attack on July 15 on an army checkpoint at Zantiguila, some 60 kilometers from Bamako, is adding to fears about jihadists’ southward encroachments.

RFI reports on the July 14-15 visit of French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu to Niamey, Niger in the context of France’s partial withdrawal from Mali. Reuters looks at France’s efforts to generate a new strategy for the Sahel. An excerpt:

French officials said the onus going forward would be on regional countries to lead on security, while also focusing more on development, good governance and education. The ministers would announce 50 million euro aid to enhance the electricity network in Niger as well as budgetary support.

A key area of concern is how and whether French and European troops will used to support countries in the coastal Gulf of Guinea nations such Benin, Togo and Ivory Coast, where there has been a rise in attacks. Al Qaeda’s regional arm has said it would turn its attention to the region.

France24 reports on “dirty gold” in Mali:

The New York Times‘ Ruth Maclean has a major article on the digitization and public availability of thousands of manuscripts from Timbuktu.

Three Items on Mauritania

  1. Jeune Afrique has a good article (July 15, French) on Mauritanian policy towards Mali – and why Mauritania has opted to keep the relationship functional and functioning despite many, many problems next door, including the deaths of Mauritanian citizens in Mali. One Mauritanian minister, quoted anonymously, sums it up, referring specifically to the decision to keep export corridors open during the period Mali was under sweeping sanctions: “We would derive no benefit from the collapse of our neighbor. Starving the populations was totally out of the question.”
  2. Mauritania’s ruling party was renamed and rebranded earlier this month, changing its name from the Union for the Republic (French acronym UPR) to al-Insaf, Arabic for “equity” (the translation that French-language Mauritanian media outlets are using) or perhaps “even-handedness.” (The root n-s-f has to do with halving and sharing, as in nisf, “half.”) The party also has a new president, Mohamed Melaïnine Ould Eyih, who is also minister of national education – you can read a short biography of him here (French). There is a long backstory involving the party and a power struggle between former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the party’s founder, and current President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani – who appears to be in firm control of the current iteration of the party.
  3. In the course of one of my research projects I finally tracked down the text of a 2015 fatwa (Arabic) by a Mauritanian cleric, Shaykh Ahmad Jiddu Wuld Ahmad Bahi, giving a blanket condemnation of present-day slavery. The lines of argument will likely be familiar to anyone who has looked in depth at the “Islam and slavery” debate (if you haven’t, you might start here), but to simplify greatly, the fatwa says that early Islam acknowledged the reality of slavery but worked to improve slaves’ conditions and end the practice, and that public interest, as well as what he views as legal consensus among states (Muslim and non-Muslim) against slavery, should compel present-day Muslim societies to completely eradicate slavery. There’s a lot more to the fatwa than that, of course, but those are a few of the key points. You can also watch a rich discussion between the shaykh and a Mauritanian journalist here (Arabic).

My New Article on Illiberal Peacebuilding Efforts in Mali

At Third World Quarterly, I have a new article out entitled “Illiberalism and post-conflict settlements with jihadists: a Malian case study.” Here is the abstract:

This paper draws on recent research in peace studies in order to analyse peacebuilding efforts with jihadists in central Mali. The paper explores two main streams of data: first, an exchange of messages between a Malian jihadist leader, Amadou Kouffa, and a Malian Muslim cleric; and, second, survey data on Malians’ attitudes towards politics and Islamic law. The paper also discusses what is known about a pattern of fragile, temporary, localised ceasefires with Malian jihadists. These different data sources highlight the poor fit between Western liberal peacemaking frameworks and some local conflict realities and aspirations, even amid a supposed ‘local turn’ in peacebuilding. Whereas liberal frameworks tend to assume that democracy, human rights, reconciliation, and secularism should be part of any peace settlement, some Malian elites and citizens appear open to illiberal solutions. These findings indicate substantial conceptual and practical challenges for the incorporation of local voices into peacebuilding agendas. The findings also add to an emerging literature on ‘illiberal peace’, which so far has focused mostly on top-down authoritarian models rather than civil society-driven illiberal compromise efforts.

Piece on Mass Atrocities for Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft

At the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft blog, I wrote this week about mass atrocities in the Sahel. Here are the concluding paragraphs:

Amid the final push for a new Africa strategy, what the Sahel needs from the United States is not grand strategies but rather day-to-day efforts to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people, and to hold perpetrators of violence to account. Bluntly, each successive administration’s “Africa strategy” tends to reshuffle the one before it, with nods to abstract priorities such as “democracy,” “development,” and “security.”

Such lists of priorities give little guidance for how to help local Sahelian communities and their governments, much less the entire continent, move toward greater stability and inclusive governance. Meanwhile, there is a risk that substantial U.S. government energies will be consumed by processes that are really about optics — a major new strategy will be rolled out with great fanfare, but it is likely to collect dust. In that connection, there is hubbub around an “African leaders’ summit” in this fall, but it will likely prove just as empty as the summit under Obama in 2014. Biden appointees should measure their success not by whether such Washington-focused events go smoothly, but by tangible accomplishments improving lives on the African continent.

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.

Chad: What’s Happening with Hinda Deby?

In May, Jeune Afrique published an article profiling the inner circle of Chad’s military ruler Mahamat Deby – who took over after his father, Chad’s longtime ruler Idriss Deby (in power 1990-2021) was killed on the frontlines of a battle against rebels. The piece made me wonder about the fate of Hinda Deby, one of Idriss Deby’s wives and Mahamat Deby’s step-mother.

