Nigeria: In Edo State, an Off-Cycle PDP Victory Raises Questions for the APC

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) held the presidency and many governorships in Nigeria from 1999, when the country returned to civilian rule under the Fourth Republic, and 2015, when current President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) defeated a PDP incumbent. Since 2015, the PDP has been Nigeria’s main opposition party, registering its strongest performances (both at the presidential and gubernatorial levels) in what Nigerians call the South East and South South geopolitical zones. When Buhari was re-elected in 2019, the PDP swept those zones and took two states each in the North Central and North East zones. With a few exceptions, the 2019 election map was essentially a diagonal line drawn across the country, with the APC taking almost everything north and west of that line and the PDP taking everything south and east of the line (see the map at the link).

Nigeria’s main election cycle for federal and state elections occurs every four years, but some gubernatorial elections have moved to different four-year cycles because of the cumulative impacts of past court decisions and re-run elections. One such state is Edo, at the western edge of the South South geopolitical zone – right next to the South West zone, a core APC stronghold. Edo held its gubernatorial election on September 19.

As with many other Nigerian elections and especially gubernatorial elections, party proved fluid and complex, and intra-party power struggles mattered, at some moments, more than inter-party struggles. Thus in Edo you have the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, winning re-election, but as the candidate of a different party than the one he came to power with. In other words, Obaseki won in 2020 as the PDP’s candidate after originally winning in 2016 as the APC’s candidate. His margin of victory was decisive – nearly 80,000 votes out of roughly 530,000 votes cast for him and his APC rival.

The background to this outcome involves intra-APC power struggles at the level of both Edo State and Nigeria as a whole. Key players include the APC power broker, ex-Lagos State Governor, and likely 2023 presidential aspirant Bola Tinubu, as well as ex-Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole (in office 2008-2016). To summarize what I wrote here, the initial “godfather-godson” relationship between Oshiomhole and Obaseki, his chosen successor, deteriorated completely by 2019 – and that falling-out intersected with national-level infighting within the APC, resulting in Oshiomhole eventually being stripped of his National Chairmanship in a series of maneuvers beginning in March 2020. Meanwhile, Obaseki was blocked from the APC primary in Edo State, allegedly due to Oshiomhole’s influence, and so Obaseki defected to the PDP. As all this was going on, many Nigerian observers felt that, as I summarized back in July, “The situation in Edo is now becoming a test of Tinubu’s influence as well, and a loss for the APC in September would be seen by many as damaging Tinubu personally.”

So now we will see what the damage is, especially to his standing within the APC and to his 2023 prospects. This Day has a quick (and perhaps slightly PDP-leaning) tour of “winners and losers” from the election. The paper places Tinubu firmly in the losers’ camp for what the paper says is many Edo voters’ resentment at Tinubu’s perceived political overreach in their state. Interestingly, though, the paper places President Buhari among the winners:

The successful conclusion of the 2020 Edo governorship election is a big plus for President Muhammadu Buhari, both locally and internationally. For ensuring that a level playing field was provided for the conduct of the election, even his ardent critics are persuaded to acknowledge this gracious deed. To his credit, the much feared deployment of an amorphous ‘federal might’ by the main opposition party was absent.

Questions for Tinubu, then, are (1) whether this loss is part of a pattern of political mismanagement (even before the election, some observers were connecting the APC’s problems in Edo to the party’s gubernatorial losses in 2019 and to earlier defections of sitting governors from the APC to the PDP), or whether this is just part of the ebb and flow of Nigerian politics, where party-switching is common if not routine; (2) whether Tinubu faces limits to his reception as a national, rather than merely southwestern, political leader; and (3) how his relationship with the president evolves from here, and how much that matters for 2023. On the other hand, This Day also muses about whether the PDP victory in Edo is simply a return to a norm of PDP control there and across the South South zone – so perhaps there are limits to what one should extrapolate from a single election.

Muhammadu Buhari’s Comments on Third Terms Underline ECOWAS’ Credibility Gap on Democracy

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was in Niamey, Niger on September 7 for an ordinary summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He made headlines for the following comment:

More of his remarks quoted here:

As leaders of our individual Member-States of ECOWAS, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region.

Related to this call for restraint is the need to guarantee free, fair and credible elections. This must be the bedrock for democracy to be sustained in our sub-region, just as the need for adherence to the rule of law.

The obvious though unnamed targets of these remarks are Guinea’s Alpha Condé and Cote d’Ivoire’s Alassane Ouattara, both of whom are seeking third terms in elections that fall, respectively, on October 18 and October 31 of this year. One could also, although I’m not sure that this was Buhari’s intention, read his remarks as applying to other leaders in the region who have not sought third terms but who made the electoral playing fields very uneven when running for re-election – I am thinking of Senegal’s Macky Sall and Niger’s Mahamadou Issoufou, both of whom jailed their main opponents while running for (and winning) second terms. And then there is perhaps the most egregious anti-democratic case in the whole region – Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé, who won a fourth term this past February and whose family has been in power since 1967.

