Buhari’s unwillingness to disclose the nature or extent of his illness fuels rumors that he is terminally ill or, periodically, that he has already died. Last month, Garba Shehu, a spokesman for the president, was forced to issue a series of tweets denying that anything unpleasant happened to the president. He added that reports of Buhari’s ill health are “plain lies spread by vested interests to create panic.” Buhari’s wife recently tweeted that his health is “not as bad as it’s being perceived.”
Regardless of the severity of his illness, Buhari’s extended absence risks igniting an ugly power struggle that would threaten not just the political fortunes of his ruling party but also a long observed gentleman’s agreement that has been critical to maintaining the stability of the country.
The unwritten power-sharing agreement obliges the country’s major parties to alternate the presidency between northern and southern officeholders every eight years. It was consolidated during Nigeria’s first two democratic transfers of power — in 1999 and 2007 — and it alleviated the southern secessionist pressures that had festered under decades of military rule by dictators from the north. For a time, this mechanism for alternating power helped keep the peace in a country with hundreds of different ethnic groups and more than 500 different languages. But it was never intended to be permanent, and as Buhari’s illness demonstrates, it has increasingly become a source of tension rather than consensus.
If Buhari, a northerner, doesn’t finish his term of office, and power passes to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian from the south, it will be the second time in seven years that the north’s “turn” in the presidency has been cut short. In late 2009, then-President Umaru Yar’Adua, who like Buhari was a Muslim from the north, traveled abroad for treatment for an undisclosed illness. When Yar’Adua died in office the following year, his southern Christian vice president, Goodluck Jonathan, succeeded him, setting the stage for an acrimonious split within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) over whether Jonathan should merely finish out Yar’Adua’s term or run to retain the office in the 2011 election.
In the end, Jonathan ran and won in 2011. But not before 800 people were killed in riots in the north after the PDP allowed Jonathan to contest the election. The anti-Jonathan faction later resigned in protest and defected to the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) party. Buhari led the APC to victory over the PDP in 2015.
An eerily similar scenario is now playing out in Buhari’s APC party. If Buhari dies, resigns, or is declared medically incapacitated by the cabinet, it would likely ignite a similar struggle within the APC over whether Vice President Osinbajo should permanently succeed him as president. A group of prominent northerners has already stated that Osinbajo should serve merely as an interim president and that he cannot replace Buhari on the ticket in the 2019 presidential election. Should Osinbajo succeed Buhari, win the 2019 election, and serve a full term, a Christian southerner will have been president for 18 of the 24 years since Nigeria transitioned to democracy in 1999.
There is a chance that APC leaders will convince — or force — Osinbajo to stand down in favor of another Muslim candidate from the north. But sidelining Osinbajo would pose other sectarian risks. He was chosen as Buhari’s running mate in part to counter southern accusations that the APC is a Muslim party. And although he is seen as a technocrat, Osinbajo is a powerful political force in his own right — too powerful, perhaps, to be sidelined in 2019 without alienating millions of voters. He is a pastor in the country’s largest evangelical church, which has some 6 million members, and his wife is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s early independence politicians who is beloved in southwest Nigeria.
Yet if the north’s “turn” in power is interrupted again, it will further alienate the region — already home to the bloody Boko Haram insurgency, which has thrived in part because of government neglect — and make north-south cooperation on security, development, and a host of other critical issues more difficult. It could easily lead to another round of deadly riots, as it did in 2011. But there is a way out.
Nigeria should abandon the convention of north-south presidential power rotation now that it has outlived its purpose. At the same time, it should deepen power sharing in state and local governments, which have steadily gained influence relative to the national government since 1999. Many of the country’s 36 states and 774 local governments already practice some form of power rotation among politicians from different ethnic, religious, and geographic groups. The key will be to frame the abolition of power rotation at the presidential level as an opportunity to strengthen these norms at the state and local levels — not a chance to terminate them everywhere at once.
The reality is that most Nigerians experience government at the local level anyway. Regardless of whether Buhari or Osinbajo is in the presidential palace, state and local officials have the most purchase on the lives of ordinary citizens. Letting go of a dangerous convention at the national level while devolving more power to inclusive governance structures at the local level offers a way out of the current impasse.
As usual in Nigeria there is a massive controversy brewing over the application of the country’s constitutional “federal character” provision for recruitment into a government agency. The State Security Service (SSS) is Nigeria’s equivalent of America’s FBI, the British MI5, or Israel’s Shin Bet.
