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Elections to take place on February 16 amid violence in several regions – Nigeria Analysis

Executive Summary

General elections will be held in Nigeria on February 16, in order to elect the president as well as the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) will seek re-election, with his main challenger being Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

The main issues of the election are the state of the economy, endemic corruption, and the wide range of security threats across the country. These security issues may make it difficult to organize polls in some areas, particularly in the northeast where Boko Haram and the Islamic State have caused large-scale displacement.

The culture of patronage and role of local figures in mobilizing support for national races has led to Buhari and Abubakar making key connections to political leaders across the country, contributing to national tensions on a local level.

The risk of political violence will rise significantly after the election when the results are released and could translate to clashes between party cadres as well as violence directed toward state authorities. This is most likely in Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, and Adamawa states. Reported or perceived irregularities in the presidential election would likely result in unrest in Lagos and Abuja as well.

Those operating or residing in Nigeria on February 16 are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of election-related facilities as well as any political gatherings due to the possibility of unrest.

Current Situation

In July and August 2018, more than 30 senators and 90 representatives defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), mostly to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), including Senate President Bukola Saraki and former Vice President and current PDP flag-bearer, Atiku Abubakar.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected as the APC presidential candidate for re-election amid the party convention held in Abuja in October. Likewise, Atiku Abubakar was chosen as the PDP presidential candidate in a primary election.

On January 3, Amina Zakari was appointed as INEC’s head of the collation center of the elections, triggering allegations of misconduct by the PDP given that she is related to President Buhari.

On January 25, Buhari announced the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria Walter Onnoghen over corruption allegations, sparking the PDP’s condemnation over what they claimed was the APC’s attempt to “influence” the judiciary before the election. This led to PDP demonstrations and a 72-hour suspension of the campaign in solidarity with Onnoghen.

Reports indicate that over 120 people were killed during the month of January 2019 due to banditry and subsequent security operations in Zamfara, Katsina, and Sokoto states.


Assessments & Forecast

Core issues and challenges affecting Nigeria ahead of tense electoral process

Political tensions and violence have always been a common feature of Nigerian electoral processes, both at the national and regional level. In fact, Buhari’s ascension to power in 2015 represented the first peaceful transition of power between the ruling party and the opposition in the country’s history. Nonetheless, political unrest did take place during the campaign period as well as in the aftermath of the elections. In the current campaign, these tensions were evidenced relatively early on by the brief siege of the National Assembly by security forces in August 2018 in order to allegedly allow the impeachment of Senate President Bukola Saraki following his defection to the PDP. Additionally, there was high-level unrest during the Osun gubernatorial election between APC and PDP cadres in September 2018. This not only illustrates the deep-rooted volatility of Nigerian electoral periods but also sets the precedent for a highly contentious election on February 16.

There is a range of issues concerning Nigerians ahead of the polls, primarily the economy and security of the country. This includes the general stagnation of the economy and how it is intertwined with endemic corruption. Despite being the largest economy in Africa as well as an oil producer, Nigeria is believed to be the country that is home to the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, at 87 million. This is coupled with high levels of unemployment at more than 23 percent in 2018. This is exacerbated by corruption at all levels of government, including the federal government, judiciary, and local institutions nationwide. These have been widely debated on the campaign trail.

In addition, the multifaceted security threats are a core issue. This includes widespread criminality and kidnappings-for-ransom nationwide, cultism in the south, intercommunal violence between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt Region, and conflicts between bandits and vigilante groups in Zamfara and northern Kaduna states. Finally, there is the consistent threat posed by Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) in the northeast, particularly as ISWAP has shown increased capabilities in recent months, with attacks in December and January that have left thousands displaced.
FORECAST: The northeast in particular faces not only the threat of attacks during the polls but also the logistical challenge of holding the elections in areas dealing with the displacement of people, which will likely impact electoral turnout. While militant groups have not issued any specific threats associated with the elections, many of the areas’ 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) will be voting inside of IDP camps across Borno State, some of which are areas that are heavily targeted by militants.

Culture of patronage, regional politics to influence election

With corruption as a major issue of the election, President Buhari has attempted to capitalize on his reputation of being “incorruptible” during the campaign. His image as a watchdog and the active anti-corruption practices instituted during his tenure have been key to this. Buhari is also assisted by his popularity among peasants in northern Nigeria, who play a key role in the electorate, as a result of his origins in Katsina State. In tandem, his running mate Vice President Osinbajo’s popularity among ethnic Yoruba and others in the southwest region help to bolster this support. On the other hand, one of Buhari’s primary challenges are the doubts regarding his fitness in office given that he is already 75-years-old and has spent prolonged medical leaves abroad. Finally, the state of the economy is likely to affect his support nationwide, while rising insecurity may undermine him in states that he won in 2015, such as Borno, Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, and Zamfara.

