Tag Archives: Nigeria

Nigeria — Ruling Party Holds National Convention amidst Internal Crisis

Nigeria’s ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party will hold its national convention this Saturday, July 23, at perhaps its most fragmented state since it was formed in 2013.

At its inception, it was already clear that the APC was an alliance of strange bedfellows united primarily by the common purpose of unseating incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 election. Yet the speed at which deep rifts became evident once the party took power surprised even its doubters.

An early row, barely months after President Buhari’s inauguration, over the leadership of Nigeria’s National Assembly revealed festering strife between the President and an influential group of former governors (known as the ‘new PDP’) who left Jonathan’s then ruling party for the APC shortly after the opposition coalition was formed. The result of this early disagreement was the election as Senate President of Bukola Saraki, one of the most influential figures within the nPDP faction, marking Buhari’s loss of control over a National Assembly in which his party has held the majority.

This arrangement, resulting in repeated battles between the legislature and the executive, has had a clear impact on Buhari’s agenda since early on in his tenure; from the two full years it took to complete most of his ministerial appointments to recurrent controversy over the passing of the government’s yearly budget and disputes over the schedule of the upcoming election. In turn, the government has lamented the National Assembly’s attempts to sabotage its budgetary agenda. The executive is, till date, also still pursing various legal cases against Saraki and his allies in the legislature.

Beyond the National Assembly, perhaps a more significant consequence of the discord between Buhari and the nPDP was the decision of factional heavyweight and former vice-president Atiku Abubaker to abandon the APC for his former party, declaring his intentions to contest for the PDP presidential ticket in the 2019 election. Atiku might be the opponent best placed to unseat Buhari in the upcoming polls.

Another crucial axis of division within the party appeared to run all the way through
Buhari’s own home. In 2016, First Lady Aisha Buhari took to the media to criticize the president for failing to accommodate the interests of important but unnamed members of the coalition. The interests in question soon turned out to be those of former Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu, a crucial figure in the coalition that brought Buhari to power, who soon thereafter publicly lamented his marginalization within the party, and criticized its national leaders. As the 2019 elections loom, President Buhari has made strides to rebuild strained ties with Tinubu, somewhat ironically appointing him to head a committee to reconcile aggrieved party stalwarts. Yet it is clear that the relationship between these two important camps remains frosty.

These wider schisms culminated in an all-out battle over the weekend of the 18 – 20 of May, 2018 during which nation-wide ward and state-level congresses were challenged by rival ‘parallel’ congresses in at least nine states. Various skirmishes were reported in several of these states; for instance, a national assembly member and commissioner of a neighboring state were beat up in Ondo while an APC member was stabbed to death in Delta state.

It is no surprise then, given this sharply divisive context, that the upcoming national convention is being greeted with high levels of apprehension. Though close to 7,000 delegates from across the country will vote over 65 key positions in an election to be held in Nigeria’s capital, the party leadership has been forced to rebuff fears that the winners have already been hand-picked in a pre-prepared ‘unity list’ of candidates.

The most important position up for grabs is that of the national chairman, for which former Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomole has already received an endorsement from President Buhari. Yet, optimistically for the party’s prospects at cohesion, Oshiomole was also warmly welcomed in a recent meeting with party members in the national assembly, though its leaders stopped short of an outright endorsement.

If Saturday’s national convention is managed in a manner that is viewed to be largely transparent and accountable, then it is possible that we may see a more united party in the lead up to the 2019 polls, a prospect that would be a boon for Buhari’s second term ambitions. More generally, both party factionalism and the importance of the upcoming convention reveal the growing influence of party leadership positions and the legislature, as they become independent sources of power capable of checking the influence of an incumbent president.

Nigeria – Ekiti State’s July Governorship poll is a crucial litmus test for the 2019 presidential Election

The southwestern state of Ekiti is one of the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states but, in terms of presidential politics, might well be one of its most important.  This is true for two reasons. 

