Category Archives: Nigeria

Nigeria – Buhari’s second term ambitions, the Atiku challenge, and the limits of incumbency

President Muhammadu Buhari will, in all likelihood, seek a second term in office. For starters, this is a prospect that is buttressed by much political tradition and precedent; no Nigerian president who lived through a first term has ever walked away from the possibility of a second (at least not willingly).[i] But the president’s desire to retain his office has also been implied by more recent events. Among these are the fact that next year’s budget, which Buhari proposed in November, promises to be Nigeria’s biggest ever, an expansion in spending which analysts have interpreted as designed to shore up his government’s reputation in advance of the 2019 polls.[ii] Along with this has come his de facto endorsement by the state governor’s forum, easily the most influential elite caucused within Buhari’s All Progressive’s Congress (APC) party. With this decisive announcement already secured, an official declaration of Buhari’s intention to contest is almost a formality.

However, taking all of this to mean that Buhari’s second term bid will be a cakewalk would be imprudent. Least of all because a general election is likely to pit him against easily his toughest opponent on Nigeria’s current political stage; namely Alhaji Atiku Abubaker.

There are a number of important details to bear in mind which hint at why Alhaji Atiku might represent a most formidable challenger. Foremost is the fact that he is (in)famously wealthy. This is an especially meaningful quality in a context wherein electoral races are increasingly becoming prohibitively expensive. But aside from (though not unrelated to) his wealth, he has also been a regular fixture on Nigeria’s political stage having both served as Nigeria’s second elected vice-president from 1999 – 2007 and unsuccessfully run for president on three separate occasions (1992, 2007, and 2011).

Atiku’s ubiquity in Nigerian politics has certainly come with its costs. His proximity to an unpopular Nigerian state over such an extended period of time has tainted his reputation and raised numerous question marks about the propriety of his wealth. Critics also point to his having frequently switched party allegiances or, in Nigerian parlance, ‘decamped’ (most recently last month) as evidence of his being conniving or dishonest.

However, his supporters parry accusations of his dishonesty by pointing out that most Nigerian politicians have, at one point or another, decamped and that party switching has effectively become a norm of political behavior in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, as Nigerian academics have also argued.[ii] Moreover, Atiku’s continuity in Nigerian politics –even if in the form of unsuccessful presidential bids– has allowed him to reinforce a strong base of supporters over time. This formula was put to fruitful use by none other than Buhari himself who, identically, also lost three presidential elections before his victory in 2015 suggesting, perhaps, that in Nigeria’s presidential politics, the fourth time might be the charm.

Atiku has also recently thrown his support behind a number of issues, which are backed by growing constituencies. Of note among these is his fervent support for constitutional reforms to restructure Nigeria’s federal system and allow for a more widely accepted balance between central and local governments. Proponents of these reforms include both national civil society and communities in the oil producing regions of Nigeria, both of which could be important electoral constituencies. Atiku has also recently come out in favor of #EndSARS, a protest movement which has been aimed at disbanding an unpopular police unit known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), and which has largely taken place on Twitter. Weighing-in in favor of proponents of #EndSARS, has shown Atiku to be responsive to the public outcry of a young urban constituency which is increasingly recognized to be an influential ally of opposition candidates in African elections [iii].

But beyond (and perhaps more important than) these personal traits however, there are also important structural factors that make Atiku’s possible bid against Buhari a distinctly viable one. Chief among these factors is the peculiar matter of zoning. Zoning refers to an informal arrangement amongst Nigeria’s political parties which requires that after a president from either the northern or southern half (or ‘zone’) of the country has served two consecutive terms in office, his successor must come from the opposite ‘zone’. This issue partially accounted for northern support in 2015 for Buhari against the re-election bid of former president Goodluck Jonathan, a southerner who, having completed the term of his successor who died in office, was widely castigated by northern politicians for seeking to stay in office beyond the ‘turn’ of his zone. [iv]

The fact that the presidency will remain zoned to the north in the upcoming election means that Atiku will face much less of a challenge from other presidential hopefuls from the south who might otherwise have made threatening incursions into the race. Additionally, Buhari’s heavy handed response to militancy in Nigeria’s oil delta and to the pro-Biafran successions movement in the past two years have not won him very many new supporters in the south, a region which already voted heavily against him in 2015. Taken together, these factors will mean that, in a race against Atiku, Buhari will face a viable challenger in his core base in the north while fighting an uphill battle in much of the south (particularly the south east) where, given Buhari’s unpopularity, Atiku might be deemed a much more palatable choice. An assessment of the above factors, as well as the fact that no similarly viable northern challenger has emerged in the opposition People’s Democratic Party, probably account for Atiku’s decision to jump ship from the APC to the PDP late last month.

In Nigeria’s immediate context, these factors raise the possibility that the 2019 general election could be a hotly contested race that pits two former allies against each other. Politics, of course, makes strange bedfellows but there is no reason to expect that such cohabitation will endure through thick and thin. In more general terms however, the forgoing analyses has also brought to the fore some of the challenges which sometimes make the fact of being an incumbent a double edged sword in increasingly competitive electoral contexts.

[i] Siollun, M. (2009). Oil, politics and violence: Nigeria’s military coup culture (1966-1976). Algora Publishing.

[ii] Omilusi, O., P. (2015). “The Nuances and Nuisances of Party Defection in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic.” International Journal of Multidisciplinary Academic Research, Vol. 3, No. 4.

[iii] Resnick, D. (2012). Opposition parties and the urban poor in African democracies. Comparative Political Studies, 45(11), 1351-1378.

[iv] Owen, Olly, and Zainab Usman. “Briefing: Why Goodluck Jonathan lost the Nigerian presidential election of 2015.” African Affairs 114.456 (2015): 455-471.

Nigeria – Will President Buhari seek a second term?

This is a post by Sa’eed Husaini

Nigeria’s next election is two years away which, based on the usual rhythms of Nigeria’s electoral cycle, might as well be tomorrow. President Buhari, who swept to power in 2015 following an unlikely opposition victory, just reached the mid-way point of his four year tenure this past May. Yet an energetic slew of endorsements, counter-endorsements, and official declarations of intent by presidential hopefuls have already brought to the fore the question of whether or not Buhari will seek to retain his seat in 2019.

