Understanding Nigeria's 2015 Presidential Election

Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters
Dorina Bekoe

Associate Professor, Conflict Prevention, Mitigation, and Resolution, Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University

John Campbell

Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Jay Loschky

Africa Regional Research Director, Gallup

Nancy J. Walker

President, AfricaNet

The National Defense University's Dorina Bekoe, CFR Senior Fellow John Campbell, and Gallup's Jay Loschky join Nancy J. Walker, president of AfricaNet, to discuss Nigeria's historic 2015 presidential election. The election marks the first peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another. Furthermore, it is notable for the incumbent's willingness to concede defeat without a protracted dispute. The panel focuses on profiling Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president-elect, and considers the economic, political, and security challenges facing the country in the post-election context.

WALKER: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations' meeting on the recent Nigerian elections.

It's a pleasure to welcome members of the council and our guests from outside the council, in government and in the press.

This meeting is on the record. There are cameras in various places filming us as we go.

There's certainly been a lot of interest in the Nigerian elections and we are honored to have three distinguished speakers with us this afternoon. I'd like to introduce our panelists, but encourage you to read their bios in your materials so as not to take up time.

We have Jay Loschky who is the director for—Africa regional director with Gallup based here in Washington, Dr. Dorina Bekoe from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, which makes me smile, and Ambassador John Campbell, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for African policy here at the Council on Foreign Relations.

We're going to spend about 20 to 30 minutes talking here in conversation among the expert panelists and then we will open up the floor to questions from you all. We will be respectful council folks today and end promptly at 1:30.

John, can we start with you? Could you give us, given that our audience is a lot of wonderful, familiar faces and old friends who are certainly Africa experts, but I know that the Nigeria election has gotten a lot of attention, could you give us a bit of a scene-setter on what we were looking at in the run-up to the presidential and legislative elections?

CAMPBELL: Well, what we were looking at was the potential for a major train wreck. In Nigeria, the pattern has been that elections were rigged to benefit the incumbent or the designee of the incumbent.

Further, pre-electoral violence, before 2015, was greater than it had been before the elections of 2011. And there was plenty of evidence that ethnic and religious tension was higher than it had been in 2011.

Further, you had Boko Haram in the north. You also had the fall in oil prices by about 50 percent, which led to the Lagos stock exchange tanking and the naira falling against the dollar by a significant percentage. This is important because it meant that there was less money from oil in the system as a whole.

But you also had a chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission who was experienced, was strong-willed and introduced a number of innovations which had the consequence of reducing the apparent amount of rigging that typically had gone on.

In addition, for reasons that are worth thinking about pretty deeply, there was a massive shift in particularly elite, but I think probably broader than that, opinion in favor of one of the candidates, that's Muhammadu Buhari. And a result of that was that when the elections took place, Buhari took perhaps 55 percent of the vote to the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan's 45 percent of the vote.

Because Buhari's margin of victory was so large, whatever shortcomings there were in the elections—and there were shortcomings, there was clearly rigging in at least three or four of the states in the south, but nevertheless—the shift in opinion was so great that the elections remained credible, and really for the first time, I would say the first time since ostensibly civilian government was established in 1999, you had election results that were essentially accepted by everybody, even those who were defeated.

The acceptance of the results of the elections was led by Goodluck Jonathan who even before the final vote count was in called Muhammadu Buhari to congratulate him and to concede.

I myself think this is an extraordinarily important event, because what it did was it cut the ground out from under those people in the ruling People's Democratic Party who were prepared and were preparing to challenge the results of the elections. Very hard to challenge the results of the elections when the sitting president and the head of the party calls up the victor and says you won and congratulations.

So what we have, I would say, for the first time since civilian government was established in Nigeria, we have an elected president who has the credibility that winning a more-or-less-democratic election provides. This is something new and I think it's something very important.

And I think it opens up possibilities in the case of Nigeria that weren't there three weeks ago. This makes this a new and an exciting time.

WALKER: Thank you. You talked about credibility and confidence.

Jay, can you tell us a little bit about what your data from Gallup show about confidence that the electorate or the citizens had in this election?

LOSCHKY: Absolutely. First, I think it's really important to very briefly discuss what is often the elephant in the room when you talk about data that's coming out of Nigeria. Oftentimes, you know, the reliability of any survey in Nigeria is something that's immediately called into question. Nigeria's had six censuses since it's been independent; most of them have either ended in failure or just been highly controversial all around.

Just really quickly, the strength of our surveys that Gallup's doing in Nigeria is we're using the standard methodology that we use globally in 160 countries. We have a very rigorous quality control regime that we use and we have a pretty rich trend line now over the last 10 years that may not be available in a lot of different places.

And we're doing truly nationally representative surveys there. So we're not just going to Lagos and Abuja and Kano to survey Nigeria, we're hitting everywhere. It's become quite a bit more difficult, of course, to get into some of these places in the northeast now, so we have had to exclude some populations. But this is more or less nationally representative.

