Nigeria: Quick Thoughts on Oby Ezekwesili’s Candidacy, Technocrats Turned Politicians, and More

Yesterday I posted about former Vice President Atiku Abubakar securing the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) nomination for Nigeria’s February 2019 presidential election. Today I’d like to mention another candidate, former cabinet minister, former World Bank Vice President, and #BringBackOurGirls organizer Oby Ezekwesili. She is running as the candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria.

From the BBC:

Along with reaching out to Nigeria’s youth, Ms Ezekwesili has an obvious appeal to women, and her high profile in the country and international respectability could also boost her candidacy.

She is also from the south of the country, while the two leading men are from the north, so this could help her pick up votes among southerners who want one of their own to lead the country.

Ms Ezekwesili is likely to elicit some support and could make the APC and PDP nervous, but the power of the established parties may be hard to overcome.

I am particularly interested in this candidacy because I have been following, for some time now, the ways that senior Nigerian technocrats become politicized and/or attempt to convert their technocratic reputations into political capital. I explored these themes in an article published at African Studies Review earlier this year. That article started with an excerpt from an interview Mehdi Hasan did with Ezekwesili, where he repeatedly insisted (and she repeatedly denied) that she was a politician. Funny how things change.


Nigeria: Thoughts on the PDP’s Nomination of Atiku Abubakar

Yesterday, 7 October, Nigeria’s former ruling party (the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) selected Atiku Abubakar as its nominee for the 2019 presidential elections. Abubakar served as Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999-2007, the first eight years of the PDP’s sixteen-year reign.

Abubakar has been a party’s nominee for president once before. Late in the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo (also served 1999-2007), the two men fell out, partly over power struggles and partly over the issue of Obasanjo’s desire to overturn term limits and obtain a third term. In 2007, Abubakar was the Action Congress’ nominee. He placed third in the general election that year, taking 7% of the vote; the winner was Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, while Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria’s current president, elected in 2015) took second place. Atiku also eyed presidential runs in 2011 and 2015, although in 2015 he backed Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He then left the APC in 2017 and returned to the PDP.

Abubakar hails from Adamawa, in the far northeast. His political rise, ironically, was through the network of Yar’Adua’s older brother, the late Shehu Yar’Adua (1943-1997). In 1998, he won the gubernatorial election in Adamawa, but was quickly tapped as Obasanjo’s running mate. It’s worth mentioning here that S. Yar’Adua was Obasanjo’s second-in-command when the latter was military head of state from 1976-1979.

Returning to the present, Abubakar has defeated or outmaneuvered a slate of other prominent northern politicians, including various governors and senators to become the PDP nominee. These politicians include Senate President Bukola Saraki, of Kwara State; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, of Kano; Governor Aminu Tambuwal, of Sokoto; and former Governor Sule Lamido, of Jigawa. Some of these governors only recently rejoined the PDP after several years in the APC and a transitional phase in the “Reformed APC.”

In victory, Abubakar is emphasizing the theme of “let’s get Nigeria working again.”

Other candidates are pledging their support:

As of now, I do not rate the PDP’s chances highly. In fact, they are exposed to some of the same dilemmas that confront the ruling APC: (1) only one person can be the nominee, which creates restlessness among other politicians and can lead to repeated party-switching; and (2) seniority, and money, weigh heavily in parties’ selections of presidential nominees, meaning that the nominees are not always the best candidates, nor are they always well positioned to promise genuine change to voters. The PDP had to pick a nominee, of course, but picking Abubakar may now make them vulnerable to some of the defections that have plagued the APC this year (and that plagued the PDP during the lead-up to the 2015 elections). Meanwhile, one wonders whether the prospect of choosing between Buhari and Abubakar will not leave many southerners indifferent, not just because both candidates are northerners but also because both men represent the class of military officers and their proteges that have dominated presidential politics for decades. Abubakar, moreover, seems to me to be someone with clout and influence but without widespread personal popularity. Buhari, despite his many weaknesses as a president and a candidate, still has a charisma that Abubakar lacks. If figures such as Kwankwaso, Saraki, Lamido, and Tambuwal remain with the PDP and successfully peel their states out of Buhari’s column, the PDP and Abubakar might be able to put together a winning map that includes parts of the north, the middle belt, and the southeast (and here I mean both the South East and the South South). But I’m a bit skeptical that that will happen.




