Nigeria’s Election Shows the Country Is Majority Muslim – a Guest Post by Ismail Hashim

Editor’s Note: The below is a guest post by my colleague Ibrahim Hashim. He argues that the victory of a “Muslim-Muslim” ticket in Nigeria’s recent presidential election is a strong indication that the country’s population, rather than being approximately half Muslim and half Christian, is in fact majority Muslim. For my own part, I think Nigeria is quite likely a Muslim-majority country, and I think one can reach that conclusion based simply upon the broadly accepted ideas that the north has an overwhelming Muslim majority while the southwest has a considerable number of Muslims living there. Ismail also points to key demographic trends, namely high birthrates among Nigerian Muslims, especially in the north. I differ somewhat with Ismail when it comes to the question of whether the election results give us much of a sense of the country’s wider religious demography (I think considerable fraud likely occurred) – but I agree with him when it comes to the sense that the victory of the “Muslim-Muslim ticket” is a marker of some underlying demographic shifts. Meanwhile, Ismail’s remarks about what Islam may mean (or not mean) to President-Elect Bola Tinubu are very apt – and the empowerment of Tinubu as an individual does not necessarily mean that Nigerian Muslims have been empowered as a group. – Alex

At first, I was not comfortable with the idea of a “Muslim-Muslim ticket,” which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) party had issued to Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Kashim Shettima as its presidential candidate and running mate respectively. I held this view for several reasons some of which were equally articulated by various analysts, commentators and opinion writers. Like many thousands of Nigerians, particularly Muslims, I also believed that the Muslim-Muslim ticket was a necessary, expedient winning strategy rather than an intrepid move toward the triumph of Islam in a pluralistic country that has been suffering from demographic competition.

In 2015, when Muhammadu Buhari became the flagbearer of the APC, there were indications that Tinubu (a major stakeholder in the political merger that culminated in the sweeping victories of the APC during the 2015 elections) had a strong zest to be picked by Buhari as the latter’s running mate. But the old general refused to do so, obviously to carry along Christians and canvass their support and secure their votes; no farsighted politician would risk hurting the sensibilities of even a small number of voters let alone a big population that once claimed to possess demographic supremacy in the country’s entire population. A Muslim-Muslim presidency was thought – by the Christian population but in fact by many Muslims as well – to be a permanent impossibility in Nigeria’s political arena.

Christians, who are a minority in Nigeria as has been proven now beyond doubt, had been regarding a Muslim-Muslim presidency as a unique Muslim utopian vision and a fruitless attempt of flying a kite either to see how high it would go in the sky or to gauge the direction of the wind. Thus, Nigerian Christians never hid their opposition to the development and spared no effort to fight the bid. In 2023, churches became platforms for homilies on Christian unity and for the mobilization of support and strong, formidable religious support and solidarity in favour of the Labour Party’s candidate, Peter Obi, the only Christian who contested against three Muslims (Tinubu; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; and former Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso) in the race for the highest political office in the land. The defeat of Peter Obi as portrayed in the milieu of Christians was interpreted as the fall of the rising Christendom and the failure of the Christian cause in Nigeria. Therefore, not minding the huge irrecoverable costs of putting their eggs in one basket, Christians gathered their voting strength on their own candidate and wholeheartedly threw their support to Peter Obi.

Although like their Christian counterparts, Muslims had also used religious infrastructure to mobilize support for Tinubu and framed casting votes to him as a “political Jihad,” it was understandably impractical since Muslim votes must be inevitably split between the two other contenders, Atiku of the People’s Democratic Party and Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People’s Party. After all, many northerners were yet skeptical of Tinubu’s nationalism and cosmopolitanism, and he was certainly viewed in many quarters as an ethnic champion and a pursuer of Yoruba agenda, rather than as a devout Muslim. Added to this, the fact that Tinubu’s wife (and an acclaimed pastor for that matter) and the majority (if not all) of his children are said to be Christians, some northern Muslims felt that Tinubu’s victory should in some form be considered as the triumph of Christians.