Of course, the fact that Buhari’s second term ambition still remains a matter of speculation rather than a forgone conclusion is itself noteworthy in a broader regional context wherein assuming that incumbents will hold on to power has too frequently been the surest bet.

Closer to home however, Buhari is in a sense a victim of his own success, insofar as his historic victory over incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan affirmed that a second term is no longer effectively a birthright for Nigerian presidents. Moreover, an ambitious and well-heeled crop of would-be successors are already making thinly veiled bids for the presidency meaning that Buhari will have to put up a serious fight if he will retain his tenancy in Aso Villa—Nigeria’s presidential palace—after 2019. Given these factors, what are some important considerations that might shape the president’s decision to either throw in the towel, or toss a hat in the ring?

Why he might run

Continuing to carry out what has largely been a personality-driven agenda will likely be Buhari’s key motivation for seeking to hold on to his seat. The security threat posed by Boko Haram and a fight against corruption have topped the president’s list of priorities during his past two years in office. Indeed Buhari’s background as an army general and a reputation cemented during his brief stint as military head of state for cracking down on corrupt officials were some of the bases for his popularity during his campaign.

Yet in government, much like in his campaign, Buhari’s strong personality, rather than wider institutional efforts, have been the ultimate base of his government’s agenda. Critics of the government’s anti-corruption fight in particular have pointed to its slow pace and unimpressive number of convictions it has scored as evidence of the president’s micro-managerial approach.

A promised clean up of Nigeria’s oil ministry—to which Buhari appointed himself as head—have also recently come under question, as two senior petroleum officials traded allegations of corruption on the front pages of national news. Buhari’s famous disdain for ‘Abuja politics’—or the regular dealings of Nigeria’s political class—has been at the heart of this close to the chest approach and might also imply a desire to personally see to the completion of his agenda, rather than to leave it in the hands of a successor.

Despite the setbacks, Buhari’s popularity, particularly within his core base in Northern Nigeria, is a second important reason why the president might still see a second-term bid as distinctly viable. To his base, built up across his four bids for the presidency, Buhari has represented the moral alternative to the corruption of mainstream Nigerian politics, a view which has been sustained (perhaps even been affirmed) amidst the difficulties his government has faced in navigating the treachery of high politics while in office. Firm affirmations and endorsements from across the North seem to suggest that, despite the stiffness of the mounting competition, he is still the man to beat in this region of the country.

Why he might not run

There are also a number of formidable hurdles that could dissuade Buhari against a possible second term.

Chief among these has been repeated health crises which have resulted in several extended medical absences during his presidency. This year, the president has spent more time in the U.K., where he has received medical treatment, than in Nigeria. Given his age of 74, these health challenges have been of particular concern.

The secrecy of the presidency about the exact nature of his illness strongly suggests a desire not to foreclose the possibility of a second term bid. Yet it also seems likely that audible doubts raised about his capacity to govern given his illness and advancing age will be a major consideration in deliberations about his political future.

Beyond the personal challenges, a Buhari second term bid also faces considerable political headwinds. Notwithstanding his popularity in the north, Buhari’s victory in the 2015 would not have been possible had he not joined a coalition with other regionally dominant political figures, including former governor of Lagos and southwestern political titan Bola Tinubu. This alliance, which is at the heart of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC) party, has at various points during the presidency appeared to teeter at the verge of collapse. The party’s internal disfunction was brought home in 2016 when First Lady Aisha Buhari, in a publicly aired interview, criticized the president for failing to accommodate the interests of important members of the coalition and, significantly, threatened not to support her husband’s re-election in 2019. More recently, the President’s Women Affairs minister also publicly declared that she would support Atiku Abubaker, another major member of the APC coalition, over Buhari in a 2019 race. It is highly likely that these deep fissures in the coalition which brought Buhari to power will also constitute a significant consideration in the presidents’ assessment of his electoral prospects and ultimate decision to either return or retire.

What is at stake

Ultimately Buhari’s decision in either direction will be the most important test the APC would have faced since the 2015 elections, as the response of the party’s major stakeholders—whether to support or oppose Buhari’s decision—will determine the party’s continued cohesion and future. Furthermore, the chances that the opposition People’s Democratic Party, can make significant inroads before the 2019 election will also crucially depend on the candidate whom the APC selects as its frontrunner. The wider impact of a Buhari re-election bid for Nigeria more generally is also worth considering: a president walking away from a second-term ticket could signal that Nigeria’s democracy has matured to the extent that leaders see the best interest of the country as more important than personal ambition. How Buhari will ultimately decide still remains uncertain but what is clear is that his second term ambition is a matter that will certainly require some careful consideration.

Africa – Presidential term limits and the third term tragedy

Africa is currently in the middle of a third term crisis. As presidents come up against the presidential term-limits included in many multi-party constitutions, a significant number are refusing to leave power gracefully. Instead, a number of leaders have sought to secure a third term. So far, this trend has taken in countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda, and now, it seems, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In most cases, they have tried to do so through official channels, in other words by changing the law or appealing to the judiciary, rather than simply suspending the constitution and ruling by fiat. One reason for this is that there is strong domestic and international support for presidential term limits. Afrobarometer data suggests that typically over two-thirds of Africans support term limits, although there is considerable variation, with a high of 90% in Benin and a low of 44% in Algeria. As a result, leaders feel compelled to tread carefully, and to legitimise their strategies by pursuing them through formal channels.

Yet despite this, attempts to secure a third term have often triggered political unrest and in some cases widespread civil conflict. In both Burkina Faso and Burundi, efforts by unpopular presidents to stay in power come what may triggered mass protests and ultimately (very different forms of) military intervention. At the time of going to press, a further crisis appears to be brewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the President, Joseph Kabila, looks set to pursue an unconstitutional third term in office. On Thursday 5 May, the former Governor of Katanga, Moise Katumbi, announced that he would be contesting the presidency as the candidate of the three main opposition parties. Just hours later he tweeted that the president – his former ally – had sent the police force to surround his house and that he had appealed to the United Nations mission in the country to protect him. Unconfirmed local reports later suggested that it was only the intervention of UN soldiers that prevented Katumbi’s detention.

