A Look Ahead to 2019

Nigeria Goes to the Polls

On 16th February 2019, Nigeria will hold a general election in which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari will face a tough contest against the formerly dominant People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. Buhari and the APC were swept into government on a wave of optimism in 2015, which, in light of the country’s faltering economy and increasing communal violence in central Nigeria, has dissipated since he assumed office. Although Buhari has consistently secured electoral support across Nigeria’s northern states, this no longer seems guaranteed, especially as Abubakar is also a northern Muslim. That said, given the controversy surrounding Abubakar in his previous role as vice president, he is far from a popular choice and, as a result, voter apathy is noticeably high. Against this backdrop, tensions are beginning to show. The PDP have called into question the independence of the electoral commission and alleged that the APC plans to rig the election, while the APC has accused the PDP of fomenting electoral violence. This has increased the potential for social unrest during and after the election, which will be most pronounced in central and northern states, and could have repercussions for Nigeria’s stability throughout 2019.

Ramaphosa’s First Test

South Africa’s general election is expected to take place in May 2019 and will be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first electoral test since narrowly securing the support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in December 2017. This year’s election is expected to be the toughest yet for the ANC, which has seen its parliamentary majority decline in every election since 2004. In the past, local elections have provided a strong indication of the ANC’s performance at subsequent general elections and, as the ANC’s vote share fell below 55 percent in municipal elections in 2016, there is good reason to believe that a similar result will be replicated in May. Since assuming the presidency in February 2018, Ramaphosa has struggled to unite a divided ANC in which former President Jacob Zuma and his allies continue to exert influence. There have been rumours of plots to oust Ramaphosa as leader and, given the sluggish state of South Africa’s economy and the fact that Ramaphosa was forced to remove his own finance minister as a result of the inquiry into ‘State Capture’, he is struggling to live up to his promises of kick-starting the economy and tackling corruption. Ramaphosa needs a convincing win to stamp his authority on the party and the country; however, as things stand, this year’s election looks as if it will be another chapter in the ANC’s continuing decline.

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ECOWAS Mediates as Jammeh Clings On

On 13th January, an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) mediation mission led by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is expected in The Gambia’s capital – Banjul – in order to try and negotiate a peaceful democratic transition following last month’s disputed election. The surprise result, which saw the opposition coalition candidate, Adama Barrow, defeat the incumbent, President Yahya Jammeh, was followed by Jammeh conceding defeat live on television, which was possibly even more surprising than the vote itself. However, this initial sign of optimism for Gambian democracy was short-lived, as Jammeh quickly reversed his acceptance and lodged a complaint with the Supreme Court.

Consequently, the military has increased its presence in Gambia and particularly on the streets of Banjul. The armed forces took control of the Electoral Commission’s office and the Commission’s Chief, Alieu Momar Njai, has gone into hiding. Despite initial positive changes following the election result, the repressive tactics adopted by the government during the election campaign are once again dominating Gambia’s political environment. This is illustrated by the closure of four private radio stations since the start of the New Year.

Jammeh’s refusal to accept last month’s election result has attracted widespread criticism from the international community. The UN, AU and ECOWAS have condemned Jammeh’s actions and the UN Security Council called on Jammeh to “respect the choice of the sovereign people of The Gambia”. It is clear that such organisations fear that Jammeh’s refusal to accept the result could cause large scale political violence. This was demonstrated by the UN Security Council’s decision to urge all parties to exercise “maximum restraint, refrain from violence and remain calm”.

The ECOWAS mediation mission is seen as the most promising method of preventing such political violence. On the 8th January, Liberian President, and member of the mission, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, stated that the organisation is “committed to a peaceful mediation and a peaceful transfer of power”. When questioned on ECOWAS’ willingness to use force, she responded by stating “no, we want to keep the region peaceful”. However, only two days later, Nigerian Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, told Radio France Internationale (RFI) that “we’re not ruling anything out”, when questioned on military intervention, and it has been reported that Senegal is prepared to send troops to intervene if the situation deteriorates. Thus, although it is not clear if ECOWAS will ultimately intervene, it seems that it is willing to take a tough stance towards Jammeh.

