#NigeriaDecides: Will voters punish Buhari for his inability to curb security threats?

Published Feb 14, 2019


Weeks away from another democratic transition in Nigeria, electoral campaigns are in full gear for the dozens of candidates vying for the presidency in the country. Four years from the historic 2015 elections – the first democratic transition not marred by post-election violence – there is palpable tension due to insecurity in some parts of the country.

The 2015 election was won, partly, on a promise by incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari that he would end the Boko Haram insurgency in the country and guarantee security across the country. But the surge in terrorism in the North-East is evidence that Buhari has failed to keep one of his major campaign promises. The security situation in the country remains volatile.

In addition to the Boko Haram insurgency, there have been several pockets of violence in other parts of the country. The conflict between herdsmen and farmers has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives. And it’s deepened ethnic tensions in the North Central region of Nigeria.

Several attempts have been made to end the violence. But the killings have continued unabated. This, in turn, has led to the president losing key political allies. Several states in the region have also threatened not to vote for Buhari in the 2019 elections.

Other regions also remain deeply insecure, including the south, south-east and the Niger Delta.

The catalogue of security failures shows the extent to which the Buhari government has failed to address the country’s security challenges. The main opponent in next month’s election Atiku Abubakar has also promised to address the country’s security challenges. But it remains to be seen if the electorate will give the incumbent government a chance to continue its promised “change” agenda, or whether they will change the president himself and opt for someone else that could do a better job.

Recurring issues

One of the key campaign issues leading to the 2015 election was the high level of insecurity in several parts of the country. Prior to the election, Boko Haram held sway in several local governments across three states (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states). Buhari ran a “change” mantra and campaigned vigorously promising to end the menace of Boko Haram “permanently”.

Prior to the elections in 2015, he stated

I will bring permanent peace and solution to the insurgency issues in the North-East; the Niger Delta; and other conflict-prone states and areas such as Plateau, Benue, Bauchi, Borno, Abia, Taraba, Yobe and Kaduna in order to engender national unity and social harmony.

Soon after his inauguration in 2015, Buhari charged the military chiefs to end Boko Haram within three months.

Almost four years later, Boko Haram seems to have been more invigorated and in 2018 the military suffered its highest fatalities against the group.

Boko Haram split in 2016, leading to a splinter group called Islamic State- West Africa (ISIS-WA) emerging. The new group became prominent in 2018 after a series of attacks on military bases. ISIS-WA led by the son of the former leader (Mohammed Yusuf)- Abu Musab al-Barnawi, claimed 23 attacks in West Africa between August and November 2018.

The group captured a large cache of military hardware. It was also responsible for the death of at least 600 Nigerian soldiers in 2018.

Towards the end of 2018, the group seemed to be emboldened with several attacks on communities and military bases. Between July and October 2018, Boko Haram attacked nine military bases. It also overran the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) base in Baga, Borno state. The numbers and intensity of attacks show that the battle against the group is far from over.

Unrest and tension in the south

Apart from the unrest in the North-Eastern and North-Central regions of the country, agitation for secession in the South-East region has also been rife. Violent protests resulting in a fierce crackdown by the military and police have added to the security challenges faced by the country.

Groups such as Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra and Indigenous People of Biafra have led several protests which have threatened the peace and security of the region. The government has reached out to the groups on occasion. But the ability of the groups to stage large protests and the threat to disrupt the 2019 elections is already causing further anxiety in the region.

The government has also not been able to find a permanent solution to the unrest in the Niger Delta. Thousands of youths are on the government amnesty payroll and any disruption in the payments has the potential to destabilise the nation. A delay in monthly stipends in 2016 led to a renewal of hostilities and the formation of new groups such as the Niger Delta Avengers, Red Scorpions and the Niger Delta Greenland Justice Movement.

In addition, new groups emerge almost on an annual basis demanding for enrolment in the amnesty programme. This situation results in what could be termed an “amnesty cycle” where groups of young men engage in sporadic violence in order to be integrated into the amnesty programme.

Considering the inability of Buhari to stem the tide of insecurity in the country in his first term in office, winning re-election will be a difficult task.

* Olayinka Ajala is Associate Lecturer and Conflict Analyst at the University of York.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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