Atiku Abubakar as centered his campaign on his ability to revitalize the economy due to his experience as a successful businessman. He has also pointed to his political experience, as he served as Vice President under Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999-2007. He has sought to contrast his approach to security with Buhari, promising extensive reforms within the security sector to combat criminality, banditry, and militancy. In this context, he received the public support of several prominent generals who had supported Buhari in the 2015 election. Abubakar’s choice of running mate, Peter Obi, an ethnic Igbo, was likely a strategic effort to mobilize voters in the southeast, as seen when influence Igbo sociopolitical group Ohaneze Ndigbo called upon Igbomen to support Abubakar. However, Abubakar has already faced allegations of corruption and questions over the source of his enormous wealth during his vice presidency. Another concern for his campaign will be his poor electoral history, as despite his victory in the PDP primary election, he failed in his attempts to run for president in 2007 and 2011 as well as in the 2015 APC primaries.

The regional and ethnic connections already made by Buhari and Abubakar point to a key dynamic in Nigerian politics. Given the country’s size, federal structure, and entrenched corruption, there is a dominant culture of patronage where the support of local figures plays an essential role in gaining support in important areas. Part of the presidential campaigns’ efforts has been to find local figures capable of mobilizing voters. Kano State exemplifies this dynamic as it has the largest number of voters alongside Lagos State, making it an important battleground. Buhari won Kano with 90 percent in 2015 and counts on the state governor, Umar Ganduje, who vowed to deliver “at least five million votes”. However, Abubakar has gained the support of a former Kano governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, who is still regarded as an extremely influential figure and holds the potential to significantly reduce the margin of victory compared to 2015.

President Buhari also has a solid level of support in the North West and, to some extent, in the South West, though the North Central region has always been regarded as a “swing” zone that often decides the elections. Buhari won this area in 2015 with 56.2 percent, but North Central encompasses the states most affected by intercommunal violence between farmers and Fulani herders, especially Benue, Nasarawa, and Plateau. With Buhari widely criticized for what those in the region perceive to be a soft stance against Fulani herders, he has the potential to lose a considerable number of votes.
FORECAST: This is further exacerbated by the defection of Senate President and former Kwara governor Bukola Saraki, as well as current Benue governor Samuel Ortom, from the Buhari’s APC to Abubakar’s PDP. Both of these figures, highly influential in their respective states, have actively campaigned in favor of Abubakar, and this is likely to turn both states to the PDP in the upcoming electionץ

FORECAST: As the elections draw nearer, and given the culture of patronage and political clientelism across the country, tensions are expected to rise ahead, during, and especially after the polls. While there are some instances of conflict, such as the alleged inability of Rabiu Kwankwaso to hold PDP rallies in Kano due to pressure by the APC-supporting state government, this is likely to worsen. Although there have largely be isolated cases of unrest thus far, the risk of violence will rise significantly in the days after the election when the results of both the presidential and local polls have been released. This unrest is expected to translate to scuffles between party cadres, as well as violence directed at state authorities by the losing party and their supporters. This is most likely in states with a long history of political violence, such as Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau, and Adamawa states.

These tensions have been fueled by both parties, as the APC have alleged that the PDP is mobilizing armed groups to influence the vote while the PDP have raised questions regarding the independence of the electoral commission as its president, Amina Zakari, is a relative of President Buhari. Moreover, the suspension of Chief Justice Onnoghen close to the polls raised further suspicion by the PDP. These suspicions of vote-rigging, intimidation, and the widespread practice of political clientelism illustrate the overall political climate in the country. FORECAST: In the event of contentious results on a local or national level, demonstrations and unrest are likely in the above states as well as in Lagos. If there are reported or perceived irregularities in the context of the presidential election, protests with a strong potential for unrest are liable in Abuja, particularly in the vicinity of the Supreme Court, electoral commission, and other central locations.


Travel to Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt can continue while exercising increased vigilance and adhering to stringent security precautions regarding criminal and security threats.
Those operating or residing in Nigeria on February 16 are advised to avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of polling stations, tallying centers, and other election-related facilities due to the possibility of unrest.
We further advise to maintain heightened vigilance in the week following the polls and avoid nonessential travel to the vicinity of any demonstration that may arise due to the risk of unrest.


The 2019 Geopolitical Predictive Analysis is now available:




Intercommunal clashes in Middle Belt Region grow to be main source of violence in country – Nigeria Analysis

Executive Summary

At least 1,980 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farming communities across the Middle Belt Region, particularly in Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, and Taraba states, during the first half of 2018. This has led several of these states to implement “Anti-Open Grazing Laws” to restrict Fulani herders’ movement, further aggravating the conflict.