The first is, in part, a matter of scheduling: in Ekiti state, unlike in most others, governorship polls are held just under a year before —rather than at the same time as—presidential polls. This means that, like with other mid-term governorship elections (in fellow southwestern state of Osun and in southeastern Anambra) the Ekiti polls provide an early indication of important factors which will determine the conduct and outcome of the subsequent presidential race. Chief among these is the question of how prepared Nigeria’s electoral management body, INEC, is to conduct presidential elections; if the one-off midterm polls are poorly organized then, there is a slender hope that next year’s polls— which will be held concurrently across the entire country— will be credibly managed. Relatedly, in a consolidating democracy with a powerful executive such as Nigeria’s, mid-terms governorships also shed light on the extent to which the president is willing to use ‘federal might’ or to tip the electoral scale in favor of his party, as was widely reported to have happened in the last Ekiti State election in 2014. It is reasonable to expect that a president who fails to play fair in state mid-terms will not hesitate to pull out all the stops (both legal and otherwise) in subsequent presidential polls in which his own seat is on the line. 

But beyond general issues related to the timing of mid-terms, there is a second reason why the Ekiti State poll in particular could have a dramatic impact on the electoral prospects of Nigeria two leading parties— the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—in the 2019 polls. The reason is this: whichever party wins Ekiti state in the upcoming governorship poll will most likely also take the state in the 2019 presidential elections. This is due to the fact that Nigerian voters tend to vote in presidential polls in favor of the party to which their state governors belong — or put otherwise, that incumbent state governors tend to ‘deliver’ their states in presidential polls. Thus, despite the incumbent PDP’s historic loss to the APC in the 2015 presidential and state polls, Ekiti state, under a PDP governor, was able to swim against the national tide. 

Crucially, this has also meant that the state is the last remaining stronghold of the former ruling party outside of its southeastern and middle-belt heartlands (see map). This latter factor is a particularly important consideration since constitutional rules require that a presidential candidate must, in addition to a simple majority, also win one fourth of the votes in 24 states in order to be elected president. Thus, even with strong support in its heartlands, if the PDP is completely shut out of the Southwest then it may struggle to meet the technical requirements for winning the presidential race. Cumulatively, these factors suggest a striking possibility: if the PDP is to lose Ekiti state in the upcoming polls, then it may already have sealed its fate to remain the opposition party at the national-level for the next 4 years.

Map of Nigeria’s 2015 presidential election results with states that voted PDP in green and APC states shaded red. Ekiti is the leftmost state shaded green. Source: Varavour [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In light of this picture, how is the Ekiti State election likely to play out? To return to an earlier point, the first issue to consider is the extent to which the polls will be conducted in a credible manner and without the undue interference of ‘federal might’. In terms of the conduct of the election, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, INEC though widely praised for its management of the 2015 polls, has had a mixed record under its new management. On one hand, the last mid-term governorship elections held in Anambra state in 2017 were regarded as modestly well conducted and a sign of INEC’s fairness. On the other hand, there have been accusations that INEC permitted underage voting in 2018 Local Government Elections in northern Nigeria, which, the PDP claims, benefitted the APC in these elections and point to INEC’s bias in favor of the ruling party. Its ambivalent performance suggests that INEC’s fairness and capacity will remain a major bone of contention in the Ekiti election. 

The influence of ‘federal might’ will also be an important consideration in the upcoming poll. Though President Buhari was praised for his fair play in the Anambra mid-terms in which his party lost, this was also a race held in a traditionally heartland of the opposition where Buhari’s party has not had much of a fighting chance. It is therefore unclear whether Buhari will be willing to leave things to chance in the case of Ekiti where the stakes are much higher. The candidates who are likely to be the front runners make this an even more pertinent question. On one hand, running as the APC frontrunner is Kayode Fayemi, a former governor of the state and a current federal minister. On the other hand, Ayo Fayose, the current term-limited incumbent and one of the most vocal critics of the Buhari administration has endorsed his deputy, Olusola Kolapo, as the PDP candidate for Ekiti. Giving these profiles, the temptation Buhari will face to throw the full weight of the federal government behind Fayemi will be great. 

