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.

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Nigeria: How Far Does the R-APC’s Reach Extend?

On 3 July, some prominent Nigerian politicians announced that they were breaking with the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and forming a new bloc called the Reformed All Progressives Congress (R-APC). The breakaway group say they are dissatisfied with the performance of the APC and particularly with President Muhammadu Buhari. In their  statement, the R-APC also complain about what they allege is a lack of internal party democracy and a pattern of top-down manipulation for the selection of party officers. The R-APC specifically objects to how events played out at the APC National Convention, the main events of which were on 23 June.

The R-APC is chaired by Bula Galadima of Yobe State, a former Buhari ally, but in terms of actual sitting elected politicians, the key figures in the R-APC are Senate President Bukola Saraki (Kwara State), House Speaker Yakubu Dogara (Bauchi), and Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (Kano).

In some ways, the R-APC is a rebranding of the “New People’s Democratic Party” or nPDP, a group of primarily northern elites that broke with the then-ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2013. The story is well summarized here, including how the nPDP figures felt marginalized under the big tent of the APC after the 2015 election victory. nPDP leaders believed that other constituent parties and blocs within the APC, a mega-coalition of four parties, were getting better positions and offices. Saraki and Dogara’s positions were opposed by prominent APC figures, and there have been major tensions between Buhari on the one hand, and Saraki and Dogara on the other, since the 2015 elections if not longer.

Although it may seem that history is repeating itself, I think that it is too early to conclude that the split has decisively affected Buhari’s re-election prospects. What matters, ultimately, is the electoral map. In 2015, the APC represented a major threat to the PDP because the APC could – and, obviously, eventually did – put together a coalition (of elites or voters, as you like) that won the north, most of the southwest, and significant parts of the Middle Belt. If 2011 serves as precedent, then Buhari can win in the north even over the opposition of some northern elites – Kwankwaso, for example, won back the governorship of Kano in 2011 on the PDP ticket even as Buhari won the state in the presidential contest.

A major question for the R-APC, then, is how far south its reach extends. I hesitate to use the term, but one might call Adamawa and Kwara “swing states” in the Nigerian context; Buhari lost both in 2011 but won both in 2015. If the R-APC pulled those two states out of Buhari’s column come 2019, it wouldn’t necessarily spell doom – in 2015 (.pdf), the APC/Buhari won 21 states to the PDP’s 15 states and got 15.4 million votes to the PDP’s 12.8 million votes. Take Adamawa (374,701 votes for the APC) and Kwara (302,146 votes for the APC) out of Buhari’s column, and the APC still would have gotten roughly half of the approximately 28.6 million valid votes cast. Things will be very different in 2019, of course – more voters, different dynamics – but the point is that Buhari could win without those two states. What would become truly dangerous for Buhari is if the R-APC starts picking off states in the southwest. It is perhaps no accident that alongside Galadima as chairman, the R-APC appointed Fatai Atanda of Oyo (just south of Kwara) as National Secretary. One problematic scenario for Buhari would see him winning a plurality of votes but falling short of the majority needed to avoid a run-off. In a way, the fragmented opposition bodes well for him, but enough cracks within the APC and enough momentum for different opposition groups in different parts of the country and he may run into trouble.

 

Nigeria: Preliminary Notes on a Few Key Actors in Plateau State [Updated x2]

Plateau State, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, has suffered another wave of inter-communal violence:

At least 86 people have died in central Nigeria after violent clashes broke out between farmers and cattle herders, police in Plateau state said.

Some reports say fighting began on Thursday [June 21] when ethnic Berom farmers attacked Fulani herders, killing five of them.

A retaliatory attack on Saturday led to more deaths.

Some estimates of the death toll range much higher. Key local governments affected include Riyom, Barkin Ladi and Jos South.

In lieu of talking about the causes of the violence, I thought it would be helpful to readers to discuss a few of the key actors in Plateau State. This is a very basic, preliminary, and non-exhaustive list. I name these actors here not to assign blame, but simply to give an initial sense of some of the power structures in the state.

