Tag Archives: buhari

Buhari takes Trump call from London as Nigerians ponder president’s health

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke with Donald Trump on Monday, has been in London indefinitely for nearly a month. (Facebook)

It was something of a surprise to Nigerians to learn that their president was well enough to discuss global matters with US president Donald Trump on Monday, as much of the country has wondered for weeks if Nigeria’s leader is on his deathbed. 

Muhammadu Buhari, a longtime opposition figure who defeated sitting president Goodluck Jonathan in March 2015, on a promise to curtail widespread corruption, left Nigeria for a holiday in London on January 19. But he has not yet returned, pending the results of medical tests. His administration is incredibly opaque about the nature of Buhari’s illness and his medical tests, and in the absence of any real information about the president’s health, Nigerians are increasingly speculating that Buhari is being treated for grave illness or possibly already dead, at a time when Buhari’s administration is struggling to cope with economic and security challenges.

Buhari, in a cryptic letter on February 5, said that he would stay in London indefinitely ‘until the doctors are satisfied that certain factors are ruled out.’

No one knows whether Buhari scheduled the original London holiday in January for medical reasons, but it’s noteworthy that the 74-year-old Nigerian president skipped trips to neighboring African countries last summer while he made time for a 10-day trip last June to see his London-based doctors about an alleged ear infection.

Nevertheless, Buhari is apparently healthy enough to take a call from Trump, and a Buhari aide said that the new US president had kind words for Buhari’s work in tackling Boko Haram and other radical terrorist groups in Nigeria. Insofar as the presidential call provided Nigerians with some secondhand news as to the health of their president, the news is perhaps one of the nascent Trump administration’s top foreign policy accomplishments. Continue reading Buhari takes Trump call from London as Nigerians ponder president’s health

Why global oil prices seem likely to remain low throughout 2016

Iran is looking forward to ‘implementation day,’ when its nuclear energy deal takes effect and global sanctions are relaxed, allowing it to export oil more easily. (Reuters)

In 2015, we saw how falling oil prices affected world politics from Alberta to Nigeria. Net exporters like Venezuela, Russia and the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are feeling the drop in revenues, and that could accelerate political agitation as oil prices force budget cuts. USflagIran Flag Icon

As Brad Plumer wrote yesterday for Vox, explaining the fall in oil prices is simple. Supply has outstripped demand, and while global demand is still growing, it’s growing at about half the rate that it was even in mid-2015.

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RELATED: Sixteen global elections to watch in 2016

RELATED: Could Norway benefit from the oil price decline?

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The difference between $30 oil (about the current price level), $20 oil or $50 oil could make or break incumbents seeking reelection — lower oil prices mean fewer goodies at election time.

In 2016, that means oil prices could affect Scotland’s May regional elections by dampening the economic case for Scottish independence and, therefore, the electoral support for the Scottish National Party. It means that Russia’s September legislative elections could engender the same kind of political protests (or worse) that met the last elections in 2011. Lower oil prices are already endangering Ghanian president John Dramani Mahama’s hopes for reelection in December, given how much Mahama has staked on Ghana’s oil potential. It could even push Venezuela’s opposition, newly empowered as the majority in the National Assembly, to seek chavista president Nicolás Maduro’s recall even more quickly.

More generally, it could make life difficult for Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari. Not only will lower oil revenues hurt his capacity to deploy resources across Africa’s most populous country, but Buhari must find a way to deliver to Nigeria’s impoverished Muslim north, where Boko Haram continues to pose a security challenge, and Nigeria’s southeastern Igbo population, including Rivers state and Delta state, where much of Nigeria’s oil reserves are located. The southeastern challenge is particularly precarious, in light of the fact that Buhari defeated Goodluck Jonathan, the first president to come from Nigeria’s oil-rich southeast. A wrong step by Buhari could catalyze long-simmering demands for greater political autonomy or even secession.

