A Peaceful Handover of the Presidency in Nigeria

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This month’s Presidential election in Nigeria, in which Mammadu Buhari defeated sitting President Good Jonathan, showed the best of what Nigeria can achieve. After his PDP party had been in office 16 years, Jonathan publicly conceded defeat to Buhari, offering to Nigerian a rare peaceful transition of Presidential power.   Much of the world had been anticipating post-election violence in reaction to Buhari’s victory amid allegations of election fraud.

Not to detract from Nigeria’s accomplishment, but there were certainly conditions in place conducive to a non-violent concession of power. First, Nigerians tend to vote along ethnic lines, and Jonathan is an Ijaw, the fourth largest ethnic group in the country, and so there is not a critical mass of Ijaw voters to defend his rule.  Second, Jonathan came to office in the first place because President Yar’Adua died in office, so some felt Jonathan lacked legitimacy as President to begin with (although he won his 2010 election, which included defeating Buhari). Third, Jonathan’s Presidency had upset the agreed upon alternating Presidencies between Christians and Muslims since he filled in for a Muslim President. Some northerners felt it was a Muslim’s turn to be in office. Buhari was already in office for 20 months in the 1980s as a military ruler, so his victory is certainly not a story of a new candidate coming out of nowhere and unseating an elected President peacefully, which would be a fair grander tale. Lastly, Buhari’s victory was clear, as he gained the votes of 21 states over Jonathan’s 15, demonstrating a clear and difficult-to-contest victory. Let’s hope the well wishes last until Buhari takes office on May 29.

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Postponement of Elections Hurts Democracy in Nigeria

Nigerians were supposed to go to the polls on Saturday for their Presidential election. However, the election was postponed by Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to purportedly focus its attention on defeating Boko Haram. The election is now scheduled for March 28, but an extra six weeks hardly seems to be enough to time to help end religious terrorism in the North. Those critical of the postponement are right to point out that the PDP is just securing more time to rally campaign resources. The party was unprepared for the rise in popularity of the opposing candidate, former 1980’s ruler General Muhammadu Buhari, and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Former President Obasanjo was incensed enough by the decision that he tore up his PDP membership card in public today. This was a major blow to the party since he has been one of their ardent supporters since the party took power 15 years ago. The PDP itself is now suffering from its misstep, as party leaders are obviously divided.

The largest tragedy of the postponement is that it is a symbolic win for Boko Haram. As an Islamic fundamentalist group, it is opposed to elections and the democratic system as a whole. Following through with the elections would have been the move necessary to show the group that democracies do no kowtow to terrorist threats. It is further troubling because through Nigerian’s postcolonial history of over a dozen military coups, postponement of elections has been part and parcel of leaders’ attempts to maintain power in the face of a potential defeat at the polls. Many of us had hoped that period had ended with the transition to “democracy” in 1999, but Jonathan’s move is a worrisome step back in that direction.

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The Council on Foreign Relations tracks security in Nigeria

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Last year, the Council on Foreign Relations published an article about the two current narratives on prospects for Nigeria. The first is positive when one notes the last peaceful handover of Presidential power. Events there have unfolded rather favorably since its Umaru Yar’Adua fell ill in late 2009 and the country was left leaderless. That raised fears of a military coup, but then Goodluck Jonathan emerged to fill the power vacuum, first as an extraconstitutional ‘acting president,’ then as a constitutional successor after Yar’Adua’s death and finally as the elected executive following the 2011 elections. This optimistic narrative notes that those elections were praised by international observers as better than in the past—and hence they reflected the will of the national majority. An amnesty for militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta, combined with disarmament, training and reintegration, ended a long insurrection there.

One serious specter, however, still haunts the country—the expansion of the Islamic ‘terrorist group’ Boko Haram, with its global connections. Hence, Nigeria’s security challenge has become internationalized, and Westerners grappling with Islamist movements need to keep a sharp eye on that situation.”

Although it is highly debatable whether the Amnesty Programme can be said to have “ended” the oil insurgency (see Hinshaw’s article), it is true that Boko Haram is by far the most pressing security issue in the country now.  It is becoming even more worrisome since the rise of al-Qaeda in post-coup Mali, a country with porous borders that is poised to become an epicenter for fundamentalism not only in the Sahel but West and East Africa as well.  The Council on Foreign Relations has created the Niger Security Tracker in order to follow such developments.

The Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program, documents and maps violence in Nigeria that is motivated by political, economic, or social grievances. They write, “Different groups in Nigeria resort to violence. The militant Islamist movement Boko Haram is active in northern Nigeria. Violence among ethnic groups, farmers, and herdsmen sometimes acquires religious overtones. A new generation of Niger Delta militants threatens war against the state. Government soldiers kill civilians indiscriminately. Police are notorious for extrajudicial murder.”

This database on violence is the only one I know of that was updated weekly and the interactive maps on the website can be broken down by state, a feature particularly important when looking at Boko Haram’s geographic patterns. For 2012:

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Job Creation is Not Enough to Stop Militancy

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Fighters in a boat (Photo credit: IRSN)

Perhaps in response to the recent WSJ article, a blog reader recently emailed to ask my opinion on the assertion that job creation stops militancy. There are two trains of thought, one is that oil companies should make the jobs as payment to Nigerians for use of land and the other is that the jobs should come from local and non-oil sources in order to contribute to a diversified and stable economy.  I will start with the first. In my opinion, it is not correct when people say that job creation in the oil-related sector stops violence.  Job creation lowers rates of violence because employment pulls non-committed militants away from the movement and simply keeps more men busy so they have less time for violence, but even once they are employed with foreign firms Nigerians are underpaid and have the lowest positions and rarely move up. Then they become disgruntled employees (as opposed to just disgruntled unemployed men). The reason that they are underpaid and have the worst positions is because they often don’t have the formal education, job skills, or work culture to function well at foreign oil companies. I would amend this idea to say that the creation of well-paid local jobs would stop the violence, but those jobs will never ever be well-paid when Chinese, Indian, and Russians workers are imported to Nigeria to work for the same amount, and be seen as better employees than local Nigerians.

As to job creation in non-oil sectors, yes, that would lower violence but that is really a larger issue of overall economic development in Nigeria. Obviously if every Nigerian was gainfully employed with a good standard of living then that would presumably end the Niger Delta insurgency, since violence is inversely proportional to economic development generally. For me however, the sheer number of unemployed men in the Delta (surely hovering around 50%) will always outpace any increase in the number of local jobs created with any government program, so as one militant leaves the movement another one will replace him. So, theoretically non-oil jobs would probably end violence but realistically that would be improbably just based on the population number of the Delta.

Niger Delta Amnesty Program Fails to End Militancy

The Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw recently reported on the Niger Delta Amnesty Program (See article here). He wrote:

Alhaji Dokubo-Asari once stalked the mangrove-choked creeks of the Niger Delta, a leaf stuck to his forehead for good luck, as a crew that he ran bled oil from pipelines and sold it to smugglers. “Asari fuel,” they called it.

Last year, Nigeria’s state oil company began paying him $9 million a year, by Mr. Dokubo-Asari’s account, to pay his 4,000 former foot soldiers to protect the pipelines they once attacked. He shrugs off the unusual turn of events. “I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said the thickly built former gunman, lounging in a house gown at his home here in Nigeria’s capital.

Nigeria is shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars a year to maintain an uneasy calm in the oil-rich delta, where attacks ranging from theft to bombings to kidnappings pummeled oil production three years ago, to as low as 500,000 barrels on some days. Now production is back up to 2.6 million barrels daily of low-sulfur crude of the sort favored by U.S. refineries, which get nearly 9% of their supply here.

The gilded pacification campaign is offered up by the government as a success story. But others say the program, including a 2009 amnesty, has sent young men in Nigeria’s turbulent delta a different message: that militancy promises more rewards than risks.

Violence in the Niger Delta

Militants in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta began a campaign of kidnappings and pipeline bombings in the early 2000s, upset over pollution and the region’s endemic poverty. After a government-sponsored amnesty program in 2009, violence dropped and production went back up. But oil theft, a lucrative criminal industry, has drawn many militants new and old back into the delta’s winding creeks. While richly remunerated former kingpins profess to have left the oil-theft business, many former militant foot soldiers who are paid less or not at all by the amnesty, and have few job prospects, continue to pursue prosperity by tapping pipelines.

