In Nige­ria, pol­i­tics and mil­i­tancy go hand in hand

Nige­rian Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, whose po­lit­i­cal coali­tion and party have suf­fered dozens of de­fec­tions in the Na­tional Assem­bly, will face a sig­nif­i­cant elec­tion test in Fe­bru­ary, when he hopes to win a sec­ond term.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

Elec­tions sched­uled for Fe­bru­ary will come into fo­cus as Nige­ria en­ters the fi­nal quar­ter of 2018. Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari will be run­ning again, though dozens of de­fec­tions from his rul­ing All Pro­gres­sives Con­gress (APC) party to the Peo­ple's Demo­cratic Party (PDP), the main op­po­si­tion party, have al­tered the bal­ance of power within the Na­tional Assem­bly and will test his re-elec­tion plans. And in Nige­ria, pol­i­tics and mil­i­tancy go hand in hand, and the coun­try's lead­er­ship at times has tac­itly backed, ex­ploited and used in­se­cu­rity as a po­lit­i­cal weapon. The close con­nec­tion be­tween pol­i­tics and mil­i­tancy cer­tainly will be a key fac­tor in de­ter­min­ing whether Buhari, a for­mer mil­i­tary head of state turned civil­ian pres­i­dent, will be able to earn a sec­ond term.

The Big Pic­ture

Nige­ria will be fo­cused on up­com­ing na­tional and state elec­tions over the next six months. And that means the coun­try's di­verse eth­nic groups and re­gions will try to spin the elec­tions in their favour. Ex­ploit­ing, ma­nip­u­lat­ing and us­ing Nige­ria's in­se­cu­rity is a key part of that process, which makes the coun­try's se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion over the next six months espe­cially im­por­tant.

Pol­i­tics and Mil­i­tancy

More than 190 mil­lion peo­ple are crammed into Nige­ria, which is roughly twice the size of Cal­i­for­nia. Although Africa's most pop­u­lous coun­try is com­monly de­scribed as be­ing split roughly in half be­tween the Mus­lim north and Chris­tian south, this over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion ig­nores the sig­nif­i­cant di­vi­sions be­tween the Ka­nuri and Hausa eth­nic groups in the north and the Yoruba, Igbo and Ijaw eth­nic groups in the south. For a na­tion-state ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated in its colo­nial past, man­ag­ing these di­vi­sions – north-south, east-west, Chris­tian-Mus­lim – has proved dif­fi­cult. Be­tween 1966 and 1993, the govern­ment was over­thrown eight times and sev­eral po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers were killed in coups, coun­ter­coups and coup at­tempts as mil­i­tary of­fi­cers of dif­fer­ent back­grounds sought to con­trol and ex­ploit the coun­try for their re­spec­tive con­stituen­cies.

There has not been an at­tempted coup in Nige­ria since it changed to civil­ian govern­ment in 1999. Since then, its po­lit­i­cal elite has fol­lowed an un­writ­ten rule that power should ro­tate among the coun­try's di­verse pop­u­la­tion. Nige­ria has been ef­fec­tively split into six geopo­lit­i­cal zones: the North-West, North-East, North-Cen­tral, South-West, South-East and South-South. Each re­gion more or less rep­re­sents a key eth­nic group or stake­holder, such as the Yoruba (South-West), Igbo (South-East), Ijaw (South-South), Hausa (North-West) and Ka­nuri (North-East). Power ro­tates among these six zones while os­cil­lat­ing be­tween the larger north and south. The vice pres­i­dency also ro­tates among the zones in a way that pre­vents the north or south from hav­ing the pres­i­dency and vice pres­i­dency at the same time. In the­ory, this setup en­sures that nei­ther the north or south can mo­nop­o­lize power and that each of its eight zones – over the course of 48 years – would con­trol the pres­i­dency for eight years and the vice pres­i­dency for eight years.