On the demand side, the European Union (as a whole) imports more oil than any other country in the world — by a longshot. Lower prices could bring about the kind of truly robust economic growth that has eluded the eurozone for decades. That, in turn, could ameliorate the pressures of democratic backslide among the central European Visegrad Group, and it could goose economic activity in Mediterranean countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece, where no single political party has enough support for a majority government. That, in turn, could reduce support for radical leftist parties and bolster more moderate coalitions. It could, marginally, benefit incumbent governments in Ireland, Romania and elsewhere in 2016 and France in 2017. (The same effect, by the way, relieves a lot of pressure on faltering ‘Abenomics’ policy in Japan, too).

In his final state of the union address last night, even US president Barack Obama bragged about lower oil prices. If prices stay consistently low throughout 2016, it could marginally help Obama’s Democratic Party win the November general election.

Autocratic countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Angola, Algeria and Kazakhstan, could face popular protests.

So where are oil prices going? No one knows, but here’s what you have to believe if you think oil prices are going to rise substantially anytime in 2016: Continue reading Why global oil prices seem likely to remain low throughout 2016

Nigeria election results: What Buhari’s win means


It’s now official — Muhammadu Buhari, the former military head of state from 1983 to 1985, has won the Nigerian presidency in the closest election since the return of civilian rule in 1999. Buhari will be the first northerner to hold the office since the 2010 death of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s impossible to overstate just how important today’s election results are for Nigeria, for sub-Saharan Africa and for developing democracies. As an important partner for regional stability, Nigeria is one of the most vital allies of the United States in Africa today, even as it faces a handful of incredibly delicate security, economic and sociocultural challenges.

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RELATED: Six weeks and Chadian intervention didn’t stop Boko Haram in Nigeria

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With only the troubled northeastern state of Borno left to report results (a state that Buhari is expected to win easily), Buhari had 53.24% of the vote to just 45.67% for Jonathan, and he won not only the northern pro-Buhari states, but much of southwestern Nigeria as well (Buhari won the states marked in green below, Jonathan the states in red). Though the opposition, now merged as the All Progressives Congress (APC) already controlled Lagos, the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan traditionally wins greater support in the southwest.


So what does this mean for Nigeria and for Africa? Continue reading Nigeria election results: What Buhari’s win means

Why a Buhari victory could ultimately strengthen Nigerian democracy


I write for The National Interest tomorrow that former Nigerian head of state Muhammadu Buhari (pictured above) could strengthen Nigeria’s fledgling and imperfect democracy more than even the reelection of its current president (and US ally) Goodluck Jonathan.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s not exactly intuitive that a former military dictator, in essence, could wind up bolstering the rule of law. But if he wins, and his victory goes smoothly, it would establish a precedent for Nigeria — Jonathan’s admission of defeat and the peaceful transfer of power from one civilian government (in this case, the People’s Democratic Party) to the opposition (the All Progressives’ Congress).

Buhari, as a Muslim from Nigeria’s north, could easily succeed where Jonathan has failed in retarding the growth of the jihadist Boko Haram group. He could hardly do worse.

Perhaps more importantly, Buhari has a reputation for being genuinely averse to corruption, which dates back to his days leading Nigeria in the mid-1980s. Despite curtailing press freedom, Buhari is perhaps most well-known for his (failed) attempt to reduce graft in a country where oil wealth and a strong federal government has made corruption an endemic problem:

Nevertheless, Buhari led the most committed campaign in Nigerian history to eliminate graft and corruption, and his ambitious “war against indiscipline” sought to instill a sense of professionalism within the civil service and civic pride among the Nigerian population. It was Buhari’s intolerance for corruption that probably brought his government to an overhasty conclusion. Terrified elites, in both Nigeria’s north and south, breathed a sigh of relief when another military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, came to power in yet another coup. Babangida, who remained a powerful Nigerian political boss in the north after his own fall from power, has even endorsed Buhari in 2015, thirty years after deposing him…

Although the election appears, at first glance, like a Hobson’s choice between corrupt incompetence and pious dictatorship, there are reasons to believe that there’s a path for Nigeria to survive its 2015 election—and to emerge with its democracy not only intact, but strengthened.


What is Nigerian candidate Buhari really doing in London?