This is significant as in The Gambia it is not clear how much support Jammeh will be able to muster if he refuses to step down. On 10th January, Jammeh’s Information Minister, Sheriff Bojang, resigned and fled to Senegal stating that through using a “veneer of constitutionalism”, Jammeh is attempting to “subvert the express will of the Gambian electorate”. This followed the less pronounced resignation of Gambia’s Foreign Minister, Neneh Macdouall-Gaye, in December 2016. Although pro-Government media in The Gambia made much of the Army Chief’s renewed “assurance of the unflinching loyalty and support of The Gambian Armed Forces” to Jammeh, questions have been raised about Lieutenant-General Ousman Badjie’s motivations and it is not clear if such support exists amongst the military more widely. Thus, it seems that pressure is mounting on Jammeh to step down as political tensions continue to rise.

The announcement on 10th January by Gambia’s Chief Justice, Emmanuel Fagbenle, that the Supreme Court cannot rule on Jammeh’s challenge to the electoral result until May has increased tension in the country further. This is due to the fact that Gambia’s Supreme Court relies on judges seconded from other countries, including Fagbenle, who is Nigerian. As a result, Jammeh’s legal challenge will not be dealt with until after the end of his term, increasing the likelihood that he will refuse to step down.

Jammeh’s mandate is set to end on 18th January and it seems unlikely that he will relinquish power peacefully. Although it is possible that Jammeh is merely trying to negotiate the transfer of power in order to prevent himself from being tried for human rights abuses under a new government, if he remains as president past 18th January, it is likely to cause widespread unrest. It appears that a lot rests on ECOWAS’ mediation mission to try to find a peaceful solution as tensions continue to rise.

Oiling Over the Cracks: The End of Peace in the Delta

In 2009, the International community watched as the Niger Delta took a break from the violence that had plagued the region for a decade. In the midst of plummeting oil prices and a state of emergency, former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had declared an amnesty and unconditional pardon on persons associated with militant activities in the Niger Delta. At the time, this programme was widely applauded for bringing peace to a region defined for so long by the masked militant armed with the ubiquitous Kalashnikov. Indeed, over the past seven years, Boko Haram replaced the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in national and international headlines and the oil-producing region was referred to only in regards to the recent plunge in global oil prices.

However, as predicted at the time by conflict analysts, this programme’s strategy of divide and conquer “sticks and carrots” has failed to secure a long-term peace. And when in March 2016, the Delta resumed its place in the international media as a region inflicted with instability, many were left unsurprised. For a programme that benefited just a small minority and one which failed to address the root cause of the conflict, the long-term outcome was never likely to be a positive one. And this recent resurgence in violence, headed by a new group – the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA) – is symptomatic of a long-line of such failures by the federal government to implement an effective strategy to deal with the Niger Delta question. This is evident when you study this group’s rhetoric and how it has strayed unremarkably from that of the early peaceful movements of the Okigwe and Owerri divisions in the 1950s; to the later Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP). Nor, despite the deliberate distancing by former leaders, has the NDA’s rationale drifted drastically from that of its predecessor, MEND.

The basic tenets remain the same: the government should expel international oil corporations operating in the Delta; there should be an immediate clean-up of the land; employment opportunities should be opened up to marginalized minorities; and environmental and economic development should be allowed to occur. All this should be coupled with economic remediation for the fallout of 50 years of living with the international oil industry. The oil industry’s presence in Nigeria was steeped in contention from early on and it is perhaps not surprising that enmity has underlined the inhabitants’ relationship with the government and oil corporations. Since oil was discovered in Oloibiri in 1956, the Nigerian government (as a majority shareholder in the oil industry) has accumulated over $1.6 trillion in revenue. Yet, whilst the “sweet” Delta crude that runs beneath the region’s labyrinth of waterways has lined the pockets of the elite in Abuja for decades, the people of the Delta remain some of the poorest in the world. It is the feeling of exclusion that this paradox has created that has provoked years of conflict and is a principal reason for the latest perturbation of peace.

