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Nigeria: Elections/Security Disconnect

AfricaFocus Bulletin
January 13, 2015 (150113)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"These images from Northern Nigeria should be searing the conscience of the world. Some two thousand innocent children, women and elderly reportedly massacred in Baga. A young girl sent to her death with a bomb strapped to her chest in Maiduguri. And lest we forget, more than two hundred girls stolen from their families, still lost. Words alone can neither express our outrage nor ease the agony of all those suffering from the constant violence in northern Nigeria. But these images of recent days and all they imply for the future of Nigeria should galvanize effective action. For this cannot go on." - UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, January 11, 2015

Despite exceptions such as the statement above, the disparity between the global reaction to the terrorist killings in Paris and those in northeastern Nigeria has been a horrific if predictable reminder of the differential value placed on human lives by race and location (for roundups of commentaries making this point, see articles in The Guardian and The Daily Maverick below).

Less easily explicable, but equally consequential, is the muted reaction at the top levels of the Nigerian government itself. According to a January 12 CNN report on the Baga massacre "Last week, [President] Jonathan launched his re-election bid in a raucous rally in Lagos. He did not say a word about the massacres." (

This reality, as Nigeria approaches national elections next month, is critical to understanding the obstacles that Nigeria faces in responding to Boko Haram. Despite widespread opposition to that extremist movement in all sections of the country, notes Nigerian analyst Zainab Usman, there is no common national narrative on how to deal with it, with many supporters of the incumbent government as well as of the opposition party actually accusing their opponents of covertly sponsoring Boko Haram for political reasons.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a short article by Usman making this point. A more extensive and very clear analysis is in her 21- minute video presentation from October, available on her website at - direct URL to video: If you can, watch the video!

In the video Usman refers to the car bombings by Boko Haram in July 2014 targeting opposition presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari as well as a prominent Muslim scholar, which left 82 bystanders dead. This is a clear reminder that the movement has targeted both Christians and Muslims, and that simplistic portrayals of either security or the elections based on region and religion alone are highly misleading. The complex political party scene, at both federal and state levels, brings together politicians of all backgrounds on both sides. The presidential ticket of the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan includes Muslim Namadi Sambo as vice-president, while opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari's vice-presidential candidate is Yemi Osinbajo, a lawyer and a Christian pastor.

Also included in this issue is a general background article on the elections by Idayat Hassan, Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, and a brief roundup from the latest report by Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the UN Secretary-General's special representative for West Africa, on the multiple atrocities committed by Boko Haram in 2014.

Few if any observers would venture to predict the results of the election (Gallup notes widespread distrust among Nigerians at the likelihood of a fair election: And skepticism towards all political figures is profound. But President Jonathan's record, on facing Boko Haram as well as more generally, is extremely weak. And opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state, does have a reputation for personal integrity as well as a clear commitment to strengthening the security response to Boko Haram.

Of related interest:

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Nigeria, visit

For ongoing news coverage of Nigeria from Nigerian sources, visit and


Ebola Perspectives

[AfricaFocus is regularly monitoring and posting links on Ebola on social media. For additional links, see]

Informative roundup on prospects for fight against Ebola in 2015. Notable differences between affected countries as of end of 2014.

Short video tribute to local health workers in Liberia, by U.S. photographer who survived Ebola - a "must watch" "Making Sure We Give Credit Where It's Due in the Ebola Outbreak," by Ashoka Mukpo, Jan 8, 2015

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Boko Haram and the Competing Narratives

July 11, 2014

Zainab Usman - direct URL:

This is an article I recently wrote for the Opinion section of AlJazeera English. It was originally published on the AJE website.

Nigeria has recently been brought to global media attention both as the largest economy in Africa and as the home country of the Boko Haram insurgency. The growing security threat has been accompanied by a failure to develop a comprehensive narrative about Boko Haram's origins, its motivations and its implications for the country's future. The absence of such a cohesive narrative by the Nigerian government, its citizens and the communities affected is indicative of the need for a domestic solution to tackle this security challenge.

