Nigeria: A Look at Lagos in the Lead-Up to the 2019 Elections

In earlier posts, I’ve surveyed gubernatorial politics in three Nigerian states – Osun, Kano, and Borno – in the lead-up to Nigeria’s 2019 general elections. Another crucial state is Lagos, the country’s most populous state, commercial hub, and crucial node in the national ruling coalition.

For a long time after Nigeria returned to multi-partyism in 1999, gubernatorial politics in Lagos was relatively straightforward. Former oil executive and career politician Bola Tinubu won the governorship in 1999 and served two terms, then handed off power to his hand-picked successor, his chief of staff (and current Federal Minister of Power, Works and Housing) Babatunde Fashola. After Fashola ran into term limits in 2015, Tinubu again selected the winning candidate: Akinwunmi Ambode, an accountant and career civil servant. The party names have changed during this period – Tinubu initially won on the Alliance for Democracy ticket, part of which then merged in 2006 into the Action Congress, which then merged in 2013 with other parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC), Nigeria’s current ruling party.

Now, however, things have gotten more complicated in Lagos, as the APC decided to switch horses. The party’s gubernatorial primary, held October 2, anointed Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the next candidate, sidelining Ambode. For his part, Tinubu endorsed Sanwo-Olu, speaking euphemistically about Ambode’s deviations from the “master plan”:

When I was elected governor in 1999, my administration faithfully implemented that plan. The government of my immediate successor, Tunde Fashola, also honoured this enlightened plan.

Where state government remained true to that blueprint, positive things happened. During my tenure and Governor Fashola’s, Lagos state recorded improvements in all aspects of our collective existence.

I make no pretence that the master plan is perfect. It can always be fine-tuned.

However, whenever a government departed from this plan without compelling reason, the state and its people have borne the painful consequence of the improper departure.

In other words, it sounds like Tinubu felt Ambode was bucking his authority. Following Sanwo-Olu’s victory, moreover, Tinubu urged the Lagos APC to stay united and look ahead to 2019: “You don’t bring the roof down. You don’t bring the house down. Safeguard the foundation. The exercise you have witnessed today is a prelude; it is good for the general election of the party.”

The splits in Lagos reportedly brought some tensions, however, between Tinubu and the presidency. Nigeria’s Sun wrote that initially, Ambode felt he had some chance to defy Tinubu and win the primary:

He was emboldened to challenge the age-long power establishment in the state through words of encouragement from the Presidency and some notable Yoruba traditional rulers and leaders. Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari and his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, never hid their preference for Ambode’s second term and had put pressure on Tinubu to allow the governor re-contest. This remained their position until last Monday when Ambode addressed a world press conference, where he lost his cool, accusing his challenger in the race, Sanwo-Olu, of fraud and mental illness. This, presidency sources revealed, forced the Villa to soft-pedal on their support for him.

So far, Ambode himself has fallen back into line. Initially, some observers expected him to do as frustrated/ambitious politicians in other states have done and leave the APC, but his public statements have turned conciliatory, as he tells audiences “you can therefore be rest assured of the continued sustenance of this programme by an All Progressives Congress-controlled government in Lagos State.”

Or has he? More recent reports have bubbled with rumors that Ambode is still thinking of defecting, and that APC leaders are considering a drastic move – impeaching him. The threat may motivate him to finish out the rest of his term quietly and not defect.

All of this seems like a demonstration of Tinubu’s continued power, but it also exposes some potential fault lines in the southwest. I’ve argued before that Buhari is not fundamentally threatened by the recent defections of northerners such as Bukola Saraki and Rabiu Kwankwaso to the former ruling People’s Democratic Party – but that Buhari would be threatened if he lost the support of the more or less solid southwest. Perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, Buhari is scheduled to be in Lagos today. In any case, it will be crucial to watch what happens in Lagos and the surrounding states between now and February.

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A Window Into How Part of the Nigerian Military Views Boko Haram

Earlier this month, Colonel Timothy Antigha, the Chief Military Press Information Officer for the Multi-National Joint Task Force, published an essay entitled “Counter-Insurgency: The Broader Implications of Recent Execution of Boko Haram Commanders.” The essay is a follow-up to earlier analyses Antigha has disseminated, including the December 2017 piece “Boko Haram: State of Counter-Insurgency Operations.”