Indeed, the notion of exclusion is an important one to get to grips with when trying to understand the complex situation in the Delta. Exclusion from employment; exclusion from education; exclusion from oil wealth; exclusion created necessarily through an entrenched system of neo-patrimonialism; exclusion from adequate resources to combat the environmental fallout of the extractive sector; and finally exclusion from the amnesty programme. All these elements have combined to create a melting pot of tension. And although the current groups in the Delta differ in superficialities – in essence they are all united by this concept.  As such, it is not the close of the amnesty progamme per se that is to blame for the current resurgence in violence. Rather it must be seen as just the latest element in a complex concoction of ingredients that have been simmering in the Delta over the past 50 years.  Indeed, when President Muhammadu Buhari announced the winding up of the scheme in 2016 – due to Nigeria’s bleak economic outlook – the region had already been suffering from smaller scale and largely unreported attacks on oil installations. For example, in April 2015, gunmen reportedly killed nine people and wounded two before setting fire to a major oil pipeline. The group that carried this out – “Urhobo Gbagbako” – does not align itself to either MEND or the NDA and does not seem to have launched an attack since. However, it provides an indication of underlying tensions that were beginning to boil over as early as April last year.

Additionally, many of the majority youths who have taken up arms were not even recipients of the Amnesty Programme. And, in fact, they were recipients of very little over the 7 years of relative peace. Development promised to the region by former President Goodluck Jonathan – an Ijaw himself – was never delivered and the citizens of much of the Delta would certainly not have been recipients of the oil proceeds. Unemployment remained the same and parts of the region continued to witness the disastrous environmental impact of the extractive sector. Thus, whilst the 2009 amnesty had temporarily stemmed the tide of resentment for one swathe of the populace – by 2016 another generation of discontented youths were assembling and it is these young men who now pose the greatest threat to stability. As such, whilst it is highly likely some disillusioned amnesty beneficiaries are entangled in this latest violence, disorder would have occurred with or without Buhari’s announcement to draw the programme to a close. Put simply, if, as many believe, former MEND Commander Government Ekpemupolo (Tompolo) is using his current predicament with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to fan the flames of disorder for his own ends, he would not have had to look very far to find sympathetic ears amongst the disillusioned and marginalized youths of the Delta.

Furthermore, it is a similar sense of exclusion that has prompted the re-emergence of pro-Biafran agitators, whose very presence and increasing association with the recent conflict in the Delta, has the potential to propel the current disorder into something quite devastating. The southeast region of Nigeria has struggled for decades to find its place in the nation state and its position remains as fragile now as it ever has been. The oil industry’s presence has complicated this over the years – but the calls for separation have not infiltrated oil related protests in the Delta since the 1960s. It is not clear the extent to which NDA and pro-Biafra agitators are interrelated and presently it appears that the association between the two causes is primarily originating from the NDA. The agitation of the NDA is not directly aligned with Nnamdi Kanu or the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) – a majority Igbo group fighting for secession. The NDA and Ijaws’ complaint have always been centered on resource control and “true” federalism, where it is believed that their farmlands have been divided into oil blocks among Nigerians at the exclusion of Ijaws.

However, the NDA’s call for the release of Kanu is telling and the pairing of these two groups against a common enemy and their mutual interests in re-working the federation make it a powerful matrimony. To rub salt in the wound, the recently reported killing of pro-Biafra protesters in Onitsha is not only alarming but is likely to have drawn these groups closer together. This was demonstrated by a pronouncement from the NDA, which stated, “the Federal Government should know that the more attacks on Biafra, the more aggressive we become. This is a war that involves all of us”.  Events surrounding the “Onitsha massacre” are still unfolding, yet historians and those alive to remember Nigeria’s bloody civil war first hand will no doubt be drawing some alarming parallels with a not too distant past. This is particularly the case given the increasingly controversial presence of the military in the region against the backdrop of recent allegations that Buhari is pursuing a “northern agenda” through retiring senior southern officers in the armed forces and a growing sentiment for secession in the southeast. It is hoped that enough people remember the cataclysmic effects of the Biafran War to prevent a similar scenario playing out.