In the run-up to the 2023 presidential election, the Muslim society in northern Nigeria which, as always, largely relies on the discourses of the clerical establishment in the region, became extremely divided as which of the three candidates Muslims should support. Scholars who were loyalists to northern governors, some of whom were/are among their political appointees, had preached in favor of Tinubu and cast his election as a necessity that Muslims must accept. Other scholars, most of whom were independent and largely young, openly campaigned for Atiku and warned northerners against voting for someone outside their region. The majority of scholars, however, seemed to take a neutral position and advised that Muslims could vote any of the three candidates since each of them is a Muslim. Ironically, this neutral position was popularized and voiced loudly by the outspoken Izala, the Salafi group which in the past used to explicitly campaign for Buhari and make it a religious obligation upon all Muslims to vote for the old general. It appears that Izala decided this time not to openly side with any of the candidates since some people have been launching attacks on the group for asking them to vote for Buhari, but then the group failed to criticize Buhari’s weak leadership. It was even argued that Izala (whose top figures are friends and loyalists to some northern governors) was inwardly supporting Tinubu’s candidacy but it was afraid of the protest and condemnation of its followers and the larger Muslim public. Thus, it decided to exhibit outward neutrality.

Ultimately, the Muslim-Muslim ticket carried the day and, I would argue, reflects Muslims’ numerical majority in Nigeria. And here is why:

Out of 23,377,466 total valid votes cast, 17,275,933 represent the voting strength of Muslims who divided their votes for the three Muslim candidates. No analysis of the results of this election can ignore the possibility of overlaps of votes between Muslims and Christians in favor of each of these three candidates. But cross-over voting was arguably minimal and each candidate might have likely gained from it – the Muslims who crossed over to vote for Obi, and the Christians who crossed over to vote for Tinubu and Atiku, may have partly canceled each other out. So the outcomes of the elections have solidly reflected the religious affiliation and sociopolitical orientation of the voting population. After all the mobilizations in churches and social media platforms, including the voluminous circulars disseminated to all chapels and chapters by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and sister bodies, the results of the election show that Peter Obi had merely scored 6,101,533, less than 27 percent of the whole valid votes cast.

The results of polls, of course, do not map precisely onto the demographics of Nigeria’s population as a whole; reported turnout was low, and there were accusations of fraud, although the seriousness of these accusations has been debated. Yet election results are crucial for arriving at some useful hints about the country’s overall religious demography. The basic fact is that Nigerian Muslims tend to have more children than other groups in the country. Many factors have combined to contribute to the rapid increase of Muslims and give them numerical edge over their counterparts. The Muslims, who still retain the age-old culture of growing extended families, have a prevailing polygamous lifestyle and have not, to a large extent, assimilated to the western childbearing orientation. Research has shown that Muslim women have a higher fertility rate than non-Muslim women. According to the data of the Nigeria‘s National Population Commission, as of 2008, birthrates per woman in the North West and the North East – heavily Muslim-majority zones – stood as 7.3 and 7.2 respectively, while in the South it was less than 5 children per woman.

In terms of how demography plays out in politics, Nigeria’s democracy has since 1999 been characterized by zoning and rotation between the two major regions and religions (North and South and Islam and Christianity). And although many politicians have adopted zoning and rotation in the spirit of carrying everyone along, rotation based on faith is not necessarily equitable or representative vis-à-vis the population. For instance, Muslims in Gombe State account for about 75 percent of the population yet the state has been electing a Muslim and Christian governor and deputy governor for over two decades. In Kaduna State, until 2019 when Governor Nasir El-Rufai chose a Muslim deputy governor, the state has been pairing a Muslim and Christian for these two powerful ranks. Other examples can be confidently cited and it is Muslims who make the most concessions. In states like Plateau and Benue, however, which although having a sizable population of Muslims (perhaps more than 40% in Plateau and more than 25% in Benue), no Muslim has ever been selected as deputy governor since the return of the present democratic dispensation in 1999. 

Politicians do not toy with the matter of votes, but they also adapt to changing political realities and sometimes the calculations about what makes for electability in one election no longer apply in the next contest. 2023, in other words, is not 2015. The 2023 presidential election will go down in history as a solid testimony establishing the fact that Muslims can determine their political fate and can win election of the highest political office in the land without needing to have a Christian on the ticket. And going by the case study of Plateau and Benue states, one may be justified if he alleges that had it been that it were Christians who possessed similar numerical strength of Muslims, no one could guarantee that they would concede the position of vice president to the Muslims.

Meanwhile, the effects of the election continue to reverberate in the country. Many Muslim northerners who did not vote for Tinubu are now identifying with his success. I suspect that there are two major reasons for this. One is that the opposition of Nigeria’s Christians for the Muslim-Muslim presidency is conversely reawakening Muslims to consider the election as a political triumph of Islam. Secondly, if not because Christians are counting the outcomes of the election as a sheer loss based on faith grounds, Nigerians are jubilating that the election is marking the end of Buhari’s leadership and putting a halt to the pains of Nigerians over his draconian policies. After all, there are solid indications that the Naira redesign policy will either be eradicated completely or chiefly reviewed once Buhari is gone.

