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Nigeria: 2017 Trend Analysis and the Contours of Inertia, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Let me start with a health warning – I am a social scientist, so I do not do predictions. That is the work of charlatans. I simply look at current trends and project them forward. The trends show that 2017 will be an important year in Nigeria’s march towards democratic consolidation as the political class starts making concerted plans and engaging in actions towards the 2019 elections. It is also the year in which Nigerians will find out and respond to government’s ability or inability to address the hardship generated by economic recession.

The key word for 2017 remains the same one that has determined political and economic dynamics since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari – INERTIA. In 2016, the political movers and shakers within the ruling APC resisted the temptation to come out openly to confront the president over his refusal or inability to make political appointments, hoping that there would be changes. In 2017, they will be unable to restrain themselves; they will have to come out and do what politicians do – struggle for power. They will do so with gusto as they are still furious that they won power in 2015 and President Buhari would not allow them access to that power.

The story at the end of 2016 was that, for the umpteenth time, President Buhari would make major political changes and appointments in January 2017; he will do no such thing. Inertia will simply not allow him to make major changes. Essentially, President Buhari hates politics and distrusts politicians; he cannot change himself. The political class will come out and tell President Buhari that they forced him into politics and funded him for twelve years, so after “success” at last, he cannot continue to treat them with disdain. In the first few months of 2017, the president will be under intense pressure to change one or two people close to him, following allegations of corruption against them and the current investigation he has asked his Attorney General to carry out. He is likely to replace them with similar people who would also be unacceptable to the political class.

As inertia will not allow the president to act in his own interest, the real question is how would the political class act? The political class will also have great difficulties taking action. There are strong push factors that would push political agitation within the APC into the open. Nonetheless, there are no pull factors to bring the APC political barons together. Four of them at least – Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Rabiu Kwankwaso – would continue their individual quest for power, which means eliminating the others from the race to the summit. The year 2017 will witness an acceleration of the attempt to establish a new political platform with a capacity to win elections.

The continued crisis within the PDP will push some of its leaders to join the quest for a new platform this year. If, however, Ali Modu Sheriff fails in his attempt to demolish the PDP, then the former ruling party could attract some of those being pushed out of the APC. The key question for 2017 is whether the president will seek a second term. I believe it will soon become clear that he would indeed seek a second term, not by taking action to consolidate a political coalition that would support him, which is what he should do. Rather, his inertia is likely to push his inner core supporters to start his re-election campaign this year, simply because those mobilising against him would push the Buhari team to work towards maintaining their stay in power.

This will pose a challenge for the anti-corruption campaign of President Buhari. The Buhari team would have to answer the question about whether they should loot the treasury to campaign or allow their opponents who have already looted to succeed in taking over power. The refusal of the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the EFCC is actually an inner battle within the presidential team and within the APC about whether the country should shift gear from anti-corruption to a more laissez faire approach. We saw this previously, following the transition from Nuhu Ribadu to Farida Waziri under the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Administration. Those around President Buhari are intelligent and know that they would need a huge financial war chest to keep the president in power.

The most important question for 2017 will be getting out of recession. Economists are agreed that the recession happened because of two factors. The first was the profligacy of the Jonathan Administration, followed by the collapse of petroleum prices. The second was President Buhari’s failure in getting a competent economic team to develop an effective and timely response to the crisis. By the end of 2016, the misery associated with the economic crisis had accelerated the social decomposition of society and anarchic responses, as the youth engage in self-help projects based on kidnapping, cattle rustling and rural banditry. Accompanied by the lingering Boko Haram crisis and the revival of militancy in the Niger Delta, this has created a massive security challenge that our military and police forces have been unable to address adequately. The most important threat for 2017 is whether the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the Shiites, would be pushed into opening another security threat for Nigeria. This follows the triple provocation associated with the ban of the organisation by the Kaduna State Government, the actions of the security agencies in preventing their religious and political processions and the refusal of the Federal Government to release their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite court orders. Nigeria might well be sleepwalking into another security challenge that might be much bigger than the Boko Haram crisis.

