President Buhari: The Honeymoon is over

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Nigeria“I belong to nobody, yet I belong to everybody”. These words were uttered by President Muhammadu Buhari during his inauguration speech on 29th May 2015 and resonated amongst Nigerians who had voted for him two months earlier. Both Buhari and his party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – tapped into widespread discontent over how the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had governed the country for the past 16 years, promising to rid Nigeria of three major evils: unemployment; insecurity; and corruption. The optimism and expectation surrounding Buhari’s victory was almost unprecedented in recent Nigerian history, as many people genuinely believed in the President’s ability to change the country for the better.

Unfortunately for Buhari, Nigeria’s economic conditions were not favourable to such an ambitious plan. Even before his inauguration, the fall in the price of oil had badly affected over-reliant government finances and the government was forced to borrow heavily in order to cover costs. Additionally, unlike elsewhere, the previous administration had failed to create substantial savings during the boom years for the country to fall back on. And since Buhari assumed power a year ago, these conditions have gone from bad to worse.

On 24th May 2016, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria – Godwin Emefiele – warned of an “impending recession” after it was reported that GDP had contracted by 0.36 percent in the first quarter of 2016. This followed reports in April, which revealed that Nigeria was overtaken by Angola as Africa’s largest oil producer, with oil production falling to 1.69 million barrels per day (bpd). It is projected that this will continue to fall, which is extremely worrying for the government as this year’s budget is based on production at 2.2 million bpd.  Although the country’s oil sector was obviously a driving force behind this slowdown, it was not restricted to this area of the economy; the non-oil sector also contracted by 0.18 percent in the first quarter. Moreover, even sectors of the economy which grew in the first quarter, such as agriculture, had slower growth levels than in 2015. In addition to this, it was reported that foreign investments were down by 74 percent in comparison to 2015, and that the inflation rate was at 13.7 percent at the end of April, which is well above the Central Bank’s tolerance point of 9.6 percent. Inflation is also likely to worsen following a recent outbreak of tomato blight in Northern Nigeria, which has reportedly destroyed as much as 80 percent of crops in Kaduna State and caused the price of tomatoes – a staple food in Nigeria – to increase by 400 percent.

Against this economic backdrop, it is unsurprising that Buhari has failed to reduce unemployment as  he pledged to do so in 2015. Recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that the population of unemployed Nigerians increased by 518,000 to over 1.45 million (12.1 percent) in the first quarter of this year, while underemployment also increased to 19.1 percent, compared to 18.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015. Furthermore, even for those in employment, in both the private and state sectors, unpaid salaries are becoming an increasing problem. Thus, it appears that job opportunities and living conditions have deteriorated for the majority of Nigeria’s population since Buhari took power.

Although it would be unfair to solely attribute Nigeria’s worsening economic conditions to the current government, the Buhari administration has faced fierce criticism over some of its economic policies, most notably regarding exchange rates. The government’s decision not to devalue the Naira, which trades at around 340 to a dollar on the parallel market compared to an official rate of 198 to a dollar, has been criticised for exacerbating fuel shortages, reducing foreign investment and damaging Nigeria’s fledgling manufacturing sector. Moreover, it has seemingly failed to contain inflation. Although the government are beginning to adapt to the situation and are open to a greater level of “flexibility”, it seems likely that the refusal to devalue the Naira has done damage to Nigeria’s economy and restricted Buhari’s ability to reduce unemployment.

On assuming the Presidency last year, the overriding security concern facing Nigeria was the activities of Boko Haram in the northeast of the country. The group had taken over large areas of the region and were conducting a violent campaign against civilians and the Nigerian armed forces. Although Buhari has failed to meet his target of destroying the group within a year, Nigeria’s armed forces have made significant inroads in the northeast. Boko Haram no longer controls the territory it once did and its attempt to create a caliphate has seemingly failed. Under Buhari, international co-operation in dealing with Boko Haram has increased and the group’s waning strength is undoubtedly a signal of success for the President. However, Boko Haram is far from being defeated. The group has resorted to its previous strategy of using suicide bombers to attack soft targets, rather than engaging in conventional warfare. This was shown on the anniversary of Buhari’s inauguration, when 5 people were killed in a bombing on the outskirts of Biu in Borno State. Furthermore, although much was made of the rescue of one of the Chibok schoolgirls last month, a further 275 still remain missing, along with hundreds more who were kidnapped by the group in 2014-2015. Thus, although significant gains are being made, the Buhari administration still has a long way to go before it can claim victory over Boko Haram.