Despite the foregoing arguments, a question that may yet beg for an answer is, does the faith of a president necessarily ensure that his coreligionists will enjoy the dividends of democracy better than those with whom he does not share his faith? No clear-cut answers can be supplied to this question. Tinubu, ironically, appears to be only a nominal Muslim, as shown by his seeming inability to correctly recite or translate the first chapter of the Qur’an – a chapter whose recitation is essential to the correct performance of daily prayers. Yet Tinubu has, by picking a Muslim as his running mate, audaciously accomplished what many other Muslim politicians could never mull over, let alone try. If Tinubu’s victory points to Muslims’ demographic majority, that victory does not necessarily mean that Islamic values will now be more thoroughly represented in the land’s high office.

Ismail wrote from Souss, Southern Morocco, and can be reached at

Notes on Nigeria, Borno, and Qur’an Recitation Competitions

The other day a Facebook post from outgoing Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima caught my eye. In the post, Shettima’s office discusses the governor’s substantial gifts to Borno men and women who had won state, national, and international rankings at Qur’an recitation competitions. Such competitions can be major events in Nigeria and throughout the Muslim world – as you can see in the documentary “Koran By Heart,” which I show in some of my classes. The competitions often center on (a) thoroughness of memorization, e.g. the judges/moderators will begin a verse and then ask competitors to complete it, and (b) beauty/technical perfection of recitation.

Qur’an memorization and Qur’an schools in West Africa are an increasingly prominent topic of academic study, with recent books on the topic by Butch Ware (2014, on Senegal) and Hannah Hoechner (2018, on northern Nigeria).

Within Nigeria, Borno in particular has high repute as a center for the memorization of the Qur’an, and so it is no surprise to see the governor recognizing high-performing competitors from the state. Nevertheless, the gifts are notable, both the ones that competitors won outside the state and the ones that Shettima added:

The Governor announced the rewards on Monday [October 15] in Maiduguri when he received the participants, accompanied by members of the Qur’anic Competition Committee led by the Chief Imam of Borno, Imam Laisu Ibrahim Ahmed.

Beneficiaries of the scholarship award include; Al-Bashir Goni Usman who was last year’s 1st Position at the Kwara State Qur’anic Recitation Competition. He got 2nd Position at the International Competition held in Saudi Arabia where he was awarded SR100,000 (equivalent to N10,000,000), Amina Ali Mohammed who was this year’s overall winner in the female 1st category in Katsina State. She won a car (G.M.) costing about N4,900,000 and a cash prize of N500,000 by the Katsina State Government.

Others are Sale Abubakar Sale (1st position in male 4th category) who won a Hyundai car worth N3,600,000 and awarded N500,000 cash prize, Idris Abubakar Mohammed (2nd in the 3rd category recitation), who won one tricycle worth N600,000, a deep freezer, and N250,000 cash, and Aisha Hamidu (4th in 2nd category) who won a motorcycle worth N190,000 and a cash prize of N150,000.

The remaining six participants were given N50,000 each by the Katsina State Government.

Impressed with their performance, Governor Kashim Shettima directed the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education to process their scholarships immediately, adding that six of the remaining participants will get One Hundred Thousand Naira each.

Some quick comments, in no particular order:

  • The imam-ship is essentially hereditary in Borno. A eulogy for the current imam’s father, who may have been the longest-serving imam in Borno history, can be found here. In a way, an event like this showcases a kind of “government Islam” in Borno, where elected politicians and hereditary, largely traditionalist figures cooperate in an attempt to define and shape Islam for the public.
  • I really enjoyed Obi Anyadike’s recent African Arguments piece on a decline of Islamic religiosity in Maiduguri, but the attention Borno authorities are showing to this competition – and the strong performances Borno-ans are delivering in competitions in Nigeria and around the world – would be data points against that narrative.
  • Qur’an competitions attract participants from diverse backgrounds, including Sufis and Salafis. During my dissertation research in Kano I met two prominent brothers from the Tijaniyya Sufi order who organized Qur’an competitions through their schools.
  • Ja’far Mahmud Adam (1961/2-2007), the most prominent northern Nigerian Salafi of his generation, won a national competition and then placed third at a Qur’an recitation competition in Saudi Arabia in 1988 (see here, p. 5). These performances helped him secure admission to the Islamic University of Medina and helped accelerate his preaching career back home. So competitors who perform well are (a) sometimes positioned for success in religious leadership generally and (b) not just automatons with good memories; they can also have broader religious profiles and knowledge.