Since last weekend, leading Nigerian presidential challenger Muhammadu Buhari has been in London, even though he’s waging a spirited fight in what could easily be the most contested election since the return of civilian rule in 1999.nigeria_flag_icon

So what was he doing spending a week in the United Kingdom, over 4,200 miles away?

Buhari, the candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), who’s waging his fourth presidential campaign since 2003, was also Nigeria’s military head of state between December 1983 and August 1985 has been in the United Kingdom, waging a charm campaign that seems largely geared at allaying fears of Western government, specifically those of the United Kingdom and the United States, that a Buhari victory in Nigeria’s delayed March 28 election would represent a backtrack for democracy in Africa’s most-populous country and its largest economy.

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RELATED: Six weeks can’t defeat Boko Haram —
or fix Nigerian democracy

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He appeared at the leading think tank, Chatham House, in London on Thursday.

Though it was clear that his audience was Western policymakers and not Nigerian voters, Buhari’s remarks, at least at face value, were humble, measured and thoughtful, and he committed himself to democracy, not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa, expressing hope that a flourishing, democratic Nigeria could trigger a wave of consolidated democratization throughout Africa. Buhari’s victory could end, after 16 years, the dominance of the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria.

He spoke, sometimes eloquently, about how democratic elections alone are not enough to entrench democratic traditions in Africa.

As you all know, Nigeria’s fourth republic is in its 16th year, and this election will be the fifth in a row. This is a major sign of progress for us, given that our first republic lasted three years and five months. The second republic ended after four years and two months.

And the third republic was a stillbirth.

That last bit elicited laughter from the audience, because it was Buhari who led the military coup that brought the third Nigerian republic to its end three decades ago.

But Buhari ended his remarks by addressing his own baggage, the most controversial aspect of his candidacy. As Nigeria’s military head of state in the 1980s, Buhari led the coup that deposed Nigeria’s first elected president and subsequently governed in ways that violated human rights principles:

Let me close this discussion on a personal note. I have heard and read references to me as a former dictator in many respected British newspapers, including the well-regarded Economist. Let me say, without sounding defensive, that dictatorship was military rule. Though some are less dictatorial than others, I take responsibility for whatever happened on my government watch. I cannot change to the past, but I can change the present and the future. So before you is a former military ruler and a converted democrat.

Frankly, that’s a lot more apologetic than South Korean president Park Guen-hye, who only reluctantly expressed regret for the excesses of her father, South Korea’s military dictator for nearly two decades. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi hasn’t apologized at all for more than 1,000 Muslim killed in riots that took place in Gujarat in 2002, when Modi’s state government was accused of encouraging Hindus to take vigilante action.

Though Nigeria’s sporadic military rule firmly ended in 1999, its first ‘civilian’ president, Olusegun Obasanjo, was a Nigerian army general and his administration, which ended in 2007, found many top roles for Obasanjo’s former military pals. No one today could call Buhari, three decades after his own role in toppling an elected Nigerian president, a figure who wants to restore military rule. Ironically, perhaps, Nigeria’s military brass today generally favors the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan, and Buhari, a northern Muslim with a reputation as something of an ascetic who tried to reduce corruption in the 1980s, could upset the cozy links between Nigerian business and government.

But Western governments, which have worked closely with Jonathan since he assumed the presidency in 2010, have been wary of Buhari, questioning what his checkered past would mean in the event that he defeats Jonathan — a result that seems quite possible, according to ground reports and to polls.


There are two explanations for why Buhari, who also met quietly with former British prime minister Tony Blair (pictured above) over the weekend, would spend such a long time abroad in the heart of Nigeria’s toughest election in 16 years. Continue reading What is Nigerian candidate Buhari really doing in London?

Six weeks can’t defeat Boko Haram — or fix Nigerian democracy


Last weekend, Nigeria — the most populous country on the African continent — should have held its presidential election.nigeria_flag_icon

It didn’t, because the government, led by president Goodluck Jonathan, ordered the voting postponed for six weeks, from February 14 to March 28, to give the Nigerian military a little more time to do in six weeks what it hasn’t been able to do in six years — defeat the Boko Haram militants that control part of Borno state in northeastern Nigeria and threaten much more of northern Nigeria and northern Chad. That, in turn, has complicated efforts to provide voter cards to the largest electorate on the African continent.

