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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

Nigeria election results: What Buhari’s win means

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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.

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

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

damaskPhoto credit to Emmanuel Braun / Reuters.

Nigeria, after a six-week delay, will elect its president today in its fifth regular set of elections since the return of quasi-civilian rule in 1999.chad flag iconnigeria_flag_icon

The reason that Nigerians are voting on March 28 and not on February 14 was to give the Nigerian army the time to subdue Boko Haram, a northern Islamist insurgent group. Facing a tough fight for reelection and skepticism that he can prevent Africa’s most populous country from fragmenting, what does Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan have to show for his six-week campaign extension?

Not so much.

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

RELATED: Nigeria emerges as Africa’s largest economy

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Despite exhortions by the Nigerian government that Boko Haram is on the run, there’s evidence that even as military forces take back ground previously lost to insurgents, Boko Haram is changing its tactics — for instance, by increasing the frequency of suicide bombings:

NBC News analyzed JTIC data from the six weeks before and after the day Nigeria postponed the elections. Boko Haram carried out 10 suicide operations between Dec. 28 and Feb. 8, according to the data — which is drawn from a wide spectrum of open-source media reporting. The number of suicide bombings rose to 12 in the six weeks from Feb. 9 to March 23.

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What’s more, hours before Nigerians cast their ballots for president, Idriss Déby, the president of neighboring Chad and one of sub-Saharan Africa’s more effective authoritarians, was giving rare interviews to the international media slamming Jonathan’s government. He claimed that the Chadian military was responsible for recent territorial gains, alleging that the Nigerian military is nowhere to be found, leaving Déby (pictured above) and Chadian forces suspended in a quasi-occupation of parts of northern Nigeria:

Mr. Déby’s anger at the Nigerians was barely restrained in the interview. “All we’re doing is standing in place,” Mr. Déby said. “And it is to the advantage of Boko Haram.”

“We’ve been on the terrain for two months, and we haven’t seen a single Nigerian soldier,” he added. “There is a definite deficit of coordination, and a lack of common action.” He said that time was running out for a larger victory against Boko Haram. “Soon it will be rainy season,” he said, explaining that it will be more difficult for troops to maneuver. “This will give Boko Haram a three-month bonus.”

Déby’s actions cut both ways. In one sense, it’s obviously emasculating to the Jonathan government, in particular, that it cannot control security through the entire territory of what is Africa’s largest economy. Like it or not, Déby’s success makes him an increasingly influential stakeholder in Nigerian government. On the other hand, the Chadian soldiers (along with the alleged use of South African and other mercenaries by Jonathan’s government to combat Boko Haram) have made just enough progress to give Jonathan a real shot at holding off his challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a former military head of state between 1983 and 1985 and a four-time contender for the Nigerian presidency. Continue reading Six weeks and Chadian intervention didn’t stop Boko Haram in Nigeria

Why a Buhari victory could ultimately strengthen Nigerian democracy

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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?

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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.

GEN BUHARI MEET TONY BLAIR IN LONDON

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?