And you know, pivoting to this question of confidence in elections now, I don't think there was anything that was inevitable about the success of this past election. You know, from where I was sitting at least, you know, I was anticipating that things would go quite a bit worse. And what our data shows is that most Nigerians actually were thinking the same thing and they have been actually for years.

If we go all the way back to 2007 and the presidential election that happened at that time, you know, some of you monitors referred to this as one of the worst elections they had ever monitored, I believe. At that point in time, only about one in 10 Nigerians would answer yes to the question, do you have confidence in elections?

Until 2011 when we had an election that was, although imperfect, somewhat better perhaps than other recent presidential elections and we saw that number shoot up to about 51 percent of people said that they had confidence in elections.

Now, after 2011 and, you know, through most of the body of the Goodluck Jonathan, of his tenure, this number slowly fell from 51 percent to 32 percent in 2012, 18 percent in 2013 and then, you know, totally bottomed out at 13 percent in 2014 last summer when we were in the field.

This is interesting because, you know, we surveyed 32 Sub-Saharan countries in 2014. Nigeria actually was the least confident in elections, which is remarkable. If you're an advocate of democracy, I think in Africa you can maybe now look at this election and say, OK, despite the cynicism they were able to pull off an election that more or less at least meets regional standards.

So you know, where does this go now? I anticipate that this number's going to—you would expect it's going to shoot up to a level that we've never seen before in 2015. I would anticipate that we're going to see at least 50, 60, 70 percent of people now say that they have confidence in elections.

The question is, is it going to be a one-off bounce or is it going to stay there? In 2011, it bounced.

You know, we had these relatively successful gubernatorial elections this past weekend, which I'm sure you'll discuss a little bit further, which is, you know, more or less a good sign, but it's going to take year after year of probably fighting corruption, being more transparent as a government and continuing to hold successful local elections until we see that these gains are actually solidifying.

WALKER: Thanks.

Violence—talk, please.

BEKOE: Well, the first thing to note is that this was not a peaceful election. It seems like that's the narrative. But if you look at the numbers, you'll find that this election was about as violent as other elections had been with 2011 being the anomaly. And that's actually what the data tell us, that post-election violence is an anomaly on the continent and certainly in Nigeria.

So there were about maybe a hundred people that died before the election or on election day, maybe 150 is you take the APC numbers. And that's kind of in the neighborhood.

But a couple of things to note on violence, other than, one, it's in the neighborhood of past elections.

Two, what does this tell us about the conflict dynamics if we are seeing sort of a persistence of electoral violence?

You know, my fear is that there will be sort of a complacency after 2015 because we are thinking about 2011 and say, oh, you know, Nigeria has rounded the corner. But that type of complacency, we saw what happened in 2002 in Kenya and then 2007 comes around and we are suddenly surprised by the level of violence because we haven't taken into account the conflict dynamics around a particular election and why violence happens.

So we need to be mindful of the fact that this Nigerian election in terms of violence wasn't too different from 2003, 2007 and the others that the country has had.

But the other important thing to note is, you know, going back to Goodluck Jonathan's concession call to Buhari, leaders really matter and I think that's what we've seen in the Nigerian election. Violence in not a random event. And I think what Jonathan's call to Buhari did was to really tamp down the tension. So those that might have been thinking of using violence really, you know, kind of had no leadership to do that.

The second thing to note is that I think this election is a lot more transparent than others have been. Civil society was very organized. The media was really on top of things.

I was following the kind of live updates by Premium Times, the newspaper Premium Times. I was watching the INEC returning officers, you know, read the results. I thought it was remarkable that that was televised. I can't think of any election on the continent that has that televised with Jega (ph) interrogating their officers, you know, asking about the results, how they got to certain numbers. I think that really demystified the process.

And so, you know, violent entrepreneurs, you know, really were running out of excuses to do so. So I think those things were very important in reducing the level of—certainly the level of post-election violence.

WALKER: Thanks.

The Nigerian electorate faced a number of issues as they were making a decision. It wasn't simply a north-south decision.

Jay, you want to tell us a little bit about the issues that preoccupied the voters?

LOSCHKY: Sure. You know, in the last couple of years, at least going through our Nigeria data, you can really kind of see three kind of broad topics or challenges that really stick out when we're looking at Nigeria.

The first one is really economic inequality or what Ambassador Campbell might refer to as Nigeria's ghost prosperity, this idea that even as the country's pumping millions of barrels of oil every day, the economic benefits are really only being felt by a small minority.

So at Gallup to get a better idea of the degree to which the economy is improving life for all Nigerians, we like to see how Nigerians themselves are actually evaluating their lives. This is the miracle of survey research. And while GDP per capita is an important measure, it doesn't in itself ensure that all citizens are actually enjoying the fruits of a growing economy.