Buhari has many faults, but I think he has credibility on this issue of third terms – I do not expect him to seek a third one when his time is up in 2023, and he has repeatedly pledged not to do so. You never know, of course.

The context for Buhari’s remarks about third terms was the ongoing ECOWAS response to the August 18 coup in Mali, which removed second-termer Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. ECOWAS leaders’ domestic efforts to bend and extend rules have implicitly weakened their credibility in negotiating with different actors in Mali – first the anti-Keïta protesters who threw Bamako’s politics into turmoil from June until the eve of the coup, and then more recently with the junta (the National Committee for the Salvation of the People, French acronym CNSP).

Newsworthy though Buhari’s remarks are, I don’t see pressure from him or others resulting in a course change for Condé or Ouattara. Once presidents start down the third term route they are usually (although not always, as the cases of Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Mauritania*’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz exemplify) determined to go through with it.

I should probably do a separate post on the ECOWAS summit’s conclusions regarding Mali, but the final communiqué is here (French). The key paragraph on Mali is paragraph 16, page 6, where ECOWAS calls for a 12-month transition back to an elected president, and demands that the CNSP designate an interim president and prime minister, both of them civilians, by September 15. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

*Not an ECOWAS member currently.

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for August 6, 2020

Previous roundup here.

On August 4, after meeting with his top security personnel, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered what his National Security Advisor Babagana Monguno has referred to as “an immediate re-engineering of the entire security apparatus” (it is not clear to me whether this framing represents Monguno directly quoting, or just paraphrasing, Buhari). It is not immediately clear, however, what this might actually mean (Hausa).

Snapshots of some of the latest violence:

Issue 245 of the Islamic State’s Al-Naba’ (July 30, p. 10) details ISWAP’s attacks in Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon as part of the Islamic State’s “Attrition Campaign (Ghazwat al-Istinzaf.” Available here for registered users of the website Jihadology.

On August 2, presumed Boko Haram fighters killed at least 16 people in an attack on an IDP camp at Nguetchewe (or Guetchewe), Cameroon, near the Nigerian border. Here is a French-language video report (saying 18 people killed):

For context, here is UNHCR:

This attack follows a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far-North Region in July, including looting and kidnapping by Boko Haram and other armed groups active in the region. The Far North region, tucked between Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa states and Lake Chad, currently hosts 321,886 IDPs and 115,000 Nigerian refugees.

The incident is also a sad reminder of the intensity and brutality of the violence in the wider  the Lake Chad Basin region that has forced more than three million people to flee: 2,7m are internally displaced in Northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, while 292,682 Nigerian refugees fled into neighbouring countries.

Cameroon reports that since January this year, it has recorded 87 Boko Haram attacks on its northern border with Nigeria. Twenty-two of them were in the northern district of Mozogo alone.

More context, from FEWS Net, on the economic impact of Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon’s Far North:

Markets in the Far North region play an important role in regional trade with neighboring Chad and Northeast Nigeria. The Douala – Maroua – Kousseri corridor that extends to Chad includes the flow of imported commodities. The Maiduguri (Nigeria) – Maroua and Maiduguri – Kousseri corridor, both continuing to Chad, includes the flow of processed goods and also the re-export of key staples such as sorghum and rice back into Cameroon during the lean season and imported staples from surplus producing areas in Nigeria during harvest and postharvest periods. However, as result of frequent Boko Haram attacks, these trade corridors are often closed by the government re-orientating trade flow more towards southern destinations precisely Yaounde, Douala, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Central Africa Republic (CAR).

Via Nigeria’s The Guardian, new possible indications of Boko Haram activity in Niger State, north central Nigeria:

The Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram has released a video showing members claiming to be from Niger State.

A footage seen by The Guardian Nigeria shows about 100 persons praying Eid in the heart of a bush before showing three fighters sending Eid greetings in Hausa, English and Fulfulde.

Malik Samuel of the Institute for Security Studies writes, in a short article, that “Boko Haram is extending its reach from north-east Nigeria into the country’s north-west. It is taking advantage of old and new local conflicts and insecurities to further embed itself in the area through violent extremism.” This is now a widespread narrative among journalists and analysts. I’m reserving judgment until I see more evidence.

In another story, on August 5, This Day reports, the Borno State Police Command announced the arrests of 45 alleged criminals, including one alleged Boko Haram logistics supplier. According to the police, the individual had 200,000 Naira in cash, which might sound like a lot but it’s a little over $500. I’d be surprised if this individual was a major player.

