It may be to Muhammadu Buhari’s advantage that his All Progressives Congress party did not take Rivers state in the gubernatorials that followed Nigeria’s presidential election last week.
Riding the general’s coat-tails in his landslide victory last month, his party won a majority in the Senate and may come out even in the governorships of the nation’s 36 states when the votes are all counted. State governments are powerful institutions in what is still a federal republic, with big bucks in their coffers. The Nigerian currency unit is the naira and it is broken down into kobos. A kobo is not worth much these days, nor is a naira, so it may be a good time to go short on it. The Nigerian economy’s bulls are a-snorting in the stables and it is likely a boom’s coming.
If the federal structure stays solid, basically. The key to Nigerian success at present is: federation and union, now and forever. If he were not such a hard-nose, the president-elect might be something of a Henry Clay, devoted to the national idea but respectful of regional differences requiring patience on all sides. That is why it is, arguably, better his party did not make it in Rivers.
Rivers is the heart of the Delta, and it is the Louisiana and Texas of Nigeria, politically not size-wize. Oil, therefore money, therefore financial shenanigans, therefore suspicion, therefore cynicism.
Coming in as Mr. Clean, the APC, had they got Rivers, would be under some obligation to take a broom to it. But taking a broom to the dysfunctional administration of the oil sector even at the federal level, where he will be at the commands, will be difficult. At the state level, the risk of conflict is very real. The new president might appeal over the heads of the ruling People’s Democrats, pointing out that they never used oil revenue to benefit Riversians as well as governors of, say, Louisiana or Alaska did for their neighbors, but that might be taken as glib.
There are no functional refineries in the Delta. Nigeria may be sub-Saharan Africa’s leading oil producer, lines at gas stations are frequent; subsidies fluctuate, farmers demand clean-ups of oil spills; and ordinary people ask themselves why if there is a state-owned national petroleum company, why cannot some of the profits it earns — but does it? the accounting is opaque — be put into infrastructure or what-not. Huey Long did just that in Louisiana many decades ago, and more recently Sarah Palin was not loath to help her fellow Alaskans with the spoils of oil.
If the Delta continues to be a place of glaring mismanagement, Buhari can at least say he is not running the place; this may be better than having his own party in there and then having to explain why they are as incapable as the other lot to deal with the paradox of wide misery amidst a resource-rich region. At the same time, he can let the PDP see he wants to make compromises, not diktats.
This would be, after all, the whole point of the remarkable exercise the Nigerians have just been through: they have achieved a kind of normality that remains only too rare in the politics of the Continent, namely, a peaceful change of parties at the head of a legitimate government whose authority is anchored in a democratic system with press freedoms and independent legal institutions.
None of which are perfect, of course, but neither were Louisiana’s. Before the Louisiana Purchase. And even some time after. (Quin Hilyer could tell us more about that, although he is now lives and works in Alabama.)
The incoming president and the state governors must, moreover, agree on a strong policy to repress the Boko Haram terrorist insurgency in the country’s vast northeast, and since Gen. Buhari has defined this as a necessary national effort, he is not likely to go looking for fights on the domestic front. He himself described the on-and-off violence in the restive south as a threat to be taken as seriously as the one in the north — not as much of an exaggeration as it might seem to readers too young to remember the civil war that tore Nigeria apart in the 1960s and that stemmed from a conflict between the southeast and the other regions.
As the Muslim president of Africa’s most populous country, Muhammadu Buhari will be under severe scrutiny regarding his policies dealing with sectarian strife and Islamist violence. He is not Nigeria’s first Muslim president, and Nigeria is by no means divided by sectarian factions He is in a position to advance regional security cooperation while defusing the appeal of an intolerant, radical Islam. This requires that there be, in practice as in theory, a tolerant and non-radical, which presumably means moderate, Islam. There is a school of thought that says there is no such thing. However, few are those who have traveled in black Africa without being made aware of the non-intolerant non-radical, civilized, hospitable qualities of many believers in monotheism — Muslim, Christian, and Jewish.
As a show of support — and here we explicitly, but also avowedly and with a fair alert to our readers, depart from our strict policy of maintaining a fire wall between fact and value judgment — the United States Army, whose Africa Command organizes training and support missions across the Continent, might propose to its civilian policy bosses a fresh start in U.S.-Nigerian security relations, strained last year by a reluctance on our side to sell certain weapons requested by their side, which led to a suspension of training programs.