Nigeria: Developments in Gubernatorial Contests in Osun, Kano, and Borno

Nigeria is in full-blown election mode in advance of the 16 February* 2019 presidential vote. Some of the most consequential political developments are taking place in the states. Here we look at three states: Osun, in the southwest, where a contentious gubernatorial election result is raising questions about ruling party interference and electoral officials’ biases; and two key northern states, Kano and Borno, where gubernatorial primaries are approaching.


Last week I wrote about the off-cycle gubernatorial election in Osun, which I believe is the last major election before the presidential vote. In Osun, incumbent governor (and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress or APC) Rauf Aregbesola is stepping down due to term limits, and so the race is between his chief of staff Gboyega Oyetola and Osun West Senator Ademola Adeleke. The latter represents the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999-2015.

Osun’s election took place on 22 September, but problems occurred at seven polling units. The election was re-run at those units on 27 September, and the returns from those units changed the overall outcome. After the 22 September results, the PDP’s Adeleke had a lead of 353 votes; after the 27 September results were added to the tallies, the APC’s Oyetola had a lead of some 482 votes and was declared the winner.

The close margin, and the reversal in the party’s fortunes, has led to outcry and concern not just from the PDP, but also from other observers. The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room released a statement critical of the process and questioning the integrity of the final result. The Centre for Democracy and Development in West Africa’s statement similarly concluded (see second tweet in thread) “that the conduct of some key stakeholders clearly ran contrary to democratic norms & standards, as well as best practices in the conduct of credible elections.”

And here is part of the joint statement from the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States:

In contrast to our overall findings on the vote of September 22, we were concerned to witness widespread incidents of interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers by some political party supporters and security agencies.  Many of our findings mirror those of leading civil society groups that observed the election.

We commend the work of INEC leadership during both elections. But it is clear that the neutrality of the security services and responsible conduct by party agents, both inside and outside polling units, will be essential to ensure free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in 2019.

For both the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission, then, there is skepticism in the air about their ability to conduct a successful and open process in February.


Back in August, I took a look at party shifts and realignments in Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria. Four prominent personalities are fighting for influence over the upcoming gubernatorial election. Most gubernatorial votes will take place (or are scheduled for) 2 March 2019. So here are the major players in Kano:

  • Former Governor (and current Senator) Rabiu Kwankwaso (served 1999-2003, 2011-2015)
  • Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (served 2003-2011)
  • Current Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (took office 2015)
  • Ex-Deputy Governor (as of August) Hafiz Abubakar (in office 2015-2018)

The latest big news is that Kwankwaso is backing Abba Yusuf to win the PDP gubernatorial nomination. Nigerian media (corporate and social) has been buzzing with the news that Yusuf is Kwankwaso’s son-in-law, although Kwankwaso himself has sought to correct (or spin?) the perception of nepotism by arguing that Yusuf is not married to one of his daughters but rather to someone from his extended family.

Kwankwaso also reportedly sought to arrange a game of musical chairs that would place Yusuf in the governor’s seat while placing Abubakar and long-time Shekarau ally Salihu Takai (who has, however, so far not followed Shekarau’s lead in defecting to the APC after Kwankwaso defected to the PDP)** into Senate seats. Here is a paraphrase of what Kwankwaso said about the proposal he made to Abubakar and Takai:

He also explained his reasons for not anointing the former Kano deputy governor, Prof Hafiz Abubakar, and a prominent politician in the state Alhaji Sagir Takai. He said he had known Prof Hafiz for over 40 years and has assisted him wherever necessary. The Prof was asked to contest for the Kano Central senate seat, a seat currently occupied by Sen Kwankwaso, in the coming 2019 election but he showed no interest. Likewise Sagir Takai had also been asked to contest for the seat of the southern Kano senatorial zone but had also declined to the arrangement, Sen Kwankwaso explained.

Within the PDP, then, you have a major contest for the nomination brewing – and then the nominee will face off against Ganduje, who remains in the APC and remains governor. Part of Kwankwaso’s ambition, of course, is to win the PDP nomination for the presidency and then bring Kano into his column in the general election.


Borno is the largest state in Nigeria by landmass and is the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. Incumbent Governor Kashim Shettima of the APC is term-limited and will likely seek the Borno Central Senate seat. As in other states, outgoing governors can wield tremendous influence in picking a successor (Shettima himself was hand-picked in 2011 by then-outgoing Governor Ali Modu Sheriff after Sheriff’s initial pick, Modu Gubio, was assassinated, likely by Boko Haram).