Meanwhile, there is continued fallout from the July 29 attack on Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum’s convoy in Baga. My post on the incident, and the ensuing battle to control the media narrative, is here. Ambassador John Campbell has also blogged about the episode here. The Nigeria Governors Forum, among others, have expressed support for Zulum.

Zulum’s camp has voiced skepticism about the military’s narrative regarding the Baga incident. Responding to that, the Defence Headquarters Media Operations has once again stated that

From the analysis, [the attack] was purely that of the enemies, Boko Haram, in that area. From the tactics, and from the search conducted, it was the insurgents. So, our fears were allayed within 48 hours. It is not anything sabotage from the tactical, operational and strategic level, that is if you want to rate it from rank down to the person on the frontline.

Finally, on another note, Ewan Davies writes about the Urban Africa Labelling (URBAL) tool and how it can be used to analyze violence:

The URBAL tool can also be used to study how the patterns of attacks of specific extremist groups such as Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa have changed over time (Figure 1). For both groups, the percentage of events and fatalities occurring in urban areas have dramatically decreased over the years despite the rapid population growth of cities in Somalia and northern Nigeria. While Al Shabaab and Boko Haram were predominantly active in cities until the early 2010s, both groups have reorganized into rural guerrilla forces following the counter-offensive of the African Union Mission (AMISOM) in Somalia and the Nigeria-led Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) around Lake Chad.

Feel free to share any relevant links in the comments.

Nigeria: Competing Narratives Circulate in the Aftermath of Attack on Borno Governor Zulum’s Convoy

On July 29, the convoy of Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum was attacked in the town of Baga (map), possibly by Boko Haram. The incident has generated competing narratives and speaks to the wider “information war” that is a core part of the crisis – even Boko Haram’s own leader Abubakar Shekau has referred to the centrality of the “information war (yakin bayani).”

In the aftermath of the attack, some of the main contention is between the governor and the Army. Various videos of the attack (see here) have circulated, including one clip from the vantage point of a driver in the convoy, and one short clip of Zulum arguing with a Nigerian Army officer. Zulum has also been quoted as saying to the Army officer:

You have been here for over one year now, there are 1,181 soldiers here; if you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5 km from your base, then we should forget about Baga. I will inform the Chief of Army Staff to redeploy the men to other places that they can be useful. You people said there’s no Boko Haram here, then who attacked us?

Some of Zulum’s staff have also been blunt in their criticism of the military:

MNJTF here refers to the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which includes the militaries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon with some participation by Benin as well. Note too that part of the information war concerns not just who perpetrated the attack, but also how serious it was or wasn’t.

In remarks to the press the day after the attack (see also here), Zulum appeared to imply that there were no actual Boko Haram fighters involved in the attack, and that there was “serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces.” These remarks are tricky to parse. The prominent Nigerian analyst Bulama Bukarti has implied that the military staged the attack (or feigned being under attack?):

I’m not convinced. It seems to me that if the Army wanted to block Zulum from Baga, it could have done so without staging a kind of theatrical performance. But anything is possible.

Zulum also stressed, in that press interview, the economic importance of Baga. He suggested that eventually it may be necessary for the military to leave Baga, if they cannot secure the town, and for the local population “to take destiny into their own hands.”

In additional remarks that were, I believe, delivered over the weekend, Zulum noted that the situation in Borno since 2015 has been different, and in his view better, than in the period 2011-2015, but he made headlines (even more so than for the other interview) for referencing “sabotage within the system” as a (the?) reason why the insurgency persists.

More coverage of Zulum’s remarks can be found here.

Amid the competing narratives, part of what’s at stake is that the governor’s ability to move around the state is, both practically and symbolically, inseparable from his ability to demonstrate control – both in the face of the jihadist insurgency and vis-a-vis the military. Threats to his free movement are also threats to his political capital.

In the aftermath of the attack (as beforehand), Zulum has emphasized his direct physical outreach to Borno’s most vulnerable populations. I don’t think such gestures are cynical or empty, but I also think they have a political dimension:

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Nigerian Army has framed the attack as a Boko Haram attack but also as “an isolated and most unfortunate incident that occurred in a territory where normalcy has since been restored with socio-economic activities picking up.” We see a hint of a gap between the statements of the officer who appears in the video I linked to above, who can be heard saying “there is no Boko Haram inside the town,” and the official Army statement, another portion of which reads, “The good people of Baga town and indeed the entire Borno State are enjoined to continue to provide credible information that will assist the security agencies to successfully combat terrorism as well as apprehend and flush out the perpetrators of the attack.” The Army is keen to present itself as being in control, but there is the faintest acknowledgment here that they do not have the human intelligence they need. The reasons for that are manifold, but one obvious reason is the Army’s own past history in Baga. The statement has also promised an investigation into the incident.

