In the most significant election in Africa since Nigeria`s transition to democracy in 1999, President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) came crashing down last month. Astonishing many pundits, the incumbents stepped aside, and made way for President Muhammadu Buhari, a resurrected military leader who served for 20 months as President in the period 1983-85.
His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), is essentially an offshoot from the PDP, but they nevertheless answered the electorate’s burning desire for change.
Buhari and the APC inherit an array of challenges, but one issue -which arguably got them to power – but which could fell them like it did their predecessor – is security.
Nigeria`s security challenges are not just a menace to Africa`s most populous nation. They also they pose a threat to the continent, and are emblematic of the escalating security challenge gripping many parts of the world.
The threat is particularly acute on account of Nigeria`s location on the Gulf of Guinea, a major world oil source. This makes Nigeria a strategic target for terrorists. At the same time, Africa`s number one economy also faces highly complex internal security challenges because of its ethno-religious composition, and lack of decisive leadership. It is plagued by systemic sources of conflict in the north – Boko Haram – and In the South, the Niger Delta militancy.
The imminent threat is Boko Haram, in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. In the South, the Niger Delta militancy and piracy are an established menace in the south-south areas including Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers.
These two most pronounced security challenges are a threat not only to Nigeria but to Africa`s social, political and economic stability – and specifically in the ECOWAS sub region, where more than half the population is Nigerian.
But from where do these security challenges emanate, and how can the new administration begin to address them systematically? It is important to understand how this security issue became pivotal during the ballot and how it now rests on the new administration.
The Nigerian government pronounced a `state of emergency` after the Nyanya Motor Park bombing on April 14, 2014 by the Boko Haram terrorists group. The attack claimed over 100 lives with over 200 others wounded – an onslaught compounded by the mindless abduction of young school girls of Government Girls Secondary school, Chibok, whose number is now at 234. The government, a year on, still has not brought back the girls. It was a grave reminder of the leadership’s failure, but it was also notable that on April 14 2015, the anniversary of the girl`s abduction, President Buhari conceded that there was little chance of the girls returning. Such candour is unusual, and certainly stands in contrast to his predecessor’s mixture of half-hearted, politically expedient optimism.
A number of issues contribute to Nigeria’s volatile security status, but topping this list has been an indecisive government with inept leadership at all levels. Fourteen years after the 1999 civilian return of democracy, Nigeria still languishes due to gross corruption, lack of accountability, misapplication of the rule of law and a genuine negligence of human rights by the political elites. Most Nigerian institutions are extremely weak, thus allowing corruption to thrive at all levels.
The remedy lies in two things that are easy to promise – effective leadership and good governance – both of which the Buhari administration vowed to deliver in his acceptance speech.
Nigeria has had a violent history; this has been caused by coups, civil war, ethno-religious tension, conventional crimes and unconstitutional rulings. As common as violence has been in Nigerian history, the new trend of extremism, insurgency, and other forms of militancy have made the situation considerably more complicated.
The current wave is of a separatist agenda, specifically from the extremist Boko Haram and the violent militancy in the Niger Delta. Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militancy pose a major threat to the unity of the country.
At the height of the election, nerves wrecked and some politicians like Oba Rilwan Akiolu threatened Igbos in Lagos, saying any Ibo man or woman who fails to vote APC would die.
Anti-Igbo sentiment is resurfacing. This time the Igbo are easily being nudged towards joining extremists due to isolation and mistreat. Nigeria`s Biafra history still has influence, coupled with Niger Delta and Boko Haram, Nigeria remains fragile.
The above challenges had far reaching consequences in the outgoing Jonathan administration. Bako Haram took over parts of north-eastern Nigeria, posing a threat to Nigeria`s sovereignty; the piracy in the Niger Delta has meanwhile been an ongoing menace, contributing to corruption, trafficking and insurgency. Parts of this equation incorporate a religious agenda, with Boko Haram seeking an Islamic state, non-western education and sharia law. This complex religious vein is a subject losing flavour amongst Nigerians, although opposition forces including Boko Haram, continue to use it for political gain.
Like in any sovereign state, the ability to protect your borders is of utmost priority. The failure of Jonathan to keep Boko Haram in check while it ate away at some of his north-eastern states was political suicide. Nigeria was under siege and the commander in chief could not immediately fully commit his army. Lack of decisive leadership brought to question the incumbent`s ability to protect the most fundamental of his people`s rights; the right to life.
While Buhari would appear to have won primarily due to these direct security threats, his new administration will have to look beyond the immediate military threats, and address the socio-economic and institutional root causes of Nigeria’s vulnerability.
The security of Nigerians transcends protection from insurgency and the militancy. It includes systematically restoring faith in Nigeria’s beleaguered institutions, tackling endemic corruption, beginning to address job creation for the youth bulge.
Former Nigerian commander in chief, President Obasanjo, had an effective and inclusive agreement which helped him in dealing with terror. The insurgents, religious groups and government agreed on mutual peace. It is an avenue Buhari might want to explore, particularly since he and President Obasanjo seem to be `friends`. Buhari`s other alternative is a strong response to the security crisis, by making full use of his security forces and continental-international support.
ECOWAS`s help, specifically help from Chad troops has proved instrumental in dealing with the Boko Haram problem. Buhari needs to capitalise on this, and help to lead – or be part of – a pan-African response to this rapidly escalating threat..
The continent is grappling with the security crisis; Kenya is the latest victim losing almost 150 lives to Al Shabab. The Nigerian security challenge might have helped rid Nigeria of Jonathan, but the continent is still found wanting. There is need for a deliberate, systematic investment by the African continent into the protection of African states, and into an efficient response mechanism to the terror threat which is likely to mount. Already we are watching with concern, the drift ever southwards of Islamic militants previously focused only in the Horn. The continent, like never before, needs to be homogeneous in actively preparing and responding to terror in its many forms, for the sake of Africa`s future.