The recent abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote community of Chibok in Nigeria's northeast focused the world's attention on the country's five-year battle with violent extremism. Within this period, the goals of Boko Haram have evolved - from leading a hermetic life away from a society they deemed corrupt and decadent, to a vengeful war against all symbols of modernity, democratic governance and Western education.

Upsurge in violence

Unfortunately, Nigerians haven't been as quick to come to terms with the upsurge in violence. The now-daily suicide bombings, mass murders, mysterious assassinations of political, traditional and religious leaders, mass abductions and other incidents of mindless violence are still hard to grasp.

In the first five months of 2014, over 5,000 lives were lost to such violence, according to the think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations. In the wake of the glaring inability of the government to contain this violent extremism, several competing narratives have emerged.

On the part of the Nigerian government, the narrative has been mostly incoherent and highly politicised. With the Chibok girls' abduction for instance, both the federal government and the states in the northeast - Boko Haram's stronghold - have been preoccupied with trading blame. Constitutionally, the responsibility for security lies with the central government.

Since May 2013, three of these northeastern states have been under a state of emergency, which gives greater powers to the central government over their security.

These states accuse the federal government of negligence, incompetence and corruption affecting the capacity of themilitary. In turn, the federal government blames the states for exaggerating the insecurity in their domains to embarrass it.

The key to understanding this lack of cohesion between the federal and the northeastern states lies in understanding the nature of the heated political environment.

The next round of general elections in 2015 may be the country's most contentious. President Goodluck Jonathan, it is widely believed, will run for a second term, against a groundswell of opposition under the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Jonathan's emergence as presidential candidate in 2011 breached the ruling People's Democratic Party's (PDP) power-sharing rule in which presidential power alternated every eight years between the mostly Christian southern elites and their mostly Muslim northern counterparts. In the typical rhetoric of political brinkmanship that characterises electoral politics in Nigeria, a few aggrieved northern PDP politicians who felt short-changed of their turn at the presidency, threatened to make the country 'ungovernable' for Jonathan, a southerner.

Where these empty threats should have ordinarily dissipated into thin air, they coincided with the escalation of the Boko Haram insurgency. The Islamist group which emerged in the early 2000s became increasingly violent after confrontations with security agencies, as an International Crisis Group report documents. The extra-judicial murder of Muhammad Yusuf, the group's leader by the police in 2009, captured on camera, forced the remaining members into hiding. They reassembled a few years later, embarking on a viciously vengeful killing spree.

South-north divide?

In 2011, Jonathan became president in regionally polarising elections, on the platform of a fractured ruling party, and with a simmering insurgency about to explode in its full wrath. The interaction of all these meant that as Boko Haram waged its campaign of violence, including its historic bombing of the UN building in Abuja, the president and his inner circle wrestled to consolidate their power in the PDP.

Consequently, a narrative slowly emerged from the president's mostly southern support base that the insurgency was being sponsored by 'disgruntled northern politicians' to undermine his administration. This view has been articulated by known associates of the president such as Chief Edwin Clark and ex-militant Mujahid Dokubo Asari.

It is now a widely-shared belief by many southerners that the worsening insecurity is evidence of the northern elite making real their erstwhile threat, as opposed to the governance challenges bedevilling every aspect of Nigerian society. The northern elite are funding the insurgency, destroying their infrastructure and killing their own people just to make Jonathan look weak, it is said.

In the north where most of Boko Haram's attacks and victims have been concentrated, a widespread sense of fear, alienation and deep distrust pervades. This stems from the federal government's inability to contain Boko Haram despite the increase in defence spending to $5.8bn (or 20 percent of the budget) and militarisation of the northeast.

Rather, brutal human rights abuses by the security forces and allegations by combat soldiers of deliberate sabotage by their commanders reinforce the deep distrust in the federal government. The president's slow response and perceived indifference to attacks in the north has further alienated him from many northerners - he only publicly acknowledged the Chibok girls' abduction two weeks after.

Consequently, the predominant narrative among many northerners is that Jonathan's federal government at best has little interest in ending the insurgency in the north; and at worst, his associates may be indirectly fuelling it, to weaken the region and its elites' national political leverage. This is a view recently articulated by Murtala Nyako, the governor of Adamawa, one of the states under emergency rule. Coincidentally, the governors of all three northeastern states under the state of emergency are in the opposition party, the APC.

As the country's elites and citizens blame one another, Boko Haram appears more determined. As the country's social fabric unravels after each bomb blast, and the narratives become more disparate, Boko Haram remains consistent with its vision against Western education, modern governance structures and inter-religious harmony. The strong national cohesion needed among Nigeria's leaders and citizens to collectively tackle this terrorist threat is lacking due to contentious local politics. References to a civil war and a disintegration of the country are now constant features online, in print media and other fora of public discourse.

It is commendable that at this time of need, governments of the United States, United Kingdom and other global powers have pledged military support to help Nigeria to contain this terrorist threat. Yet it is up to Nigerians to decide whether to unite and tackle the insurgency, or continue blaming each other while the country gradually unravels at the seams.

Nigeria Forum: Why are the stakes so high for the 2015 elections?

by Idayat Hassan

African Arguments, December 16, 2014 - direct URL:

[Idayat Hassan is Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja.]

The 2015 general elections in Nigeria will define the country. Speculation about a crisis that may ensue in the post-election period is rife. Irrespective of which political party emerges victorious to form the national government, the south-north divide, zoning, religion and other factors could have a significant effect in the aftermath of the polls.

Identity has always played a prominent role in Nigerian elections. This situation has been further exacerbated in the prelude to 2015 as ethnic and religious entrepreneurs capitalize by whipping up such sentiments. At the heart of this is the power sharing and rotation equation between different groups divided along regional, ethnic and religious. This, however, takes different dimensions at different levels of government.

At the national level the bifurcation is along the North - South divide. This is fueled by the power-sharing agreement within the People's Democratic Party (PDP) called 'zoning'. Under this agreement, power is expected to alternate between the North and South, however the death of former President Umaru Yar'Adua's put the agreement in disarray, not only did his then vice president Goodluck Jonathan utilize his unexpired tenure, but also contested and won the election in 2011 (with an alleged agreement that he would not seek re-election in 2015.)

The issue of identity also plays out at the state level. The politics of attrition - "our turn, we are the largest group, we produce the most resources" - is easily observable. This syndrome, coupled with the marginalization card, is strongly played by ethnic zones and religious groups. But identity is quite fluid within the Nigeria context and ethnicity, religion or geo- political identity can fade away when necessary.

The upcoming 2015 general elections differ from the 2011 polls in part due to the emergence of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The country can now be said to be a two party state. In the 2011 general elections, four major parties, including PDP, ACN, CPC and ANPP, contested the elections with the opposition groups polling (in total) less than 42 percent of the votes cast. However, General Buhari of the CPC, registered just a few months prior to the elections, polled over 12 million votes, with 96.9 percent of the vote from Northern Nigeria.

With the merger of major opposition parties, the APC is more formidable, having membership and support beyond the North. Now that General Buhari is on its presidential ticket, it is unlikely that PDP stalwarts will sit back patiently without devising means to win the election at all costs. If Buhari could poll 12,214,853 as the presidential candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) as the APC candidate he is a genuinely credible challenger to PDP dominance.

The defection of the five PDP governors to the APC also raised the stakes higher. Political structures previously under the control of the PDP are now controlled by APC. The PDP will however, want to regain these states at all costs which further raises the stakes.

This acrimonious atmosphere has led to an explosion of hate speech. In the last weeks there have been accusations by Northern leaders and even the opposition party that Jonathan-led Federal Government is fueling the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. Reminiscent of the Rwanda genocide, the state governor of Katsina was caught on tape referring to opponents as "cockroaches" and encouraging his supporters to crush them while they chanted "kill them". The PDP National Publicity Secretary described the APC as a terrorist party, linking it to Al-Qaeda.