Antigha’s writings give insight not just into the state of Boko Haram (where some caveats and questions are in order regarding his analysis), but also into how parts of the Nigerian military views Boko Haram. This latter aspect of the writings is most interesting to me.

Antigha’s analyses, I should note at the outset, are more sophisticated and blunter than the typical verbiage one encounters in Nigerian military press releases. Many of those promote a one-dimensional, triumphalist narrative of brave soldiers killing “Boko Haram Terrorists” or surmounting temporary setbacks.

Consider, by way of contrast, this passage from Antigha’s December 2017 piece:

Apart from being religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram is a terrorist social movement.

Like all social movements, it represents groups that are on the margins of society and state, and outside the boundaries of institutional power, Boko Haram seeks to change the system in fundamental ways, through a mix of incendiary religious dogma, unbridled criminality and unmitigated terror.

The strategic end state of the insurgency is the establishment of an Islamic State in the Sahel covering parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, in the likeness of what ISIS envisioned for Iraq and Syria.

Without doubt, 2011 – 2014 was Boko Haram’s most active and successful years.
During this period, the public lost confidence in the ability of the military to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity.

This is pretty three-dimensional stuff. One might take issue with parts of it, but it’s clear that Antigha is light years beyond the “snuff out all the BHTs” guys.

Now, some of the caveats: Antigha is very positive on the Nigerian military’s performance starting in 2015, i.e. under the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari. One could be forgiven for concluding that politics plays into how he periodizes the counter-insurgency. I agree with him that 2011-2014 (or I would say into early 2015) were Boko Haram’s most successful years, and available data on the numbers of attacks and the extent of territorial control would bear that out. But it’s too neat to just emphasize that “the emergence of a new government and leadership in the Nigerian Army in 2015 resulted in a new operational framework and design for the North East.” For one thing, Boko Haram’s fortunes declined before Buhari took office, amid the Chadian-Nigerien (and then Nigerian) push into Boko Haram-held territory. SInce Buhari took office, moreover, some old problems have continued to plague the Nigerian military, including corruption, brutality, and a weak rural presence. All of this is to say that we must remember, when reading Antigha’s analyses, that he is an information officer working for the Nigerian military and the MNJTF. He is not an independent or disinterested voice.

Now, turning to Antigha’s more recent analysis, a few interesting points stand out:

  • Antigha does not differentiate starkly here, as do so many analysts and reporters, between Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram and Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi’s Islamic State West Africa. That is, when discussing the recent reported assassinations of Mamman Nur and Ali Gaga (both of whom are typically identified as having been affiliated with al-Barnawi’s group), Antigha sees the dividing line within Boko Haram not as Shekau vs. al-Barnawi but as “moderates” vs. “radicals.” Antigha sees this divide as one centered on relations with civilians. According to Antigha, Nur and Gaga “were trying to win back the confidence of the people when they met resistance by younger and radical commanders.” Antigha expects further fragmentation, again not along lines determined by global affiliations but along lines determined by strategy: “Commanders and foot soldiers who were loyal to the executed commanders may, subject to their assessment of their chances of survival go their separate ways as terrorists or denounce terrorism and surrender.” Al-Barnawi’s name does not even appear in the text, and Antigha seems to see factional divisions as secondary to this issues of “moderates” versus “radicals.” Antigha writes, “Following the execution [of Nur], Mustapha Kirmimma has succeeded Nur as second in command. Kirmimma is reputed as a Shekau type of terrorist.” Is Antigha saying that both factions now have strong Shekau-like contingents within them – or is he suggesting a different understanding of how Boko Haram is organized? After all, Antigha uses the singular when he argues that Boko Haram is “an organization that has a semblance of core values, is well policed and governed by strict rules and regulations.” The accuracy of any of this is less interesting to me, in this context, than is the insight into how Antigha (and, by extension, at least part of the Nigerian military and the MNTJF) understands Boko Haram’s organizational structure. A number of questions follow – is this analysis based on flawed information? Or information not available to the public? Or is it simply a different reading of what the 2016 split really meant?
  • Antigha is not really concerned at all about external linkages. He writes, “It becomes difficult to ignore the view that Boko Haram has become a highly poisonous brand, which is unattractive to global terror entrepreneurs who are looking for conflicts to invest in. More so, opinion is building among analysts and commentators that Boko Haram could be a liability rather than asset to the Islamic State which it claims affiliation to.” For me, again, this is interesting not because of the question of whether he is right or wrong in his diagnosis, but because his portrayal is a far cry from what we hear/have heard from some other voices within the Nigerian government, past and present. If you want to be ultra-cynical (more cynical than I am willing to be, actually), you could say that when Nigerian officials want to maximize their chances of gaining more external military support, they play up Boko Haram’s transnational ties; and when they want it to appear that the counterinsurgency is working and that Boko Haram is on the back foot, they downplay those ties.
  • Antigha concludes by attempting to manage expectations, in a really interesting way: “Likely fallout of the recent executions could be more Boko Haram skirmishes against defence forces and of course more attacks on soft targets in the area of operation. However, the skirmishes would not be borne out of a desire by Boko Haram to gain any strategic or operational advantage; (the capacity is really not there) rather, the attacks will be driven by the need for some publicity by the radicals who have seized power in Boko Haram. The aim of these attacks, some of which have been reported already, is to hoodwink supporters and sympathizers to believing that Boko Haram is still a viable and reckonable terrorist organization.” Translation: Antigha knows that there will be more attacks, but he wants to portray these attacks as Boko Haram’s last gasps rather than as signs of a continued resurgence by the group. The big question to me, though, is who controls the countryside in Borno and Yobe; many Boko Haram attacks appear, to me, to be not so much about publicity as about preventing the Nigerian military from establishing firm control over rural and remote areas.

In conclusion, read the whole piece. It is the most interesting Nigerian government/military statement that I’ve seen about Boko Haram in quite some time. Again, I don’t agree with all of it, but it does give a window into how *some* top military officials see the jihadist organization. A final question, as with figures in the previous administration who also seemed to have a sophisticated viewpoint, is how much influence such analysts really have – or whether the guys who think in terms of body counts are the dominant figures after all.

Nigeria’s Controversial New Intelligence Chief

Nigeria’s premier intelligence service, the Department of State Services (DSS, formerly known as SSS), has been at the center of several controversies in recent weeks. On 7 August, Nigeria’s then-Acting President Yemi Osinbajo fired the DSS’ director general, Lawal Daura. The DSS had barricaded the National Assembly, preventing some lawmakers and staff from entering the building as rumors swirled about plans to impeach Senate President Bukola Saraki. Disputes continue about who exactly was acting on whose orders.

Replacing Daura has also been controversial. President Buhari, once back from another medical trip to London, named Yusuf Magaji Bichi as the new director general on 13 September. Bichi took over from Matthew Seiyefa, a southerner who had stepped up as the interim head of the service. Bichi is a thirty-five-year member of the DSS/SSS. The controversy, however, stems from accusations that Buhari passed over as many as six qualified southerners in order to appoint a northerner. The fear among such critics is that Buhari is not only promoting figures from his home region, but also subordinating the DSS to his own agenda. Other reports say that Bichi “was a compromise candidate between the preferred candidate of some powerful presidential aides and the choice of the president who was said to have preferred a retired military officer to head the nation’s secret service.” So perhaps Buhari did not get exactly what he wanted. The presidency may have even been hoping that Bichi’s appointment would be seen outside of the context of regional “zoning” and more in the context of technocracy – but in that case they were obviously mistaken about how reactions would play out.

It’s really difficult for me to separate rumor from fact with stories like this, so to me one important point is the controversy in and of itself. Every federal appointment carries the potential for scrutiny and controversy, but this appointment seems to have been received particularly poorly by Buhari’s critics (see this roundup of online reactions). it is also striking how multi-faceted this particular controversy is. Even before the announcement of Bichi’s appointment, moreover, the whole spectacle of Daura, the National Assembly, and Buhari’s management style had provoked public speculation about whether and how the DSS fits into the chain of command – and about who really runs the agency. In other words, this controversy seems to involve more wide-ranging issues than other recent personnel matters, such as the controversy around the Finance Minister’s national youth service or lack thereof.

