Now Buhari’s Real Challenge in Nigeria Begins

Note: I participated in the National Democratic Institute’s Election Observation Mission, but the views contained here are strictly my own. Click here to read NDI’s preliminary report.

In a few weeks, Nigeria will swear in Muhammadu Buhari as president. The defeat of Africa’s largest political party, the People’s Democratic Party, will bring the All Progressives Congress (APC) into power after barely two years of organizing, mobilizing and coalition building. Buhari will enter office with a strong mandate from the voters, having won four out of the country’s six geopolitical zones, and the APC will enjoy a comfortable majority in the Senate. Though a northern Muslim from Katsina, his support included the predominantly Yoruba southwest, where President Goodluck Jonathan recent delivered bags of cash to traditional rulers according to news reports and where the militant Odudwa Peoples’ Congress launched a wave of thuggery in recent weeks. Even before the results were announced, voters in the north reacted with jubilation, and militant groups including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta began surreptitiously re-arming in the creeks of the south. Sources I met with over the weekend in Rivers State say they have seen caches of weapons in camps backed by militants such Ateke Tom and others.

Unsealed ballot boxes I saw in Rivers State on Saturday. In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation centers. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.

Unsealed ballot boxes I saw in Rivers State on Saturday. In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation centers. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.

Buhari has a mandate, and his most urgent challenge is to neither misinterpret nor abuse it. According to an Afrobarometer poll released 23 March, 40% of Nigerians say the president “should be allowed to govern freely without wasting time to justify expenses,” and 25% say the president should “pass laws without worrying about what the National Assembly thinks.” 68% are “not very” or “not at all” satisfied with the way democracy is working.

The last time Nigeria elected a former dictator, Obasano in 1999, he spent his first term battling the National Assembly and quelling violence in the region that largely voted against him. But he also began building institutions, and establishing trust with his skeptics. The last time Nigerians had Buhari at the helm, the jubilation quickly gave way to frustration, repression, and economic failure. I detail the episode in my book, Dictators and Democracy in African Development: the Political Economy of Good Governance in Africa.

With the Mandate Comes a Tough Mission

Buhari’s “honeymoon” will therefore be critical, and probably even shorter lived than his memories of 1984. He will need to do more than make grand rhetorical gestures to democracy; he’ll need to practice it and educate his own supporters about the advantages of the justice and fairness it offers, even where the cost may be the kind of efficiency the Afrobarometer respondents appear to be longing for. How could Buhari repair bridges and capitalize on this fleeting moment of opportunity?

(1) Go south – this would send a valuable message to northerners that he is everyone’s president. This trip could also include a clear transition plan or policy for the status of the ongoing amnesty program for the Niger Delta militants, who need reassurance that they do not need an Ijaw president in order to have “resource control” taken seriously, or to have environmental cleanup and developmental needs addressed. The sooner and more clearly they hear this message, the less likely will be the the re-ignition of the Delta rebellions.

Voter queuing up in Rivers State on Saturday

Voter queuing up in Rivers State on Saturday

This is also important because in a country partly divided along religious lines between north and south, Afrobarometer reports that trust in religious leaders at 29% is higher than the National Assembly, governors, local governments, or even traditional rulers (16%). International observation missions and civil society groups repeatedly expressed concern about the new and dangerous religious discourse in the 2015 campaign; Christian Igbos in the east (who overwhelmingly rejected the APC) and minorities in the south need to know they can trust Buhari, and he needs their cooperation to govern peacefully and practically.

(2) “Reset” national security strategy – this may include replacing key members of the national security establishment. While some continuity may help preserve institutionalized knowledge, particularly with regard to the recent “surge” against Boko haram, the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping reduced confidence in the national security team, and the pressure applied to the electoral commission prior to the election delay has contributed to the perception that some soldiers and many advisers are partisan.

Additional steps could include establishing a new, civilian liaison unit with victims and IDPs with adequate resources and an accountable mechanism for receiving private voluntary donations from around the world. During the campaign, Buhari also pledged strong commitment to women; he could live up to that quickly by committing new resources to the generation of girls (and boys) — hundreds of thousands — who are displaced and not in school because of the insurgency.

Boko Harm has been displaced (hence the recent attacks in Gombe State) but not defeated. This means a credible counter-insurgency strategy is needed, including (a) sustained high-level interactions with the multinational coalition partners, and a repairing of bridges to the US, UK, and other allies with a stake in Nigeria’s peaceful prosperity; (b) permitting increased access to the region by the foreign and domestic press; (c) the termination of any agreements with private security contractors working in the northeast; (d) a serious commitment to non-military components to encourage defection of Boko Haram and to re-build the northeast.

When Obasanjo arrived in 1999, he embarked on a massive military reshuffling and retirement campaign. IF such steps are deemed necessary to restore confidence in the military, they could be linked to corruption investigations and human rights accountability. Security sector reform is a sleeping giant of the 2015 campaign.

Why was Rivers State such a hot battleground in the 2015 elections?

Read my paper prepared for the Western Political Science Association’s Annual Meeting, April 2.


(3) Visit the United States and the United Kingdom as soon as practicable – In both countries, Buhari will be greeted by a diaspora that was frustrated with the PDP, but that needs reassurance he will listen to their concerns as Nigerians, especially where southerners in the diaspora have had the loudest voices. This will be important in the US, where leadership in Congress has interpreted Boko Haram as a war against Christians, rather than a complex insurgency with many different victims and deep historical and socio-economic roots. Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted.

(4) Wake up the somnambulant EFCC – Anti-corruption investigations helped get Nigeria’s economy back on track during Obasanjo’s tenure and raised confidence in politicians and institutions. What have the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission been up to lately? Nobody knows. Under competent leadership with sufficient resources, a high profile and clear independence, foreign investors would be reassured and citizens would disassociate Buhari’s War on Indiscipline (in 1983-84) from his commitment to clean, democratic politics.

(5) Pick a credible, competent and diverse economic team – In early 2014, the government of Nigeria (along with the World Bank and others) highlighted trends in economic diversification. The near crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices since then suggests either these claims were overstated or much more work needs to be done. Buhari could reform the refinery and oil importation mechanisms, commit to publishing all of the federal governments revenue transfers to subnational units each month (like it used to), and pick a combination of experts from academia, the private sector, and the bureaucracy to get the economy back on track. A few obvious steps would go a long way: Reaffirm the independence of the Central Bank (whose governor was replaced last year), stabilize the currency, and consult the National Assembly about budget plans and fiscal crises.

The rest is up to the Nigerian people, who spoke on March 28. Voting was just the beginning.

More to come.

March 31, 2015 · Dr. Carl · 2 Comments
Posted in: .

Displacement and Demolitions in Abuja

The aftermath of demolitions near Idu, outside Abuja (March 2010)

The aftermath of demolitions near Idu, outside Abuja (March 2010)

Government demolitions have displaced hundreds of thousands of people in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory since the early 2000s. While this is neither unusual in Nigeria nor in Africa more generally, Abuja is the fastest growing city in West Africa and its unusual property laws and the potential for  unrest warrant greater scholarly attention. In  “I am Here Until Development Comes: Displacement, Demolitions and Property Rights in Urbanising Abuja,” published in African Affairs (July 2014), anthropologist Josiah Olubowale and I argue that this housing insecurity is not simply the result of urbanization, population growth, or wealth disparities. We attribute it instead to a property rights

A picture I took of Abuja in 2000, from atop the high hill next to the city gate. Most of these areas are now developed.

