#PartnerArticle – Q & A: Assessing a Second Buhari Presidency in Nigeria

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Q & A: Assessing A Second Buhari Presidency in Nigeria.

Compiled and Edited by:  Sola Tayo, Senior Associate Fellow, CSAAP and Fulan Nasrullah, Executive Director, CSAAP

Nigerians have voted to give President Muhamadu Buhari another term in office. The presidential and legislative elections that took place on the 23rd of February 2019 were seen as a referendum on his leadership and that of his governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

That the APC has managed to solidify its position is reflective of the cut throat, winner takes all system of Nigerian politics. Although the party initially appeared cohesive when it was formed in 2013, cracks soon began to appear and it fell into the same spiral of power struggles and Machiavellian politics that brought down the previous governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But after a series of high-profile defections to the PDP it managed to regain its focus and keep its position as governing party for another four years.

One of the APC’s strengths lies in its national appeal -it was initially seen as an inclusive party with representation across all regions. But the clear regional divide in votes in the South and the drop in share of the popular vote for Buhari in the South West might recast the APC as a party of the North and may impact on its performance in the 2023 polls.

As for the PDP which finds itself in opposition for the second time, there are decisions to be made about its future direction. Will it allow itself a much-needed period of introspection and reform into an effective opposition capable of challenging the APC at local and national level or will it continue to rely on defections and possible further discord within the APC?

The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is preparing a legal challenge to overturn the result. Should he win, it will be unprecedented as no presidential election result has been successfully challenged since Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.

Assuming the PDP is unsuccessful, Nigerians have another term of a Muhammadu Buhari led government. But what have the past four years of his leadership meant for Nigeria and what can we expect to see in his next term?

Prior to the elections, and after a noticeably slow start, his government has commenced a number of big infrastructure projects – largely focusing on road and rail building. There are also LNG projects underway while the electricity sector reform is continuing.

However, questions remain over his protectionist economic policies and inward looking approach to Nigeria’s development at a time when other African states are adopting a more open approach to intercontinental trade. Nigeria remains one of a handful of African nations that has not signed up to the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTFA). The AfCTFA will create a single market and free trade area which will supposedly improve and enhance intra–African trade and Nigeria (the continent’s largest economy) will not be a part of it.

To better help the policy and strategy community understand what four more years of a Muhammadu Buhari administration will shape up to be, the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project (CSAAP) at the Global Initiative For Civil Stabilisation(GICS), reached out to a cross-section of the Nigeria experts community, to find out where they think Nigeria is heading.

Below are their views of on Muhammadu Buhari’s management of a number of policy issues from economic and infrastructure development to security and the rule of law.

RULE OF LAW

Rotimi Fawole – Lawyer and Columnist

“He is not a believer in the supremacy of the Rule of Law. This is not surprising given his military background on the one hand, but also the reason he gave for his conversion to being a democrat, on the other. According to him in his pre-2015 rebranding, he converted to democracy because he was amazed at how the Soviet Union fell without a single bullet being fired. Of course, he did not elaborate.

However, what we have seen from his Presidency is an egregious disregard for the Judiciary. Supported, either tacitly or explicitly, by the Attorney-General, the chairman of his anti-corruption committee and his Vice-President (all Senior Advocates of Nigeria), orders of court have been routinely ignored, it has been canvassed that the constitution be suspended to facilitate the so-called War on Corruption, and Justices of the Supreme Court have been assaulted. In his second term of office, the destruction of the pillars of justice is assured.

Some people genuinely believe that the economy nose-dived because “Buhari blocked corruption money”. Government spending as a fraction of GDP between 1999 and 2016 averaged less than 10% (the Federal Government’s is probably only half of that) but somehow, withholding a fraction of this tiny fraction has killed the rest.

And as for the war on corruption, the administration is quick to cite the number of ex-officials who have admitted to looting and refunded all or part of their booty. This is a good thing, to be clear. The problem is with the contentious matters, where the accused put the government to the strictest proof of its allegations. The government has shown itself completely hapless at building cases that meet evidentiary thresholds and well-inclined to dispense with rights and constitutional safeguards. In a Buhari second term, these precepts will be tested more audaciously than ever before.

The anti corruption fight has to stop being selective to be credible and he needs to respect the rule of law and separation of powers of the arms of the government.”

ECONOMY, DEVELOPMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Ronak Gopaldas – Director, Signal Risk

“There needs to be an urgent change in relations between business and the private sector. The current haphazard approach adopted by the government with regards to the regulatory environment (particularly in relation to foreign businesses and how they operate in Nigeria) has rattled investors and created an environment of distrust and unpredictability.