Recruitment statistics for the latest batch of recruits into the SSS shows that new recruits from northern Nigeria overwhelmingly outnumbered those from the south. Katsina State (the home state of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and the the Director-General of the SSS Lawal Daura) had more recruits that any other state in the country. In a country as sensitive to allegations of nepositism, and ethnic, religious, or geographic favouritism as Nigeria, lopsided recruitment into a national agency is bound to cause trouble. Especially if recruitment shows that people from the same state as the president as the head of the SSS are being favoured.
The SSS commissioned 479 new recruits in March 2017. Of that 479 51 were from Katsina State alone, 165 are from the North-west, 100 from the North-east 100, and 71 from the North-Central zones of Nigeria. This means that over 70% of the latest SSS recruits were from northern Nigeria.
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Today is the 51st anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup. Rather than rehash it I have included video clips and audio interviews below with the key participants that will tell you all you need to know about it.
Various Articles, Interviews, and Resources on the First Coup: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/nigerias-january-15-1966-coup-50-years-later/
Video Series on the Nigerian civil war: https://www.facebook.com/Oil-Politics-and-Violence-Nigerias-Military-Coup-Culture-1966-1976-157457414278806/videos/
Brigadier Samuel Ademulegun (one of the victims of the first coup):
Brigadier Ademulegun and his wife:
My BBC article on the first coup: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35312370?ocid=socialflow_facebook#sa-ns_mchannel=rss&ns_source=PublicRSS20-sa
Article on/photo of Major Wale Ademoyega by someone who knew him well: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/the-nzeogwu-and-ademoyega-i-knew/
The Life of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (Nigerian Prime Minister who was killed during the coup):
Interview with Major Nzeogwu: https://maxsiollun.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/interview-with-major-nzeogwu/
Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.
Today is the 26th anniversary of the April 1990 coup attempt against General Babangida in Nigeria. Rather than rehash the events (which I have written about before) in this post, I have instead included links where you can read all about the coup in an account by one of its plotters, and another view of the coup by General Babangida’s former Chief Security Officer.
That coup was a watershed in Nigeria, and accelerated the turn of events that led to the insurgency in the Niger Delta, and indirectly to the controversy that followed the June 12, 1993 election annulment, and the “power shift” to the south in 1999.
If you want to read more about the Orkar coup and these tumultuous years, you can of course do so in my book “Soldiers of Fortune: A History of Nigeria (1983-1993)“.
Have a great weekend everyone.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s first military coup. Rather than rehash it I have included video clips and audio interviews below with the key participants that will tell you all you need to know about it.
BBC interview with coup participant Captain Ben Gbulie:
Interview with coup participant Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu:
Major-General Aguiyi-Ironsi’s first press conference:
President Azikiwe speaks about the coup:
Prime Minister Balewa’s corpse found: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1853738186911/
20 years in Nigeria: 1960-1979:
Ironsi’s funeral: https://www.facebook.com/157457414278806/videos/1100564156634789/
Amazing how history repeats. Sixteen years ago a retired general was sworn in as Nigeria’s president and vowed to fight corruption. He vowed:
“The beneficiaries of corruption…will fight back with all the foul means at their disposal…There will be no sacred cows. Nobody, no matter who and where, will be allowed to get away with the breach of the law or the perpetration of corruption…”
From Eagle Square in Abuja, Nigeria. A lot of “chatter” about Buhari’s new aide-de-camp (ADC) Lt-Colonel M. Lawal Abubakar (of the military police). People were curious about his white uniform and red cap. Incidentally a military police officer as ADC to the President gives a strong clue as to who is likely to be the next National Security Adviser or Minister of Defence under Buhari. It has been rumoured for a while that former Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Abdulrahaman Bello Dambazau would have a prominent role in Buhari’s government. Well, when he was in the army Dambazau served in…the military police (the same corps as Buhari’s new ADC)…
The military ceremony was led by the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of the Brigade of Guards Master Warrant-Officer Kolo Aboko (under the command of the commander of the Brigade of Guards Brigadier-General Anthony Bamidele Omozeje). They presided over the handing over the ceremonial instruments of office (Nigerian flag and armed forces flag from former President Jonathan).
Buhari’s full inaugural speech: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/05/read-president-buhari-inaugural-speech/
A video report on the controversies of Buhari’s first tenure in government.