If so, the DRC has had a lucky escape. Opposition supporters have already been involved in violent clashes with the security forces in protest against the prospect of a prolonged Kabila presidency. The arrest of Katumbi would raise the political temperature yet further, increasing the prospects for conflict in the coming months. As allegations and rumours circulate unhindered, the threat of a broader political rupture becomes ever more likely.

The growing number of third term tragedies on the continent raises three important questions. First, when do presidents seek a third term and when do they not? Second, when are they successful? Third, when are a president’s attempts to serve a third term most likely to result in political conflict?

Should I stay or should I go

Despite the recent headlines it is important to remember that considerably more presidents have respected term limits than have broken them. For every Uganda there is a Zambia, for every Burundi there is a South Africa, for every Rwanda there is a Kenya. There are a number of factors that appear to encourage presidents to seek third terms. First, the quality of democracy matters. Presidents in less democratic states who face weaker institutional checks and balances are more likely to try and break – or at least change – the rules. Good recent examples include Congo-Brazzaville and Djibouti.

Second, it is more feasible for presidents who govern countries that are more politically and economically independent from western influence to ignore international protests. As a result, leaders who enjoy greater international leverage because their countries feature valuable natural resources or are of considerable geo-strategic importance, try to secure a third term much more frequently than those that are much more dependent on Western trade. This is one of the reasons that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, a country that recently found large oil reserves and is a key ally of United States in the war-on-terror, is able to stay in power indefinitely.

Third, presidents who enjoy greater political control are more likely to judge that it is possible to secure a third term, and hence more likely to risk pursuing one. Political control comes through two main routes: the ruling party and the security forces. Presidents are far more likely to try and secure third terms in dominant-party states in which the ruling party secures over 60% of seats in the legislature, such as Namibia and Rwanda, and when they have tight control over the army and police, as in Djibouti and Uganda. Under these conditions, it is often possible to both change the constitution through the legislature and silence any opposition to this strategy.

You can’t always get what you want

Of course, presidents do not always get it right and a number of third term bids have been unsuccessful. In countries such as Nigeria and Zambia, presidents failed in part because they could not take their own parties with them. As a result, they struggled to pass the necessary legislation, and, facing strong opposition from civil society groups and other parties, abandoned their plans. Rather than undermining democracy, this process can actually give it a short in the arm, and deter future presidents from pursuing similar strategies.

However, unsuccessful attempts to stay in power can also have far more problematic consequences. In Burkina Faso and Burundi, leaders overestimated their political control and underestimated the strength of opposition. As a result, they struggled to push through their third term ambitions. In Burundi, for example, President Nkurunziza lost a critical vote in the legislature to change the law, which forced him to put pressure on the judiciary to interpret the constitution in a way that would allow him to stand again. Although the Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favour, it was immediately apparent that it only did so as a result of high levels of intimidation, further undermining the president’s credibility. As a result, the verdict did little to dampen opposition protests against his actions.

Limited political control undermined the position of President Nkurudiza in a second way. In the midst of the public protests in May 2015, a group of army officers launched a coup attempt. Although it appears to have been a poorly coordinated effort and was eventually put down, the mutiny demonstrated the lack of unity within the armed forces, and the potential for the president’s limited control over the security forces to contribute to political instability.

The bigger they are the harder they fall

To date, presidential term limits have not tended to be the source of major political conflict when presidents have either a) been willing to give up on their ambitions in the face of widespread opposition (Nigeria, Zambia) or b) have enjoyed the political control needed to be able to force through their will with relatively little resistance (Uganda, Rwanda). The “problem category”, for want of a better term, is those cases in which conditions are not favourable to a third term bid but leaders try and force one through regardless.

In turn, this is most likely to happen in states in which presidents have most to gain from staying in office, and most to lose by giving up power. Good proxies for the benefits of office are the level of corruption and the presence of valuable natural resources, the combination of which can make a leader extremely wealthy. A decent proxy for the costs of leaving power is whether a country has a history of political violence, which tends to decrease the level of trust between rival leaders, and increase the potential that the head of state will be prosecuted for human rights violations when they step down.

This is not great news for the DRC, which is a highly corrupt resource rich state with a history of political conflict. Unless President Kabila bucks the continental pattern, he is unlikely to step down voluntarily. And if he proves to be willing to risk everything to stay in power, sending the police to surround Katumbi’s house is likely to be only the tip of the iceberg.


Nigeria: Pressure mounts on President Buhari

When President Mohammadu Buhari defeated the incumbent, President Goodluck Jonathan, at the ballot box in March 2015, Nigerians expected many things to change. Buhari had done a good job of playing on his reputation for stoicism and discipline to argue that he would curb corruption and make the government more efficient. At the same time, his former life as a military leader was taken by many as evidence that he would be better equipped to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country. Moreover, the inclusion of some of the leaders that had been responsible for the reinvigoration of Lagos within his coalition suggested that the new government was serious about providing services and had the skills needed to embark on a process of much needed urban regeneration.

But March 2015 now feels like it was a very long time ago. Although the government – backed by Chadian troops and higher levels of international support – has been able to make inroads against Boko Haram, few of the other gains that Buhari supporters had been hoping for have materialised. Some of the reason for this is beyond Buhari’s control. When he took office, he inherited a particularly challenging political and economic environment as a result of three main factors: the poor decisions of the previous government, the low oil price, and domestic norms regarding the composition of the cabinet.

First, the government of President Goodluck Jonathan failed to manage the economy in a way that would protect Nigerians from a downturn. Although a fund was explicitly set up to enable the government to save a proportion of oil revenues in order to smooth the impact of price fluctuations, most of the country’s reserves were squandered in a desperate attempt to curry favour with the electorate ahead of the 2015 polls. As a result of this kind of corruption and mismanagement, and the failure of the former government to diversify the economy away from its dependence on oil, President Buhari’s administration has found that the cupboards are bare and the economy is as vulnerable to external shocks as it has ever been.