The conflict is multifaceted, making it one of the biggest challenges in Nigeria, not only in terms of security but for the social and national cohesion of the country. Due to the effects of climate change, the conflict has worsened, with herders have been pushed southward for longer periods of time, creating tensions with farming communities over scarce resources.

The lack of political will on the federal level to provide real solutions has further widened ethnic and religious divisions across Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari’s weak response and inability to tackle the country’s security challenges has led to some of his long-time allies abandoning the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) to form the Reformed – All Progressive Congress (R-APC), where they intend to present a joint candidate with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

Given President Buhari’s weak political leverage, and his likely unwillingness to upset his northern grassroots supporters, the federal government is not expected to implement drastic policies to change the situation on the ground in the near future, and the conflict is likely to persist at a high pace.

We advise against all nonessential travel to outlying areas of the Middle Belt Region due to frequent intercommunal clashes involving Fulani herdsmen.

Current Situation

Several large-scale clashes and ambushes against villages have taken place across the Middle Belt Region over the last month including the killing of at least 86 people in clashes across several Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Plateau State on June 23. Likewise, 73 were killed in the border areas of Adamawa and Taraba states and another 50 in Taraba State on July 9 and 13 respectively.

At least 500 farmers have been killed, including 17 parishioners and two priests in a church, by suspected Fulani herdsmen across Benue State since the beginning of 2018. Likewise, tens of thousands of people have been displaced, with their houses burnt amid the violence between herdsmen and farmers in the states that implemented an “Anti-Open Grazing Law” in late 2017.

Overall, at least 1,980 people have been killed in intercommunal clashes between Fulani herdsmen and local farming communities across the Middle Belt Region, particularly in Adamawa, Benue, Kaduna, Plateau, and Taraba states, during the first half of 2018.

Security forces dispersed hundreds of Christian farmers protesting in front of Plateau’s Government House on June 27, denouncing the violence against their communities.

On July 10, 37 opposition parties including the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and a splinter faction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Reformed – All Progressives Congress (R-APC), agreed to present a sole candidate for the upcoming 2019 presidential elections in order to oust President Muhammadu Buhari.

Origins of the Conflict

While nomadic pastoralism is a phenomenon that has decreased considerably over the last few decades, it remains a common way of life among certain populations in Nigeria, particularly for about 20 percent of the 7.6 million ethnic Fulani in northern and central Nigeria. During the dry season in northern Nigeria, Fulani move south through traditional grazing paths seeking additional fertile land for their cattle. As a consequence, nomadic herders often compete for limited resources, such as water, with farmers of these areas, which has been a source of continued clashes between the communities.

Given the lack of security infrastructure in Nigeria’s rural areas, coupled with the intercommunal nature of the tensions, these clashes are often cyclical, where one attack by one community is likely to lead to a retaliatory raid by the other and vice versa. Nonetheless, traditionally, this violence did not catch the public and international spotlight, as they often resulted in minor death tolls given the employment of mostly cold weapons by both warring parties. Over the last few years, the death tolls associated with these clashes have exponentially increased. This is partially due to the massive proliferation of weapons that have flooded Nigeria as well as other sub-Saharan African countries, mostly originating from Libya following the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi and the country’s collapse. Thus, intercommunal clashes that were previously fought with cold weapons and hunting rifles now involve heavier weaponry by both migrating herders and vigilante groups established by farming communities. For example, in 2014, at least 1,229 people were killed in comparison to 63 in 2013.

Even though intercommunal clashes between pastoralist and Muslim farming communities do take place across northern Nigeria as well as in additional West African countries such as Niger and Mali, the religious aspect of the divide in Nigeria does aggravate the animosity between the parties. The vast majority of Fulani herdsmen are Muslim while farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt Region are largely Christian, a situation that fuels suspicions and adds an additional layer of complexity to conflict resolution. Ethnic and religious divides have long been one of the main fault lines evidenced across Nigeria, which is emboldened by the deep differences between the communities even at a political level. As such, while religion is not the main driver for the clashes, it certainly worsens the conflict.

Assessments & Forecast

The conflict between Fulani herdsmen and farmers is multifaceted, making it one of the biggest challenges in Nigeria, not only in terms of security but for the social and national cohesion of the country. Over recent years, this type of violence has surpassed the Boko Haram insurgency as the deadliest source of conflict affecting Nigeria. Although Boko Haram receives most of the global spotlight, intercommunal clashes have left more than 60,000 dead since 2001, in comparison with the 17,000 killed by Boko Haram militancy. The conflict has worsened for several reasons, with the greatest determinant being the growing scarcity of resources available. Herders traditionally migrated southward, seeking grazing lands and water for their cattle during the dry season. However, due to the effects of climate change, droughts and increasing desertification affecting northern and central Nigeria have pushed herders south for longer periods of time. In recent years, herders have also begun to migrate to southern Nigeria, often deviating from the Middle Belt, which makes them encounter communities not accustomed to their dynamics and makes tensions even more acute.

The effects of climate change are also exacerbated by the country’s explosive population growth, which has turned Nigeria into the most populous country in Africa with close to 200 million people. This has led to the subsequent growth of urban centers as well as an exponential increase in cultivated lands both by local farmers and agro-industries. These farms have encroached upon traditional grazing routes across the Middle Belt used by herdsmen, which has intensified their grievances as they cannot find high-quality grazing lands for their cattle.

In previous eras, these conflicts could be managed or mitigated by traditional rulers in rural Nigeria, who had once filled the vacuum of power left by the government in rural areas. However, this role has gradually eroded as their relevance has decreased, fueled both by modernization and the emergence of local political figures, who often attempt to create a system of patronage with local communities for their own purposes. Even as said politicians bid for further government presence in their constituencies, the Nigerian state presence across rural areas remains weak, thus not entirely filling the vacuum left by those traditional rulers. This ultimately emboldens the perpetuation of the violence between pastoralist and locals with little oversight.

In tandem, the lack of political will on the federal level to provide real solutions to the violence has exacerbated grievances amongst locals and further widened ethnic and religious divisions. In particular, President Muhammadu Buhari’s weak response has been widely perceived as biased in favor of Fulani herdsmen, mainly because Buhari is a Fulani himself. Neither the president nor the government have criticized or condemned the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACBAN), the most influential umbrella group advocating for Fulani herdsmen, for its inaction in ending the violence. This perceived soft stance comes in stark contrast to the federal government’s response toward other groups it views as disruptive, such as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which face harsh crackdowns and military action. On the other hand, a broad spectrum of the Fulani populace in central and southern Nigeria have their own concerns, as many have felt stigmatized amid the rampant violence, which further alienates their youth and subsequently makes them lose confidence in the federal government.

FORECAST: As such, regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation, the ongoing intercommunal violence and the government’s lack of initiative toward solving the crisis is expected to have an acute political backlash, particularly as the 2019 presidential elections draw nearer. On July 4, citing Buhari’s inability to tackle the country’s security challenges, including the violence in the Middle Belt Region, long-time allies of President Buhari abandoned the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and formed the Reformed-All Progressive Congress (R-APC). As of the time of writing, the R-APC has already secured the support of 60 APC congressmen and 30 APC senators, while announcing their intention to present a joint candidate with the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), among other political forces, with the sole purpose of removing Buhari from office.

On a local level, several states across the Middle Belt Region, including Benue and Taraba states, have implemented anti-grazing laws in a bid to answer their constituents’ complaints and the lack of decisive action on a federal level. These laws either forbid or severely restrict the movement and use of land by Fulani herdsmen in those states, thus increasing the animosity of Fulanis toward state authorities as well as local communities.
FORECAST: As such, and considering the increasing frustration amongst local farmers, additional states are likely to consider the implementation of similar anti-open grazing laws, further fueling the conflict. Several demonstrations by Fulani have taken place, as evidenced in Taraba state capital, Jalingo, in 2017, with MACBAN harshly criticizing what they perceived as the blatant stigmatization of their community. In turn, feeling emboldened by said laws, local communities have also taken a much more hardline stance vis-a-vis Fulani communities in their states, even attacking settlements of ethnic Fulani not engaged in herding, thus further aggravating the conflict.

FORECAST: Given the multifaceted character of the conflict, where deep and entrenched religious and ethnic divisions within Nigerian society further fuel a primarily resource-driven conflict, the violence is expected to continue unabated across the Middle Belt. Thus it will continue to represent the main source of violence in the country over the coming months. In this sense, and bearing in mind President Buhari’s weak political leverage and his likely unwillingness to upset his northern grassroots supporters, the federal government is not expected to implement drastic policies to change the situation on the ground. By the same token, and considering the approaching presidential election, even if the government would be willing to implement serious measures, it lacks the political support to provide a multilayered solution that would ease tensions between the warring communities.


Travel to Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt may continue while maintaining heightened vigilance and following stringent security protocols regarding criminal and security threats.

We advise against all nonessential travel to outlying areas of the Middle Belt Region due to frequent intercommunal clashes involving Fulani herdsmen.