This ar­range­ment has al­lowed Nige­ria to man­age some of its flash­points and al­lowed for po­lit­i­cal power to be more bal­anced. But the coun­try has con­sis­tently faced in­sur­gen­cies and in­se­cu­rity that var­i­ous politi­cians and tribal el­ders have ex­ploited as they jock­eyed for in­flu­ence and power within this struc­ture. A crit­i­cal ex­am­ple oc­curred when Good­luck Jonathan (from the South-South) as­sumed the pres­i­dency in May 2010 af­ter the death of Umaru Yar’Adua (from the North-West). He and his

al­lies used the Niger Delta in­sur­gency, led by groups like the Move­ment of the Eman­ci­pa­tion of the Niger Delta and backed to a de­gree by lo­cal politi­cians, to help se­cure his term as pres­i­dent in Jan­uary 2011. Jonathan suc­cess­fully ar­gued that he, as a son of the Niger Delta, could bring peace to the re­gion through a ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment and amnesty pro­gramme.

Buhari's Rise to Power

Buhari had a sim­i­lar mes­sage when he de­feated Jonathan in the 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Jonathan had been crit­i­cized in the north and South-West for dis­rupt­ing the bal­ance of power by run­ning for a sec­ond term – for seek­ing, in ef­fect, more than eight years in of­fice, in­clud­ing his suc­ces­sion af­ter Yar’Adua's death. At the same time, the rise of the Is­lamic State West Africa Prov­ince (ISWAP), for­merly and com­monly known as Boko Haram, of­fered the north an op­por­tu­nity. As the coali­tion around Jonathan fell apart over his con­tro­ver­sial run, most of the north­ern branch of the PDP al­lied with Buhari, who promised to de­feat Boko Haram and end the cor­rup­tion that plagued the govern­ment run by Jonathan and his Niger Delta al­lies.

Buhari won the pres­i­dency with an al­liance be­tween the north and the South­East, but his coali­tion has proved to be flimsy for sev­eral rea­sons. First, while his anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign has pro­duced some high-pro­file suc­cesses, his crit­ics have ac­cused him of us­ing it to tar­get po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, par­tic­u­larly Chris­tian ones in the south. Sec­ond, the econ­omy un­der Buhari has stag­nated as his eco­nomic team has strug­gled to re­spond to lower oil prices, which fell pre­cip­i­tously as he took of­fice in 2015. Third, he has been ac­cused of pur­su­ing a pol­icy of "north­erniza­tion" by putting his north­ern al­lies in charge of key port­fo­lios and in­dus­tries, such as the en­ergy sec­tor. Fourth, Buhari's heavy-handed strat­egy against mil­i­tants has come un­der scru­tiny this year, par­tic­u­larly thanks to a resur­gence by Boko Haram. Fi­nally, the 75year-old pres­i­dent has spent con­sid­er­able time in Lon­don for health rea­sons – in­clud­ing two weeks in Au­gust and more than three months in 2017 – gen­er­at­ing con­cern that he will not be able to com­plete a sec­ond term.

For these rea­sons, Buhari's al­liance has frac­tured. Be­yond the de­fec­tions within the Na­tional Assem­bly, the op­po­si­tion PDP leads the Coali­tion of United Po­lit­i­cal Par­ties, a col­lec­tion of more than 30 op­po­si­tion par­ties al­lied for Fe­bru­ary's pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, it looks like the PDP will also be zon­ing the pres­i­dency to the north, and most likely the North-West where Buhari is from. This will blunt Buhari's ad­van­tage through­out the north and likely al­low the PDP to re­main strong in the Niger Delta re­gion, where the APC has strug­gled to break through.

The re­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the po­lit­i­cal scene means that dif­fer­ent politi­cians will try again to ex­ploit the se­cu­rity en­vi­ron­ment to gain elec­toral ad­van­tage. Thus far Buhari's strat­egy with mil­i­tants has bal­anced be­tween sticks and car­rots, but he has opted for a mil­i­tary response when in doubt. There are four key ar­eas of in­se­cu­rity – the North-East, South-East, Niger Delta and Mid­dle Belt – that will be piv­otal ar­eas for the next year's elec­tions.

