I am pleased to share this important message from American civil society groups regarding Buhari’s meeting with Trump.

On the occasion of the visit of President Buhari:

The Nigeria Working Group is made up of diverse organizations who work in advocacy, human rights, direct humanitarian relief, peacebuilding, and various other technical sectors committed to supporting a fruitful and constructive relationship between the United States and Nigeria to promote development and peace. Nigeria is a strong ally for the United States with social, political, and economic influence across the continent. We are concerned with the current state of conflict in Nigeria and look forward for the opportunity for President Trump and President Buhari to strengthen their commitment to preventing and ending violence in Nigeria.

On the important occasion of President Buhari’s official visit to Washington, DC, members of the working group urge that he and President Trump discuss the following issues including:

  1. Safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons: To ensure safe return of displaced persons requires access by humanitarian actors, clear reporting on the security status of the area of return, and measures to support adequate food and medical provisions for the returning populations. Individuals who have returned or escaped abduction should be provided with necessary care and have access to family members during this process. Alongside and incorporated into humanitarian assistance, there needs to be specific attention paid to reconciliation and reintegration efforts. Limited attention to rebuilding community relationships risks reversing successes made in the fight against Boko Haram and creates conditions for the escalation of social conflict in this fragile context.
  2. Robust and effective response to the ongoing violence of Boko Haram: A multifaceted response that includes accountability and a commitment to the practice of good governance is critical for defeating the insurgency and rehabilitating communities in crisis. Deradicalization, reintegration, and rehabilitation of former Boko Haram combatants must be coordinated, strategic, and locally-led, with a clear vision for long-term success. These efforts should also go beyond focusing on individual fighters and also focus on community and economic stability and resilience.
  3. Addressing root drivers of inter-communal conflict in the Middle Belt: Violence between farming and herding communities in the Middle Belt continues to escalate, with over 170,000 people displaced from Benue state alone since December. Increasing attacks and high-level calls for Nigerians to ‘rise up and defend themselves’ threatens to intensify violence in other states and export instability to other regions of the country and to bordering countries. The Middle Belt is the food basket of Nigeria and continued violence not only threatens human lives, but the food production and security of the country. There needs to be support to local platforms that link up to state and national level responses to address conflict drivers and triggers and to manage conflicts in their community. At the same time, there needs to be a coordinated effort to lessen inflammatory rhetoric around attacks, build trust between communities and the government, and promote messages of peace.

This meeting comes at a critical time for Nigeria’s future and we welcome the opportunity to discuss many important issues for the future of the partnership between Nigeria and the United States. Many significant gains have been made in combatting Boko Haram and building community platforms for peace, but there must be continued engagement to sustain and expand this progress. As we look at promoting development, growth, and peace in West Africa, Nigeria and the United States must jointly promote a holistic strategy to prevent violence within its borders. As a working group and individual organizations, we stand ready to assist in promoting this strategy and welcome further engagement on these and other issues of great importance for both Nigeria and the United States.

Mike Jobbins

Senior Director, Partnerships and Engagement

Search for Common Ground


Nathan Hosler, PhD.

Convener, Nigeria Working Group

Director, Office of Peacebuilding and Policy

Church of the Brethren

Could Dapchi Girls Hurt APC’s Re-Election Chances?

Nigerians received good news this week with the release of approximately 101 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram on 19 February this year, taken from a government-run boarding school in Dapchi, Yobe State.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration seemed determined to avoid the predicament his predecessor faced in 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok just months ahead of a presidential elections. That incident triggered one of the largest social media storms in history, making #BringBackOurGirls one of the biggest hashtags ever on Twitter. Within two weeks #BringBackOurGirls had been tweeted over two million times. So when the “Dapchi girls” were taken, there was a sense of déjà vu as well as palpable political panic for Buhari’s party as it heads into presidential election, slated for early 2019.