Moreover, it appears that while conditions have improved in the northeast, insecurity has increased in other sections of the country. In the south, which was relatively peaceful under the previous administration, unrest has increased during Buhari’s first year in office. Pro-Biafra groups have become more active and on 30th May, ten people were reportedly killed during a protest commemorating the 49th anniversary of the declaration of an Independent Republic of Biafra. Furthermore, a new militant group has emerged in the Niger Delta. This umbrella group –the Niger Delta Avengers – is primarily made up of youths who did not benefit from the previous government’s amnesty programme and is seen as responsible for Nigeria’s decline in oil production through attacks on pipelines and other facilities. In a recent statement, the group warned oil companies operating in the region that “it’s going to be bloody this time around”. Thus, it appears that insecurity, and its effect on Nigeria’s most important export, is set to increase over the coming years. This rising threat in the Niger Delta will be examined in depth in an upcoming article.

Separately, the security situation in central states also appears to be deteriorating. Conflict between predominantly Christian farmers and Muslim Fulani Herdsmen has been a longstanding problem in central Nigeria. However, it seems that this conflict has intensified over the past year. In February 2016, 300 people were killed by Fulani Herdsman in Benue State and in April 2016, more than 40 were killed in Enugu State. These increasing attacks mean that Fulani Herdsman have killed more people in 2016 than Boko Haram. Nonetheless, it seems that this problem has not garnered as much attention from the Buhari administration as might be expected. Although Buhari pronounced in April that the police and armed forces should “take all necessary action to stop the carnage”, his decision not to include this matter in his Democracy Day speech on 29th May 2016 has led to him being heavily criticised. In response, it seems that central state governors are taking matters into their own hands. As the Governor of Ekiti State – Ayo Fayose – stated, “we must take all action to stop it […] This Ekiti war must be fought with the totality of our spirit [and] strength”. Such rhetoric illustrates a growing anger and suggests that reprisals against Fulani Herdsmen are increasingly likely.

These developing pockets of insecurity in the south and centre of the country could potentially re-ignite underlying ethnic and religious tensions. This is particularly the case, if Buhari – a northern Muslim – is viewed as paying more attention to southern Christian militants than the northern Muslim Herdsmen. Thus, although Buhari is seemingly dealing with Boko Haram in the northeast, other security situations have developed, which have the potential to be even greater problems.

During his campaign for the presidency, Buhari’s tough stance on corruption was viewed as a major factor in drawing support from outside his usual strongholds in the north of the country, and it seems that this has been carried in to his first year as president. Under the Buhari administration, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been re-invigorated and, despite the country’s economic conditions, the government has invested more in anti-corruption organisations than its predecessor. Buhari has opened talks with countries in Europe and the Middle East over the repatriation of stolen assets and set up the National Prosecution Co-ordination Committee (NPCC), in order to deal with high profile corruption cases. Moreover, unlike previously, Nigeria’s anti-corruption bodies have pursued high profile targets, such as the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP – Olisa Metuh – and the former National Security Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan – Sambo Dasuki. Although such figures have not yet been convicted of any offences, it indicates the intent of the administration. Moreover, even though this is beyond the ability of one president, the culture of ethics and anti-corruption around the presidency is likely to have a trickle-down effect and begin to address the ingrained corruption which exists across Nigeria. In order for this to happen, the EFCC must also look beyond high profile targets to try to change the culture of corruption.

Nevertheless, Buhari has faced criticism over the fact that the vast majority of those targeted for prosecution are members of the opposition PDP and have close ties to the previous administration. Although this is unsurprising given how corruption increased under the previous government, many from the opposition have criticised the Buhari administration for its bias, and allege that senior members of the APC are being provided protection from prosecution. As such politically motivated prosecutions are not unheard of in Nigeria, it is important that Buhari attempts to reduce the apparent bias in order to maintain legitimacy. However, the prosecution of senior APC figures could put pressure on the alliance between the political elite in the north and the southwest of the country, which the APC rests upon. Thus, it is possible that the legitimacy of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign may come into conflict with the management of the APC.

After one year in power, Buhari is one quarter of the way through his presidency, as given his age, it is highly unlikely that he will run again. Despite worsening economic conditions, it appears that the majority of Nigerians still support him and are understanding of the problems he has had to face. This was indicated by the distinct lack of public outcry over the removal of the fuel subsidy on 12th May 2016, in comparison to a similar removal under the previous administration in 2012, which sparked the Occupy Nigeria protest movement and forced the government into a policy reversal. It seems that many Nigerians were receptive to Buhari’s Democracy Day speech, in which he pointed out that “in short, we inherited a state near collapse” and said “I thank you and appeal to you to continue supporting the government’s efforts to fix Nigeria”. However, given Nigeria’s deteriorating economic conditions, worsening security situations in central and southern states – which could amplify ethnic and religious divides – and the apparent bias of the administration’s anti-corruption campaign, it is questionable how long the majority of Nigerians will remain receptive to Buhari’s message. With the pressure mounting after one year as president, the honeymoon looks like it is over for Buhari.

