John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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All the King’s Men: Goodluck Jonathan and Aliyu Mohammed Gusau

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
March 11, 2014

New chief of naval staff, Rear Admiral Usman O. Jibrin (centre seated L), and outgoing Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba attend a handing over ceremony in Abuja,January 20, 2014. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters) New chief of naval staff, Rear Admiral Usman O. Jibrin (centre seated L), and outgoing Vice Admiral Dele Joseph Ezeoba attend a handing over ceremony in Abuja,January 20, 2014. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Jim Sanders, a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are his personal views and do not reflect those of his former employers.

The accession of retired general Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, whose career extends back to Nigeria’s civil war, to a newly empowered Ministry of Defense evidences the gravity of the war in northeastern Nigeria, the president’s inability to deal with it, and the tendency of a political system sustained by patronage and corruption to look backward in crisis, rather than forward.

Will it work?

Henry Kissinger once commented that, “unique leadership is a human thing, and it is not going to be produced by a mass social community.” A solid political base requires more than a few keystrokes on Facebook. Aliyu Mohammed Gusau is well known for his deep connections, but his opponent, Boko Haram, is extensively networked, too. The army may kill a hundred insurgents, only to find more popping up elsewhere. Larger defense budgets, tighter command and control, and foreign-trained battalions susceptible to rapid skill degradation are not likely to change that, at least not quickly. It remains to be seen whose networks are stronger.

Yet Gusau’s most formidable opponent is the fact that Nigeria is not the same country it was during his prime. Institutions have deteriorated, leadership is weak, national identity is declining, religion and ethnic identity are rising, and ordinary Nigerians are increasingly alienated from their government, even while their hunger for democracy remains keen. Seen by some as an eminence grise of elite politics, Gusau’s ability to provide what the country most needs—governance—cannot be assumed, even while his experience and skill should not be underestimated.

Nonetheless expectations are for a “new path,” i.e., a policy reset, and not just in the northeast. One idea is to focus on states and localities, even though, as Daniel Treisman wrote in The Architecture of Government, this approach “feeds off romantic images of life in small, usually rural communities,” while “central governments are seen as artificial and contrived.” Another is to engage with Nigerian organizations known to work—the Bar Association, medical associations, teacher’s organizations, and religious institutions. This, too, seems somewhat at odds with Gusau’s credentials, but is critical to forging a new approach to the country’s ills.

It has been argued that Nigeria is turning inward, as indicated by horrific communal violence, a civil war in the northeast, and high levels of corruption. Reversing that trend depends on moving beyond the status quo. Can the process start with one of its former architects?

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  • Posted by Bill Knight

    Another idea is to engage in long-term, multi-stakeholder supported, proactively inclusive and participatory community-driven and sustainable development programs that are integrated rather than sector-focused.

    Workable prototypes of this approach have been demonstrated in Yobe State by the (formerly EDF-funded) North East Arid Zone Development Program) and in Bayelsa State by the so-called ‘Akassa Model’ (the latter strongly influencing the shaping of Big Oil’s current and more successful and socially responsible ‘GMoU’ approach to community development).

    These prototypes have worked…maybe not 100% well…but they have worked in Nigeria and that can’t be said about a lot of other things!

    Where they have failed has been due not so much to bottom-up community failings as to the failure of their funders to sustain their top-down support and funding of the process over a longer period.

    As an ex-post monitoring report commissioned by the EDF admitted in 2006 there were “several factors that indicate that the NEAZDP laid the foundations for a community self-directed development process that could have transformed the target area had it continued over a longer time period (15 years).

    Just recently, the Emir of Machina in Yobe State, with Boko Haram in mind, commented: “Actually some of the major reasons for those killings has to do with puberty and gross unemployment in the region. Yes, if NEAZDP could have been extended, those killings would not come up. We are praying for intervention.”

    Just before becoming Vice President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, as the ten Governor of Bayelsa, likewise opted for a community-driven approach and, but for his unexpected elevation, would likely have ordered the implementation of his now forgotten “Bayelsa Partnership Initiative” which would have, largely but not entirely, seen the extension of the ‘Akassa Model’ state-wide.

    Should not President Jonathan and all other primary and secondary stakeholders now stop thinking about short term military solutions to civil unrest and return to his earlier mode of thinking: that long term community-driven development throughout Nigeria may be the best answer? Cannot the Emir have the intervention he prays for?

  • Posted by Bill Knight

    Apologies to Moderator: typo in my comment! Should read “Goodluck Jonathan, as the then Governor of Bayelsa”

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