Presidential and the National Assembly elections are slated to simultaneously hold across Nigeria on February 16, 2019 to elect the President, Senators and House of Representative members. The Presidency and the National Assembly are currently trapped in a cold war, due to the decision by the latter to override Buhari’s veto of the electoral Act Amendment Bill which among other things, propose to readjust the existing election sequence. The National Assembly members and the Presidency believe that the election sequence could make or mar their chances of re-election. With elections in the air, Nigeria is a beehive of behind-the-scenes political wheeling and dealing by politicians, political merchants and contractors, vested interests, and foreign governments. Synonymous with the election season in Nigeria, the country is polarized along ethnic and religious lines. Insecurity, brinkmanship, uncertainty pervade the Nigerian space and may not revert in a jiffy. Foreign direct investment will likely slow down as investors are weary to invest in an atmosphere of uncertainty. This will have a negative upshot on Nigeria’s struggling economy. Pliable security, intelligence and anti-corruption agencies seem to be occupied on hot dissent. Talking about foreign interests in Nigeria’s local politics and elections, it’s not new. Except that Google, Facebook, big data, Psyops or information warfare (informatsionaya voyna) can now flip elections. This trend may up the stake in Nigeria’s 2019 general elections.
NBC’s Chuck Todd and Carrie Dann argue that, “Big data revolutionized the way American politicians win elections. In the process, it broke American politics.” A 2014 research by Psychologist Robert Epstein in India suggests Google search results (Search Engine Manipulation Effect, SEME) can influence an election. In 2015, a team of researchers from the University of Maryland disclosed that Google’s search results routinely favored Democratic candidates. The Pew Research Center says Google has a near-monopoly on internet searches in the US, with 83 per cent of Americans specifying Google as the search engine they use most often. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) disclosed in its Monthly Internet Subscribers Data for June 2017, that Nigeria’s Internet users rose to 91.6m and findings from Google’s study released in 2015 suggest that 85% of Nigerians use smartphones for product research.
Now, envision a probable scenario where either one or more countries: The United States, United Kingdom, Russia, big data companies such as – Facebook, Twitter, Google, or game-changing (dis)information giants such as – Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Group Ltd), the Internet Research Agency, AKPD Message and Media, covertly props up President Buhari’s candidacy or any of his opponents. Recall that Cambridge Analytica and/or its parent company, SCL Elections, prides itself as a ‘’premier election management agency” purportedly intervened in elections in Kenya, Nigeria and also helped the Nepalese monarch against the rebels. Russia’s alleged interference and support for Trump in the 2016 presidential election in the United States is another classic example. Saint Petersburg-based Russian group, the Internet Research Agency (Агентство интернет-исследований), otherwise known in Russian Internet parlance as the Trolls from Olgino or kremlebots, reportedly had a monthly war-chest of $1.2 million which it used to disseminate “misinformation” during the US presidential election.
What Fuels External Interests in Nigeria’s Local Politics, Elections?
According to a United Nations report, Nigeria is currently the seventh-most populous country in the world and is projected to overtake the United States to become the third-most populous country in the world by 2050. Research by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) shows that out of Africa’s “Big Five” powerful countries – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Ethiopia – Nigeria is “the African country with by far the greatest capabilities” to play a global role. Given its population (180 million people), size (923,768 km²), military capability, economic potential, crude oil production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day and proven oil and gas reserves of 37 billion barrels and 192 trillion cubic feet respectively, many countries and international organizations will be interested in how events pan out in Nigeria, Africa’s largest producer of oil and the sixth largest oil producing country in the world. Ironically the sixth largest producer of crude oil is now world’s largest importer of petrol.