Great Expectations

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Nigeria

On 29th May 2015 Nigeria’s President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, will assume office. Not since Barack Obama entered the White House in January 2009 has so much expectation of change rested on one man’s shoulders. Many Nigerians believe that Buhari’s victory signals the dawn of a “New Nigeria” which will finally fulfil its potential and rid itself of insecurity, unemployment and corruption. This monumental task has been placed at the feet of Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government, who succeeded in breaking the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) 16 year domination of Nigerian politics in March 2015.

Nonetheless, Buhari’s APC did not reluctantly accept this mantle. The party and Buhari specifically stood on a platform of change and promised to bring an end to insecurity and wage a war on corruption. During his speech at Chatham House in February 2015, Buhari was highly critical of the PDP saying that it had allowed “waste and corruption” to bloom during their time in office; something which he vowed to change. In early May 2015, Buhari outlined his administration’s priorities. According to the president-elect, his top priority is insecurity, followed by unemployment and then corruption. He stated that “we have to get the issue of the economy right to make sure the jobs are available and we should try to kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria”. Such statements are welcomed in Nigeria and many believe that Buhari will be able to fulfil his promises.

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that this is a monumental task. Although Nigeria’s armed forces have been successful in regaining much of the territory in the northeast of the country from Boko Haram, the group still remains a threat. This was indicated by an attack on Maiduguri on 13th May 2015. Moreover, Virginia Comolli – a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies – noted at the Royal Africa Society’s “How to Fix Nigeria” event on 12th May 2015, that Boko Haram are very “resilient and adaptable” and that the “root causes” of the insurgency must be addressed if they are to be defeated. Thus, in order to reduce definitively the threat posed by Boko Haram Buhari must address the underlying socio-economic conditions which foster support for the insurgency.

It appears that Buhari has taken this into account, seeing that youth unemployment is often cited as a major factor in increasing Boko Haram’s recruits. However, solving Nigeria’s unemployment crisis is no easier than defeating Boko Haram. In January 2015 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, McKinsey & Company estimated that Nigeria’s youth unemployment was as high as 50 percent. The prominent Nigerian businessmen, Aliko Dangote, reacted by stating that “our entire society is in danger of destruction” unless they pay attention to this section of the population. Buhari appears to share this view and in early May 2015 stated that “60 percent of Nigerians are youths, most of them, whether they went to school or not, are unemployed and that is dangerous”. In order to deal with the youth unemployment crisis, the APC pledged in their manifesto to create at least 1 million jobs every year and make Nigeria’s economy grow at an annual average of 10 percent

However, Nigeria’s economy and particularly the relationship between economic growth and employment have previously been restricted by corruption. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 Nigeria was ranked 136 out of 175, placing the country in the bottom 16 percent. This also meant that Nigeria was recorded as the 3rd most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration was beset by three major corruption allegations in relation to the country’s oil industry during his term in office. In one case, the then central bank governor – Lamido Sanusi – alleged that $20bn in oil revenue had not been accounted for between January 2012 and July 2013. The state run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said the claim was “unsubstantiated” and the government similarly denied the allegation. Furthermore, within the same month as Sanusi reported his allegation to a Senate committee he was suspended by the president for “financial recklessness and misconduct”. As noted previously, Buhari has made it clear that he aims to tackle corruption. In early May 2015 he said that “the problem of Nigeria is not ethnic or religious, it is corruption”. Nonetheless, this will not be easy as an attack on corruption will have an impact upon a wide range of powerful players who have a vested interest in the status quo. This was demonstrated by the removal of Sanusi shortly after he put forward his allegations. Furthermore, corruption has become ingrained in Nigeria, with petty corruption an everyday occurrence for most people. Such prevalence of corruption will therefore make it extremely hard to eradicate.