North-East: Boko Haram's Resur­gence

While ISWAP is no longer a threat to con­trol large swaths of ter­ri­tory in Nige­ria, the ter­ror­ist group has suc­cess­fully con­ducted at­tacks and the risk of such at­tacks has in­creased in 2018. ISWAP mil­i­tants have had no prob­lem get­ting fi­nanc­ing, weapons, am­mu­ni­tion and ex­plo­sives by raid­ing mil­i­tary con­voys and bases and ex­tort­ing money through kid­nap­ping. To­day ISWAP is split into two fac­tions. The first is led by Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram af­ter the death of founder Mo­hammed Yusuf in 2009. This fac­tion pri­mar­ily tar­gets civil­ian sites such as mosques, schools and refugee camps. The sec­ond fac­tion, led by Abu Musab alBar­nawi, a son of Yusuf, has been grow­ing in its ca­pa­bil­i­ties this year and has re­cently at­tacked mil­i­tary bases and se­cu­rity forces, though it has not tar­geted civil­ians as much (the main rea­son for the split). Buhari's prom­ise to solve the Boko Haram prob­lem earned him near-uni­ver­sal sup­port in the north in 2015. With the PDP now likely pit­ting its own north­ern can­di­date against him, Buhari needs more than prom­ises to win sup­port there. He ini­tially found suc­cess against ISWAP by launch­ing a heavy offensive against the group when it held ter­ri­tory, but he has not been able to solve many of the un­der­ly­ing rea­sons why ISWAP con­tin­ues to at­tract re­cruits in the North-East.

The area, which does not have the eco­nomic weight of the North-West, al­ways has been one of Nige­ria's more ne­glected parts. The Ka­nuri eth­nic group also pales in size to the Mus­lim Hausa pop­u­la­tion. Boko Haram orig­i­nally was able to take ad­van­tage of Ka­nuri marginal­iza­tion to at­tain a steady flow of re­cruits, and while it has widened its ide­ol­ogy to bring more Hausa into its fold, it con­tin­ues to use the North-East as a re­cruit­ing ground. Buhari sim­ply can­not solve the re­gion's eco­nomic prob­lems with­out tak­ing eco­nomic spoils –

mainly gen­er­ated from oil rev­enue – from else­where in Nige­ria. It's a zero-sum game.

Niger Delta (South-South)

De­spite Jonathan's los­ing the pres­i­dency three years ago, the Niger Delta – a for­mer hot­bed of mil­i­tancy – has re­mained rel­a­tively quiet for much of Buhari's term. This is in stark con­trast to the late 2000s when the Move­ment for the Eman­ci­pa­tion of the Niger Delta and other groups en­joyed wide­spread tacit po­lit­i­cal sup­port and con­ducted fre­quent at­tacks. In fact, with the ex­cep­tion of some com­mon lo­cal-level sab­o­tage, there has not been a ma­jor at­tack on Nige­ria's oil and gas in­fra­struc­ture since 2016, de­spite con­tin­ued threats by new groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers.

A cou­ple of rea­sons ex­plain the quiet. First, Ijaw tribal el­ders and many of the state gover­nors and mil­i­tants from the 2006-09 peak of Niger Delta mil­i­tancy have not sup­ported a re­turn to arms. The govern­ment of­fered many of the re­gion's mil­i­tant lead­ers lu­cra­tive con­tracts to pro­tect cer­tain fa­cil­i­ties, and many rankand-file mem­bers signed up for an amnesty pro­gram that be­gan un­der Jonathan. Thus a younger gen­er­a­tion of Niger Delta mil­i­tants have not found the same po­lit­i­cal space in which to op­er­ate as their pre­de­ces­sors.

Sec­ond, Buhari has main­tained a heavy mil­i­tary pres­ence in the re­gion to pro­tect some key fa­cil­i­ties. Nonethe­less, the APC and PDP will be squar­ing off po­lit­i­cally there, which is likely to re­main a PDP strong­hold be­cause the APC has strug­gled to make in­roads. Vi­o­lence is not likely to in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly ahead of next year's elec­tions, but should Buhari's cam­paign be­come more ag­gres­sive and dis­con­tinue some of the con­ces­sions he has made, such as se­cu­rity con­tracts, the Niger Delta could be­come ac­tive again if he wins re-elec­tion.