The big news out of Borno, then, is that Shettima has endorsed Babagana Zulum for the APC nomination. Zulum is a professor and the former state commissioner for reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement. (Here, if you are interested, are micro-bios of the other candidates.)

In Shettima’s endorsement statement, he focused on how Zulum’s professional experience will be crucial for Borno as it focuses on post-conflict reconstruction. But other parts of the statement allude, cryptically, to intra-party conflicts:

We cannot pretend not to be aware that an otherwise leader in our party, the APC, has deliberately created an unnecessary division within its membership in the state. This has led, to borrow from the satirical wisdom of Distinguished Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, the existence of what is akin to a match between “home based players” in the majority and with local support and a minority “foreign based players”. Four months ago, when we received some fleeing leaders back into the APC fold, I had thought that those who choose to work against the majority have learned lessons. I had expected us to once again, fuse into one indivisible family so that together, we could give our party a direction and confront our opponents as a united force. How wrong I was! Perhaps, I ignored the common saying, that a leopard does not change its spots.

This is, of course, a reference to Shettima’s difficult relationship with Sheriff, who rejoined the APC in a May 2018 “peace deal” with Shettima. Since then, however, political conflict between the two has flared up again.

There is also a hint, in Shettima’s endorsement statement, that Zulum is something of a consensus candidate:

Of our 21 aspirants, if I were to support and hand pick what some people might call any of my closest boys as successor; I most certainly would go for Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan or Adamu Lawan Zaufanjimba. If, on the other hand, public service is the only consideration, none of the aspirants can be more qualified than our elder statesman, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda. If loyalty to political association is my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Abubakar Kyari has proved unalloyed loyalty to political association with me. If years of sincere and mutual friendship are my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai and Alhaji Mai Sheriff are my closest friends amongst all our aspirants. If the consideration is about humility and ability to carry people along, His Excellency Shettima Yuguda Dibal is legendary. I have relationship and so much respect for majority of the aspirants, the likes of Hon. Umara Kumalia, Makinta, name them. In fact, two of the aspirants, Mustapha Fannarambe and Umar Alkali are my relatives. All aspirants have divergent qualities. However, because of the situation we found ourselves, considerations for the next Governor of Borno State requires specific quips tailored to our needs for now.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but it also seems to me that Zulum may be a somewhat technocratic choice who lacks a constituency of his own and therefore may be seen as pliable by Shettima and his team. But I welcome readers’ thoughts and corrections on this point in particular.

So there you have it – three crucial states, one of whose governorships has been held for the APC in a potentially ugly way (Osun), one of whose governorships is increasingly contested (Kano), and one whose governorships may pass smoothly from incumbent to successor (Borno). In any case, these remain three states to watch, especially in terms of how gubernatorial politics interact with presidential politics in the lead-up to 2019.

*Delays are always possible, although the constitution requires that the next presidential term start by 29 May 2019.

**No one said this was easy to follow!

Notes on the Outcome Statement of the Lake Chad Conference in Berlin

On 3-4 September, the governments of Germany, Nigeria, and Norway, together with the United Nations, hosted a “High-Level Conference on the Lake Chad Region.” The primary aim of the conference was to close the funding shortfall for humanitarian operations in the region affected by Boko Haram – namely, northeastern Nigeria, southeastern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, the islands of Lake Chad, as well as some parts of western Chad. The conference generated some $2.17 billion in pledges, more than the organizers had hoped.

This post offers a few notes on the outcome statement, but first, here is the program, which is also worth a glance. The panel I would have most liked to see was on the afternoon of 3 September, and entitled “Regional cross-border cooperation: Interventions of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Governors from the region.” The speakers were Mamman Nuhu, Executive Secretary, Lake Chad Basin Commission; Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State, Nigeria; Abali Salah Mahamat, Governor of Lac Chad Province, Chad; Midjiyawa Bakary, Governor of the Extreme North Region, Cameroon; and Mahamadou Bakabe, Governor of Diffa, Niger.

