I’ve published a briefing at World Politics Review titled “Managing Expectations Could Be Toughest Challenge for Nigeria’s Buhari.” If you read it, I would be eager to your reactions in the comments below.
Washington’s map of the world still gives Africa much less importance than it is due, but U.S. policymakers do pay substantial attention to Nigeria. The Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is in Nigeria and neighboring Niger this week. Blinken is there as part of a series of U.S. diplomatic engagements with the new Nigerian administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. In particular, Blinken is there to help prepare the ground for Buhari’s visit to the White House on July 20. You can read a brief statement about Blinken’s agenda here, and a biography of him here.
If I learned anything in the year I spent on a fellowship at the State Department, it’s that from the perspective of the U.S. government, trips abroad by senior State Department officials are a big deal. I doubt that more than one in two hundred Americans could name the Deputy Secretary of State at any given time, but inside the U.S. government, that person is a demigod. Whether the Nigerians and the Nigeriens perceive the Deputy’s visit as a big deal is, of course, up to them – but Washington is attempting to send a signal that it cares about Nigeria a lot.
The shadow of Boko Haram will hang over the trip. The sect’s violence has been horrific in recent months, including a wave of shootings and bombings in just the past week. Southeastern Niger has been suffering as well, as has Chad, though the latter is not on Blinken’s itinerary. The violence has confirmed grim predictions that neither the election of Buhari, nor the destruction of Boko Haram’s would-be Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria, would be sufficient to end the group’s violence.
Blinken is hosting a Facebook chat today at 10:45 am EST to take questions and comments on his Nigeria/Niger trip. Many people have already posted.
If I were advising Blinken, and if his trip is partly about scaling up U.S. assistance in one or more spheres, I would urge him to prioritize humanitarian relief over military aid. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering in the Lake Chad region, and I believe that it would be more appropriate – and more productive – for the United States to help feed and resettle people than to offer military training and equipment. If all it took to defeat Boko Haram was a few more helicopters, a few more guns, and a few more months of training, Boko Haram would already be defeated. The Nigerian government and its military clearly face a long-term, multi-faceted struggle against Boko Haram; it will take time and sophistication on their part to unravel the Gordian knot, and no outsider can slice through this problem in one stroke. In the meantime, the U.S. government should help Nigeria’s neediest citizens. How better to show that Boko Haram is wrong about the West?
The administration of Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari is currently working to assemble a cabinet. It is no easy task. Many considerations are taken into account – merit, experience, intra-party politics, balance among Nigeria’s six “geo-political zones,” etc. Moreover, as in other countries (including the United States!), the process may not be entirely subject to calculation and careful planning. Here are two quotations that made me think about the messiness of the process:
1. Nasir El-Rufai (former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and current Governor of Kaduna), The Accidental Public Servant, pp. 56-57:
There is rarely neither any merit attached nor any selection and review process, to appointing leadership particularly under military regimes. Typically, various names are contributed by the political elite, collected into a long list; someone or a small group reviews the list, prunes some out, sending the result to some committee to assign them to various ministries and the head of state makes some last minute reassignment of portfolios. In other words, Nigeria’s governance outcomes really depend on a series of accidents rather than any meritocratic or rigorous process.
2. Ahmed Joda, head of Buhari’s transition committee, chairman of the 1979 transition committee from Olusegun Obasanjo to Shehu Shagari, and vice chairman of the President Policy Advisory Group when Obasanjo returned to office as a civilian in 1999:
In 1999…[w]e had a complete office block already made, vehicles and buses and our accommodation had been booked and when you arrived everything was smooth, including all the handing over notes were prepared on the first day. We had everything. Now, this election [i.e., the 2015 election] is the first time in the history of Nigeria that an opposition party had uprooted a ruling party. It was not just changing the president or changing the members of the states or national assemblies. We were all witnesses to the election campaigns, how bitter it was. There were predictions that the country would collapse; there were also all sorts of allegations and counter-allegations and the environment was very hostile. People were expecting the worst, but God, in His infinite mercies, diffused all the tension but, perhaps, the outgone government did not expect to lose the election, I don’t know…The situation was this: we were to receive the handing over notes, study them and wherever necessary to seek clarifications from wherever, whether ministers, civil servants or chairmen of boards or chief executives of parastatals. But, like I told you, we did not receive those notes in time and our terms of reference although extended by the president limited us by the mere fact of our name ‘transition committee’.
The full interview with Joda (at the link above) is worth reading.