This post draws upon research I conducted for my new book, Nigerian Party Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror, forthcoming later in 2018 from Cambridge University Press. My content analysis of political rhetoric used by officials from the People’s Democratic Party and the (then) opposition All Progressives Congress shows that insecurity did not top the list of campaign themes in the 2015 presidential election. Consistent with some existing research on terrorism in democracies (see for example Marcus, Neuman and MacKuen 2000), voters had a heightened sense of general political awareness and engagement. Nigerians ultimately cast their lot with the party that offered a persuasive portfolio of issues that included the economy, corruption, and what I categorize as “electoral integrity.” In effect, #BringBackOurGirls mattered – not just for how citizens thought about insecurity but for how they evaluated several types of policy performance.

How President Jonathan’s Administration Mishandled Chibok

In the months that followed the Chibok kidnappings, a series of communications blunders by President Jonathan damaged his administration’s credibility. First, the military said they had rescued the Chibok girls in April 2014, infuriating the girls’ parents (See Ameh, John, Jude Owuamanam, and Kayode Idowu. 2014. “Military Lied about Schoolchildren Rescue – Principal, Parents.” Punch, April 18). The military also provided different numbers of those kidnapped, contributing to confusion and conspiracy theories about how the administration might benefit from the kidnapping.

A #BringBackOurGirls vigil at the White House in January 2017 for the Chibok girls. Kidnapped in 2014, approximately 100 of them remain prisoners of Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria. It was a very cold day (I’m on the right).

The second communications blunder unfolded a month later when the Chief of Defence Staff said that the government knew where the girls were. This was untrue, and briefly intensified public frustration and demands for a rescue operation or additional military action (See Jones, Barbara. 2014. “Hostage Schoolgirl Exclusive.” Daily Mail, May 31). General Chris Olukolade made a similar stumble later that year in September, when he declared that some of the girls were safe in a military barracks – but then retracted that statement (See “Army Backtracks on Schoolgirls’ Release.” 2014. BBC, September 23). As international attention hit its peak, President Jonathan was filmed dancing at a wedding celebrating, creating the impression of detachment or apathy.

Third, as the #BringBackOurGirls movement held peaceful vigils around Abuja, the police commissioner for the Federal Capital Territory banned the gatherings. “I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness,” he declared. The immediate embarrassment and scandal prompted a swift retraction by police leadership (Nnochiri, Ikechukwu, Emmanuel Elebeke, and Abdulwahab Abdulah. 2014. “Chibok Girls – We Didn’t Ban Rallies in Abuja – IG.” Vanguard, June 4).

Fourth, some military officials told newspapers that ten generals and other military officers had been convicted by court-martial for providing arms to Boko Haram. (What happened in these cases remains unclear to me.) A Ministry of Defence spokesperson immediately disputed those reports, according to the Associated Press.

A fifth public relations blunder unfolded in July, when President Jonathan refused to meet with some parents who wanted to be accompanied by #BringBackOurGirls leaders, who had paid the parents’ way from Chibok for the meeting.

Finally, the Jonathan administration repeatedly sent mixed messages about its willingness to negotiate with Boko Haram or whether it had agreed upon a ceasefire. On a few occasions, intermediaries reported that Boko Haram was willing to trade hostages for prisoners. According to a member of the Northern Elders Forum whom I interviewed for my book, Jonathan and the PDP “wanted to keep the turmoil going because it had political value for them.”

Is Dapchi Chibok Redux?

In the final year of President Jonathan’s tenure, the decline of security in the northeast and his administration’s mishandling of the Chibok girls weakened the PDP’s case for successful counter-terrorism. This “credibility gap” just before the 2015 elections increased voter skepticism about the incumbent party’s ability to run fair elections, and most importantly, according to the evidence I present in Nigerian Party Competition, to deliver on the economy.

There are a few similarities today with Buhari’s predicament. Shortly before the release of the Dapchi victims, for example, Bring Back Our Girls complained about “the troubling sparseness of information” from the federal government about the Yobe State girls.

Several Dapchi children remain unaccounted for, and the government’s communications strategy remains uncoordinated. Notably, the number of those released has fluctuated with the government first mentioning 76 girls, and quickly revising this upwards to 101.