Last but certainly not least, influential in determining the outcome of the Ekiti polls will be the mood of voters in the state. Though Fayemi, while an incumbent of the state was defeated by Fayose in 2014, the latter ran a campaign that was largely personality based; meaning that Fayose’s party may fair much worse in an election in which he is no longer on the ticket. Although too early to make precise pronouncements — particularly in the absence of polling data— it is clear that the incumbency advantage does not decisively favor either camp in the coming polls. Thus, with the likelihood of being a hotly contested election with nation-wide ramifications, the Ekiti polls will be worth paying close attention to. 

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.

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 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.

Nigeria – President Goodluck Jonathan Suspends Central Bank Governor

On Thursday 20 February President Goodluck Jonathan moved to suspend the Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi. The suspension did not come as a surprise as relations between the President and the Governor had deteriorated rapidly over the previous six months. However, it has undermined the credibility of Goodluck Jonathan’s administration – at least in the eyes of the international community and his domestic critics, who fear that Sanusi has been removed to facilitate corruption and inappropriate government expenditure in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.

Lamido Sanusi was first appointed by President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2009. Although he had relevant experience as a CEO of the First Bank of Nigeria, he was initially seen as a political appointment, intended to extend the President’s control of the commanding heights of the Nigerian economy. But Sanusi’s willingness to implement far-reaching reform of the country’s banks earned him respect both at home and abroad. As part of his attempts to clean up Nigeria’s financial sector – which had developed a reputation for poor governance and instability – he mandated banks to achieve a higher level of capitalisation and forced a number of his former colleagues to resign.

The Governor’s efforts were widely applauded by the international community and foreign investors. When President Goodluck Jonathan succeeded Umaru Yar’Adua and appointed the respected Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – a former Managing Director at the World Bank – as Finance Minister, international donors hailed the emergence of a new “technocratic” governance structure.

But Sanusi’s populist grandstanding and willingness to take on some of Nigeria’s most powerful political and economic brokers also made him unpopular with influential figures within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Days before he was suspended, Sanusi had publicly embarrassed the President and the Petroleum Minister by alleging that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to account for $20 billion in oil revenues generated between January 2012 and July 2013.

In response, PDP leaders accused the Governor of deliberately airing the government’s dirty laundry in public in order to provide ammunition for the opposition in the run up to general elections that are due to be held in February 2015. Their evidence for making this claim was that some of Sanusi’s closest friends have joined the recently formed All Progressives Congress (APC), which represents the biggest threat to the PDP’s authority in a decade.

For his part, President Goodluck Jonathan has attempted to play down over Sanusi’s departure in two ways. First, he has claimed that Sanusi was not removed for political reasons but because of a number of allegations of improper conduct that have been made against the Governor. These include violating the Public Procurement Act, failing to report his financial arrangements, and spending state resources inappropriately. Second, the President has pointed out that Sanusi is only suspended and can be reinstated if he proves to be innocent on all charges.

This approach may have satisfied some of the President’s supporters, but it did little to reassure world markets. Following the announcement of Sanusi’s suspension, there was a sharp fall in the interbank Naira rate, forcing the government to temporarily close foreign exchange and fixed income markets. It is believed that Sanusi’s temporary replacement as Central Bank Governor, Sarah Alade, spent $2 billion over just 4 days in a bid to protect the Naira.

The row rumbles on. Although Sanusi has stated that he has no desire to go back to his former job, he has also applied to the High Court in Abuja to ‘make an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the defendants from obstructing, disturbing, stopping or preventing him, in any manner whatsoever, from performing the functions of his office as the CBN governor and enjoying in full the statutory powers and privileges attached to the office.’

The case is unlikely to be resolved in Sanusi’s favour, but the pressure on the President is also unlikely to let up.  On 25 February, the Finance Minister asked for ‘urgent action with regard to an independent forensic audit of conflicting claims of unaccounted funds made by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and suspended Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamdio Sanusi’. Although it was couched in careful language, the President will not have been pleased with these remarks, which appear to tacitly support the former Central Bank Governor. But having suspended Sanusi he finds himself constrained, because to fire the Finance Minister at this point would seriously undermine confidence in the Nigerian government, and by extension the economy.