When the government announced the election’s postponement, it looked more like a cynical attempt to buy six more weeks to shore up his campaign for reelection. Though Jonathan (pictured above) is the candidate of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), his inability to halt the rise of Boko Haram, and his unwillingness or inability to rein in Nigeria’s endemic corruption have left him vulnerable. Moreover, as a southerner, Jonathan never won over the trust of northern Nigerians. It didn’t help that Jonathan came to power in 2010 with the death of his predecessor, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and sought reelection in his own right in 2011. That upset the balance between northern and southern presidents, contributing greatly to the mistrust of Muslim northerners.

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RELATED: Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy

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Jonathan’s strategy may turn out to backfire, especially if (when?) he doesn’t eradicate the Boko Haram threat before the end of March, when voters may well replace him with his opponent, Muhammadu Buhari. Though Buhari is a northerner and is expected to sweep the Muslim north no matter what happens in the next six weeks, he hardly represents a breath of fresh air to Nigerian voters. He’s running for the fourth consecutive time, and he holds the distinction of having lost the Nigerian presidency not only to Jonathan in 2011, but to Yar’Adua in 2007 and to Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003.

Buhari, like Obasanjo, played a role in the era of Nigeria’s military dictatorships. He served as Nigeria’s leader from December 1983 to August 1985, taking power in a military coup that deposed one of Nigeria’s few elected presidents of the era, Shehu Shagari. Buhari has a reputation for probity and for intolerance of corruption, one of the factors in his own overthrow in 1985 at the hands of Ibrahim Babangida, another military leader — one that Nigerian elites found much more permissive to the widespread graft in government to which they had become accustomed in the 1970s and early 1980s. Though Buhari is, in essence, a three-time loser in the most recent era of Nigerian ‘democracy,’ voters increasingly believe that his military background and anti-corruption credentials could improve a country where fortunes could hardly be worse.

In addition to the Boko Haram threat, simmering ethnic tensions in the north, where 12 states have adopted a form of Islamic sharia law since the early 2000s, and in the southeast, which remains impoverished despite holding much of Nigeria’s oil wealth, threaten national unity. Jonathan and his finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, have been forced to cut the country’s budget as global oil prices plummeted in the past six months — and as the value of the naira has lost nearly 20% of its value in the same period.

To make matters worse for Jonathan, Obasanjo resigned yesterday officially from the PDP, dramatically tearing up his membership card and excoriating Jonathan’s leadership. It should come as no surprise that Obasanjo is backing away from Jonathan. Obasanjo stepped down in 2007 only after hand-picking Yar’Adua for president and Jonathan for vice president because he thought they would be pliable allies, allowing him to continue to direct Nigerian policy from outside the presidency. Yar’Adua quickly distanced himself from Obasanjo, as did Jonathan, who resisted calls last year from Obasanjo not to run for reelection.

Moreover, Obasanjo has not-so-quietly signaled his enthusiasm for the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) and for a Buhari presidency. Like Buhari, Obasanjo comes from the military and, like Buhari, he served as a military leader of Nigeria, from 1976 to 1979.

Whereas Jonathan might have hoped an extended campaign would give him time to consolidate his support, it might have the opposite effect, in essence giving Buhari a six-week period of triumphant campaigning. Earlier this week, Buhari traveled to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, for a rally, despite significant security concerns. It follows a surprise visit earlier this week by Jonathan to the state.

The rise of the APC, a coalition of opposition parties and disaffected PDP leaders, is in one sense good for Nigerian democracy, considering that the PDP has ruled Nigeria since the return of civilian rule in 1999. The risk is that an increasingly desperate Jonathan will try to win the election through fraud, splitting Nigeria on tense north-south lines at a time of economic and security fragility. Though Nigeria has held four consecutive, regular presidential elections, its democracy remains flawed and, according to many observers, deteriorating. Moreover, the Nigerian military, now used to 16 years of PDP rule, may be actively working to prevent a Buhari victory.