Turning to the outcome statement, a lot of the language is pretty banal and predictable. So here I’m only highlighting points that struck me as unusually substantive or noteworthy:

  • It is worth reading the statement in conjunction with UN Security Council Resolution 2349 (2017), which is referenced on p. 1. That resolution, among other matters, “Calls upon relevant United Nations entities, including UNOCA, UNOWAS, and the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) to redouble their support for Governments in the Region, as well as sub-regional and regional organizations, to address the impact of Boko Haram and ISIL violence on the peace and stability of the Region, including by addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, and violent extremism that can be conducive to terrorism, in line with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, and to conduct and gather gender-sensitive research and data collection on the drivers of radicalization for women, and the impacts of counter-terrorism strategies on women’s human rights and women’s organizations, in order to develop targeted and evidence-based policy and programming responses” (p. 4).
  • Laudably, the statement repeatedly emphasizes the need for programming that specifically addresses the needs of women and girls.
  • In the three main pages of the Outcome Statement’s text, the word “resilience” appears eight times and seems to me to have been the buzzword of the conference (as it is in various other development and humanitarian settings these days). Here is some sample language: “Strengthening resilience for sustainable development is essential for reducing vulnerabilities in the long term and efforts are already under way. We highlighted the leadership of governments in the region and the centrality of resilience-building measures at all levels.” Honestly, I have troubling telling what this means concretely. There is a section on p. 3 that clarifies things a bit: “Resilience means going beyond simply restoring the status quo ante, which contributed to giving rise to the crisis: it means building a better standard of living than before. There is an urgent need for governments and partners to continue to scale up efforts for transformational change.” But the language is so vague, even here, that I don’t quite know what the authors meant. I understand “resilience” as the capacity to withstand and even thrive amid setbacks; I suppose the real subtext here is that the donors are worried about either a real worsening of the conflict, or a future conflict, and so “resilience” becomes a code word for saying that governments need to prevent something like this from happening again.
  • Here is some more language that I found odd, from p. 2: “The conference highlighted that stabilization in the Lake Chad region is understood as supporting political processes on the ground and supporting security efforts in order to reduce violence. Stabilization seeks to enable first steps towards reconciliation between parties to the conflict and to establish social and political consensus as a foundation for legitimate political structures and long-term development. The conference underlined the importance of joint efforts to prevent further outbreaks of violent conflict and an escalation of conflicts into crises. The conference further underscored that supporting political processes to develop a common regional approach on stabilization is pivotal. The conference welcomed the establishment of the Governors’ Forum in Maiduguri in May 2018 as an important tool for cross-border cooperation. In this regard, we welcomed enhanced cooperation by the Governors of the riparian provinces and states and the consultation processes which increased civil society participation at the local level, especially of traditional and religious leaders, youth and women movements, and community health workers.” One could read “political processes” here as referring to the possibility of negotiations with Boko Haram (“reconciliation between parties to the conflict”), but one could also read it as coordination between different governments and different levels of government (“a common regional approach on stabilization”). Perhaps both senses are meant or implied.
  • The notes of criticism toward the Lake Chad governments are subtle, but they are there. From p. 3: “The conference stressed that reforms are needed to pursue more effective decentralization, and reach greater geographical equity in the allocation of public resources based on national realities. This would help building the capacity of public institutions to deliver key public services and serve their citizens to build resilience.” And from p. 2: “The conference called upon all parties to uphold their obligation to allow and facilitate timely and unhindered passage of impartial humanitarian relief for civilians in need. We expressed concern about the dangers faced by aid workers and reminded all parties that humanitarian personnel and assets must be respected and protected.” I’m sure the text of the statement was carefully negotiated, but reading between the lines suggests – to me, at least – that donors are concerned about how hierarchy, corruption, and authoritarianism are impeding humanitarian responses.
  • p. 4 of the statement breaks down the pledges made.

Nigeria: Boko Haram Through the Lens of the Niger Delta

“If our dear late President Umaru Yar’Adua can restore peace to a more volatile area like the Niger Delta by extending Amnesty to the militants of the region and dialogue with them by resolving most of their grievances amicably, I don’t see why we can’t do the same to the Boko Haram.”

– Governor-elect (now Governor) Kashim Shettima of Borno State, Nigeria, May 2011

In 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua launched an amnesty program that aimed to disarm, reintegrate, and employ militants in the Niger Delta. Prior to this, local anger over the failure of oil revenues to substantially benefit communities gave rise to armed movements that disrupted oil production. The government had deployed soldiers (the Joint Task Force or JTF) and militants, but only the amnesty seemed to offer a chance of lasting peace. The government’s two-pronged approach to the Delta – crackdown, then amnesty – helped tamp down the conflict there, though rumblings of discontent in the Delta, along with new threats from militants, indicate that it could resume.

