This post was co-authored by John Campbell and Jim Sanders. Jim was a career, now retired, West Africa watcher for various federal agencies. The views expressed below are their personal views.
The weekend news from Nigeria has been dominated by former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi’s elevation to emir of Kano. Kano is usually considered the second or third in the hierarchy of Nigeria’s traditional Muslim leaders. The emirate system in Nigeria does not operate according to primogeniture, so Sanusi, as a member of the family that provides the emir of Kano, was eligible for the position.
His chief rival was the late emir’s eldest son. Sanusi long ago broke with the administration of Goodluck Jonathan, which suspended him as governor of the Central Bank following Sanusi’s allegations that parastatals had failed to transfer funds to the Treasury. His candidacy as emir of Kano was supported by the chieftains of the opposition party, the All Progressives’ Congress (APC). According to the Nigerian media, prominent APC politicians, including former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu, current Lagos governor Babatunde Fashola, and former minister Nasir el-Rufai, were in Kano working on his behalf. The true kingmaker was likely the APC governor of Kano state, Rabiu Kwankwaso. Following the announcement of Sanusi’s elevation, there were riots in Kano, likely by supporters of the governing People’s Democratic Party.
Sanusi’s selection was a matter of elite politics, at the intersection between the state and the traditional world of the emirs. But, if much less glamorous than an emir of Kano and the politics of his selection, what is going on beneath the surface within the military may be of greater long-term importance to Nigeria’s stability. In the past few weeks, as the military is increasingly stressed by its failing campaign against Boko Haram and its inability thus far to free some three hundred kidnapped school girls, there have been media-reported incidents of soldiers firing on officers.
There is also an emerging scandal over officers appropriating land intended for barracks for their own, private purposes. The most recent scandal was reported by the Daily Trust. It comes at a time when those below a senior officer rank are already angry with the upper echelons over the corruption that has put soldiers in harm’s way against Boko Haram without sufficient equipment.
Commentators write about a fractured military. They probably expect this fracturing to be along ethnic, religious, and regional lines—especially because of the possibility of sympathy with Boko Haram among some military elements. However, the divisions between allegedly "business" minded senior personnel and the less well-off lower ranks are greater and far more important right now. Over the years, there has been commentary on conditions in military barracks, and it is not a pretty picture. So it should not be surprising that the personnel living in them are reluctant fighters.
Arguably, what these soldiers fight for is their own survival, while some of their superiors are out trying to make money—businessmen first, soldiers second.
The senior ranks of Nigeria’s military get nervous when they sense volatile sentiments stirring down below. We may be in such a period now, with unpredictable consequences.