Key Economic Debates in Nigeria’s Election

Nigeria’s national and state elections are approaching (now March 28 and April 11). Many journalists and commentators have depicted them largely – sometimes exclusively – in terms of security and the violence by the Boko Haram sect. That perspective misses a great deal of the picture. For example, the campaign has sparked important debates about the state of Nigeria’s economy – debates that have particular resonance in the context of falling oil prices, which have hurt government revenues and weakened the naira.

The economic debates going on in Nigeria are sophisticated, and they involve real issues. The debates challenge the often-heard narrative that African elections are about personalities and networks, not issues. I’m not saying personalities won’t matter; I am saying that the campaign is not issue-free.

To get a sense of the economic debates, I’d recommend two pieces – or rather, one piece and one conversation.

First is former Lagos Governor Bola Tinubu‘s “Slum[p] in Oil Prices: A Progressive Way Out.” Tinubu is a key leader in the opposition coalition the All Progressives Congress (APC), which has nominated former military ruler General Muhammadu Buhari as its candidate. In this piece, Tinubu articulates his opposition to austerity. He argues for decoupling the naira from the dollar and running a deficit into to fund projects (especially infrastructure) that will put large numbers of people to work.

Second is former Central Bank Governor Charles Soludo’s debate with Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (h/t Zainab Usman). Soludo served from 2004 to 2009 (under Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Umaru Yar’Adua, but not under incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan).

In his first piece, “Buhari vs. Jonathan” Soludo stated that he was an undecided voter and wrote, “The two main parties talk around the major development challenges—corruption, insecurity, economy (unemployment/poverty, power, infrastructure, etc) health, education, etc. However, it is my considered view that none of them has any credible agenda to deal with the issues, especially within the context of the evolving global economy and Nigeria’s broken public finance.” Soludo directed attention to what he called historically unprecedented poverty and unemployment rates (71% and 24%).

Soludo’s essay provoked a response from Okonjo-Iweala, which in turn drew a reply from Soludo. Beyond the personal invective, there is a deadly serious struggle over statistics – whose are accurate, and even whose are genuine. The APC’s Kayode Fayemi (who was voted out as governor of Ekiti State in the southwest in an off-cycle election last June) also joined the debate. The full exchange is worth reading.

With over six weeks left in the campaign (due to the postponement of the elections), it will be worth watching how these debates continue to play out. It is also worth noting the role of the Finance Minister as a participant, but even more importantly as a symbol, in these debates – opponents and critics of Jonathan’s regime have focused on her and her credibility as they make the case that Jonathan’s administration, despite having an internationally-known economist as a core part of the team, has failed to make the economy work for ordinary Nigerians. We’ll see, then, what kind of economic arguments the Jonathan team puts forward in this final stretch of the campaign.


Africa News Roundup: Nigerien Tuaregs, South Kordofan, Kenya and Somalia, and More

I rarely comment on North African affairs here, but the death of Morocco’s Sheikh Abdessalam Yassine will merit reflection on the meaning and trajectories of “Islamism” well beyond Morocco. His funeral was yesterday.

A recent CNN interview with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta included discussion of Mali. See also the audio and transcript of a recent NPR segment on intervention in Mali.

Deutsche Welle: “Niger’s Tuaregs Fear Spillover from Mali.”

Magharebia: “Mauritania Outlaws Coups d’Etat.”

Sudan Tribune:

The Sudanese army is dispatching heavy reinforcements to South Kordofan in order to defeat the rebellion and increase security in the border region, the country’s defense minister Abdel Rahim Mohammed Hussein has announced.


His visit and comments followed reports by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army North (SPLM/A-N) that their forces defeated attempts on Monday by government forces to capture Daldoka village southeast of Kadugli and inflicted heavy losses on them.

This Day:

Former governor of Yobe State, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, Thursday  declared that unless the activities of the Boko Haram was completely checkmated, there might not be any election in the entire six states of the North-east geo-political zone by 2015.

Similarly, the former governor of Kano State and chairman of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) Rebuilding and Inter-Party Contact Committee, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, called on opposition politicians to ensure that the ongoing alliance talks between opposition political parties worked out this time as anything to the contrary would spell doom for the nation.
The two leaders spoke in Enugu, when the ANPP special rebuilding committee met with the party’s leaders and major stakeholders from the five states of the South-east zone in continuation of its nationwide consultation with members.

In a separate article, This Day reports that the Federal Government plans to send more troops to Borno State to fight Boko Haram.

Kidnappers have released the mother of Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

Charles Wachira: “After Somalia Intervention, Kenya Faces War Within.”

What else is happening?

Africa News Roundup: Mali Coup, Somalia, Senussi, Senegal Elections, and More

IRIN and Bloomberg probe the causes of the coup in Mali. Think Africa Press examines the micro-dynamics of the mutiny/coup itself. Reuters provides a look at the military situation in the north. The United Nations Security Council, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the European Union, and the United States have all condemned the coup.

Given how rapidly news is coming out of Mali, Twitter remains your best bet for the latest.

Despite hopes that Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala would become the next World Bank president, it appears almost certain that President Barack Obama’s nominee, Darmouth College President Jim Yong Kim, will get the job.

Ethiopian troops aren’t gone from Somalia, yet, it seems. Together with Somali government forces they drove al Shabab rebels from the town of Hudur (map) on Thursday.

The Mauritanian government has refuted earlier reports that it had agreed to an extradition of former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al Senussi back to Libya. Libya’s new government says it wants to try Senussi before elections this June.

Guinea-Bissau is set to hold a run-off in its presidential elections. The problem is, the second-place finisher, former President Kumba Yala, says he will not participate.

IRIN has an interesting look at the strategies of pastoralists in Niger for coping with drought, and includes some commentary on how the border closure with Nigeria (due to the Boko Haram uprising) has denied pastoralists access to an economic safety valve.

Last but definitely not least, Senegal will hold the second round of its presidential elections tomorrow, pitting incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade against challenger Macky Sall, whom the BBC has profiled here.

What are you reading today?