Crime, Jihad, and Dysfunction in Nigeria: Has Buhari an Answer?

by Richard Joseph 

 

The interweaving of crime and politics is a staple of political studies.[1] Recently, the “Panama Papers” of the law firm Mossack Fonseca revealed the global networks of tax-evasion, fraud, and money-laundering. In the case of Nigeria, criminality and predation have thwarted political and economic progress.[2] A year after the election of Muhammadu Buhari, and the historic transfer of power among political parties, the glow of political renewal has dimmed.

After huge expenditures, and structural reforms by successive governments, the provision of electricity has dropped. Queuing for petrol by motorists has returned, and businesses, hospitals, and universities are hobbled by fuel scarcity. How, it may be asked, can petroleum be scarce in a leading producer of the commodity, and during a global glut in oil supplies and collapsed prices? Deepening the distress is an attempt to stem inflation through currency control. The maintenance of an official price for the Nigerian currency, while the parallel rate soars, facilitates profiteering. The broader economic consequences of this policy are sadly predictable.[3]

Conversations with Nigerians eventually turn to the webs of criminality in which they are mired.[4] Everyone must look after self and family thereby justifying survivalist and institutionally corrosive behaviors. As in other world regions, a toxic mix of jihadism, cultism, and banditry is transforming citizens into suicidal murderers. Boko Haram is an outgrowth of socio-economic decline in the country’s northeast, a deliberately seeded extremist ideology, and decades-long disrespect for lawful governance.

Can Nigeria be extricated from this swamp? Can the Buhari government nurture a developmental rather than dysfunctional state? Answers to these questions have wide implications. As Egypt descends into an authoritarian sinkhole, Brazil succumbs to a quagmire of corrupt governance, and the ANC in South Africa’s drifts from liberation politics to predation, Nigeria’s performance as a federal democracy has global significance. In an April 5 interview with Jerome McDonnell of the NPR/WBEZ program, Worldview, Richard Joseph discussed the acute challenges posed by corruption, cultist jihadism, and dysfunctional institutions.

Listen to the interview

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The Nigerian Prospect: Democratic Resilience amid Global Turmoil

by Richard Joseph

In a time of global turmoil, democratic resilience has assumed enhanced importance. Africans have suffered disproportionately from terrorist attacks and millions have sought refuge away from their homes. Although many of their countries have experienced sustained economic growth, the benefits have been very unequally shared. Nigeria is at the forefront of these discordant processes. National elections were successfully conducted in 2015 despite the persistence of the Boko Haram insurgency. Years of high petroleum revenues have fueled political corruption while core infrastructures remain deficient. Despite the global authoritarian upsurge, however, Africa’s largest country has reaffirmed its democratic commitments. It is against this turbulent background that I delivered a public lecture – “State, Governance, and Democratic Development” – at a conference to launch the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy.[1]

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The Growth-Governance Puzzle in Africa

by Richard Joseph

Why did sub-Saharan Africa experience such a prolonged economic downturn starting in the mid-1970s? And why has it experienced such a sustained economic upturn since the mid-1990s? A consensus did emerge that the former trend was caused by bad governance, bad policies, declining investments, and unfavorable terms of trade. But what accounts for the positive growth rates over the past two decades, and why are they seen under such a diverse array of political systems? Finally, will African countries grow out of mass poverty, or will we see a new equilibrium of economic expansion without structural transformation – the latter understood as increased productivity, more and better-paid jobs, diversified exports, and vastly improved infrastructures? While we have become more aware of the growth-governance puzzle, resolving it remains elusive.

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Dilemmas of Democracy and State Power in Africa

by Richard Joseph

We begin the fifth year of AfricaPlus with discussions of two paradoxes in sub-Saharan Africa: the durability of both democratizing and authoritarian governments; and the expansion of economies despite their tepid structural transformation. Such dilemmas suggest the need for vigorous theorizing and debate, and their alignment with efforts to strengthen state capacities, build democratic institutions, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic governance.