Thus, the task set by Buhari would be extremely hard at the best of times and sadly Nigeria is currently far from this. Underlying this ambitious project of change lies Nigeria’s faltering economy. The dramatic fall in oil prices in 2014 has left Nigeria’s oil dependent economy in dire straits (For more information read “A Tough Year Ahead for Africa’s Oil Exporters”). As the Nigerian government owe 70 percent of their revenue to oil, the country has been forced into borrowing heavily to cover expenditure. On 6th May 2015, Nigeria’s finance minister – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – said that the federal government has already used 473 billion naira of the projected borrowing allowance for 2015 of 882 billion naira to meet recurrent expenditures. In addition to this, the value of the naira has depreciated dramatically (20th May 2014 $1 – N163.1 to 20th May 2015 $1 – N199.1) and the IMF has projected that Nigeria’s average GDP growth in 2015 and 2016 will be 2.5 percent lower than previously predicted. This means Nigeria’s projected growth is half of that which the APC pledged to achieve in their manifesto. Furthermore, in reaction to this, the House of Representatives has proposed a reduction in capital expenditure and the removal of the fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget. This not only reduces Buhari’s ability to tackle unemployment but also increases the likelihood of social unrest.

Nonetheless, the belief in Buhari is so strong amongst some Nigerians that they still have complete confidence in his ability to fulfil his promises. This belief is primarily based on Buhari’s anti-corruption drive, through which many think he will be able to recoup funds previously stolen from the Nigerian state, offsetting the impact of the oil price fall. However, as noted earlier, Buhari’s anti-corruption drive will face strong opposition from powerful vested interests and tackling these is too large a task for one man. Unlike his previous stint as Nigeria’s head of state, Buhari’s powers are restrained and he will require the full support of his government in tackling corruption. Buhari’s administration’s first few months in power will be key to providing an indication of both their willingness and ability to achieve this. However, even if they are able to recoup funds through preventing the outflow of government revenue via corruption, it will only soften the damage caused by Nigeria’s dependence on oil.

The expectation created by the APC’s election campaign and placed on Buhari’s shoulders by the Nigerian people may ultimately mean he is destined to disappoint. The difficult tasks of tackling Nigeria’s insecurity, unemployment and corruption have been exacerbated by Nigeria’s economic situation, which has the potential to create social problems of its own. This is not say that Buhari will fail in all of his aims but one must ask if the expectation is too high against such a bleak reality.   People will only support leaders for so long based on their ideals and promises; after a while they will expect results, and if these are not forthcoming they will consider their leader a failure.

Second Time Lucky?

Ballot Box

After the postponement of Nigeria’s election in February 2015, the new date set by Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 28th March 2015, is fast approaching. However, there continues to be concern over the validity of the reason given for the delay and growing speculation that another postponement may follow.

The reason provided for the initial postponement by INEC was that the security of the elections “could not be guaranteed”. This assessment was primarily based upon a letter sent by the President’s National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, which led to allegations that the decision came from within the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and not INEC. Sources from the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and within INEC told Africa Integrity that they saw this as a political rather than a security decision, made by a party which faces its greatest electoral threat yet. This assertion is not merely political rhetoric as all indicators point to this being the closest election in Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999.

The main security threat cited in the initial postponement was the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country. This helped stoke speculation that further postponements should be expected as questions were raised over how the Nigerian military could end an insurgency, currently in its sixth year, in six weeks. Although there have been significant successes for the Nigerian military, and their regional partners – such as the retaking of Bama in Borno State on 16th March 2015 – Boko Haram still poses a threat, especially to the election. The militant Islamist group appear to be resorting to their previous tactics, using suicide bombers and focussing on ‘soft targets’, and the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has specifically vowed to disrupt the election. This is significant as polling stations may well be considered ‘soft targets’.

Thus, as the new date approaches concerns increase amongst the opposition over the possibility of another delay. As insecurity in the northeast was accepted as the initial reason for a postponement, the grounds for further delays remain until the threat posed by Boko Haram is removed. Nonetheless, opposition sources informed Africa Integrity that if the election is postponed again, their reaction will be far less tame than first time round. A number of sources, including some from within the PDP, said that large scale protests and unrest should be expected if another postponement is announced. Furthermore, the same sources also told Africa Integrity that even if the election goes ahead on 28th March 2015, any evidence, either real or perceived, of electoral fraud on the part of the PDP, will spark similar protests. Thus, INEC’s impartiality, and the public’s perception of this, will play a vital role in the election. In the eyes of the opposition, the security of INEC’s Chairman, Attahiru Jega, within the organisation is key to ensuring its impartiality. Following the postponement of the election, some APC members alleged that the PDP was using the delay to try to remove Jega and replace him with a more pliable figure, who would help them to rig the election. This suspicion has been given greater credence recently as pro-Jonathan supporters marched in Lagos on 17 March 2015 calling for Jega’s removal. If the PDP government decides to remove Jega before the election, political tensions will increase and it is highly likely that the APC will accuse the government of electoral fraud and organise protests over the decision.