Given the current state of the Nigerian economy, clear, consistent and coherent economic policy direction and messaging is important to get investors back onside. There needs to be a recognition that Nigeria’s problems are too significant to overcome alone, and that the private sector should be a partner rather than an adversary in solving the country’s developmental challenges. The current antagonistic relationship is not sustainable.

It is important too, that Nigeria also ratifies the continental free trade agreement which could be a game changer for the African continent.”

JOHN ASHBOURNE – Capital Economics

“Another term for Mr Buhari will probably mean the continuation of the current policy framework – including the multiple track exchange rate system, Foreign Exchange rationing, and a focus on state-driven economic management. As a whole, we think that this will cause growth in Nigeria to fall far below its potential over the coming few years.”

Matthew Page – Associate Fellow, Chatham House

“Buhari is a leopard who is unlikely to change his spots at this late stage. His insular and undynamic governing style will ensure his second term resembles his first. Infrastructure development will remain state-driven and won’t meet the country’s pent up and ever-growing demand. Foreign investors will remain focused on engaging in those few states that are realising governance and ease of doing business improvements instead of waiting for federal level reforms that failed to materialise in Buhari’s first term.

On the AfCFTA: Nigeria appears to be on track to sign on to the AfCFTA, but President Buhari might ultimately decide against joining. Even if Buhari signs the pact, it is unclear whether his government would implement it. Nigeria, for example, has yet to fully implement the ECOWAS Common External Tariff adopted back in 2013. Overall, Nigeria is well positioned to reap huge economic benefits by joining the AfCFTA, but the parochial interests of some powerful businesses and Buhari’s penchant for protectionism could influence Nigeria’s final decision on the AfCFTA.

For President Buhari to make progress developing Nigeria and growing its economy, he needs to govern more dynamically and empower a wider network of talented, reform-minded Nigerians to energise and professionalise the country’s key institutions. He needs to rein in wasteful spending, cut red tape, right-size government, deliver public goods and push back against the patronage-based narratives that underpin Nigeria’s deeply flawed political culture.”

Feyi Fawehimi – Accountant and Public Affairs Commentator

”To an extent he has a much freer hand now. He is no longer seeking re-election and this mandate seems even more resounding than the 2015 one. For a man whose ideas have been held in aspic for a long time, there really is no incentive for him to change course. So I expect more of the same but this time, since everyone knows what to expect, they will find ways to work around him.

I don’t expect more changes except perhaps he takes a more hands off role and delegates more powers to his VP who has a more liberal approach to economic matters. But as 2023 campaigning will begin almost immediately, President Buhari will wield enormous powers over the process as he is the only one who can unite the north in a bloc vote so his endorsement is going to be priceless for anyone who can secure it and they will fall over themselves to do so. So Buhari’s ideas – a more active role for the state,focus on agriculture, fx and fuel price stability, hostility to the market economy – will continue to dominate going forward.”

NATIONAL SECURITY, PUBLIC SAFETY, BOKO HARAM

Chidi Nwaonu – Defence and Security Expert, Director of Peccavi Consults

“The question is:  How do you see the next four years of the Buhari Admin shaping up in the following areas?

Rule of Law:  We have the benefit of the last few years to make judgments, the Buhari Administration has shown a willingness to ignore court orders and due process in issues it believes to be vital to its core interest such as the Nnamdi Kanu, Dasuki, Zakzaky cases or the Chief Justice of Nigeria cases and the detention of journalists and commentators. Without the worry of reelection and having obtained a comfortable margin f victory, it is likely that this pattern will continue as there is no reason or incentive to change.

What could they do differently?  They could change the narrative by adhering even cosmetically to court rulings, very little would be lost by releasing Zakzaky to house arrest etc. From a selfish point of view as the Administrations term comes to an end they would have to consider how they would be treated if another party takes power. A good project for the Vice President to build his own patronage system (see below) would be judicial reform, using his offices and experience to reform and improve the Judiciary

Politics:  Politics will be fascinating, a cabinet reshuffle should logically follow a win, what will be interesting will be seeing how the different members of the coalition (ACN/ CPC et al) as well as PDP defectors are given The overarching political imperative is the fight for the 2023 Presidential slot, whilst this should naturally fall to the Vice President, it is likely he will be challenged by several prominent politicians from the North and the South East. How far the Northern challengers go will be key to how politically stable the next few years will be. Indicators will be how much of a free hand the VP has during any medical or other absences of the President and how many important or critical portfolios he is given to oversee. Without any of these he is unable to build up a patronage network or the necessary alliances to face down a challenge.

