The call that changed it all

Kingsley Moghalu, former Deputy Governor of Nigeria’s central bank, on the significance of Nigeria’s election outcome:

No sitting Nigerian president and his government have ever been removed from office through the ballot box. This is a rarity in Africa as a whole. There has been only a handful of opposition electoral victories, including in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Senegal and Zambia.

Perhaps just as important is incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan’s phone call to Buhari conceding defeat before final poll results were announced. This sets the tone for a peaceful transition devoid of the violence that characterized previous elections.

As it happened:

Jonathan apparently conceded in a telephone call to Buhari at 5:15 pm even before the final results were declared, earning him praise from politicians of all stripes.

The inside story of the call, from Mansur Liman, editor of BBC Hausa, who broke the news:

He told me that Gen Buhari had just received a phone call from his rival, in which the president conceded and congratulated him.

I did not doubt that this was true as I trusted my source, but given what has happened before in Nigeria, this kind of concession was up to that point unimaginable.
There were, of course, people who were very concerned about what could happen if the result was contested.

And I have since discovered that members of the National Peace Committee, which is headed by former President Abdulsalami Abubakar, visited President Jonathan as the results were being announced.

I understand they were the ones who persuaded the president to do something to avoid any trouble, and shortly after the visit he made the call.
By making that call the president saved Nigeria a great deal of pain. If the PDP had insisted that they had won the election, and the APC had said the same, the country would have been in chaos.

Lives would have been lost and property would have been destroyed. That call showed that in Nigeria, people can put the country first.

I have heard from PDP supporters that the president took the decision to make the call without consulting anyone. They told me that if he had talked to some of his advisers, they would have objected.

The President continues to enforce his will to concede, over the objections of the diehards, thanks to the positive affirmation he received from around the world:

“The President has prevailed on PDP to drop plans to go to tribunal against Buhari. He said he wants his word to be his bond, having been applauded by the international community,” a source told The Nation.

“At a point, Jonathan said ‘I don’t believe in post-election petition at tribunal because it distracts the incoming administration’. He also said Nigeria must emulate other nations where once the presidential poll is lost and won, the new government must not be distracted with election petitions. He told party leaders that he was not interested in going to the tribunal. It is now left for PDP leaders to heed his advice,” the source added.

Now, the APC’s President-elect Muhammadu Buhari must begin the difficult work of reviving Nigeria’s economy and extricating it from a mishandled and brutal northern rebellion.

Logo of the All Progressives Congress opposition coalition. (Credit: Auwal Ingawa)

Logo of the All Progressives Congress opposition coalition. (Credit: Auwal Ingawa)

In Nigeria, White South African mercenaries fill a void

“Relics” of the feared and hated Apartheid-era “South African Defence Force” are secretly (and illegally) fighting Boko Haram for Nigeria, according to recent reporting by The New York Times:

Hundreds of mercenaries from South Africa and other countries are playing a decisive role in Nigeria’s military campaign against Boko Haram, operating attack helicopters and armored personnel carriers and fighting to retake towns and villages captured by the Islamist militant group, according to senior officials in the region.
A senior Western diplomat confirmed that the South Africans were playing “a major operational role,” particularly at night. Equipped with night-vision goggles, the mercenaries “are whacking them in the evening hours,” the diplomat said.

“The next morning the Nigerian Army rolls in and claims success,” the diplomat added. The mercenaries “are doing the heavy lifting,” said the diplomat, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Another diplomat, also unauthorized to speak publicly on the matter, said he believed the mercenary force was composed of fighters from other countries as well, but mainly South Africa.
Photographs showing white soldiers atop armored vehicles on what appears to be a major road in Maiduguri have been posted in recent days on Nigerian Twitter feeds. A correspondent for The New York Times in Maiduguri identified the location as the Baga Road. The correspondent has seen the South African mercenaries jogging around Maiduguri’s airport, now closed, where they are encamped.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of optimistic propaganda reports from the Nigerian military (and from President Goodluck Jonathan) has taken credit for victory after victory in the campaign against Boko Haram in the country’s northeast, ahead of the postponed elections. This once again undermines the already shaky credibility, on multiple levels, of Nigeria’s armed forces.

An extensive report from South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies speculates that many of the ex-SADF mercenaries are likely veterans of the brutal counterinsurgency campaign that Apartheid South Africa waged in Angola and in South African-occupied South West Africa (now Namibia).

[…] the sort of operations that the ex-SADF soldiers would be conducting against Boko Haram would be very similar to some of the operations they had conducted against the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO), namely ‘very high mobility operations by small forces, heavy in firepower and in protected vehicles, and based on the prompt and quick exploitation of intelligence; backed up by air assault or even parachute insertion of stopper groups.’

The contract with SADF veterans — prohibited by South African law from undertaking military operations for hire abroad — also raises more questions about the repeated attempts by Nigerian officials to bring or transfer huge amounts of money into South Africa last fall (example) for undisclosed “purchases” relating to the war against Boko Haram.

Elsewhere, the military of neighboring Chad also continues to conduct quasi-authorized (but mostly unilateral) operations against Boko Haram on Nigerian soil.

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Ensign of the South African Defence Force 1981-1994 (via Wikimedia)

Nigeria military forces elections to be postponed

This weekend, the Nigerian elections commission announced that the presidential, parliamentary, and state elections scheduled for mid-February would be postponed — the national vote for six weeks until the end of March and the state vote into April. The stated reason was the deteriorated security situation in several northern states (although most of the country — which is twice the size of California — is not actively threatened by or anywhere near the insurgency). Indeed, some remote areas are effectively under occupation by Boko Haram. However, it didn’t take long for the news to emerge that the decision had actually been undertaken under heavy pressure by the Nigeria’s security establishment.

This is very troubling, particularly in a country with such a long history of military interference in politics prior to the transition to democracy in 1999. The Nigerian security agencies and military essentially ordered the election commission to postpone the election, saying that they refused to defend polling sites against attacks unless there was a delay. Their reason for this refusal was that they were “too busy” planning a six-week counter-offensive against Boko Haram at the same time. As numerous people pointed out in response: Why are they suddenly now attacking Boko Haram after years of inaction, and how are they suddenly now going to be able to wrap this problem up in time for the delayed elections?

“The security agencies forced [Election body chairman Attahiru Jega] into postponing on an issue that is frivolous,” said Jibrin Ibrahim, a political analyst with the Centre on Democracy and Development.

“They say they need six weeks to defeat Boko Haram. Boko Haram has been growing for six years. If in six weeks Boko Haram has not been defeated, they could call for another delay and ultimately destroy Nigerian democracy,” he added.

There is also serious suspicion that the military itself may have been pressured (to cause a delay) by the ruling People’s Democratic Party, which is facing the strongest challenge yet to its continuously elected rule since 1999, and had recently started to head toward defeat in the polling, as town after town fell to the insurgency, corruption scandals continued to break, and people became unhappy with the economy (especially with falling oil prices).

Even before the chaos of January, a December poll found voters nationwide tied 42% to 42% in presidential voting intention, but just 29% trust in the ruling PDP. Traditional PDP strongholds were starting to erode and the northern-favored APC candidate, former military President and General Buhari, was making inroads in the south. An extra six weeks might very well make the chances of defeat greater at this point, but at least it’s an opportunity to try to turn things around; in contrast, not delaying the election might have sealed the party’s fate for sure.


ISIS and Boko Haram are both playing us. Just differently.

ISIS (Iraq and Syria) and Boko Haram (Nigeria) have superficially similar goals and a loose alliance with each other. But the former thrives on attention for global recruitment and to provoke Western military responses through antagonism (inciting further support for the cause), while the latter thrives on the West not caring enough (full story➚) to bother with most insurgencies in sub-Saharan Africa. Both are playing Americans in two very different ways.

In recent months, more than two thirds of the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno has fallen to or been destroyed by Boko Haram. Currently, the state capital of Borno, the city of Maiduguri, is coming under heavy attack nearly daily from Boko Haram. Maiduguri is widely believed by analysts to be high on the capture list as a relatively major city Boko Haram might be able to take … and hold. Its population is slightly larger than that of Mosul, Iraq, the city that became a tipping point prompting Western gaze to return to the insurgency under its new name of ISIS just over six months ago.

But even without Maiduguri, Boko Haram has already drawn even with or far surpassed ISIS on a number of factors. For example, the estimated 10,000-13,000 people Boko Haram killed in 2014 alone is more than twice if not three times larger Boko Haram’s own figures for the previous four years combined, as well as being several thousand greater than the ISIS killing rate for 2014, along with holding higher records for mass execution events.

Territorially, Boko Haram has made achievements similar to those of ISIS. As previously noted on this site:

TIME magazine reports this alarming development:

Boko Haram […] controls an estimated 30-35,000 square kilometers, roughly the same amount of terrain as Syria and Iraq’s Islamic State.

It’s pretty telling about U.S. priorities, over-reactions, and under-reactions in different parts of the world that the response to ISIS last year was sharply different — which is to say, not even on the same scale of magnitude — from the response to Boko Haram, even as they now control the same land area by size.

Mass executions by ISIS in Syria and Iraq have so far reportedly topped out at 700 people in a two week killing spree (although the total figures across incidents over the past year are significantly higher). If the civilian body count estimates coming out of north Borno state in northeast Nigeria prove correct, Boko Haram will have already significantly exceeded the August 2014 massacres by ISIS.


While Boko Haram certainly warrants more attention from the United States and Europe than it has gotten (although ideally it would be a more judicious and targeted attention than the hysteria ISIS has provoked), it is also important to remember that the differences in coverage and attention are at least partially a function of the radically different modus operandi of each group.
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France and Nigeria terrorism: Dramatically different coverage

In April 2014, almost 300 girls attending a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped from their school in the middle of the night. They were abducted by an Islamic extremist group dubbed Boko Haram, who have been launching attacks against schools and villages in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

Sadly, they targeted the girls in part because of their belief that the “inauthentic” colonialism-descended education system is a sin. The girls’ schooling was detrimental to their mission to overthrow the Nigerian government in order to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. Making things worse was the lack of media coverage of the kidnapping. It seemed that the information about the kidnapping only reached international headline news after a heavy Twitter campaign, under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The little coverage that it did receive was short lived, and in some ways disrespectful. The French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo, even depicted the kidnapped girls as pregnant, Black and Muslim Welfare Queens. The cartoon ignores the fact that the kidnapped girls were kidnapped from a Christian school and are most likely Christian themselves. It also belittles the fact that the girls are being forced into marriages and are victims of sexual assault. Instead, the cartoon relies on racist tropes for the sake of “satire” (satire being in quotes because comedy at the expense of the oppressed isn’t satirical and rarely funny).

Last week, 8 months after the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, a shooting occurred at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, and 12 people were killed. The media was quicker to pick up on this story and the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie rapidly became a trending topic all over the world, almost drowning out the news that Boko Haram massacred as many as 2000 people and razed 16 villages in a 5-day span the same week as the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Human Rights Watch satellite analysis of Doro Gowon. (Credit: Human Rights Watch)

Above: Human Rights Watch satellite analysis of Doro Gowon, Borno state, Nigeria, one of the towns attacked by Boko Haram this month. 57% of the town is estimated to have been burned down based on this image. Click for full image and article in a new window. (Credit: Human Rights Watch)

The instant support of Charlie Hebdo and the struggle for support for the Chibok girls says a lot about the narrative that the US and European media wants to compose when it comes to which victims are worthy of sympathy. Despite the offensive cartoon drawn about the Chibok girls by the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad – which is the reason why Charlie Hebdo was specifically targeted by the extremists – it seems as if the magazine has been pushed into almost martyr status.

Marches and rallies are happening all over Europe in solidarity with the magazine, while attacks on Mosques in France are being ignored. Cartoonists have even gone so far as to create the hashtag #CartoonistLivesMatter as an attempt to express the importance of their freedom of speech.

There are hundreds of schoolgirls missing, for most of the past year. Thousands have been displaced in just the past two weeks, with possibly thousands more killed. There are entire generations of families murdered in Northern Nigeria.
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Is Zambia’s President Michael Sata on his deathbed? (updated)

Post updated following President Sata’s death on October 28; go to the bottom of the page.

zambia-president-michael-sata-UNDPPresident Michael Sata of Zambia, who has been very ill for quite some time (since June at the latest), has more or less disappeared from the country’s public eye, except occasionally resurfacing very briefly or issuing statements from doctors in Israel and the United States where he has been treated.

This is raising some questions as to whether he is on death’s door and why this is being suppressed to the extent it has been even in a democratic society. It’s almost as secretive as the 2009-2010 health crisis of Nigerian President Umaru Yar’adua, in which the leader of the most populous country in Africa disappeared to Saudi Arabia without explanation for four months and then returned for two months before passing away. In that situation, Vice President Goodluck Jonathan was eventually declared Acting President, because of the uncertain situation and clear abandonment of the duties of the office, until it became permanently vacant. Jonathan was subsequently elected to his own term and remains president of Nigeria now.

In the case of Zambia right now, President Sata’s hasn’t stepped aside or handed over power, and his last statement in public (back in September) literally included the line “I’m not dead.” So that’s … not very reassuring.

Zambia celebrated its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain on Friday without the President’s involvement, heightening speculation. But there are bigger questions about who exactly is running the country at the moment. The draft of a new constitution he has stalled since taking office in September 2011 was released the day before the independence festivities, which could be a distraction tactic or a more sinister sign that other, unelected people are making major moves behind the scenes.

zambia-vice-president-Guy-Scott-us-government-photoIf 77-year-old President Sata dies, he would be succeeded automatically by Vice President Guy Scott, the country’s first White Vice President. His father was active in supporting the Black nationalist independence movement, and the family has remained involved in the country’s self-governing politics since then.

If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Scott, who is himself 70 years old, would be the only White head of state in Africa right now and probably the first since the Apartheid regime in South Africa ended in 1994.
Update 2 @ 2:25 AM US Eastern Time: A government official has confirmed the news to Reuters.

Update 1 October 29, 2014 @ 1 AM US Eastern Time: Unconfirmed reports in Zambian news media say President Sata passed away in London last night. Thompson Reuters Foundation:

Zambian President Michael Sata has died in London, where he had been receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness, three private Zambian media outlets said on Wednesday.

The reports on the private Muzi television station and the Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog websites said the southern African nation’s cabinet was about to meet.

Government officials gave no immediate comment.

The reports said Sata had died on Tuesday evening at London’s King Edward VII hospital. The hospital declined to comment.

According to a report by, power is set to be handed to Scott, although perhaps not quietly…

The remaining Zambian cabinet was due to meet at 05: 00 hours on Wednesday Zambian time to formalise power transfer to vice-president Guy Scott, government sources have revealed.

The main agenda of the meeting was for acting president [and Defense Minister] Edgar Lungu to handover power to Scott. Most likely, it is after this formality that the Zambia government will announce the passing on of president Michael Sata.

It is not yet clear if Lungu will agree to handover as he may argue that he is the one to lead the country to the by-election. Lungu and some ministers had a meeting around midnight when they heard the news.

Minister Lungu assumed the role of “acting presidency” while Sata was out of the country for health treatments, but in the event of the president’s death the vice president is automatically declared acting president for 90 days until a special election is held. The Zambian Watchdog website broke the story of Sata’s passing overnight and has been tracking President Sata’s illnesses for several years now.


Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan should not be re-elected president

Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, is seeking yet another term in office, even after basically everything has fallen apart under his administration. His campaign team decided that the slogan #BringBackGoodluck2015 was somehow appropriate after he blatantly ignored, waved away, and disrespected #BringBackOurGirls. Now he’s being deservedly dragged by Nigerian Twitter for it, as reported by the BBC. My personal favorite:

But, aside from this latest (and certainly minor) show of incompetence and tone-deafness, let’s back out to look at the wider situation. Girls kidnapped, northern insurgency spreading across Nigeria and into its neighbors, Boko Haram proclaiming itself an independent Islamic State and laying siege to northern cities of 1 million people, sections of Nigeria’s army mutinying over alleged supply shortages, mysterious pilfering of counterinsurgency resources, ongoing attacks in the capital, alleged war crimes by state security forces… and so on.

All the while, the President’s plan was recently summed up by a local paper as simply: We Hope To Defeat Boko Haram But Not Now.

Look, I’m not going to blame President Jonathan for everything that has happened, and I’m not even sure his passivity and inactivity in the face of chaos is entirely his own fault. Consider his background and rise to power. He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist by training, who was an environmental minister briefly, and fortuitously became governor after being chosen to be a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who later resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and suddenly he became president when the elected president died in office.

Although he subsequently won his own term, Goodluck Jonathan was never meant to be president. I suspect that his lack of both political establishment credentials and military experience, which seemed so promising for effecting transformative change when he became president, actually made him hopelessly dependent on the usual political cronies and military generals. He lacked both the constituency and independent experience to challenge them when they gave him bad advice. Unfortunately, he happened to enter office at a time of mounting crises in the country and the region. Now he’s just floundering.

It’s clear President Jonathan is now very far out of his depth and lacks either the will or the political base to govern and restore order (certainly not in a responsible, inclusive, and democratic manner). Whether or not it is his fault, the terrorism and insurgency situation has been rapidly spiraling out of control for nearly four consecutive years, since the end of 2010. Things are objectively worse on the security and stability front now than they were four years ago, and worse now than they were six months ago or two months ago. He is not turning things around.

Re-electing Goodluck Jonathan next year to another four-year term as president seems like the wrong direction for Nigeria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (Credit: U.S. State Department.)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (Credit: U.S. State Department.)