The Army is also keen to control the narrative about the trajectory of the conflict – in other words, the Army would like audiences, local, national, and international, to believe that the trajectory is positive. This convoy attack, however, has prominent voices in Borno and beyond saying that the situation is deteriorating – the State’s foremost religious leader, the Shehu of Borno, said, “If a convoy of such highly placed person in the State will be attacked, I repeat, nobody is safe. The matter is getting worse, I urge everyone to raise up our hands to seek Allah’s intervention.” This is precisely how the Army does not want people to feel.

There are multiple audiences in play. One is President Muhammadu Buhari – Zulum explicitly said, in his remarks about sabotage, that this is something he is conveying to the president. The Army, obviously, also wants Buhari to be convinced that they are making progress. Another key audience is ordinary people (and voters) in Borno. And there is an international audience too, obviously.

Who controls what now, in Borno? The picture is constantly shifting, but humanitarian access maps give one perspective – here is one June 2020 map of educational activities in Borno, for example. For context, Baga is located in Kukawa Local Government Area (LGA), northeastern Borno State. The map does not classify Kukawa as inaccessible but it does mark two nearby LGAs, Abadam and Marte, as red zones. Adjacent Monguno LGA is also very dangerous. Contrary to the military’s claims, Baga is still very much part of the conflict zone.

Finally, for further context, this is not the first time a Borno governor’s convoy has been attacked – Zulum’s predecessor, Kashim Shettima, was attacked on the road between the state capital Maiduguri and the northeastern town of Gamboru in February 2019.

Nigeria: Controversy at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was created in 2003, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as an anti-corruption law enforcement body. Corruption, as I have heard many Nigerians say, is one of Nigeria’s core challenges – as is the case in many countries, including mine.

Current President Muhammadu Buhari won his first term in 2015 on a platform that foregrounded anti-corruption, drawing on Buhari’s image (right or wrong) with many Nigerians as an austere and incorruptible personality. Buhari was re-elected in 2019, and his administration has prioritized anti-corruption and asset recovery efforts (notably the money stolen and held abroad by military dictator Sani Abacha, who died in 1998) – yet many Nigerians and even many of Buhari’s own supporters and former supporters feel that he has not lived up to expectations on anti-corruption. The EFCC is part of that story.

The EFCC has had controversies in the past, but several new ones have occurred in the past few weeks. On July 7, the Commission’s Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu was suspended, and was detained for ten days in connection with a fraud investigation. A number of other senior EFCC officials and investigators have also been suspended and sacked. The presidency’s official statement on Magu’s firing is here, but it (deliberately, I strongly suspect) does not go into detail about the content of the allegations against the suspended chairman. According to some reports, the case against Magu and the others concerns alleged “re-looting of previously stolen funds.” There is a lot of potential irony here, of course.

The EFCC has had only four heads since its creation, with the “pioneer chairman,” Nuhu Ribadu, often seen as the most effective. Michael Dada reviews the history here – one of recurring battles between EFCC chairs, attorneys general, and presidents. An excerpt:

Critics alleged that EFCC’s anti-corruption war under [second Chairperson Farida] Waziri from 2008 to 2011 grew timid and lethargic in comparison with Ribadu’s tenure.

Even though she was able to score one of the commission’s landmark prosecution that led to the former national deputy chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bode George serving a two-and-a-half year sentence, Waziri, like Ribadu,  also fell out with the Attorney-General, Mohammed Bello Adoke over EFCC’s prosecution of cases.

[…]

[The third Chairman Ibrahim] Lamorde’s leadership of EFCC left a great deal to be desired. Unlike his predecessors, EFCC recorded no major conviction under Lamorde.

[…]

He was thereafter, investigated over allegation of money diversion. On November 9, 2015, President Buhari sacked Ibrahim Lamorde and appointed Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the EFCC.

All of this, as Dada emphasizes, has damaged the EFCC’s image – for critics, it is not merely toothless, but also politicized and internally corrupt.

The Financial Times surveys the key reactions to Magu’s firing, with Magu’s lawyer decrying the charges against his client as politically motivated, and with some civil society groups coming to Magu’s defense. Such groups argue that Magu’s firing undoes crucial progress, and that he has been more aggressive than his predecessors in terms of going after major targets.

Meanwhile, Magu has been replaced by Mohammed Umar, who was Director of Operations. He is apparently not a target of the investigation against Magu and others.

