Nigeria: Security alert!

Ryan Cummings Correspondent
WITH the Boko Haram mayhem at its worst level, the ever-lingering issue of the Niger Delta militancy rearing its head, and Nigeria’s past election violence, concerns about security during these elections are at their peak. Ryan Cummings explains.

Elections in Nigeria are not always a peaceful affair. After the 2011 presidential elections, as many as 800 people were killed in post-election violence as supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari alleged rigging in favour of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Next month, as in 2011, Nigeria’s opposition-held northern states and the country’s politically polarised Middle Belt region will be particularly susceptible to outbreaks of politically motivated violence.

Noting Nigeria’s near “perfect storm of challenges” — Boko Haram, the closeness of the elections and falling oil prices — a report published in November 2014 by the International Crisis Group (ICG) laid out a cautious warning as to why the current political atmosphere should be a cause of worry.

The ICG and other observers are concerned that as the political competition hots up, some participants’ competitiveness could go too far. But it is violence from Boko Haram and the possibility of renewed militancy in the Niger Delta that poses the greatest threat.

For Boko Haram, the radical Islamist insurgency rampaging across parts of Nigeria’s north-east, elections are anathema. Almost all analysts of Boko Haram predict the group’s campaign of violence to be intense around the polls.

These attacks may also service the strategic objectives of the sect. A cross-country terror campaign would necessitate the government prioritising urban security to ensure that Nigerians can cast their ballots. In doing so, however, the federal government would undoubtedly have to redirect security resources away from the north-east, which would weaken the more territorial fight against Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s long-standing insurgency in the north-east could help cause a political crisis in Nigeria, leading to post-election violence. Two of the three states worst affected, Borno and Yobe, are Buhari strongholds. Turnout in these two states, under the shadow of Boko Haram and managing large numbers of internally displaced people, is likely to be very low.

If Jonathan wins narrowly, some APC supporters might view this reduced turnout as the cause of Jonathan’s re-election, leading to spontaneous bouts of post-election violence, which could be worse than what took place in 2011.

Militancy in the Delta

The militancy in the Niger Delta at its height brought strife to Nigeria’s economy as oil production was cut by more than a third due to sabotage, bunkering and bomb attacks throughout the region.

The government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua succeeded in bringing an end to the incessant attacks with the much-lauded Niger Delta amnesty in 2009, which persuaded the militants to surrender their weapons in return for training and rehabilitation. Worryingly, militancy looks like it could rear its head again if Jonathan, an Ijaw from Bayelsa State in the Delta region, loses the election.

Big-name militants of the past, who now receive state money in amnesty deals and government contracts, have aggressively lined up behind Jonathan, stating that they will not accept Buhari.

Asari Dokubo, leader of the Niger Delta Vigilant Force (NDVF), who, according to his account, is paid $9m yearly by the government to help ex-fighters find jobs and police pipelines, reportedly declared that “blood will flow” if Jonathan is not allowed to complete his second term.

He declared that Jonathan “has already won”. The man described as “Nigeria’s militant kingpin”, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, is Nigeria’s most important former militant.

He is heavily woven into the politics of the Niger Delta and in 2011 his company won a N15bn ($110m) government contract for poacher-turned-gamekeeper pipeline surveillance. Tompolo has a lot riding on Jonathan’s victory and has stated “we are going to get 2015 and nobody will stop us”.

Nigeria’s electorate, for the first time since 1999, has a choice between two genuinely national parties. Many Nigerians are praying that good news from these elections is not marred by insecurity.

 Ryan Cummings is Chief political, security and intelligence analyst for red24’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk. Focusing on terrorism, conflict and political instability from Cape to Cairo. This article is reproduced from NewAfrican magazine.

Pin It