The NDA mean business and with oil prices at an all-time low, so too will the Buhari administration. The Nigerian government’s next steps are critical. Some groups in the region are already pledging to lay down arms and enter into dialogue, whilst the NDA remains adamant that until their demands are met, no such discourse will occur. What is clear is that using military might to address the challenges is not a long-term solution and has the potential to antagonize an already dire situation. Heavy-handed brute force has historically underlined the relationship between state and citizens in the Delta and has only ever worked to alienate the latter. Indeed, it was the violent suppression of the early peaceful protests and the inability to forge sufficient lines of dialogue that lead many men to replace the protest placard with the Kalashnikov. Since the formulation of MOSOP in 1993 – the government persistently used force against protestors from the administration of Ibrahim Babangida to that of Sani Abacha, escalating but not abating in 1998 with the state execution of Ken Saro Wiwa.

When all means of peaceful protest and attempts at dialogue were exhausted, it is little wonder that in recent years militants took up arms. This fact helps to explain militancy in the Delta; behind many of the NDA agitators is a political subject who feels compelled to use an AK47 to restore their rights. The fact that the majority of these men are not simply violent criminals is indicated by militant groups’ strategies in the region and that, to date, and historically in the Delta, citizens tend not to have been deliberately harmed through militant activity. The sole aim is to disrupt oil supply not to harm the population – either international or domestic. For groups that are relying heavily on international support and favour for their cause, killing innocent citizens would not be conducive.

That said, the NDA, like MEND before them, have singlehandedly brought the country’s already trembling oil supply to its knees. To avoid further escalation, the government will need to move fast. However, development and allocation of revenue to the region is the only long-term solution and given the state of the country’s budget sheet, spending more money will be a bitter pill to swallow. Buhari may need to look to the international community for monetary support and will need to avoid another miscalculated amnesty solution to provide temporary relief to a problem in a region that could take years to heal.

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.

Nigeria: Back to the Future?

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Nigeria

 

Julian Fisher writes: ‎

“Historic” and “amazing” are clichés that I try to avoid. But both may apply to the just-concluded Nigerian election. That Africa’s largest economy has overseen a peaceful and democratic transition of power from an incumbent president to an opposition leader mounting his fourth bid for the job through the ballot box is not to be underestimated. I can’t help but feel that African politics will never be quite the same again. This is not least because president-elect Muhammadu Buhari will have greater democratic authority than almost any post-independence leader in Africa, with the obvious exception of Nelson Mandela. It is to be hoped that he exerts this authority during elections elsewhere on the continent, ably assisted by his predecessor Olusegun Obasanjo (himself twice elected, though on neither occasion did he face a serious challenge from a national party) as a roving ambassador.

But, without wishing to rain on Nigeria’s parade, I would comment that it is the fact of the transition itself, rather than the personality of the incoming president, that is to be celebrated. As the results trickled in on Monday, one of my followers on Twitter posted a comment “President Muhammadu Buhari. How does that sound?”.

And I thought, “it sounds familiar”.

Lest it be forgotten, Buhari has led Nigeria before, between December 1983 and August 1985. His rule was not altogether auspicious, though he is respected for his attempts to curb official corruption and to build national discipline. Here are some pertinent points to remember about his first presidency:

  • he came to power through a military coup
  • he was deposed by a military coup
  • he passed some of the most draconian legislation seen in Africa
  • he curbed the freedom of the press with alacrity
  • his regime arrested hundreds of oppositionists, including the renowned singer Fela Kuti
  • he was roundly criticised by the Nobel-prize winning writer Wole Soyinka in his publication “The Crimes of Buhari” of 2007.

Of course, Buhari was previously president some thirty years ago and he and his supporters present him as a born-again liberal democrat. He has four years to demonstrate the truth of this.  The world will be watching.

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.