Nigeria 2023: Will Buhari’s failure to deliver on security hurt the APC’s election chances?

By Kayode Aluko
Posted on Friday, 10 June 2022 23:11

A view of St. Francis Catholic Church where worshippers were attacked by gunmen during Sunday mass, is pictured in Owo, Ondo, Nigeria 6 June 2022. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo

No one saw it coming. While they bowed their heads for the closing prayers as instructed by the presiding priest that Sunday 5 June morning at the St. Francis Catholic Church in Nigeria’s south-western Ondo State, gunmen threw explosives into the church and then fired at everyone standing. At least 40 people have been confirmed dead, with dozens still being treated for their injuries.

This attack happened after three bomb attacks Kogi State near Abuja, in in north central Nigeria, and a bomb attack in Taraba state in the north-east. The government says the attacks bear the hallmarks of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) – a group that splintered off of local Islamist rebel group Boko Haram – raising doubts about President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to ending the crisis and whether the legacy he leaves behind will hurt the governing party’s chances in the 2023 national elections. Buhari rode into power in 2015 as a retired general on a wave of goodwill after promising to crush Boko Haram and deliver long-sought-after peace to millions in Africa’s most populous country.

On 9 June, the Nigerian government said it has “been able to see the footprint of ISWAP” in the “horrendous” attack, confirming earlier fears that the extremists may be gaining ground outside of the north-east, where they had been restricted in their quest to grow their influence and reach. 

Nigeria “should be more concerned” than ever before with the first attack by the Islamic State-backed terror group in the country’s south, says Oluwole Ojewale of the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies. He points out that the objective of the extremists is “the establishment of an Islamic state in northern Nigeria”.

Such an attack, if confirmed to have been carried out by ISWAP, “spells more doom and gloom for the safety and security of Nigerians across the country, especially when we take into considering the fact we have seen other groups emerge and carry out a lot of atrocities against civilians,” says Anietie Ewang, a Nigeria researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Security promises

One of Buhari’s key campaign promises in 2015 was to fight insecurity, especially with regard to the Boko Haram insurgents who operate in the north-east.

Running for the fourth time and this time with the support of a new coalition of political parties, Buhari appealed to many Nigerians at a time when then president Goodluck Jonathan was accused of mismanaging the security crisis, including the abduction of more than 200 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno State.

But Lagos-based analyst Christian Nguma sees a different situation now: “He came into power as a messiah but is leaving in shame, not because he performed worse than his predecessor, but because there were too many high expectations that he failed to meet.”

Partisan president?

A northerner from the Fulani ethnic group, Buhari has on many occasions been accused of allowing impunity for armed herdsmen, many of whom authorities have identified as young men mostly from the Fulani ethnic group caught up in banditry and Nigeria’s years-long pastoral conflict over access to water and land.

In 2018, amid killings in Benue State, governor Samuel Ortom argued that “the body language, the action and inaction of Mr President shows that he is only the president of Fulani people.”

Fighting anti-Fulani sentiments, especially as the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) heads into the 2023 presidential election, remains one of Buhari’s greatest headaches.

Attacks involving herdsmen and their clashes with host communities and farmers remain one of Nigeria’s biggest security challenges. “At least 3,641 people [were] killed between January 2016 and October 2018” in attacks, as documented by Amnesty International’s Nigeria office in a 2018 report detailing “how government’s inaction fuels impunity, resulting in attacks and reprisal attacks”.

“Beyond issuing statements condemning attacks after they happen, not enough is being done by the federal and state governments to rein in attackers and bring those reasonably suspected of involvement in crimes to justice,” the international rights watchdog said. “Despite calls to address the widespread cycle of impunity, only a few measures have been taken to bring perpetrators to account.”

A lack of political will or resources?

Although Buhari has denied the allegations, often saying he is impartial and strict, the actions of security agencies have also raised doubts about how committed they are to preventing and responding to attacks.

“What is really concerning in all of these is what we are seeing as a failure of the security architecture in the country to get to the bottom and investigate these groups, to prevent the attacks from happening, to intervene in the face of attacks when they happen and to carry out adequate response that deters perpetrators,” says Human Rights Watch’s Ewang.

Nigeria’s security forces continue to grapple with insufficient resources for fighting the extremists and armed groups. The level of insecurity in many parts of the country continues to increase even though the total budgetary allocation to the defence ministry has been on the rise.

Gathering intelligence

A key gap in the nation’s security architecture has to do is in intelligence gathering, says Oluwaseyi Adetayo, a security expert and former officer of the Nigerian department of state services.

He says that, for instance, “the extremists and terrorist cells have been very active for many years” in some states outside of Borno and other parts of the north-east, but state and federal governments still do not deal with that problem.

Even when intelligence is gathered, the response and action based on it is sometimes slow.

In Kaduna’s Kajuru local government area, where bandits killed more than 30 people in attacks on 5 June that lasted for at least six hours, one resident tells The Africa Report that “security agencies have not been there [in the communities] despite our calls and after we reported the matter.”

On whether Nigeria’s security forces can contain ISWAP, the Institute for Security Studies’ Ojewale notes that the security agencies “haven’t done that effectively in the north-east and west, if they have that capability. That is why we have argued repeatedly about police reform.” 

2023: Can the APC get past this legacy?

APC national leader and former governor of Lagos State Bola Tinubu emerged as the APC’s 2023 presidential candidate in June.

Tinubu’s campaign promise to “do everything possible to ensure justice and forever erase terror from our land” is “the same rhetoric as what we have heard from the APC and People’s Democratic Party,” says analyst Nguma.

It remains to be seen whether the recent attacks will affect the party’s support, especially in Nigeria’s north, where the bulk of the security crisis continues to play out. But “Nigeria obviously is tired of the same faces and the same promises,” adds Nguma.

With eight months left for Buhari’s term in office, it “feels almost like we are just waiting for the next attack to occur and nothing is being done apart from the comments from top political officials saying that they are doing all that they can. But we are not seeing actions on the ground to match their words,” says Human Rights Watch’s Ewang. “Unfortunately, this is a legacy that the Buhari administration is going to carry. They have not delivered much on their promise in terms of safety and security.”

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