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.

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.