Second, the low oil price has undermined government revenue in a country in which the economy remains heavily dependent on the export of natural resources. This means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the government to sustain its spending commitments, especially given the high cost of fighting the Boko Haram insurgency. As a result, the new government has not been able to launch any major programmes that would enable it to meet voters’ expectations.

President Buhari hopes to rectify this problem by borrowing about $9 billion to support a 20% increase in the size of the budget, which will come in at some $30.5 billion. This is likely to improve the situation in the short-term, but risks saddling the country with a high debt burden in the future if oil prices do not rebound.

Finally, Nigerian voters and politicians have strong opinions about how positions within government should be distributed – including the norm that the cabinet should feature an individual from each of the country’s 36 states. This means that the president is not free to pick the people that he considers to be the best and the brightest.

The problem for the president is that while many of these problems were not caused by his hand, Nigerians are impatient. Juliet Gilbert reports that in Calabar, a city in Cross River state in the South East of the country, the roads are empty because a combination of the economic crisis and a sustained fuel shortage has brought commerce to a halt. The irony of fuel shortages in an area that is so close to the source of the country’s oil wealth is not lost on local residents. Nor is the fact that life has got worse, not better since the new government took office.

The rising sense of frustration and discontent has been exacerbated by some of the president’s own actions, which have made the situation worse. Members of his coalition from the South West of the country, who played a major role in delivering funding and a national support base to his campaign, feel that they have been overlooked in the distribution of senior positions. Consequently, there is growing tension within the government between the main political networks from which it was formed: the Action Congress of Nigeria, with its base in the South West, and Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, with its base in the North.

The president has also been criticised for failing to effectively delegate to those around him. There is a growing perception that Buhari has reverted to operating as if he was within a hierarchical military organisation, and believes that he is the only person that he can trust to get important jobs done. The phrase “one-man government” is currently trending in blogs and discussions of the country’s politics online. This would be less of an issue if the government was not consistently making the most routine of mistakes – but unfortunately it is.

The latest example is the budget, which was found to be riddled with errors after it was presented to legislators. These included the “same purchase of vehicles computers and furniture are replicated 24 times, totaling 46.5 billion naira ($234 million), 795 million naira is set aside to update the website of one ministry, while no purpose is assigned to a 10 billion naira provision in the education ministry’s spending plan.” This has led to accusations that the mistakes were in fact deliberate attempts to create additional and unnecessary expenditure for the personal benefit of government figures.

The government has claimed that these were innocent mistakes rather than an attempt to “pad” the budget in order to generate patronage resources, but this has done little to improve the reputation of the new administration. It has also had a negative impact on the government’s recovery plan, because the low quality of the draft budget meant that it could not be passed on 25 February as planned, delaying the start of Buhari’s spending and investment package.

There is still plenty of time for the new government to settle in and live up to its early promise, but doing so will require significant changes, not just to what the government does, but also to how it does it.


President Buhari names “new” cabinet in Nigeria

Four months after winning power in Nigeria’s first ever transfer of power, President Muhammadu Buhari has finally named his preferred cabinet. According to the president and his supporters, the delay in appointing the cabinet was due to his determination to appoint a set of clean Ministers untainted by the politics of the past. But critics have suggested that a more significant concern was the lack of consensus within the All Progressives Congress (APC) government about how the most important positions should be distributed.

Until Tuesday 6 October, the only Minister that had been officially named and appointed was the president himself, after Buhari decided that he was the only person who could be trusted to fulfil the all important role of Petroleum Minister. One problem with waiting so long to announce his list of preferred candidates was that Buhari built up expectations. It was therefore unsurprising when many Nigerians were disappointed with the list of individuals that the president submitted for vetting to the upper house of parliament, the Senate. This sense of disappointment was exacerbated by four problems with Buhari’s announcement.

The first problem was that Buhari only named 21 of 36 cabinet positions, meaning that Nigerians will need to wait even longer to see the final line-up. The second problem was that while the president named the people he would like to serve in his Cabinet, he did not name the positions he would like them to serve in. This calls into question how effectively the Senate will be able to vet candidates if they do not know what responsibilities they will be required to carry out. The third problem was that – as in the past – there was a depressing lack of women, who comprise just 3 of the 21 people named (14%).

A fourth and potentially more significant problem was that the much-vaunted “new cabinet” was not that new. Key figures within the APC party machine, such as the former governors of Lagos, Rivers and Ekiti states were included. In particular, the fact that Rotimi Amaechi – the governor of Rivers State from 2007 to 2015 – made the list has drawn a lot of commentary. Amaechi was a central part of President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) political machine and only defected to the APC in 2013. His appointment appears to be reward for his decision to cross the political divide, rather than because he has a reputation for being “clean”. Already, an anti-corruption organization, the Integrity Group, has called for the Senate to reject Amaechi’s candidacy until he deals with allegations of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of fraud relating to the sale of power plants and unlawful payments to Clinoriv Specialist Hospital and Messrs Collect Nigeria Ltd.

However, supporters of the president have pointed out that the list also contains some of the leaders credited with providing development and effective leadership in their areas, such as Babatunde Fashola, who many credit with turning around Lagos State. The list also includes a number of career professionals such as Osagie Ehanire, a surgeon who was trained at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany. However, even this appointment smacks of old political logics upon further investigation, because Ehanire’s most recent high profile role was not that of a doctor, but as the Edo State Coordinator for the president’s election campaign.

Time will tell how many of Buhari’s nominees will make it through the Senate. The ruling APC holds 60 of the 109 Senate seats, and so enjoys an absolute majority. However, disgruntled factions within the APC, who feel that they have not been sufficiently represented within the list of nominees, may seek to expose unflattering information about some of the weaker candidates on the list. This may be the reason that Buhari has decided not to release the names of his nominees for the final 15 positions: by holding them back, he leaves open the possibility that further factions will ultimately be included. This both defers the backlash from those who will ultimately lose out, and means that the president still has a set of valuable positions to give out, which can be used to build support within the APC for his first batch of nominations.