Obviously all of these concerns by the public and the president’s critics are heightened during the present election season, when various observers fear that the presidency will use the DSS as a tool of autocratic power – or that the DSS is freelancing in Nigerian politics for its own reasons. The saga of the DSS, Daura, and Bichi has also re-awakened fears that Buhari has not changed much from his time as military dictator in 1983-1985. At the link above, one can read the accusation that “it however appears difficult for those at the top to understand and accept the fact that the nation is no longer running a military regime. There is therefore the need for Buhari to lead by example. There is huge but disturbing politicisation of the various security agencies in the country, the DSS being the most susceptible, even though the police and others are not any better.” These are serious charges indeed.

Four Recent Reports/Translations on Boko Haram

So far this month, two important new reports on Boko Haram have caught my eye, as well as two important new translations.

The first report is Fulan Nasrullah‘s “Strategic Thinking Behind Ongoing Insurgent Offensive Operations In Northeast Nigeria- An Analysis.” Here is an excerpt, describing the period after August 2016, when Boko Haram split into two factions led respectively by Abubakar Shekau and Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi (who became head of the official “Islamic State West Africa Province” or ISWAP):

At that point in time, with high tempers on both sides of the divided insurgency, there was a fear within ISWAP that Shekau would either deflect pressure from his group (which was weakened by the split and was solely bearing the heat of pressure from the Nigerian and other regional militaries), by negotiating a deal  with the Nigerian authorities to provide them with intelligence to wipe out ISWAP and get Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi/Mamman Nuur(there were extant suspicions and accusations that Ansarul-Muslimeena Fee Bilaadis-Sudan’s urban operations networks and Cameroonian camps had been wiped out by Nigerian and Cameroonian authorities as part of a deal Shekau had made with them), or, he would launch an all out fratricidal war on the nascent group he was regularly denouncing as deviants.

Although spontaneous clashes would erupt between individual units along a very much undefined mix of territory with no clear front line demarcating them, all out war was prevented by ISWAP’s leadership seeking for and holding deconfliction meetings with the Shekau group[6]. While Abubakar Shekau himself was inclined to disregard attempts to deconflict the situation, his Shuraa (the decision making body, or what was left of it after the split) impressed on him the need to avoid intra-insurgent conflict for religious and operational reasons[7].

The whole piece is fascinating. The weakness, as with other writing by Nasrullah, is in the sourcing. Nearly every endnote says something like “conversations had with people with knowledge of these events at the time they occurred, and recently to confirm the details before writing this paper” (that’s the text of endnote 7). So one’s assessment of the report’s credibility essentially comes down to your assessment of Nasrullah’s credibility. You can attempt to fact-check him by comparing his assertions with other sources and accounts, but you cannot fact-check him by accessing and assessing his own sources. When I cited some of Nasrullah’s writing in my book, particularly when it came to discussing Boko Haram’s fight for Damboa, Borno in summer 2014, I tried to deal with this difficulty by saying things like, “According to [Nasrullah]…” In other words I would treat this as a valuable account but I wouldn’t regard it as confirmed.

The second report is from International Crisis Group, entitled “Cameroon’s Far North: A New Chapter in the Fight Against Boko Haram.” An excerpt:

Since 2014, vigilantes, numbering some 14,000 in the Far North, have played an essential role against Boko Haram. They provide critical intelligence to Cameroonian forces, act as scouts and guides, and sometimes confront jihadists directly and protect their villages, especially against suicide attacks. The authorities offer them little support, however. Some have become disillusioned and abandoned the struggle. Vigilante groups also have come in for criticism. Some members were previously cattle thieves, smugglers or bandits, others have been arrested for collaboration with Boko Haram and some are suspected of human rights abuses against captured Boko Haram suspects. As the conflict quietens, plans for their future will become ever more urgent. The absence of such plans could lead groups to fragment, with some vigilantes turning back to crime.