Umar’s appointment has, in the context of the scrutiny given to senior appointees’ geographic origins, raised a few eyebrows, especially among southerners. The southern politician Sunny Onuesoke publicly complained that all of the EFCC chairs have so far been northerners:

In a statement, he said: “Is there any law that says EFCC chairmen can only come from the North? Magu goes and is replaced with another northerner, Mohammed Umar.

“There have now been five chairmen. Each has been a northerner. What‘s happening? Are there no credible southerners?”

With that said, many Nigerians do not view the struggle over the EFCC in geographic terms – some of the most ardent public defenses of Magu have come from voices in the south, for example this column by a Bayelsa State politician.

A lot is at stake in Magu’s firing, then, and what one makes of it. Is the presidency cleaning house and expelling someone who perverted the core mission of his own agency? Or are the presidency and the attorney general’s office settling scores in a fashion that suggests that EFCC will always be hamstrung by politics and interagency rivalries? A lot of Buhari’s second term is still left, but it already appears clear that his legacy on anti-corruption will be fairly mixed.

On the Turmoil in Nigeria’s Ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)

On September 19, Edo State in Nigeria’s “South South” geopolitical zone will hold gubernatorial elections. The default political calendar in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is that national and state elections take place every four years starting from the Fourth Republic’s establishment in 1999, meaning that the next national and state elections are scheduled for 2023 – but a number of states’ gubernatorial cycles have moved to different calendars over the years due to court cases, re-run elections, impeachments, and other circumstances. Edo State is one of those; a 2008 court decision moved the calendar to its present cycle. This year’s gubernatorial contest in Edo has widened into and/or crystallized a fight over who will control Nigeria’s national ruling party, the All Progressives Congress or APC.

A key figure in this fight is Adams Oshiomhole. After a career in the labor movement, Oshiomhole entered politics, ran for governor in Edo in 2007, and won a 2008 court case contesting and overturning the results of the election. He served two four-year terms from 2008 to 2016. In June 2018, Oshiomhole became national chairman of the APC; he was suspended from that role in March 2020 for reasons stemming both from hyper-local politics in Edo and from the overall battle to control the party.

Two pieces of context are crucial before we go further:

  1. Term limits (two four-year terms for both presidents and governors) help to incentivize what is often called “godfatherism” in Nigeria, meaning a kind of clientalist politics where the “godfather” seeks to control key offices and decisions in one or more states. Term limits are not the only ingredient in godfatherism, but many ex-governors attempt to position themselves as godfathers after their terms end. Short of the presidency itself, there are few or perhaps no positions as important in Nigeria as being a governor – senators don’t typically have power equivalent to the power of governors, for example. So when governors leave office, they often hand pick a successor and attempt to dominate the office through a proxy. This almost never works for long, because inevitably the successor will butt heads with the predecessor. The falling outs can then have major political repercussions.
  2. The APC is a political coalition of several pre-existing parties; it coalesced in 2013, in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, when its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, scored the first successful presidential election upset in Nigeria’s history. The APC is ostensibly a center-left party but a lot of what has held it together so far is its success, rather than ideology, demography, or some other factor. In crude terms, the APC is an alliance between powerful northern politicians, especially in the north west and north east geopolitical zones, and powerful southwestern politicians; the east and “south south” have become mostly strongholds of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, which is now Nigeria’s main opposition party. The picture in the sixth and final geopolitical zone, the North Central, is a bit more mixed.

Turning back to Edo, when Oshiomhole left office in 2016, he appears to have put himself strongly into the godfather role, at least according to his opponents. Oshiomhole was succeeded as governor by Godwin Obaseki, who came out of the financial sector and served in several key economic posts in Oshiomhole’s two administrations. Most accounts (example) suggest that Oshiomhole hand-picked Obaseki to succeed him – Obaseki’s team recently stated that in 2016, Oshiomhole not only picked Obaseki, he “compiled the list of those to be appointed commissioners in Edo in his sitting room in 2016. Asides [sic] from  picking the governor, he also picked his deputy and the [Secretary to the State Government].”

Then came the inevitable falling out. Tension, according to this report, surfaced quickly, having to do with control of personnel appointments and with the power and access given – or denied – to Oshiomhole’s people in Obaseki’s administration. Throughout the 2016-2020 period, Oshiomhole had a powerful weapon, and he eventually wielded it: blocking Obaseki’s re-election, at least on the APC ticket. On June 12, an APC screening committee in Edo disqualified Obaseki from participating in the gubernatorial primary; the official reason was alleged questions about Obaseki’s academic credentials, but most observers view Oshiomhole’s influence as the real deciding factor. Events then moved rapidly: the APC selected Osagie Ize-Iyamu as its candidate, and Obaseki defected to the PDP and became the PDP candidate. Here is a fun fact that will help you understand something about Nigerian politics if you are not familiar with it: in 2016, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu also competed for the Edo governorship, but at that time Obaseki was the APC candidate and Ize-Iyamu was the PDP candidate.