Worse, the Nigerian military may have failed to act on information that Boko Haram was moving toward Dapchi, resembling comments from government sources who told me that Boko Haram ran amok in Chibok for several hours before the Army arrived. “The authorities appear to have learned nothing from the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok,” said Amnesty International’s investigators of the Dapchi incident.

Buhari has on several occasions claimed that Boko Haram was defeated, so the Dapchi kidnapping widened the credibility gap with the public. As in 2015, citizens might treat campaign claims about economic growth or other issues with the same skepticism they now view the Buhari administration’s progress against Boko Haram. And if the administration paid the group money in return for the girls’ release, it is only a matter of time until the extortionists strike again.

Will Nigeria’s Women Win in 2019?

In my new book, I explain how Nigeria’s ruling People’s Democratic Party lost to a new opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, in 2015. This is the first of several blog posts previewing findings in my forthcoming Nigerian Party Competition in a Time of Transition and Terror (Cambridge University Press) and linking the research to the upcoming 2019 presidential elections.

In Chapter 3, “Voting Against Violence? Insecurity and Economic Uncertainty in the Presidential Election,” I conduct a content analysis of the campaign rhetoric of Muhammadu Buhari (APC) and Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) as well as two top officials from each party. One unexpected result, which I highlighted at a very informative panel today organized by the International Republican Institute, is that out of five categories of issues discussed by the candidates, gender and social issues received the fewest mentions. Only 7.4% of the 929 coded references discussed gender, which I grouped with other “social issues” including health and education.

Panel on women in Nigeria’s 2019 elections. L-R: Jackson M’vuganyi, Ayisha Osori, me, and Sentell Barnes of IRI.

Even more importantly though, the parties clearly campaigned on different issues. The APC mentioned social issues twice as often as the PDP. Was this a mistake by the Jonathan campaign? While issues such as insecurity and the economy were perhaps a more difficult sell for President Jonathan (in light of an increase in Boko Haram’s violence in late 2014 and a decline in oil prices), his administration had made some important gains on gender. For example:

  • The UNDP report assessing progress towards the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 noted declines in infant mortality and increases in immunization rates. Maternal mortality declined and the access to skilled birth attendants (such as midwives) increased.
  • The gender disparity in education at the primary and secondary level virtually disappeared (at least in aggregate national terms), prompting the UNDP to conclude that Nigeria achieved the MDC target by enrolling one female for every male.
  • According to the National Bureau of Statistics, 2014 also reported a slight increase in women’s literacy and in secondary school attendance rate.
  • Access to higher education in the north increased with the construction of federal universities in nine states that did not have one. “For you to liberate any group of human beings, whether they are from the Southern creeks or from the North, it is education,” Jonathan said in 2013.
  • In terms of political empowerment, some academic studies similarly concluded that women made important strides under Jonathan, crediting affirmative action and inclusion of gender in Federal Character (Gberevbie and Oviasogie 2013).

Yet the PDP just did not make women’s issues a campaign priority. I suggest in my book that this was a mistake.

This data is based on a content analysis of 929 coded comments by the top three officials in each political campaign, based on a sample of 2,390 articles from This Day, Daily Trust, and Vanguard. PDP officials: Goodluck Jonathan; Doyin Okupe, the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to President; and Adamu Mua’zu, former PDP National Working Committee Chairman.  APC officials: Muhammadu Buhari; Lai Mohammed, National Publicity Secretary; and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Director-General of the Presidential Campaign.

How might gender be relevant in the 2019 presidential election?

This question was the focus of a panel discussion today at IRI. Looking beyond the 2015 elections, I presented evidence that women have gone backwards under the Buhari administration. As promised during the campaign, Buhari abolished the Office of the First Lady in August 2015. “All that ostentation, ubiquitousness and arrogance we have come to expect from the office are over and done with,” said a statement from Aso Rock. Buhari also infamously scolded his wife for expressing her political views, saying “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room.”