Policymakers at both the federal and the state level largely see the problem of Boko Haram, the Muslim rebel group that is spreading violence outward from its stronghold in the Northeastern city of Maiduguri, Borno State, through the lens of the Niger Delta. The precedent of the Niger Delta force-then-amnesty policy, the perception of its at least partial success, and the existence of groups with significant experience in dialogue with militants, helps explain why some officials urge the application of the same formula in the Northeast. The military is already in Maiduguri, and force has long been an element of the state response to Boko Haram. The persistence with which the idea of amnesty returns in government circles, though – even when Boko Haram rejects it time after time – shows how strongly the example of the Delta has shaped Nigerian policy responses to violent groups.

The analogy with the Delta also shapes an understanding of what the root causes of Boko Haram’s emergence are. Figures like Governor Shettima, along with virtually every analyst, believes that Northern Nigeria’s problems – poverty, feelings of political isolation, deficient infrastructure, lack of broad access to higher Western-style education, etc – play some role in sustaining Boko Haram.

The challenge lies in moving from a general understanding of factors at work in Boko Haram’s existence to a specific understanding of the movement’s grievances and, finally, to nuanced policy tools that could reintegrate members of the movement into society or undercut its grassroots support.

The analogy with the Delta is helpful in the sense that it encourages examination of root causes of violence; it becomes less helpful if policymakers stop at the level of generalities (e.g., “we need more schools”) instead of thinking about what factors make Boko Haram, and Northeastern Nigeria, unique.

One place where a general analogy between the Niger Delta and Northeastern Nigeria breaks down is in the differences between groups like the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Boko Haram. It would be a mistake to say that religion (Christianity, local religions, and even Islam) is not a force in the Niger Delta, but the grievances of MEND have to do with the distribution of wealth resulting from one natural resource, oil. The grievances Boko Haram expresses are more diverse, less material, and are explicitly articulated as religious politics: Boko Haram wants stronger shari’a, it wants a purification of society, etc.

If the grievances are different, the solutions to address them must of necessity be at least somewhat different. More schools could help reduce feelings of marginalization in the North. But to reach a group whose very name connotes a rejection of Western education, not only as a phenomenon but also as a symbol of “un-Islamic” governance in Nigeria, an educational initiative would have to be introduced carefully indeed.

Shettima, who has shown substantial political courage, recognizes this, of course. Shettima has been the foremost proponent of an amnesty for Boko Haram, but he has also begun putting forward religious arguments against violence, invoking Islam as both theology and as a historical way of life in the Northeast:

According to him, targeting innocent souls for attacks irrespective of religion and ethnicity, among others, was alien to Islam.”The targeting of innocent and unarmed civilians regardless of their ethnicity, race and or religious beliefs is alien not only to our norms and culture, but alien to the fundamental doctrines of Islam.”

He said Borno, as a home of Islam over the years, had enjoyed great harmony among the different tribes and religious groups.

“In over the 1,000 years that Islam has taken roots in Borno, it has indeed affected the lives of our people positively, and has through its doctrines guided our daily lives.

“It also guided our interpersonal relations ranging from social to economic interactions.”

These arguments underscore the historical, cultural, and political differences between the Niger Delta and the Northeast.

There are certainly lessons that policymakers can take from the former conflict and apply to the latter. But past a certain point, general similarities end. The problem of Boko Haram will require its own solutions.

Nigeria: Boko Haram Continues to Increase Range and Sophistication of Attacks

Last week, Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement claimed responsibility for a bombing at the police headquarters in the capital Abuja. Boko Haram has struck outside of its base in the Northeast before, but the Abuja bombing and other recent attacks have shown that the group is expanding its geographical range and increasing the sophistication of its attacks, sometimes coordinating multiple strikes at once.

Another example of these trends came yesterday in Katsina State, which is slightly west of the center of Nigeria’s upper North (map), and a fair distance from Boko Haram’s stronghold of Borno State (map). Accounts of the attack vary slightly, but here is AFP’s report:

Suspected members of the radical Boko Haram Islamist sect on Monday staged simultaneous bomb and gun attacks on a police station and a bank killing seven people, witnesses and local journalists said.

The dead included five policemen, witnesses said, in an attack coming just four days after the sect bombed the country’s police headquarters in the capital Abuja killing at least two.

A gang of 10 gunmen launched the two attacks on a police station and a bank in Kankara town, 130 kilometres (80 miles) south of the northern city of Katsina.

AFP’s whole piece is worth reading for a sense of Boko Haram’s tactics.

This attack follows threats by Boko Haram to stage attacks throughout the North and indeed throughout the country. The “nationalization” of the Boko Haram problem will intensify pressure on elected leaders and security forces to deal decisively with the group and prevent further attacks. Nigerian officials have proposed solutions ranging from crackdowns to outreach programs to amnesty offers. The government has to some extent pursued all of these options. Yesterday former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau proposed a hybrid approach of sorts, which would rely on intelligence gathering to defeat the group while advancing employment programs to deal with social and political grievances in Northern society.