Bi­afra Move­ments (South-East)

To the Niger Delta's north sits the South­East geopo­lit­i­cal zone. The re­gion was home to Bi­afra se­ces­sion and an un­suc­cess­ful war for in­de­pen­dence in the 1960s. Since Buhari took of­fice, the South-East has seen a resur­gence in the Bi­afra in­de­pen­dence move­ment, par­tic­u­larly from the Igbo eth­nic group, af­ter the Jonathan govern­ment at­tempted to ap­pease them through con­ces­sions. There are sev­eral dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the Bi­afra move­ment, but the most sig­nif­i­cant one is the In­dige­nous Peo­ple of Bi­afra (IPOB).

IPOB, along with other Bi­afra move­ments, con­tin­ues to back se­ces­sion as a pos­si­bil­ity. Buhari's response has been heavy-handed, and the mil­i­tary has con­ducted sev­eral ex­er­cises in the re­gion over the past three years. One ex­er­cise in Septem­ber 2017 led to the dis­ap­pear­ance of IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu, who has not been seen or heard from since. Thus far, IPOB and the other move­ments have pur­sued non­vi­o­lent ac­tions, or­ga­niz­ing strikes, sit-ins and stay-at-homes.

While there is a young pop­u­la­tion of Ig­bos back­ing se­ces­sion, the move­ment's ca­pa­bil­i­ties are limited, and many tribal el­ders and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers rec­og­nize that an in­de­pen­dent state of Bi­afra is not re­al­is­tic. In­stead, they are likely to at­tempt to ex­ploit the Bi­afra move­ment's resur­gence in Nige­ria's ro­ta­tional power struc­ture. To date, the South-East zone has yet to hold the vice pres­i­dency or pres­i­dency. The area's lead­ers even­tu­ally will seek to ex­ploit the vi­o­lence in their state and their abil­ity to ap­pease it to try to en­sure that when power ro­tates back to the south, it will go to a per­son from the South­East.

The Mid­dle Belt (Pri­mar­ily North-Cen­tral)

Per­haps the re­gion where con­flict could be a chal­lenge is in the Mid­dle Belt, or roughly its North-Cen­tral geopo­lit­i­cal zone. Con­flict here has been over­shad­owed by the Niger Delta, Boko Haram and the Bi­afra in­de­pen­dence move­ments, but the re­gion is no less im­por­tant. Much like the South­East, the Mid­dle Belt has been ne­glected po­lit­i­cally when power ro­tates north. Vi­o­lence in the North-Cen­tral states of Plateau and Benue has been be­tween herders, who are mainly Mus­lim HausaFu­lani, and farm­ers, who are pri­mar­ily Chris­tians. More than 500 peo­ple are es­ti­mated to have been killed in 2018.

Given the Mid­dle Belt's po­si­tion be­tween the north and south, it is a crit­i­cal point of bal­ance that could de­cide next year's pres­i­den­tial elec­tion if the north is split be­tween the APC and the PDP and the south re­mains di­vided be­tween the pro-APC South-West and pro-PDP Niger Delta. This puts Mid­dle Bel­ters in an im­por­tant po­si­tion, and Buhari has been ac­cused of over­look­ing the re­gion (just like Jonathan did). The tim­ing is per­haps not right for the Mid­dle Belt to de­mand the pres­i­dency, but it doesn't mean that both sides of Nige­ria's po­lit­i­cal equa­tion won't hun­ker down and try to of­fer the re­gion their own so­lu­tions.

“In Nige­ria, Pol­i­tics and Mil­i­tancy Go Hand in Hand” is re­pub­lished un­der con­tent con­fed­er­a­tion be­tween Fi­nan­cial Nige­ria and Strat­for.

Thus far Buhari's strat­egy with mil­i­tants has bal­anced be­tween sticks and car­rots, but he has opted for a mil­i­tary response when in doubt.

A scene of the in­va­sion of the Na­tional Assem­bly last month by masked op­er­a­tives of the Depart­ment of State Se­cu­rity

Some armed mil­i­tants in Nige­ria’s oil-rich Niger Delta

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