Nigeria: A Tenuous Transition

Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan peacefully conceded the presidency to challenger Muhammadu Buhari in a watershed election. Goodluck Jonathan’s concession bodes well for the country, but our celebration has concealed lingering challenges that will complicate the transition of power in the months to come.

To begin, hundreds of South African mercenaries are believed to be operating in northeastern Nigeria. Nigeria is a signatory to an international treaty that makes such mercenary use illegal, though Goodluck Jonathan insists that he is simply training Nigerian troops with his hired guns. Foreign Policy explains why the problems won’t go away with a change in government:

Aside from whatever else the APC [Muhammadu Buhari’s party] may have planned, were it to take power, there is the possibility that the foreigners will soon run into trouble in Nigeria. All it will take is an allegation of complicity in human rights abuses, similar to the one the Nigerian military has had to deal with. If this happens, it would be deeply embarrassing for both Nigeria’s government and, especially, South Africa’s.

Secondly, Nigeria has always been notorious for its corruption that has grown in tandem with its fabulous oil wealth. The culture of graft has proved stronger than even the toughest of Nigerian trustbusters. From the Financial Times:

More than a year ago, Lamido Sanusi, the former central bank governor, publicly questioned discrepancies between oil sales and income of more than $1bn per month…These revelations fuelled a public furore, and investor confidence was knocked further when Mr Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, was suspended from his job.

Goodluck Jonathan later concealed an audit led by PwC that likely incriminates a good number of people within Nigeria’s ruling elite. Buhari must release this “missing audit” to make good on his claims of fighting corruption. At the same time, these revelations will cause incredible short-term social turmoil among Nigeria’s elite.

Finally, Goodluck Jonathan’s disenfranchised constituents in the Niger Delta plan to fight for the right to hold government kickbacks. The Nigerian Tribune profiles one such would-be militant with an enviable title, ‘Ex-General Pastor’ Reuben Wilson:

Militants like Wilson fought for a greater share of the oil riches and fairer representation until an amnesty deal in 2009. The deal provides militant leaders with multi-million dollar monthly payouts they are meant to share with their men. They also get lucrative government contracts. The amnesty was due to expire last year but payments were extended for fear of a backlash. Under Buhari both payments and contracts could end.

“With Goodluck as president, we achieved what we are fighting for. It’s our right. If they refuse us our right, by rigging the election, I don’t think there will be peace,” Wilson said, holding an ‘appreciation award’ from Miss Niger Delta 2010.

Buhari, a present-day Robespierre, stamped out corruption during the year and a half that he controlled the country from New Year’s Eve of 1983 to 1985. It’s unclear whether or not Buhari “L’Incorruptible” has softened his image since his military days, tarnished as it was by allegations of human rights abuses. Even more importantly, the ascetic reformer needs a band of zealous followers to make this second anti-corruption campaign a success. Can he topple Nigeria’s empty cult of patronage without making deadly enemies of the very elites that toppled the Governor of the Central Bank, the same elites that held so much power and so little responsibility under President Goodluck Jonathan?

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