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.

Advertisements

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.”

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.

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.