  • Governor Simon Lalong: The first-term governor was elected in 2015. He belongs to the All Progressives’ Congress (APC), the same party as President Muhammadu Buhari.
  • The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) : The NPF are federal, not state, but the central leadership assigns commissioners for each state. Following the recent violence, Plateau’s Commissioner Undie Adie was replaced by Bala Ciroma, who is profiled here.
  • Operation Safe Haven: This is the Nigerian military’s special task force for peace operations in Plateau and parts of Bauchi State. It is headed by Major General Anthony Atolagbe.
  • Miyetti-Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN): This umbrella group for herders is sometimes accused of orchestrating violence, but I have not seen compelling evidence to that effect. Nevertheless, MACBAN often attempts to speak for the herders as a group, and its rhetoric is sometimes inflammatory. For example, MACBAN’s Chairman for the North Central Zone, Danladi Ciroma, recently told journalists, “Criminals thrive a lot in Berom communities, but when the Fulani, who are always victims of their crime, react with attacks, they blame the government.” [Update: see below, where commenter Dr. Carmen McCain quotes Ciroma denying that he made these statements. The controversies over the media’s reporting of the violence and the surrounding politics are one thing that make the crisis so difficult to understand.] [Update x2, 29 June: Nigerian newspapers such as Premium Times are retracting the statements attributed to Ciroma after objections from him and following investigations concluding that the sourcing of the quotations was dubious.]
  • The Berom Educational and Cultural Organisation (BECO): This umbrella group seeks to speak for the Berom people. Key leaders include the president, Da Ericsson Fom, and the vice president, Da Iliya Choji Kim.

The 25th Anniversary of June 12, 1993

Today marks the 25th anniversary of June 12, 1993, a date with tremendous significance in Nigeria. On that day, Nigeria held a presidential election that was supposed to help bring the country out of military rule. Instead, the administration of military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the election. In the ensuing crisis, Babangida stepped down, a civilian caretaker regime was established, and another military coup occurred – bringing another officer, Sani Abacha, to power in November 1993. In 1994, the Abacha regime imprisoned the man widely considered to have won the 1993 elections, MKO Abiola, after Abiola declared himself Nigeria’s rightful president. Both Abacha and Abiola died, the latter in prison, in 1998, in circumstances that remain disputed in both cases. Nigeria ultimately transitioned back to civilian rule in 1999 and has not had a coup since.

This year’s anniversary has attracted even larger than usual symbolic actions. For example, current President Muhammadu Buhari shifted “Democracy Day” from May 29 (Inauguration Day) to June 12, in honor of Abiola. The presidency also “said Mr Abiola will now be conferred with nation’s highest honour, the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic, GCFR. The honour is exclusively conferred only on presidents and former presidents.” There is also pressure from the Senate on the Independent National Electoral Commission to finally declare official results from the 1993 election.

If you see any noteworthy commentary or have any of your own reflections and memories to share, please comment below.

Nigeria: The Anatomy of How Osinbajo Projects Competence

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari remains ill in London amid his second prolonged medical leave of 2017. In his absence, Acting President/Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has continued to win domestic acclaim for his management of the government and his engagement with different crises in Nigeria.

Reading the transcript of Osinbajo’s June 8 speech in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, I was struck by how the speech showcases the elements of his approach to being acting president. All of these elements are extremely basic, but that is part of the point – I think Osinbajo has received so much praise partly because he is doing these basics and doing them in combination. Here are a few of the things he does:

  1. Showing up: Osinbajo physically goes to troubled areas such as Maiduguri, the birthplace of the Boko Haram sect. (He has also visited the Niger Delta and southern Kaduna, two other conflict hotspots, in recent months.) He proceeded with the visit to Maiduguri even after an attack by Boko Haram there the previous night. By physically showing up, Osinbajo communicates a sense that the Federal Government cares about troubled communities.
  2. Mediatizing his activities: Osinbajo uses media, particularly Twitter and Medium, to communicate directly with the public, or at least with those segments of it that are regularly online. He makes heavy use of photographs and some use of videos, meaning that Nigerians literally see him working or, if you want to be more cynical, they see images that may or may not correspond to the actual work.
  3. Acknowledging ordinary people’s difficulties: Osinbajo sometimes speaks with considerable candor about the problems ordinary Nigerians face. For example, in a recent speech on the economy, he said, “Often our economic development plans and budgets assume a trickle down approach, namely; that if we put resources in promoting industry and commerce, jobs would eventually be created and the poorest will be reached. The other premise is that GDP growth should translate to jobs. But both premises are flawed. First the trickle down model has proved far too slow to stem the tide of poverty in one of the fastest growing populations in the world. Secondly, most of the growth was on account of the oil sector which is capital intensive but not labour intensive. So, while we were recording growth levels of 7% because of the high oil prices, unemployment figures grew.”
  4. Explaining government programs: Osinbajo regularly provides updates and explanations concerning new Federal Government programs, of which there are currently many. In his Maiduguri speech, for example, he launched and explained the government’s new grain distribution program for internally displaced persons. He did so, moreover, in a way that conveys a sense that the government is using individual programs to advance multiple, interlinked objectives – in this case, meeting needs, giving people more dignity, reducing corruption, and boosting local agriculture.