Nigeria – Internal divisions emerge in All Progressive Congress as President-elect Buhari prepares to take office

In Nigeria’s March 28 elections, the All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential candidate won an historic victory. Muhammuadu Buhari and his running mate Yemi Osinbajo beat the incumbent candidate Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by a margin of two million votes. The victory heralds the first political transition in Africa’s most populous state since the return to multiparty politics in 1999. The APC further consolidated its gains with a majority of seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The PDP’s defeat was due in part to the party’s association with rampant corruption, economic turmoil amidst an oil price slump and insecurity in Nigeria’s North East. During his campaign, Buhari positioned himself as a credible candidate both to fight corruption and to reinforce Nigeria’s military offensive against Boko Haram. Immediately after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared him winner, Buhari again reaffirmed his intention to pursue an ambitious reform agenda, pledging for instance to restructure Nigeria’s corruption-prone national oil company.

With popular expectations running high, Buhari and his APC will soon be put to the test. Outgoing President Jonathan will dissolve his cabinet on May 28 in preparation for Buhari’s inauguration the following day. The two chambers of the National Assembly will then formally convene in early June.

With the formation of an APC government imminent, the question is whether the party and its President will be able to deliver on their promises, and also avoid the regional and ethnic tensions that have plagued Nigeria’s politics in the past.

There are early signs that Buhari and the APC are facing an uphill battle, notably aggravated by tensions within the party coalition. Ahead of the elections, the APC effectively avoided any major divisions, cementing an alliance between the North and South West through the choice of presidential candidates. Buhari hales from the North West while his running mate Osinbajo comes from the South West and was also backed by the regional Kingmaker, former Lagos governor Tinubu.

This pre-election entente quickly dissipated after the polls. Only days later, regionally-based factions within the APC began jostling over leadership positions, notably within Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives. The President of the Senate is the number three position in Nigeria, followed by the Speaker of the House and the deputy positions for each.

In a country where regional differences are a key factor in shaping politics—and the source of manifold political tensions—careful ‘zoning’ or ring-fencing of positions is a common practice; in theory, it  helps settle expectations and avoid controversy. The APC National Executive Committee had, prior to the elections, tentatively agreed to choose its Senate President candidate—to be confirmed through a Senate vote—from among its North Central Senators. This decision set the NEC on a collision course with a majority of its Senators-elect, who are members of regional caucuses each of which proposed its own preferred candidate for the position of Senate President. The Senators have also accused the NEC of trying to use ‘zoning’ to favor specific individuals.

A week away from Buhari’s inauguration date and unable to resolve its internal disagreements, the APC has now opted to have no zoning arrangements in the legislature at all. On Wednesday, May 20, the Chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande denounced zoning as a negative legacy of the PDP. He affirmed the APC was not going to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, mistakes which ‘caused the [PDP] to lose credibility not only among its members but also among Nigerians.’ Instead, ‘In our desire to have the best legislature, we are not considering any zoning arrangements whatsoever.’

Rhetoric aside, it is clear the APC has failed to reach an agreement, a situation made all the more apparent in light of the recently planned retreat for all APC Senators-elect, which is scheduled for May 22-23. Officially labeled as ‘part of efforts being undertaken by the party to ensure that the legislators hit the ground running for the benefit of Nigerians,’ the retreat is more likely a last minute effort to smooth over differences. One concern is that, should the APC fail to agree on a candidate for Senate President, the opposition PDP will take advantage of divisions and thereby influence the outcome of the Senate vote to its advantage.

That fear is perhaps exaggerated, especially given the crisis currently plaguing the PDP. Since their historic loss, PDP leaders have been busy pointing fingers, blaming each other for the defeat. On May 20, both the PDP Chairman, Adamu Mu’azu, and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party, Tony Enenih, resigned. Mu’azu, in particular, was under intense pressure after PDP governors and other top party leaders accused him of siding with the opposition during the election campaigns.

In general, the main challenges facing President Buhari and the APC as they face the realities of government are not external but internal. The question is whether the party—a broad coalition of actors from the across the North, South West and South South—can hold together. It will certainly need to preserve its unity if it is to wage a battle against Nigeria’s entrenched corruption. The outcome of that struggle, more than anything, will determine whether the March 28 elections truly did mark a turning point for Nigeria.

Nigeria: President Goodluck Jonathan loses power to Muhammadu Buhari

There was more bad luck for President Goodluck Jonathan on 31 March, as he was forced to concede defeat to Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress (APC) after losing the presidential election by over 2 million votes. Jonathan’s phone call to congratulate his rival – which initially did not get through due to the high volume of calls that the Buhari team were receiving – marked the first time that a sitting Nigerian president has been defeated at the ballot box. The willingness of President Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to allow for a peaceful transfer of power ensured that the country avoided the widespread civil unrest that some commentators had predicted.

It was clear some months before the elections that Buhari’s APC had evolved into the strongest opposition party yet seen in multi-party Nigeria. The APC’s success was rooted in the construction of a broad coalition that brought together a powerful alliance of leaders with established profiles and political networks in different parts of the country. This alliance was particularly effective because it integrated leaders that complemented each other’s strengths and minimised each other’s weaknesses. In addition to Buhari’s northern following, the involvement of former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu and current Lagos Governor Babatunde Fashola – represented by Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osinbajo – empowered the party to do well in the South-West. This alliance was also significant because it combined Buhari’s reputation for responsible government and Tinubu’s considerable personal wealth, which made it possible for the APC to run an election campaign that was both well funded and credible.

The APC initially gained momentum following the defection of a number of governors and leading figures from the PDP, which significantly weakened the position of President Jonathan. The resulting coalition managed to negotiate the selection of its main office holders without suffering a major split. As a result – and in contrast to previous elections – the opposition did not fragment prior to the polls. However, given the many advantages of incumbency enjoyed by Nigerian incumbents, the election remained the PDP’s to lose.