Nigeria has sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy, officially surpassing South Africa last year after recalibrating the way that its government measures GDP growth. It also has the continent’s largest population (173.6 million). So if democratic rule falters, or if Boko Haram grows to the point to destabilizing Nigeria’s already underdeveloped north, it will establish a disproportionate precedent for African governance across the continent. Colonial British administrators artificially joined the chiefly Muslim Northern Protectorate and the chiefly Christian Southern Protectorate in the 1950s prior to the country’s independence in 1960. Today’s disparity in resource allocation in favor of Nigeria’s southeast date back to the colonial era.

Shortly after independence, the country split on tripartite ethnic lines — the northern Hausa-Fulani, southwestern Yoruba and southeastern Igbo — culminating in the Biafra War of 1967-70. Though Nigeria ultimately defeated the southeastern secessionists and took a forgiving stance to post-war reconciliation, the first decade of Nigerian independence strengthened the military, which would come to dominate government for the next three decades. The war also resulted in the geopolitical division of Nigeria into what is today 36 states and its federal capital region of Abuja. While that’s empowered minority ethnic groups, at the expense of each of the three dominant minority groups (Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo), it has also strengthened the federal government, giving it more respective power over allocating resources from Nigeria’s oil resources — and more opportunity for corruption.

Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy


Earlier this month, Nigeria ‘recalibrated’ the way it calculates its gross domestic product to more effectively capture the real value of its economy.nigeria_flag_icon

It’s a step that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are taking — including Ghana in 2010 and Kenya this year — as they refine the tools they use to measure GDP growth. Nigeria, for example, hadn’t recalculated its base since 1990. Perplexingly, e-commerce, telecommunications and the country’s growing film industry (‘Nollywood’) hadn’t previously been captured.

Not surprisingly, the recalibration caused Nigeria’s official GDP to leap by nearly 75% to around $510 billion, making it Africa’s largest economy. That shouldn’t come a surprise to anyone, in light of predictions that Nigeria would overtake South Africa sometime by the end of the decade. Nigeria is the epitome of the newly emerging Africa. Lagos, its sprawling port, is now Africa’s largest city, recently surpassing Cairo. Its population, already Africa’s largest at 173.6 million, could surpass the US population within the next three decades or so.

But Nigeria’s newfound status is more the beginning of a journey than its terminus, a journey that will become especially pertinent to global affairs throughout the 21st century as Nigeria’s impact begins to rival that of China’s or India’s.

But today, Nigeria’s GDP per capita, even after the rebasing, is just around $3,000. That’s less than one-half the level of GDP per capita in South Africa, which is around $6,600. Though the stakes of Nigeria’s relative success or failure will become increasingly important to the rest of sub-Saharan Africa and to global emerging markets in the years ahead, there’s no guarantee that Nigeria, 54 years after its independence, won’t succumb to state failure.

Nigeria spent its first decade stuck in a tripartite ethnic struggle that ended in a devastating civil war, followed by bouts of military rule from which it emerged imperfectly in 1999. Lingering security challenges, like those posed by Boko Haram, a Muslim insurgency from Nigeria’s northeast, continue to expose the country’s ethnic tensions and the religious and socioeconomic gap between the relatively prosperous Christian south and the relatively underdeveloped Muslim north. Incipient political institutions plagued by a culture of corruption for decades, with less than fully formed democratic norms, could easily erase the stability gains made since the 1999 return to democracy. Although oil wealth has since the 1960s given Nigeria a financial means to solve its lengthy list of developmental, educational, and environmental problems, the mismanagement of oil revenues have so far transformed the wealth into a classic resources curse.

Existential challenges

Ethnic Groups in Nigeria

Even before independence, British colonial rule divided what is today’s Nigeria into a Northern Protectorate and a Southern Protectorate, and the two parts of today’s Nigeria were governed, nearly until 1960, as discrete units. Continue reading Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy