January 13, 2015 (150113)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"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
http://zainabusman.wordpress.com/ - direct URL to video:
http://tinyurl.com/n2yva7s 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
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: http://tinyurl.com/nmmuw5x).
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:
Good roundup of coverage and opinion on "Why did the world ignore
Boko Haram's Baga attacks?" in The Guardian, Jan. 12, 2015
"I am Charlie, but I am Baga too: On Nigeria's forgotten
massacre," Simon Allison, The Daily Maverick, Jan. 12, 2015
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 http://tinyurl.com/mnna7yg
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
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
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.
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
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?
[Idayat Hassan is Director of the Centre for Democracy and
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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.
Report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the
United Nations Office for West Africa, 24 December 2014
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
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