That it did so was largely the result of two main factors. First, the collapse of the oil price and the resulting period of economic decline impacted on ordinary Nigerians and the business community alike. In turn, this eroded any confidence in the economy that was generated by the re-basing of GDP and the resulting announcement that the Nigeria’s economy had surpassed South Africa’s to become the largest on the continent. The second key factor was the president’s waning credibility. Since the 2011 election, the public image of President Goodluck Jonathan has been tarnished by a number of government failures, the most important of which have been economic decline, evidence of rising corruption, and the failure of the security forces to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency.

Taken together with the relative unity of the opposition, and the savvy campaign waged by the APC, this combination of factors served to undermine turnout in the president’s home areas in the South-East and Middle-Belt and drive support towards Buhari in opposition strongholds such as the North and South-West of the country. That these votes actually counted owed much to the determination of INEC’s Chair, Attahiru Jega, to resist PDP pressure – even when personal accusations of “tribalism” were made to his face on live television – and announce results that reflected the will of the people. In the end, Jega’s refusal to be cowed, the size of the PDP’s defeat, and considerable domestic and international pressure on Jonathan to avoid any course of action likely to trigger ethnic or religious conflict, persuaded the president that it was time to go.

However, the victory of the APC and bravery of Jega should not be taken as evidence that Nigeria has held its first fully democratic election. Although the right man won, the polls were far from clean. Evidence of irregularities in the counting process were noted in a number of states, most notably in Rivers State, which has traditionally been part of the PDP’s heartlands, but became more hotly contested this time round after the Governor defected from the PDP to join the APC. Some irregularities were also noted in states that tended to vote for Buhari, but on balance it seems likely that the official results underestimate the magnitude of the opposition’s victory.

All eyes have now turned to Muhammadu Buhari and what he will do in power. Buhari is a 72 year old Muslim from northern Nigeria and is no political novice, having run the country as a military leader between 1984 and 1985. He has a reputation for self-restraint, but also for authoritarian tendencies. On the one hand, Buhari is known for being a stoical Muslim leader who rejects the flashy lifestyle beloved of so many Nigerian politicians. Combined with his efforts to curb corruption during his short tenure as a military leader, and his prudent management of the Petroleum Trust Fund, this lends credibility to his claim that he will reduce widespread government corruption.

The new president also has a reputation for being an effective and strong military leader, which was earned when he routed insurgent groups in the north in the 1980s. Although the threat from Boko Haram today is far greater, his election has led to renewed confidence that law and order can be restored to the north-east of the country. In undertaking this task, the president is fortunate that the recent collaboration between forces from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, has already made considerable progress in restricting Boko Haram’s movements.

On the other hand, there are also less impressive elements of President Buhari’s past. As a military leader he developed a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and for favouring order and control over political participation and free discussion. As with many Nigerian military leaders, human rights were often sacrificed on the altar of political stability, or self protection. It remains to be seen whether Buhari’s experience of operating under a multi-party dispensation has made him more accepting of dissent and criticism, as he has consistently claimed. The president is certainly talking a good game: early speeches have focused on the need for reduced corruption, national reconciliation, and responsible government.


Nigeria – President Goodluck Jonathan under fire as election nears

On February 14, Nigeria is set for the closest election since the return to multiparty politics in 1999. The contest pits President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) against Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Although in many ways this election appears to mirror the contest in 2011, when the same candidates faced off, in reality there are significant differences. In 2011, the party system was deeply fragmented, with 20 different presidential candidates, four of which had a significant national profile. In the end, Goodluck Jonathan won with 59% of the vote, with the opposition vote largely being split between Buhari (32%), Nuhu Ribadu (5%), and Ibrahim Shekarau (2%). This time round, the opposition is more united, better organized, and for the first time appears to have a credible chance of winning.

Although Buhari has already suffered defeat at the hands of PDP candidates in three presidential elections, he has never enjoyed the support of a political vehicle with such national reach or momentum. In a country where ethnic and religious mobilization is more important that manifesto pledges, it is particularly significant that the APC slate draws together powerful figures from both sides of the north/south divide. Buhari, a Muslim from Katsina state in the far north of Nigeria, has regularly polled well in the areas in which the PDP is currently weakest. His running mate, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Law professor and the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General in Lagos State between 1999 and 2007 is relatively unknown. However, behind Osinbajo lie some of the most influential political figures in the South-West of the country, such as Bola Tinubu, the extremely wealthy former Governor of Lagos State.

In addition to significant geographical coverage, the APC has some genuine reform credentials, as it supported by the highly respected current Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, once described as “A rare good man” in an Economist article on Nigeria’s business capital. This image was enhanced by the holding of relatively transparent party primaries to select the party’s presidential candidate, which encouraged many of the losing candidates to stay with the party, rather than to sell their services to the PDP.

Significantly, Buhari also represents a particular threat to the incumbent because he is strong in some of the areas in which President Jonathan is weak. Although Nigerians have a number of complaints about his previous stint as Head of State (1983-85), which followed his seizure of power in a military coup, they also tend to praise two aspects of his record in office: his crackdown on corruption and his routing of insurgents in the north of the country. Both make him seem to be a leader with the kind of experience that Nigeria desperately needs.

The emergence of a stronger opposition could not have happened at a worse time for President Goodluck Jonathan, whose popularity – even among PDP supporters – appears to be at an all time low. On the one hand, many of the great and the good of the ruling party have deserted Jonathan. Founding member and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has defected to the APC, as have five state governors. A number of other political heavyweights such as former President Olesegun Obasanjo have publicly recorded their criticism of Jonathan, blaming him for the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency and the country’s economic difficulties.

Evidence of continuing corruption has not helped Jonathan’s cause. In March 2013, Transparency International criticized the president for rescinding the pardon given to Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of the oil-rich state of Bayelsa, who had been convicted for money laundering and other serious corruption offences in 2007. According to TI, “This decision undermines anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria and encourages impunity. If the government is serious about uprooting public corruption, sanctions against those who betray the public trust should be strengthened, not relaxed”. The president’s record on corruption was called into question once again in early 2014 when the respected head of the central bank, Lamido Sanusi, was suspended after he alleged than $20 billion in oil revenues had ‘gone missing’. The move caused foreign exchange and money markets to stop trading temporarily, increasing the sense of economic uncertainty.

