Debt Relief for Chad

On April 29, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank announced $1.1 billion in debt relief for Chad under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. The Initiative works by means of a two-step process that involves first, meeting certain eligibility criteria including the development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP); and second, showing progress on reforms (as determined by the IMF and the Bank) and on implementation of the PRSP. Chad has now reached the second stage, called the “completion point,” which allows a country to “receive full and irrevocable reduction in debt.” The Initiative aims to allow governments to spend more money on reducing poverty.

You can read Chad’s first (2003) PRSP here, and its second (2008) here. The second paper placed greater emphasis on alleviating rural poverty, and it responded to a context in which oil sector growth was a less dominant aspect of the economy.

You can read more about Chad and IMF here, and about the IMF’s Extended Credit Facility arrangement for Chad here. The three-year arrangement, which began in 2014, aims to “ensure fiscal sustainability, strengthen fiscal institutions and governance, promote sustained and inclusive growth over the medium term, and facilitate the move to the Highly Indebted Poor Country Completion Point.”

For the perspective of the Chadian government, you can look to this interview (French) that RFI conducted with Chadian Finance Minister Bédoumra Kordjé. RFI asks some tough questions, including whether Chad’s military participation in different conflicts in Africa (Mali, Nigeria, CAR) was part of the equation – i.e., whether the French pleaded Chad’s case to the IMF as a reward for Chad’s military assistance. Kordjé thanks the French without responding specifically to the question. Kordjé also discusses, in response to a question about late payments of salaries for Chadian bureaucrats, how the Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region is straining Chad’s budget. You can find the 2014 budget, in French, here.

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.

Resources on Nigeria’s New Acting Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase

On April 21, Nigeria’s outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan fired Inspector General of Police (IGP) Suleiman Abba, the head of Nigeria’s National Police Force. Abba had been in the position since last August. He has been replaced, on an acting basis, by Deputy IGP Solomon Arase.

Under civilian rule since 1999, few IGPs have served longer than two or three years, and it is common for them to leave in a climate of presidential displeasure – the last IGP but one, Hafiz Ringim, was sacked in 2012 amid criticism of the administration’s performance on security (criticism that nevertheless continued).

Still, Abba’s firing is significant and has caught the attention of the Nigerian press in a major way, as journalists seek to explain the timing of the move. One article links the firing to disagreements between Abba and the presidency over how to respond to a tense gubernatorial electoral season in Rivers State earlier this month. Arase, stepping into the new position, will immediately face the challenge of organizing the police presence during tomorrow’s special gubernatorial re-run elections in Imo, Abia, and Taraba states.

Given the press attention and the electoral angle, I thought I would provide just a few resources on Arase:

  • Arase’s remarks on Wednesday, accepting the position
  • A bio of Arase from Nigeria’s Premium Times
  • Further biographical details from Nigeria’s Pulse