World Politics Review Article on Nigeria’s 2019 Elections

Yesterday I had a piece out with World Politics Review, looking at the approaching February/March 2019 elections through the lens of intra-elite shifts and some of Nigeria’s multi-faceted problems. The piece amplifies some of the themes from this post, and it would be well worth reading Matt Page’s latest for Quartz, which deals with some of the same developments.

As always, comments welcome below.

Nigeria’s Presidential Candidates

After a spate of party primaries last week, Nigeria is moving into its general election. Registration has begun (accompanied by some problems), and presidential candidates are starting their campaigns in earnest. Here’s a look at some key figures:

President Goodluck Jonathan (People’s Democratic Party)

The PDP has won all three of Nigeria’s elections since the country’s 1999 democratic transition, and many observers (including me) expect Jonathan to win this year’s contest. The 53-year-old former governor of Bayelsa State, who holds a Ph.D in Zoology, was elected vice president in 2007. Following the illness and death of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who headed the ticket in 2007, Jonathan became president (acting from February-May 2010, official from May 2010-present). Jonathan did not immediately proclaim his electoral intentions upon assuming office, waiting until September to declare his candidacy. By running for re-election, Jonathan has disrupted an unofficial agreement about North-South power-sharing in Nigeria: he faces opposition within the PDP from members who believe he should withdraw in order to let a Northerner run for the second term that death denied to Yar’Adua (a Northerner). Nevertheless, Jonathan handily won the PDP primary.

General Muhammadu Buhari (Congress for Progressive Change)

Buhari, who finished second in the 2003 and 2007 elections as a candidate for the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), left the ANPP in 2010 to form his own party, the CPC. Buhari, 68, led a bloodless coup against President Shehu Shagari in 1983, and ruled Nigeria until 1985, when General Ibrahim Babangida displaced him in another palace coup. Today, Buhari enjoys substantial popularity in Northern Nigeria, but potentially lacks a national base. Having mounted legal challenges after his losses in 2003 and 2007, Buhari and many of his supporters view the electoral process with distrust. I have analyzed Buhari’s campaign rhetoric here; briefly, he has focused on themes of corruption and security. Many observers expect Buhari to be Jonathan’s strongest opposition.

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (All Nigeria People’s Party)

The ANPP holds several governorships in Northern Nigeria, and Kano (the North’s largest city) is one of its strongholds. With Buhari’s departure, Shekarau, the governor of Kano State, has emerged as the ANPP’s candidate for 2011. Shekarau, 55, won the primary decisively, indicating he has strength within the ANPP. He served two terms as governor (and is term-limited from running again), and still commands real support in Kano. But last summer some people I spoke with said his popularity was slipping. My sense is that Buhari has stronger support across the North. The danger for Buhari and Shekarau is that they will compete for the same (Northern) votes, weakening each other without seriously threatening Jonathan.

Nuhu Ribadu (Action Congress of Nigeria)

Ribadu, 50, served from 2003 to 2007 as Executive Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and established a reputation as an anti-corruption stalwart. After his removal from office, he lived abroad and worked as a fellow at the Center for Global Development. Some expected Ribadu to return to Nigeria and work with Jonathan, but he has decided to run as the ACN’s candidate. The ACN (known as the Action Congress or AC at the time) scored around 8% of the official vote in 2007, and ran former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its candidate. Despite Ribadu’s name recognition, it does not seem that he will be a serious threat to Jonathan, and as a Northerner he could split the Northern vote further. His presence in the race may increase the significance of corruption as an issue.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and Former President Ibrahim Babangida

Two other Nigerian political heavyweights are not official presidential candidates at the moment. Abubakar, 64, was President Olusegun Obasanjo’s running mate in 1999 and 2003. He challenged Yar’Adua for the presidency in 2007 and challenged Jonathan for the PDP nomination last week, but was unsuccessful in both efforts. Some speculate that following his primary loss he will mount an independent challenge for the presidency, but so far his intentions are unknown. Similarly, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida, 69, has indicated that he may leave the PDP and run for president. Nevertheless, he congratulated Jonathan for his primary victory, speaking of “our great party” and indicating that he will not depart from the party. Still, Babangida has kept observers guessing. A run by either Babangida or Abubakar could change the dynamics of the race, though probably not tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Many of Jonathan’s major challengers are Northerners, and there is a real possibility that these politicians, by competing for the same votes, will only weaken each other. Still, it’s a relatively long time until April, time enough for the upredictability and dynamism of Nigerian politics to show itself once again.