Now, oil theft appears to be on the rise again. Royal Dutch ShellRDSB.LN +1.12% PLC’s Nigerian unit estimates that more than 150,000 barrels of oil are stolen from Nigerian pipelines daily. That is one of the lower estimates. In May, theft from one pipeline got so bad that Shell simply shut it down. “Everybody seems to believe…that the Niger Delta problem is over,” said a former government mediator, Dimieari Von Kemedi. “It’s just on pause. The challenge is to move from pause to stop.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria is facing a separate militancy, in the form of the radical Islamic group Boko Haram, whose guerrilla attacks on churches and police stations in a different part of the country have left hundreds dead. Some legislators have proposed extending amnesty to Boko Haram, as well. It is an expensive proposition. This year alone, Nigeria will spend about $450 million on its amnesty program, according to the government’s 2012 budget, more than what it spends to deliver basic education to children.

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Under the arrangement, the government grants living allowances to tens of thousands of former members of the bandit crews and sends them to vocational classes, in sites ranging from Houston to London to Seoul. These costs are on top of millions of dollars paid at the outset to the crews’ leaders for handing in their weapons. For a few, the program has meant spectacular rewards. To improve ties with former delta warlords, the government invited the top “generals,” as they call themselves, for extended stays on the uppermost, executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton hotel.
The Nigerian state oil company, according to one of its senior officials, is giving $3.8 million a year apiece to two former rebel leaders, Gen. Ebikabowei “Boyloaf” Victor Ben and Gen. Ateke Tom, to have their men guard delta pipelines they used to attack. Another general, Government “Tompolo” Ekpumopolo, maintains a $22.9 million-a-year contract to do the same, the official said. A liaison to Mr. Tom declined to comment on the contracts. Mr. Ekpumopolo didn’t return phone calls and messages. Mr. Ben, when reached for comment, asked, “How much money is involved in this interview?” and then hung up. Later, he sent an enigmatic text: “Very wel dn im nt dispose bt cnsider 100%al u wnt ,we need investors in niger delta absolute peace is guarante.”

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ReutersEx-militant Alhaji Dokubo-Asari, pictured here, who was granted bail in 2007, supported Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012.

For President Goodluck Jonathan, a Niger Delta native, such lavish expenditures have become a political liability. Despite a growing economy, his country of 167 million struggles to finance even the basics, starting with power plants, roads and sewers. A blossoming middle class in Nigeria’s cities has put further strain on public infrastructure. Yet because four-fifths of government revenue flows from the oil fields, aides to the president defend the high cost of peace by saying the treasury would face an even worse drain if a full-blown militancy in the delta flared up again. “If it’s too huge, what are the alternatives?” said Oronto Douglas, a senior adviser to Mr. Jonathan. “For you to address the whole issue of poverty and development, you need some kind of peace,” added Mutiu Sunmonu, managing director for Shell’s Nigerian unit. “That is what I think the amnesty program has offered.”

Enticed by the program, the militants emerged a couple of years ago from the oil-soaked swamps of the delta. Some of the leaders took up residence in the executive floors of Abuja’s Hilton and through much of 2010 and early 2011 spent weeks or months enjoying the Executive Lounge’s complimentary supply of Hennessey V.S.O.P. cognac, priced at $51 a shot on the room-service menu. Over a buffet of fiery Nigerian dishes—gumbos, Jollof rice pilafs, goat stews—they rubbed shoulders with the country’s leading politicians and influence peddlers, who often live in the floor’s $700-a-night art-deco rooms. “These are young men who came out of the creeks and were given the opportunity to hang out with the crème de la crème, wearing gold watches and drinking from gold-rimmed teacups,” said Tony Uranta, a member of the government’s Niger Delta Technical Committee advisory group and a frequent Hilton executive-floor guest. “It’s a natural thing.” Most have since moved out of the hotel. “It’s too high-profile,” said an aide to one ex-warlord, Mr. Tom.