Whatever course the government pursues, the Boko Haram problem has already led several Northern leaders, including the newly elected Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State, to speak quite bluntly about the North’s serious problems of economic stagnation and political isolation. Northerners have been voicing such concerns for some time, but perhaps now these concerns will reach a broader audience and stimulate a debate that goes beyond just the issue of Boko Haram.

Nigeria: Boko Haram Attacks Continue Despite Amnesty Offer

Last week, the governor-elect of Borno State, Northern Nigeria offered an amnesty deal to Boko Haram, the Islamist rebel group headquartered in his state. Since 2009, Boko Haram has staged numerous attacks and assassinations, including the murder of prominent politicians in Borno during Nigeria’s most recent campaign season. Governor-elect Kashim Shettima explained that the amnesty program, explicitly modeled on “aspects of the amnesty programme offered to militants in the country’s oil-producing Niger Delta region,” would involve “invit[ing] [Boko Haram] to a negotiating table as soon as we are in office to find out from them what their problems are and find solutions to them.” The idea of an amnesty has generated controversy, but Shettima seems to believe that a temporary peace would create the conditions for a lasting redress of grievances and the prevention of further violence.

Boko Haram has rejected the amnesty offer in word and now deed. The verbal reaction came in ideological form:

The spokesman of the sect who gave his name as Abu Dardam in a BBC Hausa programme monitored in Maiduguri [the capital of Borno State], stressed that their reason of not accepting the amnesty is that they don’t recognise democracy as a form of  government.

The group also faulted the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, saying that justice can only be found in the Holy Quran, that is Shariya system of government.

More on Boko Haram’s statement here.

The physical reaction came in the form of shootings:

Suspected members of an Islamist sect blamed for a series of attacks in northern Nigeria have shot and killed a driver for a state governor as well as a local chief, police said Friday.

The driver, Mai Kadai, had just left home Friday morning and was on his way to the Borno state governor’s office when two gunmen on motorcycles shot him dead, said police commissioner Mohammed Jinjiri Abubakar.

“From all indications, they knew who he was and were on his trail,” Abubakar told AFP of the attack in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

Referring to the Islamist sect, he said: “Apparently, this attack was carried out by members of Boko Haram. The mode of operation resembles Boko Haram’s.”

The attack followed another late Thursday that saw two motorcycle-riding gunmen open fire on local chief Abba Mukhtar outside his home in Maiduguri, killing him and seriously wounding a friend, police spokesman Lawal Abdullahi said.

…and, it seems, a bombing:

Borno State Police Command has confirmed the killing of two persons in a bomb blast on Friday night in Ruwan Zafi, Maiduguri, the state capital.

The state police public relations officer, PPRO, Malam Lawal Abdullah, who confirmed the deaths, Saturday, said that the bomb was planted on the roadside by unknown persons.

The amnesty offer was, whether you approve of it or not, a creative move. But Boko Haram has firmly rejected it. Shettima still has options he can pursue in addition to – or instead of – a continued crackdown, but a blanket peace deal will likely not work. In a way an amnesty is a blunt political tool. Perhaps now, if Shettima is still looking for ways to address political grievances and remove the emotional forces that motivate the movement, he must consider what scalpels he has available.

Nigeria: An Amnesty for Boko Haram?

In June 2009, the Nigerian government offered an amnesty to militants in the Niger Delta. The program’s merits and results remain a subject of debate today. Now the amnesty debate will include another Nigerian conflict zone: the Northeast, where attacks by the Islamist rebel group Boko Haram have claimed the lives of politicians, Muslim leaders, and security forces.

The governor-elect of Borno State, Boko Haram’s headquarters, is willing to offer the Islamists amnesty:

They have taken up arms against the state and they are blamed for a series of killings which are treasonable offences,” Kashim Shettima, elected governor of Borno state last month and due to take office May 29, told AFP.

“But my government will offer them amnesty as long as they lay down their arms and embrace peace.”

A man claiming to be a sect spokesman has however ruled out an amnesty deal.

That Shettima is talking about an amnesty indicates that he believes force alone cannot crush Boko Haram. Shettima is also likely concerned that his own life is at risk; in January, Boko Haram assassinated the gubernatorial candidate of his party. A cease-fire could allow for time and space to address the group’s grievances, and could prevent some violence. Yet if Boko Haram is not willing to accept the offer, where will that leave Shettima? And where does the federal government stand on the deal?