Nigeria’s Controversial New Intelligence Chief

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

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

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

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

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Four Recent Reports/Translations on Boko Haram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

World Politics Review Article on Nigeria’s 2019 Elections

Yesterday I had a piece out with World Politics Review, looking at the approaching February/March 2019 elections through the lens of intra-elite shifts and some of Nigeria’s multi-faceted problems. The piece amplifies some of the themes from this post, and it would be well worth reading Matt Page’s latest for Quartz, which deals with some of the same developments.

As always, comments welcome below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

A retaliatory attack on Saturday led to more deaths.

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

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

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

The 25th Anniversary of June 12, 1993

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

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

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

Nigeria: The Anatomy of How Osinbajo Projects Competence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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