Given these conditions, the likelihood of large-scale social unrest and political violence is high as Nigeria prepares to go to the polls. This election has the potential to cause widespread instability across the country and, as well-informed sources told Africa Integrity, the Nigerian military is willing to intervene if any unrest that does occur appears to be out of control. On balance, such intervention is likely to favour the PDP rather than the opposition.

Boko Haram on the Backfoot?

On 25th February 2015, 11 days in to the six week postponement of Nigeria’s general election on the grounds of the insecurity posed by Boko Haram, President Goodluck Jonathan was reported as stating that the “tide has turned” in the battle against the Islamist group. Although the president has been known to make similar statements in the past, such as the numerous times the Nigerian Government has claimed to have killed Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, in this instance there appears to be some evidence behind the president’s statement. The increased regional cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram seems to be greatly improving the Nigerian military’s ability to capture towns and areas previously under the group’s control. For example, on 25th February 2015, the Chadian military reported that it had killed 207 Boko Haram fighters near a Nigerian town close to the border with Cameroon and regional forces have reported capturing eight major towns in recent weeks, including Baga, the site of a massacre brought to the world’s attention by Amnesty International in early January 2015. Although large areas of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, are still under Boko Haram control and the campaign against the group is likely to be a long arduous process, these signs are undeniably positive.

At first glance it appears that Nigeria’s electoral commission’s decision to postpone elections might be vindicated and the northeast of the country will be substantially more secure on 28th March than on 14th February. However, on 24th February 2015 Boko Haram demonstrated its continued threat by launching twin suicide bomb attacks in Potiskum and Kano, the largest city in the north, which claimed at least 26 lives. As elections loom, the president has taken to commenting on such attacks, and a statement from his office read “President Goodluck Jonathan condemns the reversion by the terrorist group Boko Haram to the callous bombing of soft targets…in the wake of the rapid recovery by Nigerian troops and their multinational allies of areas formerly controlled by the sect”. This statement is correct in pointing out that the attack on 24th February does appear to represent a reversion to the group’s original tactics and it could be an indication of the group’s future strategy in response to the Nigerian military’s successes in the northeast. As the Nigerian military continues to regain territory it increases the likelihood that Boko Haram will resume their original strategy of conducting hit and run attacks from the Sambisa Forest and launching suicide bombings in towns and cities across the northeast. Thus, it seems that Boko Haram may turn its focus back on to “soft targets” rather than the Nigerian military. However, this raises the question of what are soft targets?

This year’s general election was postponed on the grounds that the security of the election could not be guaranteed in the northeast of the country. However, if the effect of the Nigerian military’s offensive against Boko Haram is to move the group’s strategy towards targeting “soft targets” the threat to polling stations is likely to be the same or possibly worse. Polling stations are the type of “soft targets” Boko Haram may well be turning its attention to and the threat is likely to spread beyond the area under its control, as was shown in Kano on 24th February 2015. Thus, although the postponement appears to have aided Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram it is questionable what impact it will have on the security of the elections, which was the reason provided for the delay. A six week offensive may be long enough for the Nigerian military to regain some of the territory held by Boko Haram, but the campaign to defeat the group and return security to the northeast of the country will be a much longer process.

Six weeks to defeat Boko Haram, Really?

Bring Back our Girls

On 7th February 2015, one week before elections were set to take place, Nigeria’s electoral commission (INEC) announced that it was postponing elections for 6 weeks. The reason provided for this postponement was that INEC had received a letter from the national security adviser warning that the security of the elections “could not be guaranteed” due to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast of the country. The letter requested a six week delay to election proceedings so that Nigeria’s military could secure this region before elections take place.

The ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) supported INEC’s motionand President Goodluck Jonathan described it as not a “big deal”, which is unsurprising seeing that the request came from within the current administration. However, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) heavily criticised the action referring to it as a “major setback for democracy”. APC members also alleged that this was a ploy by the PDP in order to help it secure another electoral victory. Although the PDP were quick to deny these allegations, with its spokesperson, Olisa Metuh, quoted as stating that the PDP “did not stand to benefit from it”, there did appear to be growing support for a postponement within the PDP prior to the announcement. In January 2015, President Jonathan’s national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, urged the electoral commission to delay the elections whilst speaking at Chatham House. Furthermore, the PDP’s leader in Lagos state, Olabode George, similarly stated his support for a postponement in January 2015, despite previously dismissing suggestions of a delay in 2014.