But the biggest problem for the president is undoubtedly the failure of his government to effectively deal with the Boko Haram insurgency. There are reports that the president’s election convoy was stoned by youths in the eastern town of Jalingo, who were angry at the failure of the government to provide security. Feelings were running so high that the government was forced to order soldiers to guard billboards and posters of Jonathan for fear that they would be vandalized, which generated a fresh set of criticisms about the misuse of troops, who appear to be assisting the president’s campaign rather than fighting the insurgency.

It is hard to know exactly how much these kinds of policy failings have undermined support for the PDP, which continues to be an effective patronage machine. However, although opinion polls in Nigeria are notoriously unreliable, the widespread dissemination of a survey conducted by African Independent Television (AIT) that put Buhari on 73.9% and Jonathan on 23.2% has caused considerable consternation among the government. The race is almost certainly closer than this, and the advantages of incumbency enjoyed by the PDP mean that many commentators are predicting that the ruling party will retain power, as it has done at every election since 1999. However, despite this there are clear signs that the PDP is worried about losing its grip on power.

Rumours abound. According to the Premium Times, President Jonathan is planning to launch a campaign to force the postponement of the elections in order to prevent an opposition victory. To save appearances, it is claimed that the campaign will be undertaken by others acting as proxies of the president, and will be based on the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has only managed to distribute 42.77 million of the necessary 68.8 million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) that citizens require in order to be able to cast their ballots, and may not reach all voters in time.

There is also concern that the government is getting ready to systematically rig the elections in a manner similar to the manipulation of the 2007 polls, described by some election observers as the worst they had ever seen. Geoffrey York, a journalist based in South Africa, has alleged that the government is systematically rejecting the visa applications of over 40 international journalists in what he described as the “latest Nigerian scandal”. A number of commentators have interpreted this development as an indication that the government is worried about electoral malpractices being exposed and communicated. According to Lola Shoneyin, an author from Ibadan, the desire of the government to restrict the coverage of the election by foreign media is a direct consequences of the way in which news stories about the failure of the security forces to combat Bojo Haram have embarrassed the president over the past twelve months.

In the absence of hard facts, such fears are likely to proliferate. There are certainly a number of good reasons to be concerned. If the APC does perform strongly and if this prompts the PDP to intervene in a way that undermines the credibility of the process, the consequences are likely to be far more severe than they were in 2007. Despite clear evidence that those elections were flawed, popular apathy and opposition disunity meant that there protests were limited and the government continued to operate much as it had in the past. Things are very different in 2015. The opposition is more united, opposition supporters are more energized about the potential for political change, and the security forces are stretched to breaking point. Against this background, a poor election would not just undermine the legitimacy of President Goodluck Jonathan’s rule, but could inspire widespread political unrest.

Nigeria – Pre-election rift in ruling party places executive and legislature on collision course

Three months from what observers anticipate will be a tight presidential election, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is faced with a rebellion among his ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Senators.

On Tuesday and Wednesday activity in the Senate—the upper house of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly—ground to a standstill as PDP Senators threatened to ignore all pending government legislation, including the 2015 Budget Appropriation Bill, and to withdraw their support for Jonathan as President.

The crisis stems from last Saturday’s hotly contested PDP ward congresses, which determined PDP flag bearers for the upcoming Senate elections. Each of Nigeria’s 36 states has three Senators. The current PDP Senators accuse President Jonathan of allowing state Governors to control the ward congresses, thereby ensuring the success of their own loyalists while marginalising many sitting Senators. The latter group have responded by using their powers of obstruction, with the support of the Senate leadership, to try and force a cancellation of the ward congress results.

The frustration of the PDP Senators has been further aggravated by the seeming narrow self-interest Jonathan has demonstrated in currying favour with the Governors, whose support many view as critical in securing his own re-election bid. As argued by one Senator, ‘it is obvious that the Governors control the party structures at the state levels. It is also not in doubt that President Jonathan needs the Governors more than the Senators to win the 2015 election.’

The tensions within the PDP, though, are symptomatic of a greater challenge facing the party, namely the growing popularity of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC). The APC arose out of a merger of two smaller opposition parties and now threatens the seemingly unshakable PDP more than any other opposing force since the ruling party assumed power in 1999. The ascendance of the APC is linked to a range of concerns with Jonathan and the PDP’s leadership, including the government’s inability to quash the Boko Haram insurgency in the north and its failure to counter Nigeria’s rampant corruption.

The changing balance between the PDP and APC has already led to shifting allegiances within Nigeria’s political class. Things came to a head in November 2013 when five PDP Governors defected to join the APC, followed by 49 legislators who joined the 137 APC members in the Nigerian House of Representatives, thereby giving the APC a slim majority. Meanwhile 11 senators passed over to the APC side.

Although PDP Senators have yet to switch to the APC in this latest crisis, there are hints that loyalties will change if the PDP leadership does not answer to the frustrated politicians’ demands. The Senators’ threat not to support Jonathan in 2015 is already one indication of this; the Senate President, David Mark’s recent promise to help mediate the separate crisis brewing in the House of Representatives over the defection of the ex-PDP Speaker Tambuwal to the APC is another. Mark defended his decision to intervene in matters affecting the lower house, asserting, ‘I want to assure you I will do the needful to protect and defend the legislature at all costs.’

APC Senators, however, have been quick to decry their PDP colleagues’ pretentions to be acting in the better interests of the legislature, or of the country as a whole, when they are really complaining about internal party politics. As one APC politician affirmed, ‘If we have our way, we in APC will come [to the Senate] tomorrow and sit. It should not be about personal interest but about the future of the country; it should be about our people.’ He then went on to highlight the apparent irony in PDP Senators’ decision to break with the executive and defend the legislature now given their previous loyalty: ‘Now they have seen that they have made themselves slaves to the executive, and when you make yourself a slave, they will treat you like a slave, now they have treated them like slaves, that is the consequence of that. But Nigerians voted us here to come and work, we must work.’

