Nigeria: Thoughts on the PDP’s Nomination of Atiku Abubakar

Yesterday, 7 October, Nigeria’s former ruling party (the People’s Democratic Party or PDP) selected Atiku Abubakar as its nominee for the 2019 presidential elections. Abubakar served as Nigeria’s Vice President from 1999-2007, the first eight years of the PDP’s sixteen-year reign.

Abubakar has been a party’s nominee for president once before. Late in the second term of President Olusegun Obasanjo (also served 1999-2007), the two men fell out, partly over power struggles and partly over the issue of Obasanjo’s desire to overturn term limits and obtain a third term. In 2007, Abubakar was the Action Congress’ nominee. He placed third in the general election that year, taking 7% of the vote; the winner was Obasanjo’s hand-picked successor, Umaru Yar’Adua, while Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria’s current president, elected in 2015) took second place. Atiku also eyed presidential runs in 2011 and 2015, although in 2015 he backed Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He then left the APC in 2017 and returned to the PDP.

Abubakar hails from Adamawa, in the far northeast. His political rise, ironically, was through the network of Yar’Adua’s older brother, the late Shehu Yar’Adua (1943-1997). In 1998, he won the gubernatorial election in Adamawa, but was quickly tapped as Obasanjo’s running mate. It’s worth mentioning here that S. Yar’Adua was Obasanjo’s second-in-command when the latter was military head of state from 1976-1979.

Returning to the present, Abubakar has defeated or outmaneuvered a slate of other prominent northern politicians, including various governors and senators to become the PDP nominee. These politicians include Senate President Bukola Saraki, of Kwara State; Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, of Kano; Governor Aminu Tambuwal, of Sokoto; and former Governor Sule Lamido, of Jigawa. Some of these governors only recently rejoined the PDP after several years in the APC and a transitional phase in the “Reformed APC.”

In victory, Abubakar is emphasizing the theme of “let’s get Nigeria working again.”

Other candidates are pledging their support:

As of now, I do not rate the PDP’s chances highly. In fact, they are exposed to some of the same dilemmas that confront the ruling APC: (1) only one person can be the nominee, which creates restlessness among other politicians and can lead to repeated party-switching; and (2) seniority, and money, weigh heavily in parties’ selections of presidential nominees, meaning that the nominees are not always the best candidates, nor are they always well positioned to promise genuine change to voters. The PDP had to pick a nominee, of course, but picking Abubakar may now make them vulnerable to some of the defections that have plagued the APC this year (and that plagued the PDP during the lead-up to the 2015 elections). Meanwhile, one wonders whether the prospect of choosing between Buhari and Abubakar will not leave many southerners indifferent, not just because both candidates are northerners but also because both men represent the class of military officers and their proteges that have dominated presidential politics for decades. Abubakar, moreover, seems to me to be someone with clout and influence but without widespread personal popularity. Buhari, despite his many weaknesses as a president and a candidate, still has a charisma that Abubakar lacks. If figures such as Kwankwaso, Saraki, Lamido, and Tambuwal remain with the PDP and successfully peel their states out of Buhari’s column, the PDP and Abubakar might be able to put together a winning map that includes parts of the north, the middle belt, and the southeast (and here I mean both the South East and the South South). But I’m a bit skeptical that that will happen.

 

 

 

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Nigeria: Developments in Gubernatorial Contests in Osun, Kano, and Borno

Nigeria is in full-blown election mode in advance of the 16 February* 2019 presidential vote. Some of the most consequential political developments are taking place in the states. Here we look at three states: Osun, in the southwest, where a contentious gubernatorial election result is raising questions about ruling party interference and electoral officials’ biases; and two key northern states, Kano and Borno, where gubernatorial primaries are approaching.

Osun

Last week I wrote about the off-cycle gubernatorial election in Osun, which I believe is the last major election before the presidential vote. In Osun, incumbent governor (and member of the ruling All Progressives Congress or APC) Rauf Aregbesola is stepping down due to term limits, and so the race is between his chief of staff Gboyega Oyetola and Osun West Senator Ademola Adeleke. The latter represents the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which ruled Nigeria from 1999-2015.

Osun’s election took place on 22 September, but problems occurred at seven polling units. The election was re-run at those units on 27 September, and the returns from those units changed the overall outcome. After the 22 September results, the PDP’s Adeleke had a lead of 353 votes; after the 27 September results were added to the tallies, the APC’s Oyetola had a lead of some 482 votes and was declared the winner.

The close margin, and the reversal in the party’s fortunes, has led to outcry and concern not just from the PDP, but also from other observers. The Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room released a statement critical of the process and questioning the integrity of the final result. The Centre for Democracy and Development in West Africa’s statement similarly concluded (see second tweet in thread) “that the conduct of some key stakeholders clearly ran contrary to democratic norms & standards, as well as best practices in the conduct of credible elections.”