Two important translations have also appeared this month, both from Aymenn al-Tamimi.

One is the account of Tunisian member of Ansar al-Sharia who helped Boko Haram with communications, perhaps some time in 2014-2015, during the period leading up to Boko Haram’s/Abubakar Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015. Vincent Foucher has a short Twitter thread with some analysis here. One passage from the translated text stood out to me, just because it underscores the remoteness even of Boko Haram’s media people, let alone its fighters:

In order [for the Tunisian author’s Nigerian interlocutor] to upload one of the group’s releases, he had to travel to a place some 300 km away from his village, as mobile phone network coverage would be available to upload a release of poor quality on an upload site, and the time for uploading this release, whose size did not exceed 50 MBs, took 9 whole hours. Then he would give me the link to re-upload it on a number of sites with the help of some of the brothers specialized in Rapidleech. Then we would publish it in the forums and on the page of Ifriqiya lil-‘Ilam.

The Tunisian author also claims to have been the key intermediary between Boko Haram’s media people and the Islamic State’s:

Subsequently we tried to establish connection between our brother and our media guy brothers in the beloved Islamic State and the groups supporting it in Africa, and praise be to God, the desired coordination arose months later, and the blessed Mu’assasat al-Urwa al-Wuthqa was established, and a special transmission was achieved in the quality of the releases. May God bless all who facilitated that and strove for that from near and afar. And that was a key to refute the doubts that some of the hyenas and crows strove to publish in the field of West Africa- they got to the point of sending an envoy from them to there in an attempt to convince the group not to give allegiance to the Caliph at all as they did in the Caucasus, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. And despite that, and by the grace of God the Exalted and Almighty, the group’s leadership, represented in Sheikh Abu Bakr Shekau, decided to give allegiance to the Caliph in order for ranks to be united, the force to be strengthened, and in order for the enemies of God to become enraged.

This makes it sound like the pledge was orchestrated remotely, rather than through any face-to-face negotiations between Islamic State emissaries and Boko Haram. In any case, read Vincent’s thread, as it makes the important point that the Tunisian author manages to both wax enthusiastic about Shekau and the Islamic State, and simultaneously imply that it was Shekau who held back the pledge to the Islamic State for some time. That’s a pretty self-contradictory position to try to hold onto.

The other translation by al-Tamimi is the full version of the text I discussed here and here, namely the anti-Shekau polemic released in June by “Islamic State West Africa” and authored by the “two sons” of Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf.

I am very glad that al-Tamimi has made the full translation available. It is a fantastic resource for understanding (at least from its authors’ perspective) the history of Boko Haram. I do, however, disagree with some of the analysis al-Tamimi has appended to the text. One point al-Tamimi makes is this:

It has been claimed that Shekau’s group and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province represent two rival factions professing loyalty to Baghdadi and competing for recognition as the Islamic State’s wing in the West Africa. In fact, this claim is incorrect. Shekau clearly does not recognize the Islamic State as a legitimate authority whatsoever, and on multiple occasions his group has actually fought the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, which deems Shekau and his followers to be Khawarij.

Based on both evidence and logic, this doesn’t quite add up. In terms of evidence, there have been a few communications from Shekau to the leadership of the Islamic State where he appeals to them against al-Barnawi/ISWAP. If ISWAP calls Shekau a Khariji, Shekau calls ISWAP murji’is – in other words, each faction tries to delegitimize the other on theological grounds. Perhaps Shekau’s attitude toward the Islamic State central leadership has changed in recent months, but for quite some time he maintained that he was simply misunderstood and that al-Barnawi’s people had lied about him to the central leadership. Logically, too, it doesn’t follow that if Shekau attacks al-Barnawi’s group, that means he has completely rejected the authority of the central leadership – it just means that he has rejected al-Barnawi’s authority. Also, who is the intended audience of this (Arabic-language) book? It seems to me that part of the intended audience might be any waverers, including waverers abroad, who are still sympathetic to Shekau and who may not be completely convinced that deposing him as Islamic State “governor” was the right move. Otherwise why write it?