PDP Senators have also lamented their erstwhile lenience, bitterly asserting they will no longer adopt the same passive stance. As one PDP Senator noted, ‘What is it that the President asked that we’ve not given to him? […] We will not sit again. […] There will be no budget. We may also begin his impeachment. […] He has lost the Senate.’

Despite the posturing of many PDP Senators, though, the APC politician’s assessment seems closer to the truth. Nigeria is headed for an electoral showdown whose outcome is proving increasingly difficult to predict. The PDP leadership and President Jonathan are manoeuvring to protect their own electoral prospects, alienating many party faithful in the process. The executive-legislative deadlock, meanwhile, is only a by-product of these intra-party disputes. As such, it remains to be seen whether the increasingly competitive political arena may encourage a more independent Nigerian legislature in future. For now, it’s politics as usual.

President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria’s “war on terror”

Terrorism has risen to the top of the agenda in West Africa following the abduction of almost 300 schoolgirls in north-eastern Nigeria by Boko Haram militants. The failure of the Nigerian government to find and free the girls has shone a spotlight on the inability of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to tackle the insurgency in the north of the country. Largely as a result, his government has reversed its position on international assistance, and now appears more willing to accept help from abroad.

Although the instability in northern Nigeria received relatively little international coverage until the news of the schoolgirls’ abduction, the Boko Haram insurgency has been raging for over a decade. Founded as the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, Boko Haram (the Hausa name for the Congregation, which translates as “western education is sacrilege”) has carried out a series of attacks that are estimated to have resulted in over 10,000 deaths. This has led to tremendous political instability in the worst affected northern states such as Borno, Adamawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Yobe and Kano. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker of the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, over 10,000 people have died in violence motivated by “political, economic, or social grievances” in Borno state alone.

In 2009, clashes between Boko Haram supporters and Nigerian security forces in the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri, resulted in hundreds of deaths and the arrest of Mohammed Yusuf. According to the Nigerian government, Yusuf was subsequently killed by security forces as he attempted to escape custody. President Goodluck Jonathan was optimistic that these operations and the death of Yusuf had broken the back of Boko Haram. As the number and ferocity of the attacks tailed off, this conclusion at first seemed justified.

But Boko Haram was only lying low to regroup. While it was initially thought that the movement’s second in command, Abubakar Shekau, had died in the 2009 attacks, video footage subsequently confirmed that he was very much alive and, having married one of Mohammed Yusuf’s four wives and adopted their children, had taken over as the operational leader of Boko Haram. Under his leadership, the organization became still more ambitious and violent. In 2011, a car bomb detonated in the United Nation’s Abuja offices killed 21 and wounded 60.

Numerous attacks followed including on a bus station in Abuja on April 14 of this year. Seventy people were killed. Another car bomb in the same area a few weeks later claimed another 19 victims. The abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls aged 12 to 17 in Chibo, Borno state, was thus the latest in a long line of atrocities that the Nigerian state has been powerless to prevent.

Some commentators attribute the ferocious resurgence of Boko Haram to a “northern plot” to destabilise the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who hails from Bayelsa, the country’s southernmost state, and ascended to the presidency upon the untimely death of Presideny Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010. The idea underpinning this conspiracy theory is that northern political leaders are helping to fund and organize Boko Haram in order to undermine Jonathan’s credibility and prospects for re-election in 2015. However, Boko Haram has targeted moderate figures within the north, and many northern leaders appear to be as afraid of the insurgency as their southern counterparts.

Other commentators locate the source of ongoing instability elsewhere, suggesting that the actions of President Goodluck Jonathan have made the situation worse rather than better. Their criticisms fall into three main categories. First, a number of close observers of Boko Haram argue that the killing of Mohammed Yusuf and numerous activists in 2009 made the insurgency more, rather than less, violent. Such critics suggest that simply fighting “fire with fire” has not been successful so far and is unlikely to be successful in the future. Peace, they suggest, can only come from a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Second, some security experts argue that the Nigerian government’s over-reliance on the military has resulted in the deployment of a counter-insurgency strategy that is doomed to failure. Military forces are very effective if you are fighting a known force in a known location and all that is required is brute force to carry the day. But the military has often proved to be a rather blunt and ineffective instrument against terrorist cells that operate in multiple locations in the context of a diffuse organizational structure. Critics suggest that preventing terrorist attacks requires good information and effective policing rather than heavy-handed military intervention, but this is precisely what Nigeria lacks.

Third, President Goodluck Jonathan is criticized for failing to accept international assistance. Throughout the insurgency the Nigerian government has been keen to depict the crisis as a “domestic issue” and to reject offers of international assistance. Even following the schoolgirl kidnappings, it took the president three weeks to publicly acknowledge what had happened and another two days to accept an offer of help from the United States. Upon hearing the news, President Obama pledged to send ‘team of our military, law enforcement and other experts’.

As soon as the principle of international assistance was accepted, though, the floodgates opened. One day later, France announced that it would be sending security service agents to help in the fight against Boko Haram. Two days after that, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a British team had arrived in Nigeria to complement the one sent by the United States. Amidst all of this activity, John Mahama, the President of Ghana, and the chairman of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), arrived in Abuja for talks with his Nigerian counterpart about possible regional responses to homegrown terrorism. This is a particularly important development, because it seems likely that the abducted girls have been taken across the border and are now in Chad or Niger.

Sadly, these responses may well prove to be too little, too late. If the schoolgirls have been taken across the border and split up between different Boko Haram leaders, or sold into slavery, it will be incredibly difficult to find them and bring them home. But President Jonathan may nonetheless be right that the tragedy will act as a ‘turning point’. By forcing the Nigerian government to face up to its own limitations, and by triggering the provision of much needed counter-insurgency assistance, one of the saddest episodes in the country’s recent history could be the moment when the tide finally turns against Boko Haram.