Nigerians ready to swap democracy for security?

nigeria buhariWith Nigeria’s presidential election only weeks away, Boko Haram’s unchecked rampaging here in the country’s north is helping to propel the 72-year-old general, Muhammadu Buhari (left), to the forefront, The New York Times reports:

After ruling Nigeria with an iron hand 30 years ago as the country’s military leader, Mr. Buhari is now a serious threat at the ballot box, analysts say, in large part because of Boko Haram’s blood-soaked successes…. As military ruler, Mr. Buhari showed little respect for the democratic process, rising to power in a coup that swept aside a civilian government and promising to include the political participation of Nigerian citizens “at some point.”

“The state is collapsing and everybody is frightened,” Jibrin Ibrahim, a political scientist with the Center for Democracy and Development, said of Boko Haram.

“They are able to capture more and more territory, but also increase the level of atrocity,” he added. “A lot of people are frightened that these people can take over the whole country. So a lot of people are saying, ‘Give Buhari a chance.’ ”

NigeriaA sense of déjà vu accompanies Buhari’s quest to win the presidency in Nigeria’s forthcoming elections, 31 years after he first rose to power in a coup, the FT’s William Wallis adds:

In 1983 as now, Africa’s leading oil producer was in the throes of an oil shock. The resulting collapse in state revenues revealed how bloated and corrupt government had become during the preceding boom, when politicians were awash with petrodollars.

Austerity beckoned, and General Buhari imposed it with a “war on indiscipline” in the 20 months before he was overthrown by rival officers. He has tried unsuccessfully to win back power at the polls three times since civilian rule was restored in 1999. But on each occasion — in 2003, 2007 and 2011 — world oil prices were either recovering nicely or close to peaking. The tough outlook this year for Africa’s largest economy, which depends on oil for more than 90 per cent of export earnings and 70 per cent of state revenues, sets the scene for a much tighter contest this time round.

“The conflict is rapidly intensifying,” Nathaniel Allen, Peter M. Lewis and Hilary Matfess, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, wrote in the Washington Post.

“Nigerian casualties are now running more than double those in Afghanistan and substantially higher than in Iraq just a few years ago. An estimated 3,120 civilian and military casualties were recorded in Afghanistan last year. In Iraq, 4,207 fatalities were estimated in 2011 in the wake of the surge. The worsening conflict in northern Nigeria already has suffered more casualties this year than the world’s most publicized contemporary wars.”

nigeria girlsSecretary of State John Kerry, moving to prevent another key U.S. counterterrorism ally from collapsing under a militant insurgency, on Sunday warned Nigeria’s top two presidential candidates that future military assistance will depend on February’s election being peaceful and transparent, The Wall Street Journal reports.   

Relations between American military trainers and specialists advising the Nigerian military in the fight against Boko Haram [which has been described as Africa’s ISIS] are so strained that the Pentagon often bypasses the Nigerians, choosing to work instead with security officials in the neighboring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger, according to New York Times reports.

The Foreign Policy Initiative held a conference call on the situation in Nigeria.  Key quotes and full audio from the event are available here.

*The Center for Democracy and Development is a longtime partner of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Boko Haram – Africa’s ISIS?

nigeria girlsGiven the upcoming general elections in Nigeria, the international community should pay greater attention to the increasing threat of Boko Haram, the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham writes for the Hill:  

Over the course of the last year, the Nigerian extremists best known for their infamous April 2014 kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls, an outrage which gave rise to the global social media phenomenon of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, have become a military force to be reckoned with. ….Over this past weekend, in a stunning humiliation to the Nigerian army, Boko Haram stormed Baga on the shores of Lake Chad, one of the last urban centers in the region remaining in government hands. Even more importantly, the town was supposed host the multinational joint task force set up by Nigeria and its neighbors — Cameroon, Chad and Niger — to combat the militants. The other African forces had not arrived on post when Boko Haram overwhelmed the Nigerian troops, many of whom reportedly threw down their weapons and fled, and took control of the military base that was to serve as the command center for the regional effort to combat the insurgency.

The best antidote to terrorism is improved governance, analysts suggest.

“Nigerians have a commitment to democracy, they want to vote,” said Pham. “But the question’s going to be whether people will stick their necks out with the danger that the person behind you might be a suicide bomber.” RTWT

Nigeria: Who is behind terror upsurge in Kano?

nigeria boko cfrSince mid-November there has been a flurry of terrorist attacks in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city, the metropolis of the northern half of the country, and an ancient center of Islamic culture, notes John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

Suicide bombers have carried out attacks on a gas station and a military facility. Casualties in each episode appear to have been about half a dozen. On November 28, there was a major attack on the Central Mosque in Kano, immediately adjacent to the Emir of Kano’s palace. Casualties were much higher, perhaps approaching two hundred, according to the Transition Monitoring Group, a highly respected Nigerian democracy advocacy group* that accuses the government of minimizing the number of victims.

But if Boko Haram is not responsible, who is?

Better governance most effective tool against Nigeria’s Boko Haram

nigeria boko cfrThe militant Islamist Boko Haram’s increasingly bold attacks in Nigeria threaten to fuel further Muslim-Christian violence and destabilize West Africa, making the group a leading concern for U.S. policymakers, writes John Campbell, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for Africa policy studies, in a new Council Special Report.

“The Boko Haram insurgency,” Campbell explains, “is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalization of northeastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.” Rather than fighting the militant group solely through military force, he argues, the U.S. and Nigerian governments must work together to redress the alienation of Nigeria’s Muslims.

Though the United States has “little leverage” over President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, Washington should “pursue a longer-term strategy to address the roots of northern disillusionment, preserve national unity, and restore Nigeria’s trajectory toward democracy and the rule of law.”

Campbell’s long-term recommendations comprise:

From politics to protest: taking it to the streets

IvanKrastevThe pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong are just the latest in a wave of political protests that has swept the world since late 2010. In “From Politics to Protest,” Ivan Krastev (left) examines why people have been taking to the streets, not only where they are denied the right to freely elect their leaders (as in Hong Kong), but also in countries where they fully enjoy the right to vote. Krastev suggests that elections are losing their capacity to make voters feel that their voices are being heard, and he explores what this may mean for the future of democracy.

India’s sixteenth general elections heralded a new era in the country’s politics: The Hindu-nationalist BJP won an unprecedented absolute majority in parliament, while the long-dominant Congress party suffered a stunning defeat. Four essays by leading experts explain the electoral outcome, look at the economic implications of the BJP’s victory, weigh the possibility of renewed communal violence, and give a big-picture assessment of India’s future.

jodoctIndonesia held successful parliamentary elections in April and presidential elections in July. Yet the news is not all good. The parliamentary contest was marred by pervasive “money politics,” as Edward Aspinall explains in “Politics and Patronage,” and the presidential race was nearly won by Prabowo Subianto, a populist who “promised to undertake the radical and dangerous experiment of restoring Indonesia’s pre-democratic order.” In “How Jokowi Won and Democracy Survived,” Marcus Mietzner cautions that “Indonesian democracy is still vulnerable, and will be for years to come.”

Elsewhere in the issue, Ghia Nodia writes on “The Revenge of Geopolitics,” part of a set of articles on “External Influence and Democratization” that also features pieces by Jakob Tolstrup and Steven Levitsky & Lucan Way; a pair of essays by João Carlos Espada and Liubomir Topaloff examine the rise of Euroskeptic parties in the EU and what it means; Richard Joseph explores the prospects for democracy in Africa through the lens of Nigeria; and Javier Corrales & Michael Penfold detail the growing trend in Latin America to relax or eliminate presidential term limits.

To see the complete Table of Contents, please visit