The rhetoric has unfortunately correlated pretty well with other indicators of women’s status under the Buhari administration. According to the Global Gender Gap Reports for 2015 and 2017, there has been a slight decline in the percent of women enrolled in tertiary education, and a steep decline in the number of women ministers – from 24 to 12. It appears that women’s income has actually gone up under Buhari, but it has done so at the expense of men. A decline in the purchasing power parity of men, in this context, is a scary recipe for a backlash against women. These figures should not be taken as the consequence of any specific government policy. But such data do often point to a deeper social sentiment, much like racial and class animosity that played out in America’s 2016 election.

Buhari and the APC still have a chance to turn things around. They could start by recruiting more women to run as APC candidates, as Aisha Osori, author of Love Does not Win Elections is urging. The APC could also coordinate an effort to get states to pass implementing legislation for the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act 2015, which provides a protective legal framework for women and girls. With the possibility of a backlash against women, this seems especially important.

At the moment though, the picture looks bleak. Buhari is repeating some of the mistakes made by President Jonathan with the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls movement as his administration grapples with the schoolgirls recently kidnapped from Yobe State.  My next post will detail those public relations blunders.

Kenya’s New Railway: Politics, Pollution and Pastoralists

The $4 billion railroad that the Chinese are building from Nairobi to the port city of Mombasa stirred up controversy from the start. It cuts through one of Kenya’s cherished national parks, a move opposed by most conservationists, even after the government agreed to raise the track — thus allowing animals to pass under it. The governnment of Uhuru Kenyatta is borrowing at least $3.6 billion from the Chinese saddling future generations with spectaular debt. Given the project’s cost inflation, this has presented huge opportunities for politicians to spread money around.
President Kenyatta is up for re-election and the railway is front and center of his campaign to catapult Kenya into modernization. The race in the Rift Valley, where these pictures were taken, has become especially competitive. Research by Ryan Briggs from Virginia Tech suggests that receiving foreign aid is a pretty good strategy for African leaders, since it increases incumbency advantage — even if the donor had no such partisan intentions.

Brewing Local Complaints about Chinese Construction

But in the Rift Valley, ordinary people increasingly see the government’s vision for modernization as problematic. According to local activists I visited, the project has proceeded with little consultation from impacted communities. The CCCC often hires workers for a probationary period with the promise of a permanent position that never transpires because they are fired before the period ends. Workers take the jobs at $5 a day, and have had no success seeking a modest wage increase to $7. The Chinese have resisted calls for unionization, and they manage to use Chinese workers for certain tasks despite Kenyan requirements to employ locals.
Some of the complaints seem fairly minor, such as the dust generated by truck drivers speeding through crowded markets and marijuana being grown just outside the compound walls. These problems could probably be addressed through community relations and mediation.

Environmental Impacts

Other issues, including dumping waste and chemicals pictured here, appear more serious. The community around the Ilgaroj construction site are complaining about coughing, itchy skin, sneezing, headaches, eye itches, and chest congestion. I drank water from wells just a few miles from this place, and cattle graze in these areas. The courts are considering a case filed with the help of NGOs to sue for an environmental impact assessment. If you have any details or updates on this, please post a comment.
The pastoral people who populate the area also complain about the grazing grass changing color due to quarry dust. The brewing environmental catastrophe also affects trees that wild giraffes depend on for food. This could roll back local conservationist efforts that successfully helped the giraffe population recover from a few dozen animals ten years ago to several hundred today. Even with the raised railway line, says one local activist who participated in the successful public education campaign to save the area’s wild giraffes, poaching could increase.

A wild giraffe wandering the Ngong Hills. Due to local conservation efforts by the Maasai, giraffe populations have recovered over the last decade.

Demonstrations on these various issues are common, but residents wonder about their declining media coverage. Protesters pictured below blocked roads on June 14, with the following list of demands:
  • Fair pay
  • Improved environmental safety
  • Jobs for locals first, not foreigners
  • Increased employment opportunities for women
  • Community social responsibility
  • “health and safety for all”
Residents also worry that the railroad that will pass them by entirely, including the tunnel through the Ngong Hills, since there are relatively few stops. It is not clear if such stops would bring inclusive development by benefiting small towns. For example, the number of wind turbines in the region generating electricity increased from five to about 36, and residents say most of the power is carried into the city rather than to the communities. (The idea of rural resources being diverted or redirected should sound familiar to Niger Deltans.)
In the August elections, will the electoral coalition for environmental cleanup (and redress of any health hazards) be larger than the constituency for development by debt?