Have I missed anyone? What do you think of each candidate’s chances?

Nigeria: Security Issues Loom Large in Presidential Race

North-South rivalry has figured prominently in Nigeria’s presidential race, but another issue has also come to prominence: security. Critics of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, including former Northern military rulers, charge that he has responded ineffectively to bombings and other security incidents. Following another bombing on New Year’s Eve in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, Jonathan has been working aggressively to enhance Nigeria’s security apparatuses and dispel concerns about his handling of security issues.

Security threats in Nigeria are occurring in multiple locations (the Niger Delta, Jos, Maiduguri, Abuja) at the hands of diverse groups (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Boko Haram, and various local groups). Out of all the violence, the bombings have perhaps been politicized the most. The New Year’s Eve bombing was perpetrated by attackers whose identity remains unknown, though some authorities and observers hold the Islamic rebel group Boko Haram responsible.

Regardless of who plotted the bombing, it forms a sequel of sorts to a bombing in Abuja on Nigeria’s fiftieth Independence Day, October 1, 2010. Following that incident, Northern politicians issued harsh criticisms of Jonathan’s performance and called for his resignation. General Ibrahim Babangida, a former military ruler and potential presidential candidate, released a joint statement with the governor of Kwara State, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, in which they denounced Jonathan’s handling of the bombings and “accused him of failing to provide security around the country.”

Jonathan’s campaign quickly fired back at critics after Independence Day, but following the New Year’s Eve bombing the president called an emergency meeting on security issues and initiated high-profile policy changes. These include the appointment of a special terrorism adviser, the creation of new committees to monitor explosives and promote public awareness, the passage of an anti-terrorism law, and the introduction of CCTV in some public places. The government also announced it will tighten security at public events.

Jonathan’s response to the New Year’s Eve bombing says to me that he takes the security problem seriously both at a policy level and a political level. Where the policy calculations end and the political calculations begin I cannot say, but politically it is clear that he hopes to quash any possible perception that he is “soft on terror.” If such a feeling became widespread in Nigeria it would hand a rhetorical advantage to a military man like General Muhammadu Buhari, freshly nominated by the Congress for Progressive Change to run in the general election. Attention to security has featured in Buhari’s campaign so far. Jonathan’s rival for his own party’s nomination, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, has also made use of the security issue.

I do not think that debates over security will seriously damage Jonathan, but to the extent that security problems continue we will likely see terrorism remain a large issue in the campaign, and we may see further policy changes coming from the president.

Nigeria: PDP Primary Approaches, Poll Gives Abubakar Hope

Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party will hold its presidential nominating convention on January 13. The contest pits incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan against former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. It will represent a test for the principle of “zoning,” which recommends that the party alternate Southerners and Northerners for its presidential nominees every eight years. Some PDP members, such as the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF), interpret this principle to mean that since President Umaru Yar’Adua, a Northerner, died part-way through his first term, the party should nominate a Northern candidate for the current election. Abubakar is the consensus candidate of the NPLF. The advantages of incumbency might favor Jonathan for the nomination, but a recent poll gives hope to Abubakar, and other observers say a Jonathan victory might split the PDP.

First, the poll:

The survey stated that six of every 10 automatic delegates to the presidential nomination convention of PDP said the principle of zoning would determine the way they vote in selecting the party’s candidate.

In their own interpretation, the researchers said a vote in this direction was almost certainly going to hurt the President Goodluck Jonathan’s bid for the PDP ticket.

The poll is the second in two weeks. The first one, which also favoured the former Vice President to pick the PDP ticket, was marred in controversy.

The new survey was conducted by a group of Social Science Scholars coordinated by Dr. Mohammed Nu’uman Habib, former Head, Department of Sociology, Bayero University (BUK), Kano.


As many as 57 per cent of the delegates said they are undecided on who they would be voting for in the presidential primaries if the contest is between incumbent President Jonathan, and his main challenger, Atiku Abubakar.