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New Paradigms and Pathways: Democracy, Development, and the Mitigation of Conflict

The terrorist atrocities in Paris on November 13, 2015 tore through the frayed fabric of global order. A synchronized operation was mounted in the heart of a western democracy with access to the most sophisticated intelligence technologies. Earlier that day, I spoke to a few hundred teenage students in Chicago, Illinois. Following the talk, they asked challenging questions, including: “What did I mean by the ‘sameness’ of all human beings that can be learned during collaborative real world experiences?”; and, simply but poignantly, “What causes conflict?”[1]

Two days later, I read about the program, “Social and Emotional Learning” (S.E. L.), available to thousands of American elementary school students. It has had remarkable results. Participating students “become more aware of their feelings and learn to relate more peacefully with others”. [2]Empathy and kindness, research shows, can be fostered, and school children can imbibe “the concept of shared responsibility for a group’s well- being.” At the end of my talk, I had told the students that they were learning to be “builders of democracy, engineers of shared prosperity, and mitigators of social conflict.” It turns out that these attributes can be more actively cultivated than I had assumed.

Sadly, millions of young people worldwide are being trained differently, to be instruments of autocracy, destroyers of livelihoods, and perpetrators of atrocities. To meet this grim challenge, new paradigms and pathways are needed. The belief that democracy, inclusive development, and conflict mitigation constitute a virtuous cycle that can steadily gain traction is countered today by a vicious cycle in which enmity, violence, and even suicide are extolled.

I wondered if my talk would go “over the heads” of the middle teenagers, and whether it could compete for attention with their electronic gadgetry and playfulness. These concerns were quickly dissipated. The points made in my brief remarks could, of course, be presented in greater depth and complexity. [3] New paradigms and pathways that connect treasured values with real-world experiences, and which can be clearly communicated to many age groups, are urgently needed. [4] We must redouble our efforts to meet this challenge.

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American-Nigerian Cooperation: An Uncertain Start to the Buhari era

The hope that the July 20 meeting between President Barack Obama and President Muhammadu Buhari would heal the rift between their countries concerning the fight against Boko Haram was not fully realized. Two days later, Mr. Buhari reiterated at the United States Institute of Peace the same charges as the administration of his precedessor, Goodluck Jonathan. His blunt criticism has been widely reported: “unwittingly, or I dare say, unintentionally, the application of the Leahy Law Amendment by the United States government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorists.” Back home in Nigeria, there were official claims that Mr. Buhari’s comments were misconstrued. His contradictory remarks at USIP could be attributed to Mr. Buhari’s reliance on appointees of Goodluck Jonathan in key administrative and diplomatic posts. To his credit, the Nigerian president did call for the observance of international human rights law, and the protection of local communities, in the military campaign against Boko Haram. He also articulated what we have called a “revitalized narrative”: the need for democratic governments to foster inclusive growth, developmental governance, anti-corruption, and counterterrorism, while also advancing political liberties and human rights. As American and Nigerian policymakers work to remove the kinks in American-Nigerian strategic cooperation, we provide an edited transcript of a July 20 interview of Richard Joseph by Jerome McDonnell (NPR/WBEZ). It began, appropriately, with a discussion of the rift between the U.S. and Nigeria and concluded with a call for President Obama to pay a state visit to Nigeria.

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Challenges Confronting Buhari in Nigeria

Part II. Advancing Economic and Constitutional Reforms

Rotimi T. Suberu

In the second part of Professor Suberu’s sober analysis of the challenges confronting Muhammadu Buhari and the APC government, he dissects the myriad problems posed by the mismanagement of the country’s extensive oil and gas resources. Equally significant, but seldom appreciated, is the great experiment in democratic constitutionalism represented by the Nigerian federation. Professor Suberu is an outspoken advocate of a moderate and incremental approach to constitutional reform. He outlines the failure to enact many of the cogent proposals recommended by legislators, commissions, and a national conference. Will Buhari and the APC implement the fundamental changes in political and economic governance promised to the Nigerian electorate? Major hurdles must be surmounted including managing a grand coalition party. According to the author, both cautious optimism and reasonable pessimism are warranted. Continue reading