Growing Opposition to US sale of Attack Aircraft to Nigeria

Should the United States sell attack aircraft to Nigeria? The following letter, signed by an unusual cross-section of advocacy organizations, was sent to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Dear Chairman Corker, Senator Cardin, Chairman Royce and Representative Engel,

We the undersigned organizations are writing to convey our concerns regarding reports that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans to sell A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, with mounted machine guns and related part and logistical support to the government of Nigeria. We believe that without concrete evidence that the Nigerian government is taking action to protect human rights and enforce accountability, this transfer is a mistake.

In June of 2016 we expressed concerns over the same proposed sale to President Obama, citing the lack of adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the Tucano aircraft would be used consistently with international human rights and humanitarian law by the Nigerian military.  We reiterate those concerns now and ask that you take steps to limit the risks that equipment supplied by the US will be used to commit violations of human rights and humanitarian law.

Our message to the Obama administration was that the US should insist on securing robust, end use monitoring commitments, safeguards against further human rights violations, and other credible and measurable progress on accountability within the Nigerian security forces.  These recommendations were offered with the aim of ensuring that the United States did not inadvertently facilitate the commission of human rights abuses in Nigeria and to try and help turn the page on the culture impunity within the Nigerian military before making a final decision to move forward with the sale.

Super Tucano aircraft (photo: DOD)

In the letter we sent to the Obama administration on June 1, 2016 we listed several incidents of human rights violations that indicated a systemic failure to respect human rights and enforce accountability within the Nigerian security forces (see attached).  Unfortunately, to date there has been no progress towards investigating any of those past incidents or bringing persons responsible for those abuses to justice.   Indeed, in 2017 new concerns have arisen with the January 2017 bombing of a remote displaced persons camp in Rann, close to the border with Cameroon.   That action by the Nigerian Air Force killed at least 126 people (and possibly as many as 200), and it demonstrates the urgency of implementing safeguards and monitoring. Although a panel appointed by the Nigerian Air Force to investigate the tragedy presented its report to the Chief of Air Force in April, the report is yet to be made public and speculations about the bombing are rife. The Chief of Air Force has stated that the bombing was a human error. However, witnesses claim that the fighter jet circled the camp before it bombed the camp at least twice.

In view of the continuing patterns of abuse and potential for misuse of US-supplied equipment, and as a first step to accountability, the U.S. Congress should insist that the Nigerian government undertake independent investigation into all allegations of human rights violations by the military.  Any such reports on human rights violations by the military in northeast Nigeria should be released, including on the Rann bombing. Further, all victims should receive full reparation, including financial compensation.

As regards the intended transfer of the Tucano aircraft, Congress should ensure that Nigerian military personnel involved in its operation and command will be vetted carefully in full compliance with provisions of the Leahy Law, in order to screen out those responsible for past human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.  Moreover, steps should be taken to ensure that personnel operating the equipment are adequately trained to comply with international human rights and humanitarian standards.

Furthermore, we ask you as Congressional leaders to insist on binding guarantees from the Nigerian government that the equipment will be used in conformity with US and international law.  Likewise, Congress should seek guarantees from the Trump Administration that the Department of Defense will effectively monitor the use of these aircraft for compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.

Just a few weeks ago, Ambassador Nikki Haley made well-publicized comments drawing attention to the connection between widespread human rights violations and the breakdown of peace and security.  These comments underscore the risks attached to the intended transfer of the Tucano attack aircraft armed with its mounted machine guns, and the US must take seriously its responsibility to ensure that the transfer of this lethal equipment does not result in a further deterioration of human rights in Nigeria.  From your position of leadership in the US Congress, we urge you to convey these concerns to the Administration and seek guarantees that all precautions will be taken.


Amnesty International USA
Peace Action
Peace Direct
Friends Committee on National Legislation.
21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
Jubilee Campaign USA
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars