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.
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
Part I. Political Inclusion, Violent Conflict, and Corruption
Rotimi T. Suberu
On the eve of the highly anticipated meeting between U.S. president Barack Obama and Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, on July 20, 2015, Professor Rotimi Suberu has written a magisterial review of the major issues confronting the new Nigerian government. This important document is being published by AfricaPlus in two parts. The first concerns the challenge of meeting the demand for equitable participation in the affairs of government by the country’s diverse identity groups, reducing persistent violent conflict especially by Boko Haram, and reducing corruption that has crippled many institutions. The second will cover economic policies to expand growth and reduce pervasive poverty, and incremental reforms of Nigeria’s federal constitution and government practices. Professor Suberu contends that the euphoria which greeted Buhari’s election and the successful operation of the voting system, will soon give way to insistent demands for the fulfillment of electoral promises.
by Richard Joseph
In his inaugural speech as Nigerian president on May 29, 2015, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari memorably declared: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. He has already taken drastic action to reduce corruption in the oil sector and even cut his official salary and benefits. Just days before his July 20 meeting with U.S. president Barack Obama, Mr. Buhari replaced his country’s top military and security leaders. They had been criticized for incompetence and human rights abuses in the fight against Boko Haram. These actions and others set the stage for an agenda-setting meeting between the two leaders. Soon afterwards, Mr. Obama will leave on his third presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa with stops in Kenya and Ethiopia. Richard Joseph discusses the significance of the Obama-Buhari meeting, the need to reframe American policies towards Africa, and hopes for a new era in U.S.-Nigeria relations.
by Richard Downie
A major threshold was crossed in Nigeria during the 2015 elections and transfer of power. Since the democratic openings of the 1990s, African countries have often witnessed the refusal of incumbents to respect term limits and the declining quality of elections. In 2006, the Nigerian Federal Senate firmly upheld the two-term presidential limit. In 2015, because of a well-led Electoral Commission, a revitalized and coherent political opposition, dedicated civil society groups, and a determined electorate, Africa’s largest nation was able to produce a fairly-elected government. As important as these gains were, however, Richard Downie shows how much remains to be done to construct a fully-effective electoral system.
By Ken Opalo
Africa has become a workshop of growth and developmental governance. In the case of Kenya, a dynamic and democratic model is taking shape. Its centerpiece is the devolution of power to sub-national governing units. Virtually every aspect of post-colonial governance must adjust to changes in investment strategy, revenue allocation, infrastructure development, and communications technology. If the decentralizing of power by constitutional means works in Kenya, it will have a powerful impact on many African countries seeking pathways from insecurity and dysfunctional governance.
By Richard Joseph
When the Union Jack was lowered in Nigeria on October 1, 1960, the potential of Africa’s most populous nation seemed boundless—and that was before its abundant reserves of petroleum and natural gas were fully known. However, Nigeria has since underperformed in virtually every area. A massive fuel shortage, just days before the historic change in political leadership, underlined how criminalized and dysfunctional the oil sector had become.
On May 29, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president since 2010, transferred power to a former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari. Despite important policy reforms, Jonathan will be remembered mainly for his unusual name and the failure to defeat Boko Haram. Similar transfers of power took place in other federal and state offices. As a result of the March and April elections, a new coalition, the All Progressives Congress (APC), prized a commanding share of government positions from Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
By Richard Joseph
Nigeria’s president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, has few illusions. He has been in and out of power at the highest level since the 1970s. He has already spoken boldly about tackling corruption and the Boko Haram insurgency. And he recognizes the need to rebuild fractured ties among Nigerian communities and between Nigeria and its global partners.
It can be expected that the United States will no longer be blamed for not providing enough armaments for Nigeria’s ineffective armed forces. No longer should the giant of Africa depend on a small autocratically-run neighbor, Chad, to reclaim its border towns from the insurgency. And no more should office holders pilfer public funds with impunity while their people lack clean water, electricity, and gainful employment.
The clock is ticking. Nigerians were forced to wait six weeks to register their judgment on the Goodluck Jonathan presidency at the polls. They must wait another six weeks to witness the ceremony in which power will be transferred to the new head of state. However they voted on March 28, and in state-level elections on April 11, Nigerians must now rally behind Mohammadu Buhari and the drive to reduce regional, ethnic, and religious tensions.
The Nigerian transition could echo the assumption of power by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa and the building of a rainbow nation. In myriad constitutional exercises over a half-century, the core principles intended to guide Nigerian party politics were identified. It is now up to Buhari and the political class to make the federal democracy work in the interests of a much abused population.
By Richard Joseph
In the 45 years since the Nigerian civil war ended in January 1970, Nigeria has often seemed on the verge of making significant political advances. While its population soared, however, the country stumbled through one contentious electoral exercise after another, interspersed with military rule. The recent 2015 elections, which elevated Muhammadu Buhari to the powerful presidency, have produced a significant shift in control of national and state governments from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The PDP had been the dominant party for 16 straight years.
By Richard Joseph
Muhammadu Buhari’s convincing defeat of incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in the Nigerian presidential election is an event of global significance. To his credit, President Jonathan promptly conceded defeat, thereby discouraging any attempt to impede the transfer of power.