On June 15, four suicide bombers killed twenty-seven* people and wounded 101 others at the Central Police Station and the National Police School in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Chadian authorities (French, .pdf) and most observers attribute responsibility to Boko Haram, the Nigerian-born jihadi group. Boko Haram has motive. Starting in January, Chadian soldiers helped to dislodge Boko Haram from territory it controlled in northeastern Nigeria. Boko Haram has long had the habit of conducting reprisals against those it considers enemies, and the sect’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has been threatening and criticizing Chadian President Idriss Deby for months. Deby even said (French) that he was “not surprised” by the incident. The attacks in N’Djamena also occurred in a context where Boko Haram, reacting to the loss of its territory, is increasing its suicide attacks in and around northeastern Nigeria. This is, however, the first suicide bombing in N’Djamena, and the first major attack by Boko Haram in Chad.
The Chadian government’s reaction has been multi-faceted but, in my view, problematic. Since the attacks, the government has bombed suspected Boko Haram camps in Nigeria. The actual military effects of the bombing will be hard to assess, though Chadian authorities have been quick to claim a major success. Politically, the bombings seem to be a predictable step, one that governments in similar positions often take. The effects in that sphere are also hard to assess. The retaliatory bombings have generated some irritation among Nigerians, directed both at Chadian authorities (for potentially violating Nigerian sovereignty) and at Nigerian authorities (for “sleeping”). Meanwhile, Chad does not seem to have an end-game strategy beyond killing everyone in Boko Haram – which may prove impossible. In the long term, Chad may already be facing the dilemma that its very efficacy against Boko Haram draws it further into violent conflict with the sect.
More controversially, and for me unadvisedly, the Chadian government has also banned full-face veils for Muslim women (the BBC and the Chadian government say “burqa,” but I think they also mean the niqab, which I suspect is more common in Chad). The government’s rationale is that such clothing could be used to conceal identities and weapons, but the attackers on Monday seem to have come on motorbikes and it is unclear whether they were men or women. In any case, to me, such a ban represents a dangerous conflation of jihadism and (what label should one use?) other interpretations of Islam, including non-jihadi Salafism. If a woman wears a niqab, does it mean she is in league with Boko Haram? Of course not. And if you start telling Muslim women what they can wear, and telling Muslim men how their wives should dress, you risk antagonizing people. I don’t think that Chadians will pick up weapons or join Boko Haram over this issue, but in the long term, it is problematic to use incidents of terrorism as a reason to pick sides within non-violent, intra-Muslim struggles. Again, I don’t think non-jihadi Salafis in Chad are going to fight the government over this, but – especially in a context of pre-existing issues of potential government bias against Salafis – it’s possible that the Chadian government is sowing the seeds of future non-cooperation among a significant segment of its Muslim population.
Finally, Chad’s Prime Minister Kalzeubé Payimi Deubet has called (French) on religious leaders to tell their audiences to cooperate with the security forces and to denounce suspicious persons. This seems like a wise step to me, although context and tone matter – if audiences get the impression that religious leaders are being co-opted or intimidated by the government, those leaders’ credibility will suffer alongside that of the government itself. Here too, I think the niqab/burqa ban will work against the government’s other goals.
I do not envy the position in which the Chadian government finds itself. Boko Haram is a genuine threat to Chad, as the suicide bombings show. The challenge is, and will remain, how to respond to that threat without exacerbating it, and without needlessly elevating internal social and political tensions that may, in the long run, have little to do with Boko Haram except where they intersect with the violence almost by accident. Ultimately, much may depend – as it already has – on Deby’s relationship with the new government in Nigeria, because Chad’s ability to strike and bomb Boko Haram will mean less if the governments of the region, working together, cannot develop a strategy for ending the threat of Boko Haram completely. That endeavor will require more than bombs.
*I’ve also seen twenty-eight and thirty-three as counts of those killed.
[Update June 19]: Two reactions from religious bodies:
- Chad’s Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs has endorsed the burqa/niqab ban, telling the BBC “the hijab is recommended, but wearing a burka is not part of the Chadian culture.”
- Nigeria’s Jama’at Izalat al-Bida wa-Iqamat al-Sunna (The Society for the Removal of Heresy and the Establishment of the Sunna, better known as Izala), a Salafi organization, has denounced the ban (Hausa), asking, “if [a government bans niqab], where is democracy?”
On June 3 (yesterday), Nigeria’s President Buhari started his first trip abroad since taking office, visiting Niger (June 3), Chad (June 4), and then heading to the G7 Summit in Krün, Germany. As Jeune Afrique (French) points out, the trip signifies the importance Buhari attaches to the fight against Boko Haram, and particularly to his relations with Niger and Chad, both of which have been deeply and increasingly involved in the Boko Haram effort.
The trip, in my view, is meant to signal appreciation for these countries’ efforts and convey a continued willingness to work with them, but also to re-assert Nigeria’s leadership.