Many APC members claim that this shift towards support for a postponement on the part of senior PDP figures indicates that the delay is politically driven and a result of the first serious electoral challenge the PDP has had to face. This argument is given greater credence by the fact that before the announcement on 7th February 2015, proponents of an election delay, including Dasuki, had argued that it should be postponed in order to allow more time for voter card distribution. Thus, insecurity caused by the Boko Haram insurgency appeared to be used as a secondary justification for delaying elections after it became clear that INEC would not postpone the elections on the grounds of voter card distribution. Moreover, the level of the security threat posed by Boko Haram has not suddenly increased in the past few weeks. Although it has increased over the past year, this has been a consistent unfolding situation of which the government and security forces have been fully aware. It is also a justification which can be used continuously until Boko Haram are eradicated, which raises fears that another postponement may follow in the future.

As a result of this, a number of rumours and accusations have been spread about the motivations behind such a delay. This has included the allegation that the PDP plan to remove INEC’s chairman, Attahiru Jega, and replace him with someone who would help the PDP rig the election. Although the PDP have strongly denied this allegation and maintain their support for Jega, allegations such as this gain a lot of traction in countries like Nigeria, where elections have so often been marred by accusations of electoral fraud and corruption. Even some of the PDP’s primaries in late 2014 were surrounded by such allegations. Furthermore, accusations of plans to commit electoral fraud are likely to be stronger this year due to the fact that these are the closest fought elections since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999. Despite only forming in 2013, the APC has made substantial ground in Nigerian politics, drawing together previously divided opposition parties and receiving a number of defections from the PDP, which has caused the eradication of the PDP’s majority in the National Assembly. In the APC’s presidential primary its members voted unanimously in favour of former military head of state and runner-up in the country’s past three presidential elections, Muhammadu Buhari. Although there is a certain degree of reservation concerning Buhari’s military past and alleged association with radical Islam, his reputation as an anti-corruption disciplinarian seems to strike a chord with a large section of the Nigerian electorate. Buhari’s APC has positioned itself as a viable alternative to Jonathan’s PDP, whose popularity has been severely damaged by a number of corruption allegations and its inability to deal with the Boko Haram insurgency. It appears that even voters who are unsure about supporting Buhari may support the APC because of their disappointment at the record of the current administration. Thus, this year’s election is set to be very close with a small majority for either the PDP or APC being the most likely result, if it is held at all.

Indeed it is questionable what effect a limited postponement will have on the election results. Although a delay will certainly favour the wealthier PDP in terms of campaign budgets, the perception that the party was behind the delay has the potential to damage their popularity further and play into the hands of the APC. This was illustrated by comments made by former President and senior figure in the PDP, Olusegun Obasanjo, on 10th February 2015. He warned against the delay, suggesting that it might have been planned, and was quoted as stating “why shouldn’t I support him” in reference to Buhari. This was then followed by his resignation, or possibly expulsion, as argued by the Ogun State chapter of the PDP, from the party on 16th February 2015. There is also the possibility that the extra time will be used to enable electoral fraud, as alleged by certain APC members. The risk of this has definitely increased due to how closely-fought the elections are projected to be but any large scale electoral fraud would draw considerable condemnation from the international community and cause protests across Nigeria. Nonetheless, merely the perception of electoral fraud can have its own consequences.

With regards to the official reason for calling the postponement it is highly unlikely that the Nigerian military will be able to secure the country’s northeast region in 6 weeks from an insurgency which is in its sixth year. Although military successes against Boko Haram will help to boost the PDP’s waning popularity, it will also highlight its previous failures against the group over the past year. A degree of improvement can be seen with the increase in regional co-operation but Boko Haram continues to launch attacks on towns and villages across the northeast. Furthermore, on 17th February 2015, the group released a video in which their leader, Abubakar Shekau, explicitly vowed to disrupt the elections. In the video he stated “this election will not be held even if we are dead…Allah will never allow you to do it”. It is therefore highly likely that even after the six week delay elections taking place in the northeast will suffer from a similar insecurity to that which existed on 14th February.

The most likely outcome of the postponement is increased political tension and in turn a greater likelihood of election violence. This has already been made apparent by reports of an explosion and gunshots at an APC rally in Rivers State on 17th February 2015. Furthermore, although Buhari’s initial call for calm following the postponement helped to prevent any large scale unrest, people still took to the streets to protest against INEC’s decision. These protests were overwhelmingly peaceful but if it appears that the PDP are attempting to use this time to create an artificial advantage or possibly initiate another postponement the ensuing protests may be harder to control. Moreover, due to the competitiveness of the election, a longer campaign will increase the probability of accusations concerning electoral fraud and intimidation. This will create a tenser post-election environment, which is more conducive to election violence. Furthermore, this is exacerbated by Nigeria’s struggling economy which has been hit hard by the fall in global oil prices. This will help to accentuate societal pressures, particularly if the winning party is perceived to be favouring states controlled by them in terms of proposed austerity measures, and increase the probability of political violence.

Islamist Terrorism on the Rise in 2015

Bring Back our Girls

In 2014, African governments and citizens witnessed an increased terrorist threat from Islamist groups in various parts of the continent. Although there are a number of different groups operating in Africa three garnered particular attention: Boko Haram in Nigeria; al-Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya; and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in Egypt. Africa Integrity assesses that it is likely that the risk posed by these groups, and others like them, will increase over the next year. Moreover, there is a worrying new aspect underlying the growing Islamist terrorist threat in Africa, which is the influence of the self-styled Islamic State (ISIS) and its role as an inspiration for other militant Islamist movements.

In Nigeria, since the much publicised kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in April 2014, Boko Haram have made significant advances in the northeast of the country. In August 2014, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, announced that they were establishing a caliphate in the region. Since then, the group has altered its previous hit and run tactics for the seizure and defense of territory. In November 2014, it was reported that Boko Haram controlled territory in northeast Nigeria equivalent to the size of Wales or the State of Maryland. Although the Nigerian military have stopped the group from taking over key cities in the region, such as Maiduguri, it has been largely ineffective at reclaiming territory seized by Boko Haram. Moreover, in the latter part of 2014, the group increased the intensity of suicide bombings outside of the territory it controls, paying particular attention to Maiduguri and Kano. For example, on 28th November, suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Kano’s central mosque killing over 100 people. Moreover, Boko Haram’s activities have spread across the porous border with Cameroon, where the group has kidnapped a large number of people and engaged in battles with the Cameroonian military. Due to the Nigerian military’s failure to inflict significant damage on Boko Haram in 2014, it seems highly likely that the group will remain a major threat in 2015. Africa Integrity assesses that there is a good possibility that it may expand its territory and terrorist attacks on other cities in the region are likely to continue. This is illustrated by the attacks on the town of Baga in early January 2015. Furthermore, as Nigeria’s general election approaches in February 2015 it is highly likely that Boko Haram will try to disrupt the proceedings and prevent elections from taking place in areas under its control. This will inevitably increase the ethno-religious societal tensions often associated with elections in Nigeria.

In East Africa, al-Shabaab has seen a resurgence in activity after the decline in attacks following the killing of its leader, Ahmed Godane, in September 2014. Aside from its continued insurgency in Somalia, which in November 2014 included an attack on a UN convoy in Mogadishu, it has primarily focused its attacks on Kenya. After major attacks in coastal areas earlier this year, Mandera County has now become the main target for al-Shabaab in Kenya. In late November to early December 2014, two major attacks took place in the region. One was on a bus travelling to the capital Nairobi, claiming 28 lives, and the other was an attack on a quarry, which claimed a further 36 lives. In response Kenya’s chief of police resigned and the country’s security minister was fired. Thus, as we move into 2015, the counties in Kenya bordering Somalia remain under a major terrorism threat from al-Shabaab. Moreover, there have been warnings that al-Shabaab may be planning another “Westgate” style attack, which would focus on one of Kenya’s major cities, after the foiling of a plot in Uganda in September 2014. The group has promised to avenge those who have been killed by the Kenyan armed forces in Somalia, which has given rise to calls for Kenya to withdraw from the conflict. Although such a withdrawal may provide some respite for Kenya, it is likely that it would embolden al-Shabaab in Somalia.

In Egypt, there also appears to be an intensification of terrorist activity. Previously this has been primarily focused in the Sinai region but more recently attacks have taken place in other areas of the country. For example, in November 2014: one policeman was killed and another injured in Sharqiya; a bomb in a Cairo metro station injured 16 people; and, most significantly, an Egyptian navy ship was attacked in the Mediterranean, which injured a number of navy personnel and left eight lost at sea. In the Sinai region recent attacks include the greatest infliction of casualties on the Egyptian security services since the removal of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, when 31 people were killed at two military checkpoints in October 2014. Although attacks in the Sinai are primarily orchestrated by the group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the other attacks do not seem to have been coordinated by a terrorist organisation. Nonetheless, it does indicate an increasing appetite for militant Islamism within the country, which Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis may be able to take advantage of due to the removal of a legal political Islamist alternative by the current regime. There is therefore a strong possibility that terrorist attacks in Egypt will increase in 2015, as Islamists turn to more extreme alternatives. (For further information on Egypt’s increasing Islamic extremism please read our earlier publication Egypt: A Rising Islamist Tide?)