The polls carried out over a three-day period (December 19-21) showed the delegates rating incumbency factor as being of “little importance”, with 46.77 per cent saying it is of no significance to their voting intentions. Twenty-five per cent or a quarter of respondents think incumbency is an important factor.


An analysis of the distribution of those already committed to the two candidates, showed that President Jonathan has an unbeatable majority from the South-South, while Atiku has the South-West delegates in his corner. Atiku also has the majority votes in North-West and North-East zones. Delegates from the South-East and North-Central zones are in the majority of those that refused to say how they would vote.

To review, 60% of surveyed delegates favor zoning (potentially indicating that they favor a Northerner for this year’s nomination), 57% are undecided on who they support, and Abubakar has majority support from three of Nigeria’s six “geopolitical zones.”

How much those numbers matter obviously depends on at least two considerations: 1) How accurate you think the survey is and 2) What effect you think the publication of the survey results will have on delegates’ thinking. For myself, I rarely trust in polls, but it will be interesting to see how the survey results match up to the final vote, especially in terms of the zonal distributions. Previous winning coalitions in Nigeria have often paired the Southeast with the Northwest to the exclusion of the Northeast and the Southwest. In any case, perhaps Abubakar will have a stronger showing than I initially thought.

However the vote goes, the story won’t necessarily end with the convention. Former Ambassador John Campbell argues that threats from senior Northern PDP members to leave the party, and the “likely” failure of a legal suit to require the PDP to follow zoning, are harbingers of the “impending fragmentation of the PDP.” An editorial in Nigeria’s The Nation predicts a similar outcome: “From the way they are going about the campaign, it is obvious that neither man will support the other if he picks the ticket. The cards, as it were are stacked against Atiku. But he cannot be written off at this stage despite the clear stand of the party on who it is likely to support, if the chips are down, for the ticket.”

The two candidates will meet on Monday, potentially offering a chance to iron out logistics and grievances, but much remains uncertain heading into the convention. It matters not only who wins, but how they win and how the loser(s) react: the events of the 13th will partly set the tone for the general election.

More on the candidates’ campaign styles here (scroll down to article).

Outlines of Nigerian Election Taking Shape

With around four and a half months to go, the details of Nigeria’s 2011 elections – and the central actors in the competition – are becoming clear.

Yesterday Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission announced dates for the elections: parliamentary elections will take place on April 2nd, the presidential contest on April 9th, and gubernatorial votes on April 16th. May 29th remains the date for the swearing-in ceremony of the president-elect, leaving Nigeria around seven weeks to resolve any irregularities, problems, or complaints stemming from the elections.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is also heading toward its nominating convention. What happens there will likely have a decisive impact on the general election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan faces significant opposition from within the PDP, especially from some Northern members who feel that because a Southerner (President Olusegun Obasanjo) ruled Nigeria from 1999 to 2007, Jonathan should step aside and let a Northerner complete the eight-year rotation begun by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.

On Monday, Northern elites in the Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF) moved to defeat Jonathan and restore Northern primacy. The NPLF officially put forward former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as its consensus candidate for the PDP primary. Abubakar hails from Adamawa State in Nigeria’s North East.


Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria

Different Nigerian outlets characterize the contest between Jonathan and Abubakar differently. For example, Vanguard depicts the country’s six “geopolitical zones” as somewhat evenly split between the two men, while the Nigerian Tribune argues that the support of powerful governors across the country for Jonathan means that “though politics is no Mathematics,  with all these, the fact that the North has a consensus candidate may not really negatively affect the chances of Jonathan at the primaries.” (I highly recommend both links if you want a zone-by-zone view of the contest.)

What many Nigerian media outlets agree on is that the PDP race is narrowing down to Jonathan and Abubakar. Other Northern political heavyweights such as former President Ibrahim Babangida have reportedly thrown their backing to Abubakar. If you believe, as I do, that the PDP’s nominee is the favorite to win the general election, then the pool for the general has shrunk considerably with the elimination of such PDP giants. And if you go the extra step of thinking, as I do again, that Jonathan will win the nomination, then trends still seem to favor him in the general.

Whatever one’s take on the PDP primaries, we have a lot more information about the elections than we did a week ago: a firm date, clearer electoral battle lines, and a stronger sense of what lies ahead. Now I will be looking out for when the PDP sets a date for its primaries, and for a sense of how opposition parties are planning their electoral strategies.