Meanwhile, Obaseki had political weapons to use against Oshiomhole. In November 2019, Oshiomhole’s home ward in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo passed a vote of no confidence in him. The state party then suspended him. Those moves provided the legal underpinning for eventually suspending Oshiomhole as National Chairman of the APC on the grounds that he is no longer a member in good standing of the party itself.

Now we need to bring another character into the story: Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) and arguably the most successful “godfather” of the Fourth Republic – someone who has not only picked several successors in his home state and kept a remarkable influence over politics there, but whose influence extends throughout the southwest and to a real extent nationwide. Tinubu was perhaps the key architect of the APC, more influential in its coalescing even than Buhari himself. Tinubu also selected Buhari’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Tinubu is likely a 2023 presidential aspirant (Buhari will be term limited).

The Edo fight has implicated Tinubu in numerous ways. The Nigerian press and the Obaseki camp have depicted Tinubu as a strong backer of Oshiomhole both within the national party and within the Oshiomhole-Obaseki power struggle. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have come in for strong criticism. Here is Vanguard:

Obaseki’s defection to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP followed earlier defections by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, (July 2018); Abdulfatah Ahmed, of Kwara July 2018; and Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Sokoto, August 2018.

 

The defections coming on the heel of the loss of Zamfara, Bauchi and Adamawa States in the 2019 General Election have inevitably brought to fore the prospects of the party in the immediate future.

The situation in Edo is now becoming a test of Tinubu’s influence as well, and a loss for the APC in September would be seen by many as damaging Tinubu personally.

A struggle has also occurred to determine who would become Acting National Chairman amid Oshiomhole’s suspension. Here, many observers feel that Tinubu and Buhari landed on opposite sides of the question, with Tinubu, via the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, seeming to support first Abiola Ajimobi (who died suddenly in late June) and then Prince Hilliard Etta for the position, while Buhari ultimately backed Victor Giadom – and dissolved the NWC. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have both publicly accepted (Pidgin) that decision, with Oshiomhole saying he is not going to pursue reinstatement as National Chairman. Buhari and Tinubu have worked to present a united front, but the president’s backing of Giadom has been widely seen as a rebuke of Tinubu. Meanwhile, as one article put it, “The forces working against Mr Oshiomhole are also majorly the same group of people committed to blocking Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition.”

What next? An in-depth analysis of the Edo race contains this very blunt passage:

Obaseki certainly has the power of incumbency to his advantage. But in Nigeria, this is greatly limited when your party is not in control of the police, military and all other security services that are usually deployed to monitor elections and provide security. The governor’s incumbency advantage may be effectively neutralised by the federal might. As a matter of fact, Ize-Iyamu may even be the ultimate beneficiary of federal might if the lessons of history are factored in.

Off-season elections, like the ones about to hold in Edo and Ondo states, are usually an easier turf to deploy the full powers of the federal government in trying to sway outcomes.

Win or lose in Edo, Tinubu isn’t going anywhere, but obviously a win there would allow him to avoid the accusation that his ally (Oshiomhole) bungled everything.

At the level of the party as a whole, though, can the APC hold together? Political scientists like Carl LeVan, and Olly Owen and Zainab Usman, have written about the political settlements that held the PDP together for 16 years as Nigeria’s ruling party, settlements that then fell apart in the lead-up to 2015. If the APC is seen as representing an agglomeration of interests rather than a cohesive party, the question is whether the party will find a candidate for 2023 who preserves enough of the political settlement to allow the party to remain majoritarian. I’ll leave you with the aptly titled analysis “Pandemonium at the Alter” by Chidi Amuta, writing in This Day. An excerpt:

Now that the Buhari transition has been fast forwarded by three years, the internal contradictions of the party in power have surfaced to haunt the party as a party. Forget that governance and the common good at the national and most state levels will begin to take a back seat. The present skirmishes are merely rehearsals of the bloody wars that will be fought in the party to succeed Mr. Buhari. The factors and factions in contention counterbalance themselves and may cancel each other out at the expense of the party itself. The single most important feature of the party that will hasten its unraveling is perhaps the fact that its leading elite are persons of near equal age, resources and political gravity. The possibility that they will cancel each other out while entertaining the nation in the law courts remains the most interesting prospect in the political drama of the future of the APC.

[…]

The expectation that the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would fare better is unfounded. Sixteen years of institutional existence and power incumbency has not translated into either a superiority of organization or perspective. Even now as an opposition, the PDP has remained frozen at the level of abuse and personal insult. It has hardly risen to the occasion of positing a logical ideological or policy alternative to the ruling party. Its leadership has not grown neither has its internal democracy or party technocracy. It has remains at the same level of pedestrian and mundane opportunism and indiscriminate brandishing of titles and changing postures.