These habits are, or should be, unremarkable. But I would say it’s been at least a decade since Nigerians have regularly seen their head of state deploy all these elements routinely and in combination. Of the most recent three heads of state, two – Umaru Yar’Adua (2007-2010) and Buhari (2015-present) – had/have serious health problems that prevented them from steadily projecting an image of activity and energy. The other, Goodluck Jonathan (2010-2015), came to seem increasingly disconnected from key problems the country was facing, especially the Boko Haram crisis, widespread poverty, and endemic corruption. I am also not aware of any of those three figures undertaking the kind of diverse in-country travel schedule that Osinbajo has pursued this year – it is rare, at least from what I can remember, for a Nigerian president to conduct multiple widely praised, high-profile visits to multiple hotspots within just a few months. Jonathan appeared reluctant to visit the northeast, and Buhari appears reluctant to visit the Delta. So Osinbajo, with this combination of travel, media, candor, and clarity, is giving Nigerians a different view of what the presidency can be.

Now, with all that said, crediting Osinbajo with successfully managing the optics and theater of the presidency does not mean that the Buhari/Osinbajo government is successfully addressing Nigeria’s challenges. Optics count for a lot, however: the line between optics and policy is quite blurry, especially in the case of a presidential visit that calms tensions, intimidates malefactors, or inspires new efforts at accountability and good performance by local officials.

In terms of the country’s main problems, the economy remains in recession but may be poised to turn a corner, and the Buhari/Osinbajo administration could benefit politically from that – although the problem of jobless growth, as Osinbajo himself has pointed out, is real, and unemployment actually seems to be getting worse. On the security front, the trend is concerning – Boko Haram remains a degraded but still significant threat in the northeast, conflicts involving pastoralists are causing widespread tension, and things in the Niger Delta seem to still be tense. In this context, if Osinbajo is doing the basics well, that sets him up to succeed, but does not constitute success in and of itself.

Finally, the issue of Buhari’s health hangs over Nigeria. I have written before that if Buhari dies suddenly, that might dry up the goodwill that many Nigerian elites, particularly northerners, currently show toward Osinbajo. And to voice a note of pessimism, perhaps Osinbajo has the space to project this kind of image of a hard-working, honest, competent administration precisely because the uncertainties around Buhari’s future free Osinbajo, temporarily, to concentrate on the work of the presidency rather than on the politics of the office.

Recent Writings on Nigeria

I’ve written two pieces on Nigeria recently, addressing very different topics. One, at The Maydan, looks at Shi’ism and anti-Shi’ism in Nigeria. The other, at World Politics Review, looks at the politics surrounding the question of President Muhammadu Buhari’s health. If you read either or both, I welcome your comments below.

On Buhari’s Absence from Nigeria

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been on extended medical leave in London since January 19, which has occasioned considerable anxiety and commentary in Nigeria and abroad. I wrote about the situation last week for Global Observatory, comparing Buhari’s absence to the absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009-2010.

I recommend two other takes:

  • Chika Oduah, “Nigeria Proves a Missing President Isn’t Necessarily a Bad Thing” (I don’t necessarily agree, but the piece is well argued)
  • Brandon Kendhammer, “The President Has Left the Country”

I also recommend following a few Twitter accounts if you are tracking the situation: Channels Television, Presidency Nigeria, and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.