And here is part of the joint statement from the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States:

In contrast to our overall findings on the vote of September 22, we were concerned to witness widespread incidents of interference and intimidation of voters, journalists, and civil society observers by some political party supporters and security agencies.  Many of our findings mirror those of leading civil society groups that observed the election.

We commend the work of INEC leadership during both elections. But it is clear that the neutrality of the security services and responsible conduct by party agents, both inside and outside polling units, will be essential to ensure free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in 2019.

For both the APC and the Independent National Electoral Commission, then, there is skepticism in the air about their ability to conduct a successful and open process in February.

Kano

Back in August, I took a look at party shifts and realignments in Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria. Four prominent personalities are fighting for influence over the upcoming gubernatorial election. Most gubernatorial votes will take place (or are scheduled for) 2 March 2019. So here are the major players in Kano:

  • Former Governor (and current Senator) Rabiu Kwankwaso (served 1999-2003, 2011-2015)
  • Former Governor Ibrahim Shekarau (served 2003-2011)
  • Current Governor Abdullahi Ganduje (took office 2015)
  • Ex-Deputy Governor (as of August) Hafiz Abubakar (in office 2015-2018)

The latest big news is that Kwankwaso is backing Abba Yusuf to win the PDP gubernatorial nomination. Nigerian media (corporate and social) has been buzzing with the news that Yusuf is Kwankwaso’s son-in-law, although Kwankwaso himself has sought to correct (or spin?) the perception of nepotism by arguing that Yusuf is not married to one of his daughters but rather to someone from his extended family.

Kwankwaso also reportedly sought to arrange a game of musical chairs that would place Yusuf in the governor’s seat while placing Abubakar and long-time Shekarau ally Salihu Takai (who has, however, so far not followed Shekarau’s lead in defecting to the APC after Kwankwaso defected to the PDP)** into Senate seats. Here is a paraphrase of what Kwankwaso said about the proposal he made to Abubakar and Takai:

He also explained his reasons for not anointing the former Kano deputy governor, Prof Hafiz Abubakar, and a prominent politician in the state Alhaji Sagir Takai. He said he had known Prof Hafiz for over 40 years and has assisted him wherever necessary. The Prof was asked to contest for the Kano Central senate seat, a seat currently occupied by Sen Kwankwaso, in the coming 2019 election but he showed no interest. Likewise Sagir Takai had also been asked to contest for the seat of the southern Kano senatorial zone but had also declined to the arrangement, Sen Kwankwaso explained.

Within the PDP, then, you have a major contest for the nomination brewing – and then the nominee will face off against Ganduje, who remains in the APC and remains governor. Part of Kwankwaso’s ambition, of course, is to win the PDP nomination for the presidency and then bring Kano into his column in the general election.

Borno

Borno is the largest state in Nigeria by landmass and is the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. Incumbent Governor Kashim Shettima of the APC is term-limited and will likely seek the Borno Central Senate seat. As in other states, outgoing governors can wield tremendous influence in picking a successor (Shettima himself was hand-picked in 2011 by then-outgoing Governor Ali Modu Sheriff after Sheriff’s initial pick, Modu Gubio, was assassinated, likely by Boko Haram).

The big news out of Borno, then, is that Shettima has endorsed Babagana Zulum for the APC nomination. Zulum is a professor and the former state commissioner for reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement. (Here, if you are interested, are micro-bios of the other candidates.)

In Shettima’s endorsement statement, he focused on how Zulum’s professional experience will be crucial for Borno as it focuses on post-conflict reconstruction. But other parts of the statement allude, cryptically, to intra-party conflicts:

We cannot pretend not to be aware that an otherwise leader in our party, the APC, has deliberately created an unnecessary division within its membership in the state. This has led, to borrow from the satirical wisdom of Distinguished Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, the existence of what is akin to a match between “home based players” in the majority and with local support and a minority “foreign based players”. Four months ago, when we received some fleeing leaders back into the APC fold, I had thought that those who choose to work against the majority have learned lessons. I had expected us to once again, fuse into one indivisible family so that together, we could give our party a direction and confront our opponents as a united force. How wrong I was! Perhaps, I ignored the common saying, that a leopard does not change its spots.

This is, of course, a reference to Shettima’s difficult relationship with Sheriff, who rejoined the APC in a May 2018 “peace deal” with Shettima. Since then, however, political conflict between the two has flared up again.