Meanwhile, thousands of former militant foot soldiers have been given job training, a feature of the program that officials call its most indisputable success. The question is how many will be able to make use of this training. In Nigeria, the government estimates, there are 67 million other people waiting to be employed. Kempare Ebipade says he spent six years guarding creekside armories as an oil militant, in the course of which he took two bullets to the thigh. In 2009 he accepted amnesty and was sent to the U.S. for two weeks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta. He displayed a booklet of Dr. King’s speeches from which he said he sometimes reads to villagers. Mr. Ebipade is a skilled welder now, trained in the craft by the amnesty program. But the father of four struggles to imagine how he will find clients for a welding workshop he has set up, or how he will continue to afford his apartment’s rent of $1,100 a year. The government has vigorously pushed oil companies to hire locals. Mr. Ebipade says that out of the former militant army of 10,000 he belonged to, he has heard of only five that landed jobs with oil companies. Shell’s Mr. Sunmonu warned against the idea “that every trained ex-militant is going to get a paid employment, because if you just look at the number, it’s probably huge. So we therefore must broaden our solutions to focus more on self-employment: small enterprises, medium enterprises.”
 The Niger Delta has seen promising economic progress. Construction on a regional highway is under way. Nigeria’s overall economy is projected to grow at a brisk 7.1% this year. But much of the growth is in cities far from the delta, and a population boom reduces the degree to which the growth helps with the unemployment problem. In the delta, years-old electric towers punctuate village skylines, but many don’t carry electricity, having never been connected to the overtaxed power grid. Children travel to scattered schools aboard canoes, navigating creeks coated by the rainbow stains of oil slicks. A United Nations office has estimated it would take 30 years to clean the waters, which once sustained fisheries. Amid this landscape, oil-related crime lures locals like Atu Thompson, father of 18 and self-described oil thief, who says he and others see few other ways to provide. “You can take me to amnesty, give me a good contract—but others are still there,” Mr. Thompson says.

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AFP/Getty ImagesAnother ex-oil militant, Ateke Tom, turned in weapons as he accepted an amnesty in 2009. Mr. Dokubo-Asari, 48 years old, used to be prominent among them. While not all of his account of life in the mangrove swamps could be verified, he long was one of Nigeria’s best-known oil marauders.

About 25 years ago, Mr. Dokubo-Asari left overcrowded university classrooms, he says, to study guerrilla warfare in the Libya led by Col. Moammar Gadhafi. He says he was given $100,000 to stir up trouble back in Nigeria, an oil competitor to Libya. Fomenting conflict proved easy in the restive Niger Delta he returned to in the early 1990s. From a local governor, Mr. Dokubo-Asari says, he procured weapons and money to build a militia that ultimately was several thousand strong. For years, as he tells it, they broke open pipelines, filling canisters with crude oil and refining some of it through timeworn techniques used by locals to boil palm-tree sap into wine.

The government struggled to lure him out of the mangroves. Mr. Dokubo-Asari responded to one amnesty offer that he considered meager by announcing a death threat against petroleum workers. Shell evacuated hundreds of expatriates and oil derricks briefly slowed to a stop. The next day, oil prices hit $50 a barrel for the first time. Nigeria’s government offered Mr. Dokubo-Asari a truce and $1,000 apiece, he says, for his AK-47 rifles, numbering 3,182. He says he took the deal and used the profits to purchase more weapons and return to the swamp. There, he recounts he was finally arrested and coerced into another round of negotiations. Fearing assassination, he fled to Cotonou, Benin, where he says he founded a school for Niger Delta children. He showed a video of him teaching kids kung fu at the school. New warlords quickly took Mr. Dokubo-Asari’s place. Marauding under noms de guerre like Gen. Shoot-at-Sight, Gen. Africa and Gen. Young Shall Grow, they formed a loose confederation of gunmen calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, and crippled enough oil infrastructure to bring Nigeria’s production on some days to a near-halt.


That was when Nigeria announced the 2009 amnesty. In televised ceremonies, guerrillas dropped off rifles, machine guns, tear-gas canisters, dynamite bundles, rocket launchers, antiaircraft guns, gunboats and grenades to be sold to the government, which also offered the nonviolence training courses and nine-month vocational classes. Theft fell sharply. Yet now, just as Nigeria’s state oil company has begun institutionalizing pipeline-watch jobs for some ex-militants, theft has blossomed again. “It’s quite an escalation. If nothing is done, it will continue to increase because more and more people will just come to feel that this is a gold field,” said Shell’s Mr. Sunmonu. “We’re not going to give up on this and run away from it. We believe it can be stopped.” Maclean Imomotimi left an overpacked university four years ago, the muscular 30-year-old says, to rob barges in the Niger Delta swamps. Now, befitting his new career, he is known as Gen. Imomotimi.

He says he accepted the government’s amnesty offer in 2011 on the expectation he would be feted, his hotel bills and bar tabs paid; instead, he was disappointed to receive a living allowance of just 65,000 naira ($413) a month. So Gen. Imomotimi has returned to the waterways, this time, he says, not to rob barges but to steal oil. “I take amnesty’s money—what [little] they give me—I take it and I buy other guns,” he says. “There’s much, much more money in the creeks.”