A picture I took of Abuja in 2000, from atop the high hill next to the city gate. Most of these areas are now developed.

regime that perpetuates discrimination by providing special land rights for the area’s early inhabitants. We also show how, as indigenes have been short-changed by policies to relocate and compensate them, their interests have aligned more closely with migrants seeking improved housing security. By pursuing the shared goal of housing rights for migrants and indigenes alike, new coalitions — both within particular slums and across them — have helped defuse tensions that could otherwise be conducive to conflict.

Organizations working for housing rights in Abuja’s slums include: Women Environmental Programme, the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre, and the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions.

We describe the origins of Abuja in the post-civil war policies of Nigeria’s military regimes, which sought to both integrate the nation and insulate the government from popular pressure centered in the coastal city of Lagos. Next, we integrate research from urban studies with literature on civil society, property rights, and civil conflict. This multi-faceted perspective sheds light on the persistence of a seemingly inefficient (and arguably unjust) land law, and demonstrates why the cooperation we documented runs counter to common expectations in social conflict research. We then describe how various governments adopted policies that generate incentives for indigenes to refuse resettlement, and to profit from

A property in Lugba, Abuja, marked for demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority in 2012.

Property in Lugbe, marked for demolition by the Federal Capital Development Authority in 2012.

migrants. What can residents do to protect their rights? We describe residents’ strategic repertoire for responding to housing demolitions and the rise of new housing rights networks based on an alignment of interests between indigenes and migrants. Tenants and many indigenous landlords have come to share a common narrative of victimhood stemming from Abuja’s housing laws. We conclude that insecure tenancy gives Abuja’s poor no incentive to improve properties and note with concern the role of large estate developers. In the words of indigenous activists, ‘When development comes’ it brings displacement and disempowerment.

January 20, 2015 · Dr. Carl · No Comments
Posted in: .

MEND comments on Chibok’s girls

Before Boko Haram entered the media spotlight, there was the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and militant groups from Nigeria’s oil rich region who took hostages, sabotaged oil rigs, and attacked government installations. Since 2009, most of their members have been part of an amnesty process attempting to re-integrate them into society.  But the groups still have a strong underground presence.  Here’s the full text of MEND’s statement on the missing girls of Chibok, issued at noon today (Nigeria time) and signed at the bottom by its leader:


The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) condemns in the strongest terms the abduction of over 200 school girls by the Boko Haram group.

We join all well-meaning Nigerians and the International Community in demanding for their immediate and safe release.

Amnesty International Report
The recent revelation from credible security sources of the advance warning given to the Nigerian military but failing to act, as revealed by Amnesty International, is a clear indication of the incompetence, corruption and systematic failure that has also plagued the Nigerian military.
Rather than investigating these callous act and show of shame by the Nigerian military, the government of Goodluck Jonathan and the Army are busy denying the report by Amnesty International.
The Nigerian government have been slow in accepting help from the United States and other Western countries due to their attempt to cover up their ill-equipped and corrupt military, incapable of matching the firepower of the Boko Haram group.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) once again uses this medium to call on the National Assembly to rise up to their responsibilities to the nation and launch a probe into the Defence budget and make Nigerians understand how the military can justify their lack of military resources against the huge Defence budget allocated to the Defence Ministry each year.
With the denial by the Nigerian military, the world should ask, is this the same military that earlier lied to the world that they had rescued the abducted girls?

We have constantly warned Nigerians about Goodluck Jonathan and his train of sycophants running the country. Events of the last few weeks have vindicated our position on the inability of this man to lead Nigeria anywhere but downwards. Rather than address serious issues facing the nation and its citizens, Goodluck Jonathan, bereft of ideas and encouraging mass division in the country, is busy squandering public funds and throwing money at every visible problem with no clear long term vision towards a sustainable polity, while his train of sycophants continue to use their “anti-Jonathan” rhetorics in their defence. Furthermore, every level of his government appears to be engineered towards his re-election in 2015 as was seen by the world barely 48 hours after the recent bomb blast in Nyanya, Abuja.