The use of social media has further led to the explosion of hate speech with a geopolitical dimension attached. There is also a need to watch out for the impact opinion polls may have in the elections. In the last months, several polls have been conducted placing some candidates ahead of others, the likelihood of conflict entrepreneurs latching on to figures from such polls to incite violence when a particular candidate loses out is a reality that must be proactively countered.

This election is being conducted as impunity and partisanship are exhibited at all levels. The security agencies are viewed as partisan at the national and state level. There are allegations of police patrol vehicles carrying political parties/candidates stickers in certain states. The Inspector General of police is being accused of partisanship with his recent handling of the House of Representatives' impasse and failure to recognize the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, as the speaker.

In addition, the spokesperson of the Department of State Service (DSS), Ms. Marilyn Ogar, has been accused of partisanship following several unsubstantiated allegations against the APC, which includes claiming the party tried to bribe the DSS during the governorship election of August 9th. Similarly, she alleged that APC was a sponsor of the Boko Haram insurgency.

The preconceived notion of the security agencies' partisanship has implications on the election, with the likelihood that opposition parties will resort to self-help or arming ethnic militias. This is worrying, particularly in the context of an election where the acceptance of results and the electoral outcome is a key challenge. Already the opposition parties are threatening to create a parallel government.

Speaking at the grand finale of Governor Rauf Aregbesola's bid for re-election in Osogbo, Osun State, APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, warned that any attempt by PDP to rig the 2015 elections would lead to the formation of a parallel government. This was reiterated by the Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi, during an APC protest rally held in Abuja on 19th November 2014.

In the 2011 general election, INEC enjoyed the goodwill of most Nigerians, but this trend is changing for a number of reasons. Top of the list is the handling of the Permanent Voters' Card (PVC) distribution and the Continuous Voters' Registration (CVR) exercise. These exercises experienced varying challenges, ranging from logistics and capacity to the disappearance of over a million names off the register in Lagos State, to the extension of the exercise from the initially planned 3 to 4 + phases.

The PVC distribution in Lagos and Kano generated so much bad blood with rallies against the commission held across Lagos and political parties joining the fray with press conferences and statements issued, not only questioning INEC but also fostering the impression that the commission is acting out a script. In the same vein, the commission has been accused of planning to disenfranchise Christians by the Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

The perceived politicization of the creation of additional polling units (now suspended) also impacted the credibility of the commission as it was accused of favouring a particular part of the country. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) created by the Boko Haram insurgency constitute another challenge for INEC. There have been many calls for these people to be included in the elections without regard to the provisions of the law, which states that voters can only vote at the polling units where they registered. Without a review of electoral law, the practicality of this is in doubt, and even if an amendment to this effect is passed, how it would be achieved comes into question as these IDPs are scattered in homesteads (not just living in camps).

We also cannot gloss over international best practice as espoused in instruments such as the African Charter on Democracy, elections and governance, which prescribes six months before elections for the amendment of any electoral laws.

This analysis is not complete without emphasizing the increased role of religion in the upcoming elections. While much emphasis has been on political Islam in the Nigerian context, rising Pentecostalism and political power wielded by the Pentecostal pastors with huge followings must be emphasized. Particularly worrisome is the increased vituperation of the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and outright partisan role played in the prelude to the elections.

As insecurity continues to pervade the country, much emphasis is being laid on the Boko Haram Insurgency. But a conflict risk assessment shows an average of eighteen states as being at 'high risk'. For the purpose of this analysis, I shall concentrate on Nassarawa state.

Nassarawa state has been enmeshed in violence for the last 2 years, leaving aside the attempt to impeach the governor which led to loss of lives and property. The quest for power change and an unorthodox agreement between the incumbent governor and the Eggons (who constitute the highest percentage of citizens in the state) that the incumbent Governor will serve only a term in office in exchange for their support in the 2011 general election, is said to be one of the reasons for the emergence of the religious cult group, 'Ombatse', in 2013.