The opposition PDP will remain in disarray attracting disgruntled APC members and others whose brand is too toxic to cross carpet. By Nigeria’s rotational system their next candidate should be from the South East, however that would almost certainly end in electoral defeat, thus further internal tensions will arise when it appears the party reneges on this agreement. This apparent disenfranchisement of the Igbo’s gives another window to the neo-Biafrans of IPOB to regain the credibility they lost with their farcical performance this election cycle.

What could they do differently?  Logically the party would aim for an orderly transition and telegraph this early by increasing the Vice President’s powers and giving higher profile jobs to his recommended candidates. The President could also use his street credibility to sell the VP to the masses as someone who will represent their interest. At the same time, a concerted effort to reach out and mollify other Regions such as the South and South East with policies that would assist the people or large-scale infrastructure projects would help temper the narrative of the Buhari Administration of being sectional.

Public Safety:  Public safety will continue to decrease, outside of the main conurbations, the risk of kidnap and robbery, will continue to increase as the overstretched security forces fail to arrest the increasing criminality. Response to issues such as communal clashes, farmer/ herder clashes, armed robbery and banditry will continue to be reactive with the military being used to reinforce or replace the police as is the norm currently.

What could they do differently?  They should address deteriorating public safety as an urgent national emergency, setting up a Task Force led and coordinated at Ministerial level bringing together the various public safety and internal security agencies to stem the tide. Foreign assistance can be sought to reform the police and expand it to deal with the security threats. Local vigilantes in each state should be brought into the Police chain of command as local auxiliaries, with training, legal authority, uniforms and pay. Domestic intelligence gathering must be better streamlined and focused, with better coordination

Defense and National Security:  National security will continue to deteriorate, many of Nigeria’s problems remain beyond the control of the security forces, nor has there been any indication of a move towards a joined-up approach to defence and security. A key moment will be when/ whether the Service Chiefs are replaced, which will see yet another shake up in key staff positions in the Defence Headquarters and the Army. President Buhari has intimated that regime protection is at least part of his calculations in keeping the Service Chiefs in place however in order to maintain the loyalty of the wider cadre of General Officers, opportunities for upward advancement must be created, non of which can happen until the Service Chiefs are retired.

Operationally, the North West will continue to increase in lethality, it is likely that 2019/20 will see an organised defined anti-government armed group emerging in that region. General lawlessness will either increase or coalesce around this group or groups. The North Central crisis is likely to rumble on, and the cycle of violence will continue.

External threats include spillover of conflicts from Nigeria’s neighbours, Niger and Cameroon. Nigerian security forces will continue to be overstretched with a heavy reliance on firepower to solve problems. But there are likely to be more bilateral engagements in the regional security area, with neighbouring countries.

What could they do differently? A national defence review to look at Nigeria’s security problems holistically. However a massive expansion of the ground forces will be needed, with an appropriate uplift int he capabilities of the Armed Forces’ sustainment efforts. In addition to increasing numbers, training, equipment and doctrine should be changed to reflect current realities.

Foreign Policy:  Nigeria’s foreign policy such as it is will continue as it does now. There will be a lack of focus on African issues, rather the focus of this administration will be on relationships with China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France.

What could they do differently?  Nigeria would need to once more take a proactive and robust position on West African and African affairs. As Nigeria does not need to hew to any particular power bloc, it can identify its central foreign policy positions and manoeuvre relationships around that rather than reacting to events as they come up.

The Boko Haram Conflict:  Without a major foreign intervention or the recruiting and mobilisation of significant forces, it is likely that Nigerian forces could mostly cede Northern Borno and Yobe, holding only token positions. It is likely that ISWAP will tolerate these token positions as they (and their logistics chain) will serve as a source of supplies for them.

Boko Haram is likely to continue with its current level of violence, the question would be if Shekau died or became sufficiently weakened would it lead to infighting amongst junior commanders, wholesale defections to ISWAP, disintegration into smaller groups of fighters/ bandits or surrender to the security forces?

What could they do differently? Well built, well defended Forward Operating Bases would adequately resist enemy forces and deny them freedom of movement, while a well led, well equipped, and highly mobile group of forces would be able to chase Boko Haram or ISWAP into their safe areas and destroy them.

This would require a radical reform of training and deployment of troops, including recruiting a large number of fresh soldiers in order to continue the campaign and eventually relieve the troops in theatre. The reliance on air power should be refined to ensure response times improve and air strikes can be controlled by ground troops. Artillery use and accuracy needs to be increased and improved enabling troops to provide their own operational support.”