With each passing day, the inept, corrupt and incompetent Goodluck Jonathan sadly confirms the bitter truth that a man that was not even capable of leading a State is obviously not Presidential material, will never be and thus hardening the determination on the part of decent Nigerian society to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Goodluck Jonathan is disgustingly corrupt, has always been one and his association and shielding of corrupt government officials, coupled with his ungodly desperation and criminal-cum-undemocratic tendencies has made him a primary enemy of Nigeria and Nigerians today.
Kidnaped and Freed Dutch Nationals

The same group that was involved in the kidnap of President Jonathan’s adopted father was responsible for the recent abduction of the three (3) Dutch nationals.

We welcome their decision to finaly release their hostages as adviced by MEND as they had nothing to do with or connections with any of the multi national oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region.

This group adviced that although their primary motivation was for ransom, they also wanted to use the kidnap to highlight the insecurity which still exists in the Niger Delta region and also their disgust, like MEND, with the fraudulent Niger Delta Amnesty Programme which has only made billionaires of a few thugs, at the detriment of millions of impoverished indigenes and the peace and security in the region.

In the words of Professor Wole Soyinka, “This is a government that is not only in denial mentally, but in denial about certain steps to take” and “All the pretence, indifference and denial have ended”.
Jomo Gbomo


May 11, 2014 · Dr. Carl · No Comments
Posted in: .

Brainstorming with #BringBackOurGirls

Some of the most interesting and practical suggestions sprouting up from the grassroots have not been making their way into the broader discussions about finding Nigeria’s missing girls.  Here are some ideas threaded together, based on my daily conversations with civil society organizations, government officials, and international solidarity activists.

There is already a larger conversation about medium and long term strategies, including a good overview in the recent International Crisis Group report on Boko Haram. Perhaps the most comprehensive – and consistently ignored – list of suggestions came from the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in 2012. The U.S. Institute of Peace has also recently engaged the northern governors on how to move forward, and provided them with a politically neutral ground for discussion.  Future publications or blogs of mine will discuss those solutions.  This post explores more immediate political and administrative steps that would matter right now:

(1) Establish “solidarity schools” in the north – Even before “Western education” was under attack, Northeastern Nigeria had some of the lowest levels of literacy and school enrollments in the country.  Families have to take such huge risks to send their girls to school, and the security services have yet to figure out how to protect educational institutions. While waiting for a return to normalcy and security, thousands of children are being denied education.

A school in Adamawa, one of the states affected by the rebellion.  I took this photo in 2008.

A school in Adamawa, one of the states affected by the rebellion. I took this photo in 2008.

Existing schools in nearby states could temporarily absorb some of these girls. By volunteering to do so, these schools and communities would make a statement of national solidarity – building trust across regional and ethnic lines.  States such as Kano might be especially well poised to do so, because it already has some accommodation for Islamic education in its curriculum that would be appealing to Muslim families. To absorb the costs, arrange the logistics and create a buffer against politicization of the effort, organizations such as the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), JDPC, Innovative Initiative for Peace,  or Women Environmental Programme (WEP) could lead the effort and receive private donations.  This would also give a channel for Bill and Melinda Gates, Aliko Dangote, Mo Ibrahim, Ted Turner, Angelina Jolie, Francois-Henri Pinault – and ordinary citizens like you and me to donate to something concrete (sorry, that sounds like a pun since I mentioned Dangote) and from the grassroots.  Of course, the “schools” would have to be temporary, and a reintegration back home following the end of the insurgency should be the goal.  And by involving organizations like FOMWAN, the effort would undermine the insurgents’ attacks on girls’ education itself.

As a step towards a broader reform of federal laws and policies pertaining to citizenship, the government could state that the girls and their families will be treated as “citizens of Nigeria” in these other states, pulling down longstanding distinctions between “settler” and indigene at the heart of so much violence in Plateau State, Benue, and Taraba.

(2) Officially acknowledge IDPs and refugees as a widespread problem, and ask for assistance – When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.  Tens of thousands of Nigerians have been displaced by Boko Haram and military’s heavy handed response to it.  Nigerians who have fled to Niger and elsewhere need urgent humanitarian assistance, public support, and a plan for reintegration into Nigerian society.  In line with recommendations from the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) two years ago, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and National Commission for Refugees (NCFR) need to ensure that the necessary legal and policy frameworks are in place to secure the rights of IDPs and refugees.  Then the administration could publicly outline the scale of the problem and describe steps being taken to help affected families — without assigning blame. The NEMA and NCFR could then formally request assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, USAID, or other appropriate international organizations.  It could invite the Red Cross or another neutral humanitarian organization to help.

The military could provide a humanitarian corridor for donations. To reduce corruption and diversion of relief supplies, permit monitors from the National Human Rights Commission and civil society coalitions such as the Transition Monitoring Group, which already has experience training and deploying tens of thousands of election monitors.  There are barely 1,000 km of paved roads in Borno State according to the most recent available statistics. Get food and medical supplies to the people.

(3) Invite more women to run for political office – Nigeria is mobilizing for national and state elections in February 2015. As I document in my chapter on Nigeria in the undergraduate textbook Comparative Politics Today, women’s representation in the National Assembly has actually declined in the last few election cycles.  Political parties such as the ruling People’s Democratic Party, the All Progressives Congress, and others could issue public statements urging women to run for office and inviting voters to participate in transparent, competitive primary processes. The Electoral Reform Network and other civil society organizations could help monitor women’s access to primaries, and promote the call to run.

4) Hold a press conference every day – When Ministry of Defence officials said that the girls had been rescued when in fact they had not, this created a credibility gap. Finding the girls and ending the insurgency will require a regular opportunity to correct erroneous information and for the government to justify the information it provides. The citizens of Nigeria deserve to know the facts; and if there are certain issues on which the facts are not clear, such a forum would provide a reliable and official place for such information to be sorted out.

National Security Adviser Dasuki could do a daily press brief every day streamed live.  Modeled after other such briefings in crisis situations, accredited journalists could ask questions for the world to hear. From time to time, the NSA could bring in other officials with different relevant roles: education policy (see #1), refugee support, international cooperation, and others.

(5) A meeting between President Jonathan and the families of the missing girls – in private and without the eyes and ears of the media.  Let him hear their concerns, feel their frustration, and earn their trust.  Then, in collaboration with groups such as the Nigerian Bar Association, Legal Awareness for Nigerian Women (LEADS), or Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) secure them pro bono legal representation.  This will help protect the privacy of the girls if their families so desire, and also ensure that their rights are protected during debriefings with the security services and the incoming international teams, who need information about the girls’ captors if they are going to do their job effectively.

(6) Foreign governments – could commit to robust democratic oversight of any assistance.  If security assistance becomes part of the solution, the US, UK, and other governments must invite and welcome legislative oversight and civil society scrutiny. Such international help must comply with relevant human rights laws and promote the rule of law in Nigeria.  It also should not become trapped in partisan domestic politics.


Revisions forthcoming as we learn from each other, share ideas,

and mutually commit to the safety and education of girls.

May 9, 2014 · Dr. Carl · 6 Comments
Posted in: .

Nigeria’s 2015 Elections, Part 2: Godfathers & Local Power Shift

Next year, 24 out of Nigeria’s 36 governors will be term limited. This is the fifth election cycle since the 1999 transition, and as in 2007, the last time a large group of governor faced term limits, this is shifting attention to the primaries. As noted in my posts analyzing the 2010 Electoral Act, the law mandates primaries – or at least open caucuses – though in 2011 this requirement was loosely interpreted and weakly enforced. Three factors that will shape this seismic change in Nigeria’s states are local governments, the fluctuating influence of so-called “godfathers,” and subnational implementation of “power shift,” an information institution that rotates power based on geographical areas.