Forget the rhetoric and finesse, external interests in Nigeria’s local politics and election are not driven by altruism. As is often the case, there’s no free lunch anywhere. Nothing is free even in Freetown. In the grand scheme of things, foreign interests put their nationalistic economic interests before good leadership, democracy, human rights. They can do business with whoever guarantees their egocentric economic interests. The United States does business with undemocratic Saudi Arabia. The CIA reportedly admitted that the U.S. and U.K. instigated a coup to overthrow the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, because of oil interests of both countries. Notwithstanding the human right abuses and dictatorial tendencies of Cameroon’s Paul Biya, France is comfortable with him. An investigative report by ‘’This Is Africa titled’’, ”How France loots its former colonies”, submits that, ”Just before France conceded to African demands for independence in the 1960s, it carefully organized its former colonies (CFA countries) in a system of “compulsory solidarity” which consisted of obliging the 14 African states to put 65% of their foreign currency reserves into the French Treasury, plus another 20% for financial liabilities. This means these 14 African countries only ever have access to 15% of their own money! If they need more they have to borrow their own money from the French at commercial rates! And this has been the case since the 1960s.” African Union officials recently accused China of hacking its headquarters’ computer systems every night for five years and downloading confidential data. Apparently, Beijing funded the AU’s $200m building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, while a Chinese state-owned company built it. The plot to overthrow Mugabe was allegedly hatched in faraway China when Zimbabwean Army Chief Constantino Chiwenga sought the blessings of China. Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive, affiliated with George Washington University, asserts in interview with the New York Times that, “China has done little more than emulate a long pattern of U.S. manipulation, bribery and covert operations to influence the political trajectory of countless countries around the world.” Recall that the one-time former United States Secretary of State, Mr. Tillerson recently counseled Nigeria and other African countries ‘’not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent’s biggest trading partner.’’
It serves the interest of many of these foreign countries and companies that Nigeria is stable and predictable. If Nigeria boils, it would have far-reaching humanitarian and economic butterfly-effects. In an interview to Vanguard Newspaper titled, ”Practical ways to restructure Nigeria before 2019 election”, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku says he resents foreign interference in Nigeria’s domestic issues but also acknowledged that we gave them cause to interfere in our domestic affairs.
Will Trump’s Emergence, Foreign Policy Affect Nigeria’s 2019 Election?
President Trump’s election was a game-changer. There were speculations that the Buhari-led APC government massively funded the Hillary Clinton campaign as a way of reciprocating Obama’s overtures, patent support for Buhari’s presidential aspiration. Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) engaged the services of an international political consulting firm, AKPD Message and Media, co-founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s campaign strategist and a former White House Advisor “to boost its (APC’s) electoral chances in the 2015 elections’’. A glimmer that Nigeria’s APC government endorsed Hillary suffices thus: while addressing APC party faithful in Enugu prior to the US presidential election, Nigeria’s foreign affairs Minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama confidently declared that “in less than two weeks, a woman, Hillary Clinton will win election as the President of the United States.” Granted Trump’s egoistic, nationalistic “America First” policy towards Africa entails minimal interest/engagement but the United States government is always interested about events in Nigeria. Ahead of his March 12, 2018 visit to Nigeria, the former U.S. Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson said that, ‘’the United States is interested in Nigeria’s 2019 election and will support all efforts at peaceful transition’’.
Nigeria’s Vote Against US Recognition of Jerusalem Nexus
For obvious reasons, the previously seemingly cordial relationship between the United States and Nigeria seems to have decreased under the Trump-Buhari administrations. Apparently, there’s no love lost between both presidents. While Trump and his Vice President, Mike Pence, seem to bandy their affinity for Christianity, values, Buhari leaves no one in doubt that he is a faithful Muslim. Buhari’s support for Palestine, Western Sahara (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, SADR), and Nigeria’s controversial membership of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Muslim countries against terrorism known as the ”Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition’’ (IMCTC) demonstrates his bias.
Nigeria was amongst countries that voted in favor of a UN resolution which effectively called on the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Aftermath of the UN vote, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley later hosted nations which did not support the General Assembly vote rejecting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to a January 3 reception. A Jewish website ‘’Jews News’’ quoted the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Harley as saying that, ‘’the Trump administration warned Nigeria that its future is in the hands of its leaders and the choice was theirs. With Nigeria voting against Jerusalem, she said, Buhari’s regime made a choice “and with this choice comes a critical choice for the rest of the world”. Sequel to the UN vote, President Trump personally warned that there could be reprisals for countries that backed the UN motion. In his words, “As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries”. Daily Post Newspaper of December 24, 2017 reports that, ‘’a U.S Department of State official, Julia Mason, hinted that US may stop financial aid to Nigeria, others over Jerusalem vote.