Idriss Deby died suddenly, but the question of succession was on observers’ minds well before he died. And Hinda Deby’s name was often mentioned. Born in 1980, she is of Mahamat’s generation (he was born in 1984) rather than her late husband’s (who was born in 1952). She and Idriss Deby married in 2005.

As late as the first quarter of 2021, on the eve of the president’s death, Hinda Deby’s “growing influence” was being mentioned by informed observers. Her influence ran through multiple sectors – oil, health, and education, among others – and operated both through formal channels, such as her “Grand Coeur” foundation, and through the strategic placement of family members into top posts (her father Mahamat Acyl, who died in 2020, was a senior diplomat). These family members included, as of 2021, her uncle Abdelmoutalib Abderahim Abdoulfarakh as director-general of military intelligence; her brother Khoudar Mahamat Acyl as the president’s aide-de-camp; her brother Abderahim Mahamat Acyl as deputy director of the Chad Hydrocarbons Company; her brother Ahmat Khazali Acyl as director of the National Social Planning Account; and her aunt’s ex-husband Ahmed Kogri as head of Chadian intelligence (here’s my source for the last four names and positions). From early on in her marriage to the president, journalists and their interlocutors surmised that Deby – who famously relied on his Zaghawa ethnic group as the core of his power – used his marriage to the Arab Hinda to build ties with another key ethnic group and another key family in the country.

Of course, observers of Chadian politics also long predicted that Deby’s successor might be one of his sons, several of whom held senior positions as well. Mahamat was clearly in the running.

My crude reading of what transpired immediately after Deby’s death is that power in Chad remained essentially military – obviously there is a serious gender component to consider and an ethnic one as well, but Mahamat Deby was elevated to head of state not just in preference to Hinda, but also because he had the most central position within the military hierarchy at the moment of his father’s death, namely as head of the Directorate-General of the Security Services of the Institutions of the State, the most elite unit (see more here). There was reportedly a last-minute power struggle between Mahamat and his half-brother Zakaria, a senior diplomat (ambassador to the United Arab Emirates) and a key leader within the then-ruling party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement (French acronym MPS). It’s possible that Mahamat won by strength of personality, but again, it seems the military was revealed or confirmed as the real backbone of the regime – tellingly, the MPS has seemed to be to more an appendage of power under Mahamat than a real power center in its own right, at least so far in 2021-2022. Returning to Hinda Deby’s role, her time as a sort of interim president in 2020, when Idriss Deby was sick, was reportedly a choice meant in part to manage the incipient conflict between Mahamat and Zakaria – suggesting that Idriss Deby may have found his wife more useful as a kind of mediator than as his ultimate successor.

In any case, since Mahamat’s succession, Hinda Deby’s network preserved its influence in the short term but in the ensuing months has been, at least from what I can tell, somewhat sidelined – the Jeune Afrique profile of the new president’s inner circle notes Ahmed Kogri’s continued importance as head of the National Security Agency, but the ex-First Lady’s brothers do not appear in the list. Indeed, in December last year, her brothers ran into serious legal trouble as part of a very murky affair that involved the assassination of a Chadian colonel, an attack on the home of Hinda’s brother Ahmat Khazali Mahamat Acyl, the interrogations and detention of her brothers Ahmat Khazali and Khoudar and, in March, their release as the case was closed. In April, Hinda Deby fainted from apparent heat stroke at a public event, but has otherwise kept a fairly low profile; her Twitter account, for example, features sporadic and mostly personal/spiritual posts.

That, from the limited insight I have, is where things stand – Mahamat firmly in control of palace politics, having shown where the real power ultimately lay. With that said, I wouldn’t count out Hinda Deby over the long term – not necessarily as president of Chad, but as a player in the country’s politics, given her obvious political skill and the wide reach of her family’s network.

ECOWAS and Mali: Numbers Matter, But Also Pride

On June 4, heads of state from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened for an extraordinary summit to consider options for handling the recalcitrant military juntas in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, all of which refuse to obey ECOWAS’ dictates on timetables for returning to civilian rule. Tensions are most severe between ECOWAS and the Malian junta, the first of the three military regimes to come to power (Mali, August 2020; Guinea, September 2021; Burkina Faso, January 2022). The negotiations between ECOWAS and Mali hit a low point in December 2021/January 2022, when the junta finally and blatantly scrapped the initial 18-month transition timetable (which would have ended in February 2022) and floated alternative timelines ranging up to five additional years. ECOWAS imposed severe sanctions in response. ECOWAS’ summit on June 4 of this year yielded no major result except a decision to maintain the sanctions and defer further decisions until ECOWAS’ next ordinary summit on July 3.

On June 6, the Malian junta issued a decree announcing a two-year extension of the transition, dating from March 26, 2022:

The announcement appears to have been unilateral, and ECOWAS rejected the new timeline proposal:

What does ECOWAS want? Two basic things, I think: a relatively short timeline, and to save some face. So while ECOWAS might consider a two-year timeline, reportedly the optics of Mali’s junta simply decreeing that timeline rubbed ECOWAS the wrong way. Two years is also, at least by my vague sense, the upper bound of what ECOWAS could accept, and they might not even be able to stomach two years on top of an already-lapsed eighteen months. Twelve months, fourteen months, sixteen months…all of those lengths seem to be acceptable in ECOWAS’ eyes. The numbers are really not that different at this point, then, but to seal a deal it seems ECOWAS and the junta would have to find a way to keep pride on both sides. And to be fair, I don’t think that’s just ego on ECOWAS’ side – they are also obviously very concerned about what messages the Guinean and Burkinabè juntas will take from this whole saga between ECOWAS and Mali.

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.