So as a secondary indicator, one thing we do is we measure life evaluation. Essentially, we ask people all around the world to rate their lives today, then we ask them to estimate where they see their lives five years from now. From there we usually categorize people into three different categories: thriving, struggling and suffering.

This is important because people who we consider as thriving are happier, they report fewer health problems, they take fewer sick days and they worry less.

So in a healthy economy, we see GDP growth and well-being track each other very closely. So if you were to look at data for Colombia, for example, as GDP goes up, you're going to see life evaluation go up almost completely perfectly in tandem. In countries like Egypt before the 2011 revolution, we noted that GDP was going up quite a bit and people thought, OK, you know, Egypt is starting to prosper, but at the same time life evaluation and well-being was actually tanking at the exact same moment.

So while it's kind of speculative to associate the GDP/well-being relationship with upheaval, I think it's an important thing to keep an eye on.

In Nigeria, while GDP has been, you know, increasing even with the re-basing, we see this, we see life evaluation in Nigeria as essentially being stagnant. Thus, with GDP growth in Nigeria expect it to be strong in the coming years, meaning these economic expectations, minimizing this feeling of relative deprivation, may be a key predictor of Buhari's success.

For some extra kind of regional context in terms of these economic perceptions, Nigerians view themselves as really no better off than most of their ECOWAS neighbors.

We ask three questions globally every year. We ask, have there been times in the past 12 months when you didn't have enough money for food? Have there been times in the past 12 months where you didn't have enough money for shelter? And then how would you rate economic conditions in this country today, as excellent, good, only fair or poor?

Now, we have data for 15 different West African countries from this past year, and you'll see that Nigerians are no less likely to lack the money for basics, such as food and shelter, as their neighbors in Liberia or Sierra Leone, this despite the incredible natural resources that that country has in comparison to their neighbors. People in Nigeria are actually more likely to say that their economic situation is poor. You know, that's a relative thing, but it's certainly meaningful.

Now, in Africa, unemployment can't only be measured in one way. The problem with a lot of unemployment figures, at least on the continent, is that they don't accurately reflect the realities that a lot of people are working in informal employment, they're working in menial employment. There might be a guy who is shining your shoes on the street and he might be counted as employed by some measures.

So at Gallup, one thing we do is we have this payrolled population indicator. And the whole point of this is we're measuring the people who are employed for an employer. So the idea is, you know, we measure—we think that looking at how many people have a good job is better than looking at the people who have any job. And at least in Nigeria, we're seeing that it's really no different than the rest of the continent. It's basically the median measure. Unemployment is no better.

The second main thing that we look at in Nigeria that sticks out in the data is this issue of corruption. It's no secret that Nigeria, the economy suffers mightily from corruption. The degree to which people perceive it, though, however, is really astounding.

We asked the question globally, is corruption widespread throughout the government or not? In Nigeria, about nine in 10 people every year for the last 10 years have said yes, there is a lot of corruption in government. This has remained unchanged throughout Goodluck Jonathan's tenure and it's actually tied statistically for the highest level in the entire world. So Nigeria is keeping company with...

WALKER: Tied with which country?

LOSCHKY: Lebanon, Bosnia, Greece, Indonesia are a few of the ones. But Nigeria is at the very top in Sub-Saharan Africa.

So this is a major challenge for the incoming president for sure. It might be his most difficult challenge.

Now, the third thing that sticks out in our data are issues of insecurity. And this is, you know, when we're sitting in the U.S., this is what we see on TV the most. We're seeing Boko Haram and issues of terrorism.

So last year in 2014, we did ask a question, do you think the government is doing enough to fight terrorism or not? Only one in four people said that the government was doing enough; two in three said it was not doing enough.

And this is actually a bit more of a partisan issue. Forty-five percent of Goodluck Jonathan's supporters would say he is doing enough; only 16 percent of people who didn't support him.

And I think it's also important to note that among Christians and Muslims, they view this issue exactly the same way. Twenty-six percent would say that he was doing enough.

And there's also, you know, broad consensus on the threat that Boko Haram poses to that country. We asked last year if people believed that Boko Haram poses a major threat, a minor threat or no threat to the future of Nigeria. The results were almost incredible. I thought that I had asked a bad question because the results I got were 95 percent consider Boko Haram a major threat. Now, this was two months after the Chibok incident, so it was in the news and, you know, it was a big issue at that time. That's possible that it drove that result up.

But you know, another thing that I've been asked are, if you are sympathetic in some way of Boko Haram, how would you answer this question? Could you make a politically incorrect statement say it's not a threat?

Well, the fact that only 3 percent of people even found it to be a minor threat I think is telling that there is a broad degree of consensus around what this organization is and the level of threat that it poses to Nigeria.

And again, between Christians and Muslims, sometimes people like to view this through kind of a sectarian prism, especially outside the country. Ninety-seven percent of Christians would say they're a major threat, 92 percent of Muslims. So that's something that sticks out.

And then finally, what does this data mean when we're looking at country stability? Particularly, how are people viewing security forces in that country and their ability to keep the country safe?

