In the United States, there is no shortage of public opinion data on nearly every question imaginable. But in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, such data is more scarce and policymakers often lack detailed insights into citizen perceptions and concerns. Now, new evidence from USIP-commissioned surveys conducted in May and July 2020 of more than 10,000 Nigerians has found new relationships between violent conflict and the coronavirus response. The data shows that victims of violence are more likely to distrust the Nigerian government’s response to coronavirus.
Well before the coronavirus emerged, a large majority of Nigerians felt their country was “going in the wrong direction.” Polling shows Nigerians feel the government has struggled to improve the living standards of the poor and is managing the economy badly. Today, while the public health response to head off the pandemic dominates attention, calls from prominent members of Nigerian civil society have renewed debates over wider questions of economic, social, and political reform. In this article, members of the Nigeria Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance express both their hopes and concerns—in the context of the coronavirus—for Africa’s most populous country.
Nigerian leaders struggling to reduce violence in the country’s myriad conflicts should take some lessons—from their own response to the coronavirus. While Nigeria’s COVID-19 ordeal is still unfolding, its eventual casualties unknown, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and several governors have modeled the ways to reduce catastrophic outbreaks. The simple existence of a national prevention center with sustained resources has proven critical. Key officials have applied vital principles, acting at the first sign of danger and keeping the public widely informed. These are precisely the ways to confront Nigeria’s other national plague—of violence.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and new behavioral practices—from social distancing to avoiding handshakes and hugs—become expected norms overnight, there are crucial policy lessons to be learned from struggles against previous outbreaks of disease in Africa. Despite widespread poverty, weak infrastructure, and relatively few health professionals, there is an encouraging, long record of African countries—often with significant international assistance and cooperation—eventually managing to overcome dire health challenges. For non-African countries already facing large numbers of COVID-19 infections, as well as for African countries where the epidemic is now at an early stage, policymakers would do well to recall these four lessons of past epidemics—of both what to do and, perhaps almost as importantly, what not to do to confront this global threat.
When civic leaders and officials in Jos, Nigeria, launched an initiative in 2017 to calm repeated bloodshed in the city, a series of dialogue forums with residents revealed a chilling pattern of hidden violence in their midst: sexual assault. Girls and women recounted rapes and attacks for which justice was impossible, often because authorities were unresponsive. The women faced a problem common to their sisters across Africa: national laws against sexual violence were having little effect on the ground. But the dialogues have wrought a change. In May, police in Jos opened the city’s first unit dedicated to investigating sexual and gender crimes.
As Africa’s most populous country, largest economy, and biggest democracy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent. National and state elections in 2019 were deeply competitive, with scattered instances of violence amid a mostly peaceful process. However, historically low voter turnout signals a deepening distrust in government and institutions. Overall, Nigeria has made major strides in its democratic development, but still has significant work to do in improving national, state, and local governance.
A perfect storm of violence is breaking upon Africa’s Sahel. Since late 2018, communal conflicts—many over access to food, water or productive land—have produced thousands of deadly attacks. Across the region, nearly 4,800 people died in conflicts from November to March, according to the violence-monitoring group ACLED. The greatest surge in bloodshed is in Burkina Faso, where communal militias or religious extremists killed 500 people over five months. But amid the dire headlines, governments and civic groups in Burkina Faso and other Sahel countries cite progress in stabilizing communities with a basic step that simply has seldom been undertaken: broad, local dialogues among community groups, police forces and officials. Community leaders and government officials say they are now expanding those dialogues to improve national security policies to help counter the tide of violence.
On March 9, Nigerians return to the polls to elect governors and state legislators. The balloting follows the presidential elections held February 23, which saw the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected for another four-year term. USIP’s Chris Kwaja and Aly Verjee discuss how Buhari’s victory may impact the state elections, Nigerians’ seeming disenchantment with voting, and how to avert potential violence.
On Saturday, over 84 million eligible Nigerian voters are set to go to the polls to elect their next president and members of the National Assembly, with state-level elections to be held on March 2. Among the 73 presidential candidates, incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar are the top two contenders. As Africa’s most populous country with its biggest economy and democracy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent and these elections will be widely watched by the region and international community. USIP’s Oge Onubogu, Chris Kwaja and Aly Verjee look at why these elections matter, security challenges surrounding the polls, and how the U.S. can support Nigeria beyond the elections.
As Africa’s most populous country with its biggest economy, Nigeria is a bellwether for the continent. On Saturday, Nigerians will go to the polls to elect their next president and members of the National Assembly. This critical election will be a test of the resilience of Nigeria’s democratic institutions and widely watched by the international community, says USIP’s Oge Onubogu.