The sect is alleged to have murdered over 70 security agents, including men of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and DSS in cold blood in May 2013. The security agents were said to have stormed the shrine over alleged forceful conscription of people into the cult, none of the alleged killers of the security men have been brought to book while the white paper that emanated from the panel of inquiry set up by the state government is being challenged in court by the group.

The Fulani/Eggon crises, conflict between farmers and pastoralists and the rivalry between the PDP and APC pervade the Nassarawa state. There is hardly a week without a report of violent conflict, but the state is not being prioritized in terms of election programming.

As Boko Haram continues to acquire more territory, the likelihood of elections in the north east seems dim. From its concentration in the three states of Bornu, Yobe and Adamawa, in the last weeks, the insurgents have shifted attacks to Bauchi and Gombe in the North East, while at the same time making forays into Kano, Niger and Plateau in North West and North Central Nigeria respectively. Boko Haram has established its hegemony in some local government areas in the North East following the incapacity of the military to regain the areas. The question therefore is whether elections be held in the occupied territories.

The legitimacy of the elections and the incoming administration will hinge on the resolution of some of the highlighted issues and above all the quality of elections delivered by INEC.

Excerpts from

Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa, 24 December 2014 S /2014/945

Available at

20. Nigeria also witnessed an escalation in attacks and bombings, particularly in the north-eastern States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. During the reporting period, Boko Haram carried out several attacks on military and security installations, as well as over 40 deadly raids on civilian settlements, which included torching of churches and mosques. On 1 July, a vehicle-borne explosive device detonated and killed at least 56 civilians in a crowded arketplace in Maiduguri, Borno State. On 23 July in Kaduna, Kaduna State, two successive bombings targeted the convoys of Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, a prominent Islamic scholar, and Muhammadu Buhari, a presidential contender for APC, leaving 82 people dead. On 7 November, a bomb killed 10 people in Azare, Bauchi State. On 10 November, a suicide bomber in Potiskum, Yobe State, killed at least 46 students and wounded 79 others at the Public Science Technical College. The Yobe State government subsequently closed all schools until further notice. On 12 November, another suicide bombing took place at a school in Kontagora, Niger State, injuring scores of people. On 25 November, two teenage female suicide bombers killed over 45 people in the marketplace of Maiduguri. On 27 November, a bomb explosion in the Maraba -Mubi area in Adamawa State killed at least 40 people. The Kano Central Mosque was attacked on 28 November, killing at least 120 people and injuring over 270 others. On 11 December, twin bombs killed at least 40 people at a market in Jos. On the same day, in Kano, a 13-year-old girl was arrested for allegedly wearing a suicide vest.

21. The territorial expansion of the Boko Haram insurgency was quite rapid. The group took over the towns of Buni Yadi, Yobe State, on 20 August; Gambaru -Ngala, Borno State, on 26 August; Dikwa, Borno State on 28 August, and Bama, the second-largest city in Borno State, on 2 October. On 5 and 11 November, Boko Haram captured the town of Malam Fatori in Borno State and the city of Maiha in Adamawa State, respectively. The group is now believed to be in control of significant swaths of land in Borno and Adamawa States, raising questions about the Government's ability to conduct elections in these areas. Boko Haram has also reportedly established governance architecture and imposed Sharia law in the areas under its control.

22. Despite national and international reaction to the kidnapping of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014, Boko Haram has continued its spate of kidnappings of adults and children. On 10 August, Boko Haram militants overran local militias in a remote fishing village near Lake Chad and kidnapped 97 persons. On 14 September, over 50 women were reported to have been abducted in Gulak, Adamawa State; on 30 September an unknown number of persons were abducted in Gwoza, Borno State; and on 18 October, 40 women were reportedly abducted in Wagga, Adamawa State.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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