Headlines out of Today’s ECOWAS Summit

Between May 15 and 19 (today), Ghana has hosted three important meetings for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): (1) an Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers from May 15-16; (2) a Session of the Mediation and Security Council on May 17; and (3) a Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government on May 19.

The Council of Ministers is made up of member states’ Ministers in charge of ECOWAS Affairs, while the Mediation and Security Council is composed of member states’ Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense. More details about the agendas for these meetings can be found here, with additional information on the Heads of State summit here. I should note also that Ghana’s President John Mahama has been the ECOWAS Chairman since 2014.

Here are some key takeaways, readouts, and headlines from the meetings:

  • Term limits: “West African leaders on Tuesday rejected a proposal to impose a region-wide limit to the number of terms presidents can serve, after opposition to the idea from Togo and Gambia, Ghana’s foreign minister said.”
  • Mahama’s remarks/Jonathan’s farewell: Reiterating his earlier praise for Nigeria’s “historic elections,” Chairman Mahama lauded President Goodluck Jonathan for his “mature statesmanship” in conceding defeat, and “salute[d]” President-elect Muhammadu Buhari for his victory. You can read Jonathan’s remarks at the summit here.
  • Youth Employment: Mahama also urged greater focus on job creation for youth, saying, “considering the fact that we have the fastest growing youth population; young people are coming out of school at every level of the educational system in the hope of finding jobs, it’s going to be a major hurdle for us.”
  • Common External Tariff: “Regarding the [ECOWAS Common External Tariff or CET], which entered into force in January this year, the Commission indicated that as at 30 April 2015, only eight Member States had started the implementation, namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, with the remaining seven countries, lagging behind due to various reasons, such as legal requirements, public health and other technical considerations. Council commended the eight Member States and urged the remaining seven to take the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the CET before the end of the year in accordance with the decision of the Authority of Heads of State and Government.”

Oby Ezekwesili, Olusegun Obasanjo, and Corruption in Nigeria

Earlier this week, Al Jazeera interviewed Oby Ezekwesili, a well-known Nigerian governance expert who has worn many hats: co-founder of Transparency International, cabinet minister under former President Olusegun Obasanjo (for Solid Minerals and then Education, 2005-2007), World Bank Vice President for Africa (2007-2012), and activist with Bring Back Our Girls.

The interview generated controversy in Nigeria and in the diaspora, especially because of Ezekwesili’s refusal to say that the Obasanjo administration was severely corrupt (see around 13:20 at the link above). Obasanjo was the first civilian president of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic; he served 1999-2007.

To give a sense of the criticisms of Ezekwesili’s statements in the interview, here is an excerpt from a piece by Professor Moses Ochonu of Vanderbilt University, who writes,

When you go around self-righteously castigating the corruption of the present government without even a perfunctory acknowledgement of, or an effort to explain your failure to prevent or punish, the corruption of the government for which you were supposed to act as gatekeeper for public procurement and contracts (the primary conduit for political and bureaucratic corruption in Nigeria), your rhetoric rings hollow and raises questions about the sincerity and consistency of your moral indignation at malfeasance. It is only a matter of time before such duplicity is exposed, and Ezekwesili’s moment of exposure came in her interview with Mehdi Hasan on Al-Jazeera, which has now gone viral.

[…]

It was under Ezekwesili’s stint as czar of transparency that corruption in high places blossomed, including the curious case of [Obasanjo], who, from having only 15,000 Naira in his bank account in 1999 according to [former Obasanjo cabinet minister and economic team member Nasir] el-Rufai* (information which has never been contradicted), transformed into a billionaire and one of the wealthiest Nigerians alive. It was while Obasanjo was president and Ezekwesili was his preeminent transparency enforcement officer that damning revelations on how he and his vice president, Abubakar Atiku, turned the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) into a personal piggy bank surfaced in the media and provided tragic national political entertainment for a whole season.

As commentaries and criticisms of the interview spread, Ezekwesili penned a Twitter essay on corruption. The tweets were interesting not just for her implicit defense of Obasanjo, but also for the general theory of anti-corruption she put forth. I’ve storified her tweets here.

The debate featuring Ezekwesili comes at an important moment, as expectations are rising concerning the incoming administration’s stated anti-corruption agenda. Nigerians are looking both backward and forward now, re-assessing past administrations’ anti-corruption rhetoric and their actual performance, and wondering how the next government will perform.

*El-Rufai is also the governor-elect of Kaduna.

Writings Elsewhere, April 2015

I’ve written a few things that have appeared elsewhere in the past few weeks:

  • A new collection came out last month called Shaping Global Islamic Discourses: The Role of al-Azhar, al-Medina and al-Mustafa, edited by Masooda Bano and Keiko Sakurai and published by Edinburgh University Press. I have a chapter in the volume that deals with non-violent Salafi networks in contemporary northern Nigeria – i.e., not Boko Haram, but a rather more influential group of graduates of the Islamic University of Medina, many of whom have staunchly and publicly opposed Boko Haram.
  • I discussed what Nigerian President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet might look like at World Politics Review.
  • I analyzed Boko Haram’s brand of religious exclusivism for Oxford University Press’ blog.
  • I wrote for Global Observatory about hunger in Niger, especially as the hunger crisis relates to displaced persons and Boko Haram.
  • I couldn’t hold back from writing something about ISIS, even though it’s a bit out of my lane. I talked about ISIS’ intellectual genealogy for the Social Science Research Council’s The Immanent Frame blog.

Resources on the PWC Audit of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation

In 2013, the Nigerian press obtained a letter from then-Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to President Goodluck Jonathan. In the letter, Sanusi stated that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria’s state oil company, had failed to “repatriate” some $49 billion to the Federation Account. The ensuing controversy resulted in Sanusi’s suspension by the president, and became one of the major scandals associated with Jonathan’s presidency. In an attempt to demonstrate transparency, in early 2014 the government asked PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit the NNPC.

This week, after President-elect Muhammadu Buhari’s team vowed to release the full report of the audit and probe the NNPC, the Jonathan administration publicly released the report (.pdf), which covers the period January 2012-July 2013. Its contents have occasioned major comment in Nigeria. For example, one important finding is that “forty-six percent of domestic crude oil revenues for the review period was spent on operations and subsidies.” That’s a lot of overhead.

Here are a few resources for understanding what’s going on.

Background:

  • Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s letter (.pdf) to Goodluck Jonathan (dated September 2013, leaked December 2013)
  • Bloomberg on Jonathan’s suspension of Sanusi (February 2014)
  • Nigeria’s The Nation on Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s announcement that the PwC audit would go forward (May 2014)
  • PwC audit report (.pdf) on the NNPC (dated February 2015, leaked April 2015)
  • Statement from Jonathan’s spokesman Reuben Abati
  • Comments by the Auditor General of the Foundation to the effect that Jonathan interfered with initial efforts to publish the report
  • Websites of the NNPC and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), a key entity in the affair

Current commentary and analysis:

  • BudgIT infographics one and two on the PwC report (essential reading)
  • Aguntasolo (the best commentary I’ve seen so far)
  • Vanguard (another great examination)
  • Reuters (an excellent summary)

Buhari’s Potential Balancing Acts on Corruption

Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari won a decisive victory in large part because voters expect that he will reduce government corruption. The political survival of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), could depend on the new government’s ability to show progress against corruption and demonstrate corresponding success in redirecting public money toward job creation.

It will not be easy. Buhari’s image as an anti-corruption reformer derives from his time as military head of state from 1983-1985, but the “converted democrat” will face a different political environment after he takes office on May 29. Here are two balancing acts he may have to perform:

1. Balancing Coalition-Maintenance and Anti-Corruption

The APC is a big tent. Buhari brings his own personal popularity, especially at the grassroots level in northern Nigeria, but there are other components. One major portion of the party is the Action Congress of Nigeria from the southwest, which includes a number of reformist governors but also, like other parties, a number of “godfathers.” Another portion comes from the All Nigeria People’s Party, a primarily northern party. Another portion represents disaffected politicians from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the outgoing ruling party. Some of those who have defected from PDP to the APC were motivated by conviction, but others were motivated by opportunism. The APC is not just a meaningless collection of self-interested individuals – it does have a coherent leftist economic policy framework and an ethos about the future direction of Nigeria – but not all members of the big tent share the same attitude toward public monies.

It has been to the APC’s political advantage to build a diverse coalition – it helped enable Buhari’s victory this year (whereas in 2011, he won only the far northern states). But when it comes to fighting corruption, the coalition will complicate matters, because some people have joined the APC expecting to profit, both politically and financially. If those people don’t get the rewards they expect, that could cause political problems for Buhari, whether in the legislature, with the states, or on the road to 2019.

There may be a way to strike the necessary balance. One question will be whether Buhari and his southwestern advisors can transfer any models from the southwest, especially Lagos, to the national stage. That wouldn’t necessarily mean an end to all corruption, but it could mean better governance, more tax collection, higher employment, etc. On this topic, it’s worth reading Diane de Gramont’s paper on governance in Lagos, where she highlights how former Governor Bola Tinubu – now a key leader in the APC – pursued improvements in trash collection and security not just out of technocratic idealism, but out of political calculation. The Lagos model has proven politically effective, as evidenced by Tinubu’s ability to pick not only one but two successors as governor.

On the other hand, the southwest also offers an example of a reform program that faltered politically, namely in Ekiti, where an incumbent APC governor lost to an infamous PDP politician in 2014. Reforms necessarily generate enemies; the question for Buhari is whether he can make reforms that deliver what he promised to ordinary Nigerians, while not fatally antagonizing key allies.

2. Addressing Both Personal and Structural Causes of Corruption

For many of his supporters, the “theory of Buhari,” if that phrase makes sense, is that his personal integrity and toughness guarantee that he will eliminate corruption. A corollary, sometimes articulated and sometimes not, is that he will initiate a domino effect within the government: he will select the right people for senior positions, who will in turn select the right people and eliminate scoundrels, all the way down the chain, until corruption declines.

There is something to be said for this theory. Individuals can make a huge difference in terms of both practice and tone within an organization. Reformist ministers and committed senior staff could eliminate “ghost workers,” refuse to pad contracts, ensure that bidding is truly competitive, and so forth. But if Buhari relies primarily on personalities to fight corruption, structural factors could complicate even the best of intentions, especially at the middle and lower levels of the civil service, the military, and the police.

Why does the policeman take bribes? Why does the civil servant embezzle money, or ask for a kickback on a contract? Is it because they are bad people? Moral degeneracy cannot be the only factor – there are also the pressures of supporting dependents, the anxiety about losing one’s job, the norms set by peers and superiors and institutional history, and the specters of debt and intimidation.*

These are not all problems that toughness or integrity can solve, especially not quickly. Skilled and experienced bureaucrats can find ways to freeze out and undermine a reformist boss. Reformers don’t always get to pick their own staffs, who sometimes answer ultimately to other powerful individuals whom the reformer cannot gainsay. Finally, political calculations emanating from the president, the party, or other influencers can throw a wrench into reform efforts inside bureaucracies.** This dynamic leads us back to my first point above, about the need for coalition-maintenance.

In any case, if Buhari’s government cannot address some of the structural factors – for example, if they cannot ensure that civil servants’ salaries are adequate – then personalities alone may fail to eliminate corruption.

Buhari’s Plans on Corruption

So far, Buhari’s discussion of his plans on corruption has been politically pragmatic, though not entirely consistent. Perhaps most famously, he and his team have repeatedly stated that they will “draw a line” (see here, starting at 13:30) – meaning that they will consider past offenses off limits for investigations and prosecutions. That attitude could have the benefit of making Buhari’s opponents feel that their situation now is not life-or-death, and that they can walk away from nefarious activities without going to war with the new president. On the other hand, drawing a line could mean that grievous financial crimes go unpunished.

There are already indications that the “line” may not exclude all parts of the past. Buhari recently said he would open a “fresh probe” into allegations that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) mis-allocated $20 billion under outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan. (This issue has been in the public eye again with the release of an audit on the NNPC, which raised as many questions as it answered.) Political pressures may mean that “drawing a line” proves impossible.

Beyond these issues, however the dominant rhetoric about corruption coming from Buhari still focuses on personalities. In one interview (14:10), he compared Nigeria to a fish: “If the head is rotten, the rest of the body will go rotten as well.” But given how many hooks are in this fish, simply replacing the head may not be enough to restore the health of the body.

**********************

*My thoughts on this point have been influenced by a recent talk I heard by M.A. Thomas on her new book Govern Like Us: U.S. Expectations of Poor Countries, though I am still thinking through my reactions to her overall arguments.

**My thoughts on this point have been influenced by Nasir el-Rufai’s The Accidental Public Servant.

More on the Economic Vision of Nigeria’s All Progressives Congress

As observers try to anticipate the economic policies of Nigeria’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC), I’ve repeatedly mentioned APC bigwig Bola Tinubu’s November 2014 op-ed “Slump in Oil Prices: A Progressive Way Out.” That piece advocates running deficits and decoupling the naira from the dollar in order to fund massive, job-creating infrastructure projects. I don’t want to naively assume that an op-ed will become a blueprint for policy once the messiness of governing begins, but I wanted to flag a recent speech by Tinubu where he reiterated many of the same ideas. In a convocation address last week, Tinubu said:

A progressive government must turn its face from the austerity policies of the outgoing administrative that tried to manage poverty, but not end it. Such policies serve only to deepen and prolong the hardship of the average person. Such policies would lock us in a room without hope or safe exit. We dare not go in.

In response to the downturn in private sector activity, a progressive government must exercise the creative boldness to generate economic growth, productive and equal opportunity. Under the circumstances that now confront us, government must use fiscal and monetary policy to enlarge the economic space by embarking on ambitious infrastructural development, housing and agricultural programs.

These programs will provide jobs directly. Moreover, the enhancement of our infrastructural base and sharpening of our productive capacity that results from these programs will initiate multiple rounds of job creation. This is how economic growth and employment are sustained over the long term.

This is what the APC manifesto pledged to you. This is what an APC government will seek to deliver.

So again, Tinubu comes out against austerity and in favor of using infrastructure projects to create jobs. The APC’s political survival may ultimately depend on its ability to alleviate poverty, so it will important to see whether and how these ideas translate into policies and projects after Buhari’s inauguration on May 29.

The speech, and the reference to the manifesto, bring up another important point. The trope of “African politics is not about issues” is so deeply entrenched in international media coverage that you can frequently watch Western journalists reflexively assume that Buhari and the APC have only vague policies, despite evidence to the contrary. Thus, at the link above, we read that “in lieu of a detailed policy platform from Mr. Buhari, who was short on specifics during his campaign, his vow to defeat Boko Haram amounts to a national security strategy, while fighting corruption has become an economic one.” Tinubu’s speeches and op-eds could of course include more details (as could all pronouncements by politicians!), and the manifesto is by turns general and specific, but the idea that Buhari has no economic vision beyond fighting corruption is demonstrably false.

Ten Thoughts on Nigerian President-Elect Buhari’s Victory

Nigeria held national elections over the weekend. As results came through over the past few days, it became clear that General Muhammadu Buhari had defeated incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. The incumbent formally conceded yesterday. I have a few thoughts:

  1. This is a good outcome. It marks the first transfer of power from one civilian party to another at the national level in Nigeria. It strengthens the reputation and credibility of national institutions, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission, at a time when many Nigerians and international audiences were nervous about the possibility of manipulation, fraud, and violence. I will also say forthrightly that I think Buhari and his team will do a better job than Jonathan and his circle. Nigeria’s problems are not all Jonathan’s fault, but for most of his time in office the key problems (Boko Haram, corruption, inequality) worsened. Buhari is not perfect, but I think the sophistication his team showed on the campaign trail suggests a higher level of competence than was seen under Jonathan.
  2. This outcome surprised me. For over a year, I’ve been telling people in private that I thought the power of incumbency would allow Jonathan’s circle to ensure that they won, including through manipulation. I also thought that Buhari’s reputation as an anti-corruption fighter would make Nigerian elites broadly nervous about the idea of him coming to power, and that enough of them would cling to Jonathan that it would prevent a Buhari victory. About a month ago my tune changed to uncertainty about what would happen, but I certainly did not foresee a clear and mostly peaceful victory for Buhari. I underestimated the strength of Nigeria’s institutions and the determination of the country’s voters. Also, credit where credit is due: various voices predicted a Buhari win, with varying degrees of accuracy in terms of state-by-state forecasts – see New Africa MagazineEurasia Group, and Damina Advisors.
  3. For Buhari, the map and the strategy changed from 2011 to 2015 – it’s not just “north versus south.” Compare the maps from 2011 (when Jonathan also faced Buhari) and 2015. It’s clear that this time Buhari put together a mostly national coalition, or perhaps became the face of a coalition that harnessed his personal popularity, or perhaps both. In any case, what put Buhari in contention was the support he had from influential politicians in the southwest, symbolized by his running mate Yemi Osinbajo and personified by his party’s informal leader, former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu. Southwestern politicians provided not just the votes, but also much of the new strategic thinking that helped Buhari appear to the nation and the world as a candidate ready for prime-time and the big chair (one example of a strategic decision was when his party, the All Progressives Congress or APC, declined to violently protest the six-week postponement of the elections). For his part, Jonathan was unsuccessful in making backroom deals that would restore the southwest to his column. And if the southwest put Buhari in contention, it was the “Middle Belt” or North Central zone that helped put him over the top – winning places like Kwara, Kogi, and Benue testifies both to Jonathan’s unpopularity and to the APC’s success in uniting the opposition and extending its reach into new areas of the country.
  4. Boko Haram was one issue in the election, but not the only issue. Most important, in addition to the opposition’s coalition-building, was Buhari’s image as an anti-corruption reformer. Many Nigerians say that corruption is the core problem in their country, underlying all others – even the problem of Boko Haram, insofar as corruption hamstrings the armed forces and helps provide Boko Haram with talking points. One test for Buhari will be whether he lives up to that image. He will have to strike a delicate balance between showing progress and not alienating necessary allies – so many people have a vested interest in the current system of corruption that it will take creativity and courage to chart a viable path forward on this issue.
  5. Boko Haram’s violence is not as closely calibrated to the political calendar as many people think, nor does the group show evidence of being able to think and plan at a national level. There were some attacks during the voting this year, notably in Bauchi, but they did not severely disrupt the elections. If I were Abubakar Shekau, I would have organized coordinated bombings in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, Jos, and Maiduguri on election day – a move that I think would have dominated headlines and thrown many voters into a panic. Perhaps Shekau was capable of doing something like that but chose not to, opting to save resources for a later time or to avoid the unpredictable consequences that such attacks could have had for the elections. But to me the lack of well-coordinated and far-reaching attacks on election day suggests that (a) Boko Haram is neither as strong nor as sophisticated as many people think; (b) Boko Haram is and has long been an essentially northeastern group with a limited ability to strike outside that zone; and (c) Boko Haram is under severe pressure from Chadian, Nigerien, and Nigerian forces. It’s also worth recalling that despite all Boko Haram’s talk about hating democracy, the group has never tightly linked its actions to the political calendar. In 2011, for example, it concentrated on assassinating northeastern politicians associated with a former political ally. In general, Boko Haram’s attacks follow a particular logic – one driven by the group’s need to survive and its ambitions to rule the northeast. On the other hand, Boko Haram’s attacks became much more dramatic after the 2011 elections. What they will do now remains to be seen.
  6. One major question will be to what extent Buhari’s party, the APC, can bring a coherent economic vision to federal policymaking, particularly in a period of low oil prices. Two sub-questions are: (a) to what extent will southwestern APC politicians seek to replicate the model they have built in Lagos, where they have emphasized tax collection and service delivery over reliance on oil rents? and (b) to what extent will Buhari seek to implement the policies outlined by Tinubu here, where he talked about running deficits to finance job-creating infrastructure projects? In my view, both moves would be good. If the APC doesn’t create jobs, it will be in big trouble politically.
  7. Buhari’s win testifies to the importance of patience for African opposition candidates. Buhari’s victory reminds many observers of Abdoulaye Wade’s victory over Abdou Diouf in the Senegalese alternance of 2000. Wade ran unsuccessfully against Diouf (and his predecessor Leopold Senghor) four times before he won on the fifth attempt, just as Buhari unsuccessfully ran three times against the People’s Democratic Party (Jonathan’s party, which has ruled Nigeria since the civilian transition of 1999) before winning on his fourth attempt. The message to other African opposition leaders seems clear: you have to build support over multiple elections and outlast the ruling party until popular discontent leaves the incumbents no choice but to bow to the will of the voters.
  8. More mathematically-inclined minds than my own will be poring over the numbers and will have more sophisticated comments to make, but already there has been some speculation about whether the 2015 results call into question any of the 2011 results. 2011 was hailed as one of the best elections Nigeria ever had, but there are questions about the integrity of the numbers, especially high turnout and high Jonathan margins in the South East and the South South (Jonathan is from the latter zone). In any case it seems 2015 was an improvement over 2011 in terms of transparency and integrity.
  9. There is a generation of Nigerian men, born in the 1930s and 1940s, who have decisively shaped Nigeria’s postcolonial trajectory. They include Yakubu Gowon, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida, T.Y. Danjuma, and Buhari. Buhari’s win reflects the continued influence of that generation, but this decade may be the last where they are still so prominent. The 2020s will likely see the torch decisively passed to a new generation of politicians who did not serve in the military and were born after, or just shortly before, independence.
  10. Don’t forget that state elections are coming up on April 11. The outcomes of those elections will matter tremendously for Nigeria, and will shape the political futures of major states (Lagos, Kano, Rivers, etc.) whose populations sometimes exceed those of many entire African countries.

What do you think of the elections?