Another point from al-Tamimi is his assertion that one of the book’s most important parts is its

Discussion of the nature of relations between al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ‘Boko Haram’ after Muhammad Yusuf’s death. It should be noted that ‘Boko Haram’ never became a formal affiliate of al-Qa’ida in the manner of AQIM or al-Shabaab in Somalia, but there were very much concrete links and correspondence between AQIM and ‘Boko Haram’.

This idea of “concrete links and correspondence” is not at all new – indeed, the entire book can be seen as a recapitulation and extension of al-Barnawi’s 2016 interview with al-Naba’, available in translation here, where he also briefly discusses these contacts. This issue has now been analyzed to death by Nigeria watchers, including me, and what this new text describes is in line with sources released during 2015-2017, which confirms links and correspondence – the extent and meaning of which can and should be debated, but the existence of which cannot. In fact, other sources, such as this one, are a better bet if you want a detailed portrait of the Boko Haram-AQIM relationship after Muhammad Yusuf’s death.

But from the perspective of this new text’s authors, the relationship with AQIM is a tertiary issue at best, discussed on a handful of pages. This text is above all a theologically-oriented polemic against Shekau, a drama in which the two factions are the central actors, in which the Islamic State is the central love object, and in which AQIM is a minor player.

There are many other interesting passages from the text to highlight, but let’s close with this one. It comes in the context of intra-Boko Haram debates about calling other Muslims unbelievers – when can you call someone an unbeliever? Was someone an unbeliever all along, or did they at some point commit apostasy? This anecdote from the text (and we should bear in mind it is recounted by Shekau’s bitter enemies) is not dated, but perhaps comes from 2015, given remarks a few paragraphs earlier about Shekau forcibly taking concubines and slaves in northeastern Nigerian cities. The discussion is surprising to me in a way because it hints that the election of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 as Nigeria’s president was something that some Boko Haram members had to sort of debate and process, rather than instantly dismissing out of hand. Here is the passage (bracketed additions mine):

One day a brother quarreled with one of the students of al-Sheikawi, regarding the kufr [unbelief] of Muhammadu Buhari- the Taghut [ungodly tyrant] of Nigeria: was he an original disbeliever or a murtadd [apostate]? So the student went to his sheikh and informed him about the dispute that happened between him and the brother, so al-Sheikawi arose raging and thundering, and raised his voice saying: “Disbeliever! Disbeliever! By God a disbeliever! Disbeliever.” So the people gathered around him- of course the people of his centre and we were in attendance- and he began with idle talk and bleating for a period of around two hours, building one and destroying another, making an argument at one moment and then contradicting it in another, until he drew the following result as a conclusion:

That the principle regarding Muhammad Buhari, Ja’afar Mahmoud Adam [the estranged mentor of Muhammad Yusuf, assassinated in 2007] and other noteworthy names of those who claim affiliation to Islam, is that they are original disbelievers. And he said- and the recording of it is available and published: “The one who asserts the apostasy of Bukhari [sic] from Islam is a disbeliever. Yes, asserting that they are apostates is not allowed. They are not apostates but rather original disbelievers.”

This is crazy extreme, obviously. But again, what’s interesting is the extent of debate within Boko Haram – including debate about the events of the outside world.

Finally, it’s worth concluding with a passage from the Tunisian jihadist, which brings us back to the question of audience:

As we know that regrettably most of those who read our long articles are from the disbelievers, apostates and hypocrites, we conclude by challenging to mubahala the disbelievers, apostates, idolaters, secularists, modernists, moderates, adherents of Islam of enlightenment, tolerance, modernism, Qur’anism, America and secularism, the sheikhs of fabrication and falsehood from the ‘ulama of hypocrisy and shoes of authority, those who claim a doctorate, to be thinkers and to be of good understanding and analysis, and imams of damage and preachers of the pulpits of shame.

This is something for us all to keep in mind, I think – here the author himself admits that perhaps he has a bigger readership among his enemies (and among Western analysts?) than among his intended audience. All these texts, then, whether individually or in the aggregate, are only a partial window into what jihadists think and do.

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: 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.