There is also a hint, in Shettima’s endorsement statement, that Zulum is something of a consensus candidate:

Of our 21 aspirants, if I were to support and hand pick what some people might call any of my closest boys as successor; I most certainly would go for Barrister Kaka Shehu Lawan or Adamu Lawan Zaufanjimba. If, on the other hand, public service is the only consideration, none of the aspirants can be more qualified than our elder statesman, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda. If loyalty to political association is my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Abubakar Kyari has proved unalloyed loyalty to political association with me. If years of sincere and mutual friendship are my main consideration, Distinguished Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai and Alhaji Mai Sheriff are my closest friends amongst all our aspirants. If the consideration is about humility and ability to carry people along, His Excellency Shettima Yuguda Dibal is legendary. I have relationship and so much respect for majority of the aspirants, the likes of Hon. Umara Kumalia, Makinta, name them. In fact, two of the aspirants, Mustapha Fannarambe and Umar Alkali are my relatives. All aspirants have divergent qualities. However, because of the situation we found ourselves, considerations for the next Governor of Borno State requires specific quips tailored to our needs for now.

Perhaps I am too cynical, but it also seems to me that Zulum may be a somewhat technocratic choice who lacks a constituency of his own and therefore may be seen as pliable by Shettima and his team. But I welcome readers’ thoughts and corrections on this point in particular.

So there you have it – three crucial states, one of whose governorships has been held for the APC in a potentially ugly way (Osun), one of whose governorships is increasingly contested (Kano), and one whose governorships may pass smoothly from incumbent to successor (Borno). In any case, these remain three states to watch, especially in terms of how gubernatorial politics interact with presidential politics in the lead-up to 2019.

*Delays are always possible, although the constitution requires that the next presidential term start by 29 May 2019.

**No one said this was easy to follow!

Nigeria’s Decamping Wave and Preparations for 2019: Spotlight on Kano

In Nigeria, a wave of “decamping” is occurring as politicians switch parties. I’ve written a little about it here and here, as have Matt Page and Lagun Akinloye. All of the party switches have national implications, but in this post I’d like to zoom in on some of the dynamics in one key state: Kano, the most populous state in northern Nigeria and the second-most populous state in the country as a whole. Kano’s decampings give a sense of just how complicated all this has become, and also point to some of the key actors who will shape the outcome in the state in the 2019 elections. Kano is probably a must-win state for incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari – if he loses in Kano, that might spell trouble elsewhere for him in the north, and if he starts to lose pieces of the north then his whole map falls apart.

To begin describing Kano State politics, we can point to two former governors: Rabiu Kwankwaso (served 1999-2003 and 2011-2015) and Ibrahim Shekarau (served 2003-2011). A long narrative on their rivalry can be found here. Both men have decamped in the past, but at the time of the 2015 elections Kwankwaso was in the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Shekarau was in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In 2015, the APC won the presidency and the PDP, Nigeria’s long-time ruling party, lost. In 2015, the APC also won the governorship of Kano, with Kwankwaso’s Deputy Governor Abdullahi Ganduje defeating Shekarau’s ally Salihu Takai. Kwankwaso himself moved to the Nigerian Senate, representing the Kano Central senatorial district.

This summer, Kwankwaso became part of a larger group of Senators, governors, and other politicians who left the APC to return to the PDP, the party to which many of them previously belonged. Some of these defections, and particularly Kwankwaso’s, reflect presidential aspirations. Kwankwaso has been seriously discussed as a major presidential contender since at least the 2015 cycle, so his aspirations are far from delusional.

Back in Kano, Kwankwaso’s decamping raises a few important questions. Is there room for both him and Shekarau in the PDP? Perhaps. And what about Ganduje, who will face re-election in 2019? So far, Ganduje is remaining in the APC, although his own deputy governor, Hafiz Abubakar, has already resigned (h/t Matt Page), and may well defect to the PDP. Does Kwankwaso have the upper hand over Ganduje? Or does the outcome of 2019 in Kano come down to which two of the state’s three past and present governors (Kwankwaso, Shekarau, Ganduje) align against the third, given “rumours that Kwankwaso and Ganduje are struggling to win the heart of Shekarau”? And what does any of this mean for Takai, already being floated unofficially (Hausa) as a candidate? Don’t think that having lost a few elections (2011 to Kwankwaso, 2015 to Ganduje) counts someone out – just ask Buhari, for whom the fourth time was the charm.

Far be it from me to say what all this means. But it’s interesting to watch the consequential knock-on effects of national politicians’ decisions and decampings as they reverberate down through the political system, compelling deputy governors, state legislators, and other figures to make their own decisions. The wave of decampings, then, is throwing into relief the various networks and rivalries that make up Nigerian politics. The struggles within the states also highlight that perennial feature of politics, particularly in systems with term limits – the “godfathers,” no matter how formidable they may be, never have complete control over their hand-picked successors, and the resulting rivalries can have major consequences for party unity.

 

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: Six Important New Governors

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.