Here are some key moments from Niger and Chad:
- Speech in Niger. Key quotes:
- “I would like to convey the appreciation of Nigeria for the sacrifices by Niger in the on-going efforts to counter the menace of the Boko Haram insurgency.”
- “I wish to reassure that with the new impetus [in the fight against Boko Haram] and resolve to seek for closer collaboration with our neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun, Boko Haram insurgency will soon be defeated, insha Allah.”
- “Another issue of concern to us which is closely associated with the insurgency in the region is the influx of refugees and other displaced persons. We are aware that currently, there are over one hundred and fifty thousand (150,000) displaced persons comprising refugees and returnees taking refuge in various parts of Niger…Our administration will work closely with governments of the affected States to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the displaced persons and their host communities. The ultimate objective however, remains to end the insurgency and facilitate their return to their homes.”
- Reuters: “Nigeria’s army will take a bigger role in the effort to crush Boko Haram, by taking over from soldiers from Niger in occupying towns liberated from the Islamist militant group, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday.”
- Premium Times: “President Muhammadu Buhari said Wednesday he will review a report by the human rights group, Amnesty International, alleging widespread torture and extrajudicial killings by Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram.” Official readout of Buhari’s comments here, Amnesty report here.
- Photographs of Buhari with Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou.
- Speech and final communique (unverified). Key quote:
- “Your Excellency, permit me to note that our security is intricately linked. This compels us to cooperate fully on security issues in a robust and sustained manner. To this end, we must redouble our efforts to operationalize the Multi-National Joint Task Force with its Headquarters in Ndjamena. I believe the Task Force will stabilize the areas that have been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency when it becomes fully operational. I am very confident that, Insha Allah, this insurgency will be brought to an end soon.”
- AFP: “Buhari on Thursday praised Chad for joining the fight against Boko Haram, saying further cooperation was essential in the future…Deby for his part ‘reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability’ to work with Nigeria, according to a statement from his office.”
- Premium Times: “President Idris Deby of Chad has praised President Muhammadu Buhari for his ‘wise decision’’ to relocate the Nigerian Military Command center from Abuja to Maiduguri, to speed up the defeat of the insurgent group, Boko Haram.”
- Channels: “While in the Chadian capital, President Buhari also held a closed-door meeting with Major-General Tukur Buratai of Nigeria, who was recently appointed Force Commander of the MNJTF, with headquarters in N’Djamena.”
- Photographs of Buhari with Chadian President Idriss Deby.
What are your impressions of the trip?
Nigeria got a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, on May 29, but also a large slate of new governors (many incumbents from the last cycle faced term limits). Here are six key figures. I almost wrote “newcomers,” but all of them have previously held major state or federal offices. Five of these governors belong to the current ruling party, the All Progressives Congress or APC; one belongs to the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP.
- Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos): Lagos is the most populous state in Nigeria and the country’s main commercial center. Ambode represents continuity with Lagos’ previous two governors, Babatunde Fashola (2007-2015) and Bola Tinubu (1999-2007), both of whom are influential APC leaders, especially Tinubu. An accountant by training, Ambode served as Tinubu’s accountant general. He has pledged to reduce government expenses but has also said he will not be “reinventing the wheel.” His official biography is here.
- Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano): Kano is the most populous state in northern Nigeria, the second most populous state overall, and the major commercial hub of the north. Like Ambode in Lagos, Ganduje represents continuity in Kano, having served as deputy to his predecessor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who has moved on to the Senate. Ganduje and Kwankwaso belong to the APC, in which Kwankwaso may prove to be an important northern voice, and perhaps Ganduje as well. Kwankwaso has left Ganduje with a debt liability of $1.9 billion (379 billion naira). Ganduje has pledged to increase government revenues and boost security in the state, which has sometimes been a target for Boko Haram.
- Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna): Kaduna is a northern state with both economic and political importance, including for its tragic and divisive history of inter-communal conflicts. Nasir El-Rufai, a former cabinet minister (for the Federal Capital Territory) and current APC leader, defeated a PDP incumbent. El-Rufai has already won acclaim for halving his and his deputy’s salaries. However, his inauguration was marked by an incident where young protesters threw rocks and other objects at the Emir of Zaria and the state’s chief judge, “accus[ing] them of colluding with the previous administration of Governor Ramalan Yero to plunder the resources of the state.” The inauguration unrest is a reminder of the difficulties El-Rufai may face in promoting unity and peace in Kaduna.
- Simon Lalong (Plateau): Plateau is another northern state with complex histories of inter-communal conflict. Lalong, a former Plateau State House of Assembly Speaker who now belongs to the APC, defeated the PDP’s candidate in an open race. Lalong has begun making appointments, which will be closely scrutinized for how they do or do not represent the state’s diversity.