 

Nigeria: Initial Impressions Regarding Buhari’s Re-Election

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has been re-elected to a second four-year term, as many observers expected. Working off of these figures for 2015 and these figures for 2019, here are a few initial points I would make:

  • Buhari’s map shifted and contracted slightly even as his absolute numbers held basically constant. That is, Buhari won 21 states in 2015 and 19 in 2019, with four states moving out of his column (Adamawa, Benue, Ondo, Oyo) and two states moving into his column (Ekiti and Nasarawa). The 2019 map is essentially just a bifurcation of Nigeria with a line running from the northeast to the southwest. In terms of absolute numbers, Buhari won roughly 15.4 million votes in 2015 and roughly 15.2 million in 2019. Turnout was low, perhaps partly because of the last-minute, one-week delay.
  • Buhari won largely because of massive margins in the north. In patterns that partly replicated patterns from 2015, Buhari scored huge margins in northern states such as Kano (1.07 million vote margin), Katsina (920,000 vote margin), and Borno (760,000 vote margin).
  • If Buhari won by fraud, it was through elevating northern vote totals while simultaneously drawing a plausible map. Some of the northern numbers deserve real scrutiny. Why was Kano such a blowout, when many observers expected it to be competitive? How did the Buhari vote in Borno jump from 473,543 in 2015 to 836,496 in 2019? At the same time, if Buhari’s camp rigged, they either wisely refrained (or were other constrained) from any attempt to take states in the south east and south south (where Buhari won nothing, although he won enough of the vote there to avoid running afoul of the requirement that the winner obtain at least 25% in at least two-thirds of Nigeria’s states). And Buhari’s camp either decided (or was forced) to run tight races in much of the southwest and the Middle Belt, ceding some states (again, Oyo, Ondo, Benue, and one might add Edo* and Taraba) and squeaking by in others (Osun, Nasarawa, and arguably Kogi, depending on what you consider a tight margin). In other words, if they rigged, they didn’t try to take the whole cake – just enough to make sure they won decisively.
  • The southwest isn’t as solid for Buhari (and Tinubu?) as I expected. In my more simplistic moments, I think of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) as a deal between the north and the southwest, personified respectively by Buhari and former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. But 2015 and 2019 show that even that caricature has some truth to it, TInubu can’t simply “deliver” the southwest. There are always gaps, be it Ekiti in 2015 or Oyo and Ondo in 2019.
  • The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) erred by nominating Atiku Abubakar. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but I think it bears mention: Abubakar, a former Vice President, had wide name recognition but also clear baggage, especially in terms of his previous tenure and his perceived associations (fair or unfair) with corruption. I wonder if another (younger?) candidate would have done better.

*Technically south south, but adjacent to the southwest.

Resources for Following Election Results from Nigeria [Updated]

Nigeria held presidential elections on February 23 (after a last-minute, one-week postponement). I expect the incumbent, Muhammad Buhari, to win.

As results come in, here are a few sites and accounts that are useful for following along:

 

Thoughts on the Postponement of Nigeria’s Elections

On the night of February 15-16, in other words the eve of Nigeria’s scheduled presidential and legislative elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a one-week postponement to February 23. The postponement also affects the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, initially previewed for March 2 but now slated for March 9.

From the INEC website, here is an excerpt from Chairman (Prof.) Mahmood Yakubu’s remarks on February 16. I will quote at length, because I find some of this remarkable:

It is therefore not unexpected that such a tremendous national mobilization of men and materials will encounter operational challenges and we have had our own fair share of such challenges. There has been delays in delivering ballot papers and result sheets for the elections which is not unusual. However, I must emphasize that all the ballot papers and result sheets were ready before the elections despite the very tight legal timeframe for finalizing nomination of candidates and dealing with the spate of legal challenges that accompany it. In this regard, the Commission has been sued or joined in over 640 court cases arising from the nomination of candidates. As at today, there are 40 different court orders against the Commission on whether to add or drop candidates. The net effect of these is that there is usually roughly a one-month window for the Commission to print ballot papers and result sheets and either fly or transport them to several destinations until they finally get to each polling unit. Unfortunately, in the last one week, flights within the country have been adversely affected by bad weather. For instance, three days ago, we were unable to deliver materials to some locations due to bad weather. We therefore had to rely on slow-moving long haulage vehicles to locations that can be serviced by air in spite of the fact that we created five zonal airport hubs – Abuja (North Central), Port Harcourt (South South and South East), Kano (North West), Maiduguri and Yola (North East) and Lagos (South West) to facilitate the delivery of electoral logistics.