Eleven states now have caretaker local government committees, where Local Government Area (LGA) chairs or entire committees have been removed. There is no provision in the constitution permitting this, though the PDP under Obasanjo took similar steps in 2003. The states have significant control over LGAs under the constitution, since money for local governments passes through state coffers. Thus LGAs are contested areas for either the party structures at the center to circumvent the governors, or for governors to fortify themselves against national encroachment.

“Godfathers” are an important factor intervening between these national and local political structures. They pour money and clout into political campaigns. For example, Anambra some years ago fell into disarray when Governor Chris Ngige had a falling out with his godfather. A few members of the state’s delegation to the National Assembly had to fight costly, high profile court battles simply to run for re-election. In Oyo State, where I used to live, godfather Chief Lamidi Adedibu engineered the impeachment of Governor Rashidi Ladoju.

But it is not clear that the godfathers hold the same sway they did in the 2003 or 2007 elections. Adams Oshiomole, the former labor leader who is now governor of Edo State, where I visited in 2011, has generated a great deal of autonomy. He has done this partly by focusing on his state, rather than emphasizing his national profile. There is also some evidence that the legendary Abubakar Olusola Saraki in Kwara State has lost influence. Though he just openly commissioned a massive retirement mansion for himself in Ilorin, with public funds and lots of praise, others question his influence today. This is discussed in an excellent but often overlooked book, Nigeria’s Critical Election, 2011, edited by John Ayoade and Adeoye Akinsanya (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013). They also point out that Saraki told a news magazine in 2011 that he “does not believe in conducting primaries but negotiation and talking to people to see reason why some political offices should be given out to certain persons.”

This kind of meddling is precisely what is driving some pushback. In Akwa Ibom a few PDP senators and elders’ groups (See The Nation, 16 April 2014) insist that primaries should really be open. They are angry that PDP party leadership is trying to “impose” candidates. It remains to be seen whether the new and long delayed Electoral Act will fully empower voters to do so, and whether the Independent National Electoral Commission will further advance this critical reform – or more importantly administratively enforce it.

Local Pushback against power shift

For its part, power shift  may have inspired much of the frustration within the PDP, a big tent party. According to my interview with the spokesperson for “New PDP,” the self-described PDP faction that joined the recently formed APC, this informal rule eliminates eligible (and often qualified) politicians from the pool of candidates. Rivers State for example is deeply divided over the question of whether upland ethnic groups, or riverine groups from the south, should rule; the current governor is from the upland region. Southern Ogonis insist it is their “turn,” while eastern Ijaws [who are otherwise mostly in neighboring Bayelsa State] are also upset.

The question has potential (though still remote) implications for the state of amnesty for Niger Delta militant groups in place since 2009. Asari Dokubu, leader of the banned militant group Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force, caused ripples recently by insinuating that the group would not allow Nyseom Wike, current Federal Minister of Education, to become governor in 2015. Wike is an ethnic Ikwerre, and the First Lady, Patience Jonathan, has waded into politics in her home city by throwing her weight behind him. Following complaints in the press that she was interfering in Rivers State politics, she declared “Wike is the leader of PDP in Rivers State,” and effectively confirming the allegations, said “The First Lady is solidly behind Wike.”

The question is, Who are the voters going to get behind?

A rally in Port Harcourt, supporting the governor's announcement on the indigene/settler distinction.

A rally in Port Harcourt, supporting the governor’s announcement on the indigene/settler distinction.


Governor Amaechi also deployed a clever political tool last week with his unexpected announcement that River State
is abolishing “indigene/settler” distinctions. Though it is a larger constitutional question of citizenship, beyond the scope of a governor’s powers, his announcement has a broader political effect by sending the message that his state will not permit discrimination against people who migrated there. An experiment in federalism at work.

May 6, 2014 · Dr. Carl · No Comments
Posted in: .