- Nyesom Wike (Rivers): Rivers is a key state in the oil-producing Niger Delta region and home to Port Harcourt, a regional economic center. Wike, of the PDP, has wrested Rivers back from the APC. Former Governor Rotimi Amaechi defected from the PDP to the APC in 2013, but was unable to pass power to his chosen successor. A lawyer by training, Wike was Amaechi’s chief of staff during the latter’s first term (2007-2011), but chose to remain with the PDP. As governor, Wike will have the challenge of ruling a politically turbulent state during a time of uncertainty, especially given that the amnesty for former Niger Delta militants may end this year, or be transformed into a new program. Wike will also have the opportunity to play a major role in rebuilding and reshaping the PDP, which has preserved a major base in the Delta and elsewhere in the southeastern part of Nigeria.
- Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto): Tambuwal, who defected from the PDP to the APC in October 2014, was most recently Speaker of the House in the National Assembly. One of the most prominent northern politicians, he is now governor of a state with political, economic, and symbolic importance – the state is the seat of the Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria’s pre-eminent hereditary Muslim ruler. Tambuwal has emphasized the theme of continuity with his predecessor, the APC’s Aliyu Wamakko, but has also promised redoubled efforts on job creation, agricultural development, attracting investment, and building infrastructure. Tambuwal will remain a major leader in the APC: rumors already circulate of a struggle between him and Tinubu to choose the next Speaker.
Today, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as Nigeria’s new president. He enters office facing high expectations regarding security, anti-corruption, and job creation. Here are a few key passages from the speech he delivered at his inauguration:
- “Our neighbours in the Sub-region and our African brethren should rest assured that Nigeria under our administration will be ready to play any leadership role that Africa expects of it. Here I would like to thank the governments and people of Cameroon, Chad and Niger for committing their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria.” This acknowledgment of outsiders’ help is important: Chad in particular has complained that in the Jonathan administration’s late-game offensive against Boko Haram, Chadian and Nigerien soldiers received little cooperation from their Nigerian counterparts. It is also important that Buhari spoke Boko Haram’s name without fuss or euphemism; that signals that he is not afraid of the group.
- “Our founding fathers, Mr Herbert Macauley, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Malam Aminu Kano, Chief J.S. Tarka, Mr Eyo Ita, Chief Denis Osadeby, Chief Ladoke Akintola and their colleagues worked to establish certain standards of governance. They might have differed in their methods or tactics or details, but they were united in establishing a viable and progressive country. Some of their successors behaved like spoilt children breaking everything and bringing disorder to the house.” Here Buhari invokes the independence generation as his model of political leadership. It is important to note the ethnic and political diversity represented by this list. Take two examples: J.S. Tarka was a prominent Middle Belt politician, while Aminu Kano was a major northern leftist who spent much of his life in opposition to more conservative figures like Bello. Invoking this diversity is clearly a conscious choice on Buhari’s part, intended to honor different legacies in Nigeria’s post-independence history and to project an ideal of inclusivity, especially after an election in which the South East and South South zones voted heavily for his opponent.
- “My appeal for unity is predicated on the seriousness of the legacy we are getting into. With depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely; Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment especially among young people. For the longer term we have to improve the standards of our education. We have to look at the whole field of medicare. We have to upgrade our dilapidated physical infrastructure.” Here he is urging the audience to be patient – this goes back to the point I made above about the high expectations. If we take a long-term perspective, the allusion to youth unemployment is the most important part of this whole passage – if Buhari cannot help create jobs for youth, he could face even more difficulties in the future.
- “The most immediate is Boko Haram’s insurgency.” Here he gives a sense of short-term prioritization. His remarks about preventing a re-emergence of a similar group and his references to improving human rights standards are critical – it will be important to see how he follows through on these promises.
- “The amnesty programme in the Niger Delta is due to end in December, but the Government intends to invest heavily in the projects, and programmes currently in place. I call on the leadership and people in these areas to cooperate with the State and Federal Government in the rehabilitation programmes which will be streamlined and made more effective.” Short-term priority number two is the Delta, it seems. He leaves some ambiguity about whether the amnesty for former militants will be renewed – the first sentence suggests it could end, but the second implies that some programs will keep going after 2015.
- “Unemployment, notably youth un-employment features strongly in our Party’s Manifesto. We intend to attack the problem frontally through revival of agriculture, solid minerals mining as well as credits to small and medium size businesses to kick – start these enterprises. We shall quickly examine the best way to revive major industries and accelerate the revival and development of our railways, roads and general infrastructure.” Note how he again emphasizes the issue of youth unemployment. It will be very important to see who comprises his economic team, and how they translate these principles (and other ideas his party advocated throughout the campaign) into policies.
What are your impressions of the speech?