John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Nigeria’s President Jonathan to Meet with President Obama

by John Campbell
August 26, 2013

U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 8, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington June 8, 2011. (Larry Downing/Courtesy Reuters)

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Nigerian media that President Goodluck Jonathan and President Barack Obama would meet in Washington, DC in September, on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The Nigerian media quotes her as saying “Nigeria cannot fully achieve its potential as a stable regional leader until Nigeria successfully overcomes the challenge of Boko Haram and secures peace and protection for all of its citizens in all regions.” She said that Boko Haram “offers no practical solutions to the problems confronting the northern part of the country” and that “security efforts are necessary to protect innocent Nigerians.” However, she also said that the “Nigerian government and military must also win over the hearts and minds of northern populations by protecting them and providing timely and commensurate justice to both insurgents and the victims.” She called for a “comprehensive approach that addresses socio-economic problems.” She also called for accountability for those who perpetrate violence, both Boko Haram and security forces.

Assuming the media reports are accurate, the undersecretary is taking a hard line on the Islamist insurrection called “Boko Haram,” but also acknowledging abuses by the security forces. She also highlights the social and economic roots of the insurrection by calling for a comprehensive approach to address them.

Nigeria is in a pre-election season; voting will take place in late 2014, with a new president sworn-in in May 2015. Opposition groups are working to put together a united political party that will challenge Jonathan’s Peoples Democratic Party, which has governed Nigeria since the restoration of civilian government in 1999. Jonathan is coy about whether he will run again for the presidency, though most Nigeria observers expect he will do so. Jonathan is likely to use a meeting with President Obama to enhance his own credibility with an electorate that appears increasingly disaffected.

Under these circumstances, it is to be hoped that the Obama administration will also reach out to credible opposition leaders. Two of the best known are Muhammadu Buhari, a former military chief of state who is popular with northern Muslims, and Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos state who remains a political force. They are two of the architects of the emerging opposition party.

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  • Posted by Chike

    “Jonathan is likely to use a meeting with President Obama to enhance his own credibility with an electorate that appears increasingly disaffected.”

    Are you sure about this? Isn’t this a case of Obama wanting to “cover the lost ground” of Jonathan’s one week visit to China & the billion dollar deals signed with the Chinese, in addition to Obama’s perceived snub of Nigeria during his last visit to Nigeria?

    I live in Nigeria and I can assure you that nobody cares whether Jonathan visits Obama – you Americans really need to get this out of your heads; America is not that all important symbolic nation you think it is.

    Jonathan’s visit to Obama will be covered by media, but there won’t be any political capital made from it. It won’t be like the Chinese visit which was week long, had lots of visuals & resulted in tangible deals (the Chinese have already started work on at least one of the new airport terminals).

    This is a marginal meeting, at best, so please don’t blow it out of proportion.

    About the meeting with Obama & opposition officials – it is a double-edged sword & should be handled by care. This could lead to accusations of tacit US support for the opposition & some frayed relations between this administration and the US government in the run up to elections.

    If the opposition wins, US is in good hands, but if Jonathan wins, he’ll go into his second term suspicious of the US and its intentions.

    That will not be good for US/Nigeria relations.

    Anyway, it is not my job to advise the US State Department.

  • Posted by Chike

    “Jonathan is likely to use a meeting with President Obama to enhance his own credibility with an electorate that appears increasingly disaffected.”

    While there’s a lot of truth in that statement, is this the most accurate description of the situation on the ground?

    True, there is disaffection with the Jonathan administration, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is happy with the opposition or with the leading candidates of the opposition.

    Nigeria is a very big place and there isn’t a “one size fits all” summary of current trends in Nigeria. Buhari is very popular in the far North, but that popularity doesn’t extend to the Christian parts of the Middle Belt. Tinubu might command a huge following the in the South West, but the ruling party has significant support there.

    I also wished you touched more significant stories. The most significant story out of Nigeria last week was the privatization of generating companies and distribution companies. 13 out of the 15 bidders met the payment deadline.

    Thus, Nigeria is at the beginning of the end of the privatization process of the power sector. Can Jonathan build political capital from the privatization of power assets and expected improvements in power generation? It remains to be seen.

    Things are very dynamic and there is every indication that the PDP led administration “stepping up its game”. Disaffection is high, but one cannot objectively claim that this administration is not driving extremely important reforms with trickle down effects.

    So I would implore that you present a more fine grained picture to your readers who are not familiar with Nigeria. PDP is not popular in parts of Nigeria, but extremely popular in other parts. The same applies to the opposition.

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