Apart from these logistical challenges, we also faced what may well be attempts to sabotage our preparations. In a space of two weeks, we had to deal with serious fire incidents in three of our offices in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area of Abia State, Qu’an Pan Local Government Area of Plateau State and our Anambra State Office at Awka. In all three cases, serious disruptions were occasioned by the fire, further diverting our attention from regular preparations to recovery from the impact of the incidents. In Isiala Ngwa South, hundreds of PVCs were burnt, necessitating the re-compiling of the affected cards and reprinting in time to ensure that the affected voters are not disenfranchised. I am glad that all the cards were quickly reprinted and made available for collection by their owners.

What stood out to me were the defensive tone and the reference to sabotage. The postponement has obviously occasioned concerns (including from me!) that this a maneuver designed to favor the incumbent and reduce turnout, but here we see Yakubu portraying INEC as the target rather than the author of efforts at tampering.

Of course, past postponements have not necessarily favored the incumbent. In 2015, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a six-week delay amid the military campaign against Boko Haram. Jonathan then lost to Muhammadu Buhari.

That does not mean, however, that there is no cause for concern here. Jonathan’s administration deserves substantial criticism, but through 2018 and 2019 Buhari’s administration and the current iteration of INEC have made several problematic moves. This postponement follows two other incidents that troubled me: the highly contentious partial re-run of the gubernatorial election in Osun in September, and the presidency’s suspension of Supreme Court Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen in January.

Overall, I have long expected Buhari to win (partly, I admit, because of a status quo bias on my part – other analysts, most prominently the Economist Intelligence Unit, predict a win by Buhari’s chief rival, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar). Buhari’s central political alliance, with former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu, remains intact and seems likely to help Buhari reconstruct most of the map he won in 2015 – the north plus the southwest plus part of the Middle Belt.

But the map could shrink. There are internal, state-level conflicts within Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) that could affect Buhari’s prospects in northern states such as Kano. Meanwhile, Atiku and his allies have pull in states such as Adamawa and Kwara. I don’t expect all of these states to shift to Atiku’s column, but the “solid north” may be more competitive for Buhari than in 2011 and 2015. These dynamics give the president’s team an incentive to tamper – whether they have that intention is another question. But the postponement looks bad, not just in terms of INEC’s professionalism but also in terms of tampering.

My final thought is that I think another postponement is possible, although I would put the chances well under 50%. But if the logistical challenges were serious enough to warrant a one-week postponement, and if there are ongoing efforts at sabotage, then one week may prove insufficient.

For more, I recommend reading Fola Adeleke‘s piece at The Conversation.

 

Roundup of Important Writing on Nigeria’s Presidential Elections

Nigeria is holding presidential elections on 16 February and state elections on 2 March. Here are some important pieces I’ve seen:

  • At Quartz, Stephen Onyeiwu has the bluntly but appropriately titled, “Nigeria’s president Buhari failed to fix Nigeria’s economy, but still has the edge this election.”
  • At Reuters, Paul Carsten has a good overview of the contest and the context.
  • The main challenger, former Atiku Abubakar, laid out his economic vision at Al Jazeera.
  • Crisis Group notes “Six States to Watch” in both the presidential vote and the state contests to follow two weeks later. The states are Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Adamawa. In a similar vein, at USIP Oge Onubogu and Idayat Hassan write, “The Risk of Election Violence in Nigeria is Not Where You Think.”
  • At the BBC, Mayeni Jones explores the influence of “godfathers” over politics and elections.
  • A Vanguard editorial examines the suspension of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and calls on the president to reinstate him. Jibrin Ibrahim goes even deeper into the situation, writing, “Walter Onnoghen put Nigeria along the path to constitutional crisis by seeking to act as if he was above the law and President Muhammadu Buhari worsened the situation by suspending him without the accord of the National Judicial Council and swearing in Justice Tanko Muhammad as his interim replacement without allowing the National Judicial Council and the Senate play their constitutional roles.”
  • At African Arguments, Idayat Hassan looks at “fake news” and its political impact.
  • At This Day, Olusegun Adeniyi writes, despairingly, “Neither of the two candidates is offering ideas on how to resolve this nagging problem [of university staff strikes] or any of the other contradictions that define our nation today. Aside the tantrums, abuses and disinformation being exchanged in the social media by supporters of these two leading candidates, one cannot ascertain where they stand on critical national issues.”
  • At The Guardian, Feyi Fawehinmi gives satirical “Political Season Awards” to Nigerian politicians – but closes with the following ultra-serious, and now oft-cited, advice: “Get your PVC. Go out and vote your conscience. And please stay safe – no Nigerian politician is worth your life.”