A worrying new aspect of the growing Islamist terrorist threat in Africa is the influence of the self styled Islamic State (ISIS), and its role as an inspiration for other militant Islamist movements. When Shekau announced the establishment of Boko Haram’s caliphate in northeast Nigeria, he referenced ISIS’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, in Algeria and Tunisia groups who have proclaimed allegiance to ISIS have committed beheadings hauntingly similar to those committed by ISIS. Furthermore, its role is not merely limited to inspiration. In Egypt, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has sworn allegiance to ISIS and even changed its name to Welayat Sinai or the State of Sinai. Since then, the leader of ISIS has referred to the State of Sinai as part of his wider caliphate, and it has been reported that prior to this he sent an “emissary” to Egypt to convince Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to join ISIS. Similar attempts to unite Islamist forces have also been seen in Libya, where the commander of US forces in Africa confirmed that small numbers of ISIS fighters are operating in training camps. This attempt by ISIS to unite Islamist movements in Africa is of particular concern, as it will enable groups to share supplies, coordinate attacks and aspire to become transnational movements. In turn this will make them significantly harder to destroy for conventional armed forces. Thus, there is a possibility of the risk of terrorism increasing dramatically in Africa if ISIS are able to continue inspiring and working with other Islamist groups within the continent.

Nigeria: Boko Haram’s Evolving Strategy

Bring Back our GirlsDespite previous international focus on the group through the widely publicised twitter campaign #BringBackOurGirls, Boko Haram’s recent actions have been largely neglected. As the world focuses on the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, a battle looms in northeast Nigeria which could determine whether West Africa will be home to the world’s second self-declared Islamic Caliphate.

On 24th August 2014, Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, announced that the group had indeed established an Islamic Caliphate in Gwoza, a city in Borno State in the northeast of Nigeria. This was a significant development in the group’s strategy as it had not claimed to occupy territory or pledged to defend it in the five years prior to the announcement. Boko Haram had previously focussed on specialised hit and run operations from its bases in the Sambisa Forest near the Cameroon border. This change in strategy should have given the Nigerian military an advantage in the conflict by enabling it to concentrate its efforts on specific targets and benefit from its superior weaponry in more conventional warfare. However, following this announcement Boko Haram made significant advances in Borno State, capturing the towns of Ashigashya on 25th August 2014 and Bama on 2nd September 2014; and it was reported that the group had surrounded the state capital, Maiduguri. It also made similar advances in Adamawa state, forcing residents to flee their homes and seizing control of the towns of Madagali, Gulak and Michika over the first weekend of September 2014. Moreover, on 15th September it was reported that another 50 young women and children had been abducted by Boko Haram from villages near Gulak. This latter abduction was given little coverage in the mainstream media or on social media.

Since early September, some of these gains have been reversed as the Nigerian and Cameroonian militaries have bolstered their forces in the region and have slowed Boko Haram’s advance, reporting victories in which they have killed a sizeable number of insurgents. Significantly, it was claimed in mid-September that Shekau was amongst one of the insurgents killed and an apparent picture of his dead body was released by the Cameroonian military. These reports appear to have been contradicted by release of a video on 2nd October in which Shekau personally appears to prove that he is still alive. Moreover, Boko Haram managed to launch successful terrorist attacks in the latter half of September killing a number of civilians in Kano, Adamawa and Borno states.

A worrying new aspect of Boko Haram’s recent advance has been its claim of seizing territory as part of its declared caliphate. The group is reported to have told residents of towns it has captured that it will not harm them and that they are there to stay. This appears to suggest an aspiration to build a support base amongst the residents of northeast Nigeria beyond those willing to fight for Boko Haram. The concept of occupying and defending territory has been symbolised by the raising of Boko Haram’s flag above government buildings in the towns it has captured. Furthermore, in the video released on 2nd October, Shekau claimed that the group was successfully implementing sharia law in the territory it now controls, which he refers to as “our Islamic Caliphate”. It is not clear to what extent Boko Haram is replicating the state structures being built by IS in Iraq and Syria in the territory it now occupies. However, it is abundantly clear that there has been a shift in the group’s strategy.

The Nigerian government thus currently faces the prospect of an expansionist Islamic Caliphate being built in the northeast of the country. The Nigerian military is reportedly preparing for an operation to recapture Gwoza – the town at the centre of Boko Haram’s recent expansion. This will be a test of Boko Haram’s commitment to defending its territory, and a strong indication of whether there is a functioning Islamic Caliphate in the making in northeast Nigeria.