We ask about confidence in local police and confidence in the military in Nigeria and in every country. And what we've seen over the last four years is as Boko Haram attacks have escalated, every year people become a little less confident in their own security forces.

So this is particularly meaningful in regards to the military which is probably one of the better-functioning institutions or more highly regarded historically perhaps, that confidence in the military has fallen from 78 percent in 2011, now it's at 57 percent. Police, people were never as supportive of the police, frankly, from 49 percent, now 33 percent; only one in three people have confidence in their police.

But I think the real takeaway is that at the same time that confidence in the military is falling and confidence in the police is falling, people who approve of the country's leadership is falling exactly in tandem at the same time to the point where you can pretty much say that the security situation is, to some degree, a referendum on leadership itself. If I were a part of the new administration, I would be sure I prioritized that as I think at least their data shows that political fortunes are falling in line with the security situation in the country.

So you know, as the change candidate, Buhari really effectively harnessed his messaging, I think, on these three themes, especially corruption and Boko Haram. But with expectations being what they are now and taking into account some of our data after other past elections, I would say that Buhari only has a short amount of time to make real progress if he is to satisfy the people who put him in office.

WALKER: John, do any of you want to talk about the issues and the challenges that face—posed to the new administration?

CAMPBELL: Well, let's take security and Boko Haram. Chadian, Nigerian, particularly South African mercenaries, in conjunction with the Nigerian military, managed to dislodge Boko Haram from the towns and villages in northeastern Nigeria that it had occupied. It did not defeat it.

Boko Haram has simply merged back into the countryside, back into the slums, and is pursuing strategies that are similar to what it did in 2011 and 2012, attacks on soft targets, attacks on civilians, more now than in 2011 of suicide bombers.

So we're very far from having defeated Boko Haram in the northeast. And yet, until you can establish some kind of security in northeastern Nigeria, how do you carry out the social and economic reforms that are clearly necessary if Boko Haram is to be deprived of the oxygen that it uses and that reflects the fact that for a generation northeastern Nigeria has been marginalized and has become increasingly poor? How do you do it?

All right. You can start by reform of the military. That takes money. And the Nigerian government has about half as much money now as it did last year.

Further, how do you restore morale in the military, particularly in the short term?

And finally, the sort of first step that appeals to me, which is fire all the service chiefs because the service chiefs are political appointees whose chief virtue appeared to be that they were closely aligned politically with the current administration.

If you fire all the service chiefs, you are starting off by goring a whole lot of oxes. And what are the consequences of that going to be?

WALKER: A lot of blood.

CAMPBELL: I agree with your point that the honeymoon period that Buhari has I think will be extremely short. He's been doing everything he can to reduce expectations about what he can accomplish in the short term. Electorates generally don't much like to hear that. I mean, from their perspective, they voted for change and they want change now.

WALKER: Dorina, you want to chime in?

BEKOE: Sure. You know, some of the data that you've presented are interesting because it really points to kind of a decreasing confidence that Nigerians have.

And one of the things I noted was the voter turnout in the election, it was really low, it was about 44 percent.


BEKOE: Which is the lowest it has been since 2003. It's gone down every single election.


BEKOE: And so you have to—you know, it poses some important questions about, you know, how—is this a disenfranchisement? Are people disenchanted, are they disconnected? You know, what is your leverage as a government? Are you able to engage? You know, what's the credibility gap?

And I think that's a tremendous challenge that the Buhari administration will face, any administration, you know, would have faced.

And what are the implications of this engaged electorate? What's the implication for governance?

You know, on other countries when you have that sort of gap, it might be, you know, an opportunity for, you know, just the populous to just completely, you know, not respond to government's initiatives. So I think that that's a huge gulf that somehow the administration needs to be mindful of to try to bridge.

WALKER: Thank you.

It's time to open up to our distinguished guests here. But one thing I would like our panelists to be thinking about, and I hope somebody will pose the question since my time is up, is, what does all of this mean for U.S.-Nigeria relations? Nigeria is one of our, if not our most important partner on the continent, and so I'd like you all to think about that.

And let me encourage our guests here, our members to join the discussion. Please wait for the microphone. These lovely colleagues will bring it to you. Stand, please state your name and affiliation and keep your questions short and to the point. And remember that this meeting is on the record.

Who would like to ask the first question?


QUESTION: Hi. My name is Leslie Warner. Thank you all for your comments and insights. My question has to do with Buhari himself, his identity as the change candidate, his identity as a northerner, as a former military man. What are the implications of those aspects of his identity for the counter-Boko Haram fight and in the longer term for reform of the Nigerian military?

Off the top of my head, I can see lots of positives and negatives. So one of the criticisms of the counter-Boko Haram fight is that it has been too heavily military and not enough political. And you could argue that as a military man he may be predisposed to, you know, focusing on the military at the expense of the political.

On the other hand, the fact that he is a military man could mean that he is more likely to call out the Nigerian military for not addressing the conflict in the way that they should.


WALKER: Ladies and gentlemen?

CAMPBELL: Well, I'll take an initial stab. Military man, yes, but a military man that has had very little to do with the military for some 30 to 40 years. A person who does not have the sort of personal networks with the military that somebody who had been on active duty more recently might have had.

Further, the Nigerian military now is very, very different from when Buhari was military chief of state. When he was military chief of state, the Nigerian military was seen as the ultimate guarantor of Nigeria. It was the one institution in the country with a strongly national identification so that, for example, within the military one did not refer to whether one was Christian or Muslim or Hausa Fulani or Igbo.

That, alas, is long gone. And as a senior Nigerian-serving military officer said to me last year, the military now reflects all of the same divisions and stresses that are to be found in Nigerian society as a whole. So I'm not terribly sure that Buhari's previous military experience will have much relevance to what he tries to do going forward.

I would commend his Chatham House speech given in February in which he essentially charts and documents his conversion, and there's no other word for it but "conversion," to essentially a democratic perspective.

All of this says very little about the heart of your question, which is, does Buhari have the imagination and the skills to chart a different course in northeastern Nigeria? In other words, instead of using the hammer, using the plow.

Let me suggest there's one piece of evidence from his past that gives grounds for hope. During the Abacha military dictatorship, Buhari was responsible for running the oil industry in the Delta. By all accounts, he did a very good job and he won the confidence of the local people, a Hausa Fulani Muslim from the north.

There, what seems to have been crucial was his competency and also his eschewing any kind of corruption.

WALKER: Thank you.

Dorina, you want to add?

BEKOE: I don't have a lot to add. But I get the sense that, like you said, Buhari is really trying to tamp down expectations. Today, commenting on the Chibok girls' disappearance, he said he would try his best to get them back, but he couldn't promise anything. And I think that, you know, kind of shows his own sort of uncertainty, not too much in himself, but just recognizing that it is a different military, it is divided and, you know, in need of reform.

CAMPBELL: And what was so refreshing about that statement today was its honesty. He said I don't know where they are.

WALKER: Right.

Next question, please. Connie? Wait for the microphone, please. Thank you.

QUESTION: Connie Freeman, Syracuse University. I'm going to follow on the first question and ask you to expand on how you think Buhari is going to grapple with corruption. He comes to office with a reputation for being strongly anti-corruption and somewhat effective against it in the past. The question is whether he will be able to grapple with it quickly and effectively now or whether that will float away.

WALKER: Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen?

BEKOE: Well, I'm not sure he could grapple with it in the same way that he did in 1983. I think that those methods are long discredited and I think he himself has, you know...



BEKOE: I think he himself has tried to, you know, calm fears that he might go back to his 1983 days.

But I do think he's quite serious about it. Now, the question is, how's it going to manifest? Are we going to see more investigations? You know, there are lots of allegations, but in the past there's been no follow through. Are we going to see more of that? Is the EFCC going to become less political than it has been? I mean, it has caught some corruption, but it always tends to be more politicized. Are we going to see a more objective, you know, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission?

I think those are the real questions and we haven't sort of heard that much from him other than he's committed to doing that, but he's not going to go the same way he did in the past.

CAMPBELL: Leadership starts at the top. And Buhari has no interest in money, as far as I can tell. He lives very simply. I called on him at his house in Kaduna and his house was completely appropriate as a house of a retired military officer. It was hardly a palace.

He has already announced that he is going to require the inner circle at least of his government to make public their financial situation. This is something new and different if it actually happens. And it can go some way towards starting to build an atmosphere of transparency.

Obviously with corruption deeply structural in Nigeria, you have to take—you know, it's like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.

WALKER: Jay, do you have any data on corruption that would be applicable now?

LOSCHKY: Other than the fact that Nigerians agree that it's the most corrupt country in the world, unfortunately I don't have too much.

WALKER: We'll go with that.



QUESTION: Thank you. Nigeria has a big...

WALKER: Could you identify yourself, please?

QUESTION: Oh, I'm sorry. Pauline Baker, the Fund for Peace.

WALKER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Nigeria has a big youth bulge and there's some talk about the results of this election being a turning point based on a new generation arriving, a new kind of politicization going on.

Jay, do you have any data or breakdown from your data that shows whether or not the differences here were based either on age or gender? Everybody looks at religion and location, but I just wonder. And also in terms of looking at the voter turnout, is there data that shows that most of the people who turned out were of a certain age? Or was it representative of the society as a whole?

WALKER: Thank you.


LOSCHKY: Well, you know, I have looked at some of these data by age, by gender and I think what stands out, what's really remarkable is the amount of consensus by sex and by age really. That's something that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to see. Attitudes towards corruption, there's not a big difference. You know, the youth aren't any more forgiving of it, they aren't any more critical of it.

One thing that maybe does stick out that's related to the data that I've presented is on issues of security women are more sensitive. So women are less likely to be approving of, you know, the security services, they're less likely to think (inaudible) about terrorism, these types of issues.

WALKER: That's consistent with data internationally, too.

LOSCHKY: Right. We see that in a lot of countries, a lot of Middle Eastern countries as well.

BEKOE: I haven't seen that data broken down by age group yet. It's not to say it's not to come. But the turnout was pretty low. I don't know how that—yeah.

WALKER: Do we have numbers on voter turnout for the last Sunday's election as well?

BEKOE: I haven't seen it yet.

WALKER: We haven't seen those yet. Not yet.

Over here in the back row. Yeah, no, sorry, you. Wait for the microphone, please.

QUESTION: Jonah Victor, Department of Defense. Let me go back to your question, Dr. Walker. Buhari was elected, one of the reasons he gained so much support was he was remembered as a very different type of head of state of Nigeria. Clearly, he's going to be different than President Jonathan, his administration is going to be different. What challenges will that pose to Washington? And will Washington need to adjust its diplomatic approach to Nigeria?

WALKER: Thank you.


Who would like to take that?

CAMPBELL: OK. First of all, at least in the short term, there are lots of new opportunities. There are lots of new opportunities if, for example, Buhari tackles the issue of credible reports of human rights abuses by the security services—if he tackles that issue. If he carries out a meaningful investigation of those charges, Leahy very largely goes away. And if Leahy goes away, the potential and the possibilities for much closer military cooperation become much more significant.

Buhari is, my reading of him, is he is very much a nationalist. And actually, the quality of his nationalism is something that was much more common in the first 10 or 15 years of Nigeria's independence than it is now.

Essentially, a Nigerian sense of national identity has been eroding for a long time and has been replaced by a renewed emphasis on ethnicity, religion and family. Buhari doesn't fit that. Buhari is a Nigerian nationalist and it clearly sticks in his craw that you have Chadian and Nigerian troops running around in northeastern Nigeria.

An interesting point is, what about the South African mercenaries? They might be more acceptable to a Buhari simply because as mercenaries they are being paid for by the government, they're not actors belonging to some other government.

But it means that our often-fulsome support for multilateral approaches to problems may not work terribly well with Buhari.

One final point, I don't think he knows this very well. He spent a year at Fort Leavenworth, but he has...

WALKER: (inaudible) ago.

CAMPBELL: A long time ago, yeah, I mean, more than a generation ago. And he hasn't had much contact, so far as I can tell, with official Americans for, well, actually, ever. So there's going to be—if we're going to have to get to know him, he is also going to have to get to know us.

There, the people immediately around him become extremely important because some of them, Fashola, Bukesa (ph), Saraki, Danjuma, do know us very well. And if he listens to what they have to say, there might be fewer bumps in the road.

WALKER: Are we good?


QUESTION: (inaudible) The question is, is it reasonable to expect a short-term turnaround? I know the population is anxious for change, but want to set reasonable expectations so that it can be measured, you know, in good progression.

WALKER: Thank you.

Who would like to take that?

BEKOE: You mean a short-term turnaround in some of what he's...

QUESTION: How do we measure progress? So after one year, two years, are we saying Buhari needs to be out? I mean, the issues have gone on for a long time. You know, four years is probably not going to be enough, right, to address the majority of it. So will the international community and all of us sitting in this room, what messaging? You know, next time we meet here, say next year, what type of, you know, Gallup results are we going to be hearing about?

BEKOE: I think you look at—well, like you said, these are huge issues. And you know, one or even two terms isn't going to be enough to, you know, enact the needed security sector reforms or tackle corruption or even some of the governance and service delivery issues. But you need to be able to understand the administration has taken credible steps to address those.

You know, are there initiatives that cannot be easily turned around? You know, what laws has parliament enacted? I mean, how—you know, are institutions somehow vested in continuing on a certain path? So I think we need to think of it in those terms rather than, you know, we can cross this off the list. But you know, how credible are the steps taken that would lead you down, you know, a particular path?

WALKER: John, Jay, you want to add anything?

CAMPBELL: I think symbols become terribly important. Symbols become a means of communicating what you're trying to do. And no, the fundamental problems certainly can't be solved in four years. But you can communicate the idea that it is not business as usual, that in fact there is a new democratic, transparent goal that the government is working towards and that's expressed basically through symbolic acts.

Let me give you a concrete example of what I'm thinking of. President Jonathan's delegation to the U.N. General Assembly, according to the Nigerian press, numbered 567. Well, a delegation to the General Assembly that numbered 15 or 20 would be a dramatic indication that things are different.

WALKER: Thank you.

Please, yes.

QUESTION: Irving Williamson, U.S. International Trade Commission. I was wondering if you could address what are the symbols or what signs of progress might we see in the economic area in terms of economic development and broadening the economic base beyond the oil sector.

WALKER: Thank you.


CAMPBELL: Well, Buhari has not indicated that he has any particular interest in economics or any particular background or knowledge of it. That means in that particular sphere the people that he appoints into economic positions are going to be particularly important. And so we'll just have to wait and see.

WALKER: OK. Next question, please, here in front.

QUESTION: Thank you. Janelle Johnson with the Senator Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you all for your insights.

I want to go back to this question of confidence in the police and military forces because it has a number of implications for everything from the current fight against Boko Haram to sort of longer-term civilian security. I'm wondering what your thoughts are on the short-term steps that might be taken to restore popular confidence in security forces.

Reforms—Ambassador Campbell, you mentioned certain reforms. Those take time...

CAMPBELL: They do.

QUESTION: ...in addition to political will, which it may be there, it may not be. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are on short-term steps that might be taken in this regard. Thank you.

WALKER: Thank you.


BEKOE: Well, I think there's sort of two angles. One is both the community relationship with the security forces, but there's also the amount of sort of morale within the security forces themselves, right?

So you know, on the first one, community relations, there are lots of organizations that have documented human rights abuses that have not gone investigated. So a very credible first step would be to, you know, start down that path however it looks, you know, within the Nigerian context.

The security forces are also, you know, not paid, underpaid, you know, don't have the equipment to fight, so you need to kind of take steps to try to, you know, rectify that. So I think there are two angles. You know, one is giving them the tools to protect the community, but also making them want to do it.

WALKER: John, did you want to add? You're good?

CAMPBELL: I think a first step is, for goodness sakes, pay the troops. I mean, you know, they sometimes go two or three months with their pay in arrears. With a defense or a security budget of $5 billion (ph) to $6 billion, I mean, this is something it would seem to me not to be exactly rocket science to try to fix.

WALKER: Thanks.

Way in the back, please.

QUESTION: Hazel Denton, Georgetown University. You've mentioned the relationship of President Buhari to the U.S. You give the impression he's a somewhat insulated character and has not traveled widely.

CAMPBELL: That's correct.

QUESTION: What I wanted to pick up is his perhaps relationship to the other increasingly important player in Nigeria, China. What is likely to be his connection, involvement, views on China?

CAMPBELL: That of a Nigerian nationalist, which means he is going to push back when he feels that what the Chinese are doing infringes on not just Nigerian sovereignty, but Nigerian well-being.

A specific example, Buhari would have a lot of trouble, I think, understanding why a Chinese company was importing day laborers from China as opposed to using Nigerians.

WALKER: Hank, please.

QUESTION: Hank Cohen, I'm currently a groupie for Power Africa.


I remember being in Nigeria when in the early days of Obasanjo when they announced that they would publish the amount of money going to each state...


QUESTION: ...from the oil allocation. And I found people were very happy about, so great, some transparency finally. So the question is, wouldn't it be easy now to sort of open the books? That's question number one, you know, how much money is coming in to NNPC and so on?

And secondly, since apparently a lot of the corruption is at the state level...


QUESTION: ...governors get these allocations and then the money disappears. Would it be culturally possible or politically possible to set up an auditing system like we have here, government accountability, that sort of thing? Could Buhari impose that sort of thing?

WALKER: Thank you.

BEKOE: I suppose you could start down that path. I think it would be very difficult politically just given the, you know, where oil is at the center of Nigerian politics. I mean, if that could be accomplished, then that would be a, you know, great start to transparency.

My impression is that, you know, you kind of have to start small, if you will, to try to tackle something like that.

CAMPBELL: The system you described is still in place. Posted on the website, normally now two or three months late, is the allocation by the central government to each of the states, which means if you want to know how much Kano state receives you can find that out.

The difficulty has been, just as you said, essentially, the money stops with the governors. The idea was that the state assemblies would hold the governors accountable. That has never worked because, essentially, the state assemblies very often have been beholden to the governors, they've been part of the governors' sort of patronage/clientage networks.

So I like the idea of exploring the possibility of an outside audit, which seems to me to be less politically threatening than certain other approaches might be.

WALKER: Thank you.

Please. Would you stand and wait for the microphone?

QUESTION: (inaudible) who I am and stuff like that. Sarah Chayes from the Carnegie Endowment. Just a follow up on the voter turnout question, I was actually surprised at your description of it as being so low because certainly both it was described as high and in my anecdotal interactions with people I called during that day people were saying they had never seen anything like it.

So I'm wondering whether either in your understanding of the figures or perhaps at Gallup, has that been broken out regionally? I was wonder if it was significantly—because I had also heard suggestions it was significantly lower in Jonathan's supporting areas and significantly higher in Buhari's supporting areas. Thanks.


LOSCHKY: Well, you know, I can't say anything specifically about voter turnout in this most recent election. However, I am planning to add some questions to this year's survey to actually kind of try to follow up.

Now, we have some issues of sample size, but it will be very interesting to see how voter turnout looks region by region according to our data, how it matches up.

BEKOE: And I mean, there are differences, you know, across the country. I mean, there are places where, like in river states, where it was very difficult to vote and in the Buhari areas there was a higher turnout.

But the number that I'm referring to is really the average. It hasn't been very high actually throughout Nigeria, the elections in Nigeria. It was 44 this year, it was in the 50s last time and the time before. So it's, you know, this isn't a country where they've had massive turnout.

WALKER: John, any additional...

CAMPBELL: No, I don't have anything.

WALKER: Questions?

Please, in the middle—middle-middle, middle row, middle seat.

QUESTION: Hi. Stanford Ungar.

WALKER: OK. Could you wait for the microphone, sir?

In the second row, second seat.

QUESTION: Stanford Ungar. Sorry, maybe you didn't mean to call on me.

WALKER: That's quite all right. We have plenty of time.

QUESTION: Just on that point about turnout, several of us in this room were observers at one stage or another of the election, in our case for NDI. And on election day, there were a lot of reports of how big the voter turnout was. And I must say it reminded me very much of American television reporters dispatched across the country who always in the morning say the turnout is huge...


QUESTION: ...and then later when it's counted it turns out to be, I mean, just about every presidential election. And so I think this was the same pattern there. Some of us—I was in Lagos on election day and the turnout was minuscule at some voting stations, really remarkably small and in contradiction to what was being said. Just wanted to—I don't know if Robin has anything she wants to say.

WALKER: Thank you.

You want to pass the microphone to the gentleman behind you?

QUESTION: Whitney Debevoise from Arnold & Porter. Just to follow up on the economic question, do we have any ideas about the profile of the people who might be on the economic team? And I mean, we're talking about audits, there supposedly is an audit ongoing about the oil that's missing. And there's been an audit of the revenue coming in and so forth. It doesn't seem to work. But I mean, they clearly need some good macro policies. They got rid of oil subsidies and when they tried to cut them, there were, you know, demonstrations in the streets. So how realistic is this going to be with a Buhari administration?

WALKER: Thank you.

BEKOE: I don't have any insights there.

CAMPBELL: I think it's too early to say. I don't think that the process of selecting—I'm not talking about cabinet ministers, because as you all know in the Nigerian system the cabinet is so huge it's meaningless, but the people who would be immediately around Buhari, I don't think that process has gone very far.

But you raised a very interesting point. You raised audits and there have been special commissions in the past that had investigated things like the violence after the 2011 elections. By all reports, these special commissions do an excellent job. The trouble is the reports are never released to the public.

WALKER: I'm going to exercise the privilege of the—OK, Madam Ambassador Robin, go on and make it quick because we're running out, we're at the last one.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on Sandy's comment about the voter turnout, I think we just need to put one more figure on the table, that the number of registered voters from 2011 to 2015 dropped significantly.


QUESTION: You had 74 million in 2011 and you had 68.4 million in 2015, so that also affects your percentages.

And there was on the percentage of women quite a high female turnout, particularly in the northern part and north central.

WALKER: Thank you.

In 30 seconds or less, how would you advise the current administration to embark upon a relationship with this new administration?

CAMPBELL: Who do you want to start with?

WALKER: Go ahead, please. Jump in.


BEKOE: Well, I think, you know, Ambassador Campbell said it best. There is a—Buhari doesn't know us and we also, you know, don't know him. So there's that piece of it.

There also should be a recognition that, you know, this administration is inheriting these tremendous problems and, you know, just the challenge that they face, how do we, you know—we should pay attention to, you know, how Nigeria defines those problems and defines the parameters in which it's going to, you know, address them. I think that's the best way to understand, you know, where we might fit in as an international partner.

WALKER: Thank you.


LOSCHKY: Well, I guess when the president visits the region in the future he won't have to fly over Nigeria as he has in the past and visit Ghana or another place. It seems to me when I look at our data and what Nigerians think, it seems like we're pushing on an open door. The U.S. is quite popular in Nigeria compared to other countries that we are measuring against, particularly China, by the way. I wanted to add that point. So yeah.


John, final word is yours.

CAMPBELL: Bumper sticker: First, do no harm. Secondly, the relationship between the United States and Nigeria, the basis for that relationship is changing. When I was ambassador, what was really important? Oil and the fact that the Nigerians would provide peacekeepers for U.N. and other missions where we did not want American boots on the ground.

And oh, yes, by the way, Nigeria was big and it had democratic aspirations.

Well, oil is no longer important. For a very long time, I think it's going to be difficult for Nigeria to assume a peacekeeping function commensurate to the one that it had 10 years ago.

What's new, what's different? What's new and different is that the country is increasingly behaving like it really is a democracy. And as such, that has enormous and potentially highly positive impact on the rest of the continent.

WALKER: Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking our distinguished panelists.


On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations, thank you all for coming. And just a quick reminder this meeting was on the record. We look forward to seeing you again.

Thanks very much.


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