All of these trends point to the necessity for the constitution of very strong political and economic teams to map out and pursue pathways towards solutions. The president, however, appears very happy with his current team and is unlikely to make significant changes, so inertia will continue to be the operative key word. The crisis is, however, deepening and reaction will have to confront inertia in 2017. In most states of the country, governors will continue to favour contracts over the payment of salaries. Although trade unions have been weakened, the failure to pay salaries would provoke revolt by workers in many states of the country, amplifying political tensions and social crisis.

The most frightening trend for 2017 is the return of hunger and malnutrition to Nigeria. In 2016, we observed the growth of starvation in the North-East due to the Boko Haram insurgency. The dollar crisis has increased the annual trend of buying up food from farmers at harvest and exporting it to neighbouring countries. As inflation and unemployment bite harder, the spread of hunger and malnutrition would intensify.

Finally, 2017 is likely to be the record year for the Nigerian national sport – prayers and more prayers. As crisis deepens and inertia cripples our response capacities, Nigerians will increase the quantum of time devoted to prayers. Nigerians will also expand their generous donations to their religious leaders who will become richer as their congregations become poorer. The question that might arise is whether Nigerians would think more clearly and extend revolt to our revered religious leaders.

The most frightening trend for 2017 is the return of hunger and malnutrition to Nigeria. In 2016, we observed the growth of starvation in the North-East due to the Boko Haram insurgency. The dollar crisis has increased the annual trend of buying up food from farmers at harvest and exporting it to neighbouring countries. As inflation and unemployment bite harder, the spread of hunger and malnutrition would intensify.

Let me start with a health warning – I am a social scientist, so I do not do predictions. That is the work of charlatans. I simply look at current trends and project them forward. The trends show that 2017 will be an important year in Nigeria’s march towards democratic consolidation as the political class starts making concerted plans and engaging in actions towards the 2019 elections. It is also the year in which Nigerians will find out and respond to government’s ability or inability to address the hardship generated by economic recession.

The key word for 2017 remains the same one that has determined political and economic dynamics since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari – INERTIA. In 2016, the political movers and shakers within the ruling APC resisted the temptation to come out openly to confront the president over his refusal or inability to make political appointments, hoping that there would be changes. In 2017, they will be unable to restrain themselves; they will have to come out and do what politicians do – struggle for power. They will do so with gusto as they are still furious that they won power in 2015 and President Buhari would not allow them access to that power.

The story at the end of 2016 was that, for the umpteenth time, President Buhari would make major political changes and appointments in January 2017; he will do no such thing. Inertia will simply not allow him to make major changes. Essentially, President Buhari hates politics and distrusts politicians; he cannot change himself. The political class will come out and tell President Buhari that they forced him into politics and funded him for twelve years, so after “success” at last, he cannot continue to treat them with disdain. In the first few months of 2017, the president will be under intense pressure to change one or two people close to him, following allegations of corruption against them and the current investigation he has asked his Attorney General to carry out. He is likely to replace them with similar people who would also be unacceptable to the political class.

As inertia will not allow the president to act in his own interest, the real question is how would the political class act? The political class will also have great difficulties taking action. There are strong push factors that would push political agitation within the APC into the open. Nonetheless, there are no pull factors to bring the APC political barons together. Four of them at least – Bukola Saraki, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Rabiu Kwankwaso – would continue their individual quest for power, which means eliminating the others from the race to the summit. The year 2017 will witness an acceleration of the attempt to establish a new political platform with a capacity to win elections.

Finally, 2017 is likely to be the record year for the Nigerian national sport – prayers and more prayers. As crisis deepens and inertia cripples our response capacities, Nigerians will increase the quantum of time devoted to prayers. Nigerians will also expand their generous donations to their religious leaders who will become richer as their congregations become poorer.

The continued crisis within the PDP will push some of its leaders to join the quest for a new platform this year. If, however, Ali Modu Sheriff fails in his attempt to demolish the PDP, then the former ruling party could attract some of those being pushed out of the APC. The key question for 2017 is whether the president will seek a second term. I believe it will soon become clear that he would indeed seek a second term, not by taking action to consolidate a political coalition that would support him, which is what he should do. Rather, his inertia is likely to push his inner core supporters to start his re-election campaign this year, simply because those mobilising against him would push the Buhari team to work towards maintaining their stay in power.

This will pose a challenge for the anti-corruption campaign of President Buhari. The Buhari team would have to answer the question about whether they should loot the treasury to campaign or allow their opponents who have already looted to succeed in taking over power. The refusal of the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the EFCC is actually an inner battle within the presidential team and within the APC about whether the country should shift gear from anti-corruption to a more laissez faire approach. We saw this previously, following the transition from Nuhu Ribadu to Farida Waziri under the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Administration. Those around President Buhari are intelligent and know that they would need a huge financial war chest to keep the president in power.

The most important question for 2017 will be getting out of recession. Economists are agreed that the recession happened because of two factors. The first was the profligacy of the Jonathan Administration, followed by the collapse of petroleum prices. The second was President Buhari’s failure in getting a competent economic team to develop an effective and timely response to the crisis. By the end of 2016, the misery associated with the economic crisis had accelerated the social decomposition of society and anarchic responses, as the youth engage in self-help projects based on kidnapping, cattle rustling and rural banditry. Accompanied by the lingering Boko Haram crisis and the revival of militancy in the Niger Delta, this has created a massive security challenge that our military and police forces have been unable to address adequately. The most important threat for 2017 is whether the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, the Shiites, would be pushed into opening another security threat for Nigeria. This follows the triple provocation associated with the ban of the organisation by the Kaduna State Government, the actions of the security agencies in preventing their religious and political processions and the refusal of the Federal Government to release their leader, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, despite court orders. Nigeria might well be sleepwalking into another security challenge that might be much bigger than the Boko Haram crisis.

I close my 2017 trend analysis with another health warning. Nigeria’s leaders at all levels should take trend analysis seriously in our collective interest. It is not about predictions of doom; it is not even about predictions. It’s about assessing where we are, and where we are going, so as to ensure that we change course and head for better destinations. It’s possible.

All of these trends point to the necessity for the constitution of very strong political and economic teams to map out and pursue pathways towards solutions. The president, however, appears very happy with his current team and is unlikely to make significant changes, so inertia will continue to be the operative key word. The crisis is, however, deepening and reaction will have to confront inertia in 2017. In most states of the country, governors will continue to favour contracts over the payment of salaries. Although trade unions have been weakened, the failure to pay salaries would provoke revolt by workers in many states of the country, amplifying political tensions and social crisis.

The most frightening trend for 2017 is the return of hunger and malnutrition to Nigeria. In 2016, we observed the growth of starvation in the North-East due to the Boko Haram insurgency. The dollar crisis has increased the annual trend of buying up food from farmers at harvest and exporting it to neighbouring countries. As inflation and unemployment bite harder, the spread of hunger and malnutrition would intensify.

Finally, 2017 is likely to be the record year for the Nigerian national sport – prayers and more prayers. As crisis deepens and inertia cripples our response capacities, Nigerians will increase the quantum of time devoted to prayers. Nigerians will also expand their generous donations to their religious leaders who will become richer as their congregations become poorer. The question that might arise is whether Nigerians would think more clearly and extend revolt to our revered religious leaders.

I close my 2017 trend analysis with another health warning. Nigeria’s leaders at all levels should take trend analysis seriously in our collective interest. It is not about predictions of doom; it is not even about predictions. It’s about assessing where we are, and where we are going, so as to ensure that we change course and head for better destinations. It’s possible. One of the most enigmatic dictums in trend analysis or future studies is: “the future is no longer what it used to be.” This refers to the paradox of our times when we appear determined to bequeath to our children a poorer world than the one we found at birth. We must return to a future that is better than what current trends are pointing to.

A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development.

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