Jacob Zenn – Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University(USA), Associate Fellow at the Conflict Studies And Analysis Project at GICS

“President Buhari did not put new, innovative ideas on the table about countering Boko Haram before the elections and, if anything, the incentive he had was before the election to quell the violence to help his chances to win. Now that he has won there is no extra incentive to keep the insurgency down as much as he would like to do so in an ideal world. The Chadian forces in Borno may pressure ISWAP but their mandate has not been well articulated.

ISWAP, and to a lesser extent Boko Haram, is a strategic actor, and they will likely develop their lines of control slowly and gradually and benefit from learning from the mistakes IS “core” made in attracting too many foreign enemies; at the same time ISWAP will increasingly interact with the “core”, including receiving “advisors” from the Syria and Iraq theaters. There is no reason to foresee a weaker ISWAP four years from now while Boko Haram will likely remain stable, but what may be new is a resurgence from Ansaru (Ansarul-Muslimeena Fee Bilaadis-Sudan) to capitalize on unrest in Zamfara and mix with local populations and receive support from its Al-Qaeda allies in Mali.”

Vincent Foucher – Research Fellow, Centre Nationale De La Recherche Scientifique (France)

“The Northeast needs to be given priority again. This is not 2015-2016 anymore. Al-Barnawi’s faction ISWAP has survived the Nigerian Army’s pushback and has adapted. It now seems even Shekau is adapting, and many observers suspect the two factions may be coming closer. ISWAP is waging a guerrilla war while offering governance and services to civilians in and around the Lake. It is building credibility, an arsenal and an experienced force. It also seems contacts with, and possibly support from, the Islamic State have increased. This is a serious challenge, and the trend is worrisome. Key steps are fairly obvious:

  1. There needs to be a serious improvement of the operations of the Nigerian Army. It needs to provide a credible response, key to keeping the neighbouring countries involved. Military leaders need to be made accountable to the very top and on both their results and their use of the resources allocated to them. A serious recruitment drive seems necessary to allow for a better rotation of troops. Improvements in management seem necessary. Coordination between Air Force and Army needs to be drastically improved. While more airpower will come in handy, it cannot be a solution by itself.
  2. ISWAP is gaining recognition from the population, and even some support, partly because it punishes abusers within its ranks. The Nigerian Army has improved its human rights record, but it should do more, and publicly so. No guerrilla war can be won through massive human rights abuses.
  3. ISWAP is good at offering business opportunities, using the natural resources of Lake Chad and a comparatively light quasi-taxation to encourage people to produce and trade in the areas it controls. It provides a modicum of public services, including some justice, some education and some health (I hear it even recently embarked on a campaign to build latrines). The state needs to compete and provide solid services in the trench towns it controls.
  4. The Nigerian authorities suffer a serious credibility gap when it comes to cooperation with regional or international partners. They need to show commitment and welcome cooperation, even if that comes with some embarrassment, criticism and soul-searching.
  5. While there does not seem to be much room for serious talks right now, they will come at some point, and the authorities must keep that in mind. Meanwhile, offering decent, credible exit ways for Boko Haram fighters and supporters who want out (for there still are some, notably with Shekau) is essential – this includes Boko Haram wives under government control, who can offer a way to their husbands.
  6. War is too serious a matter to be left to the military, said French World War I Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau. There needs to be a greater opening of the public sphere in the northeast – journalists, academics, national and international NGOs, UN agencies, politicians must feel they can operate without pressure from the military. Their criticisms, even if at times unfair, must be borne and indeed should be encouraged – they can play a key part in improving the response. The security forces themselves need to be more transparent about developments on the ground. The recent insistence by security officials that the rockets fired by ISWAP on Maiduguri were actually a security training may seem like a minor episode, but over time, these episodes mean nobody trusts security officials, not even their own subordinates.

What is likely to happen?

Given the seriousness of the challenges in the northeast and the many other pressing issues in Nigeria, I fear that the regime may be tempted to rely too exclusively on expected improvements in air power rather than tackle the difficult but necessary improvements to the Army and to the government’s operations in the North east.

A reunification of Boko Haram and ISWAP would be surprising, given the bad blood – the division was not just a feud between Shekau and Nur. But some mutual tolerance and local cooperation is possible. Beyond that, the dynamics between the two factions is hard to predict. I suspect ISWAP will try to expand operations in Yobe and Adamawa, maybe even try and build up capacity in other northern states. It would make sense for ISWAP to look for better anti-aircraft systems than the guns it has for now – if they succeed, it could be worrisome.”

Africa Fulan Nasrullah Lake Chad Nigeria Sola Tayo