Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is scheduled to meet US President Donald Trump next week. His visit comes less than four months since Trump made the comment about “shithole” countries in Africa. Trump’s comments were followed by a swift denial and a lukewarm attempt to mend fences.
But his lethargic attitude to the continent is undeniable. This was underscored by the fact that the president sacked former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he was on an African tour, forcing him to cut his trip short. Further evidence of his perceived indifference is the fact that he has not appointed substantive senior leadership within the state department to handle African affairs. As a result, his African policy is driven by a makeshift team that has shown no real desire to mediate Africa’s strategic interests and aspirations.
So how does Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest economies, fit into America’s unclear vision for the continent? With a population of more than 180 million people, Nigeria is an African power house. And because of its complex religious, ethnic and regional dynamics, it presents both a challenge and an opportunity for the US.
Perhaps Buhari’s trip to Washington will be used to reset Nigeria-US relations, particularly after the fallout from Trump’s shithole comment. The comment was particularly disturbing in Nigeria because over 700,000 Nigerians were found to be following Trump’s tweets – that’s more than 2% of his 32 million followers. This shows just how interested Nigerians are in the American president and his policies.
The official line from the Trump administration is that Buhari’s visit is an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss issues of mutual importance like economic growth, reforms and trade, terrorism, peace and security, and Nigeria’s role as a leader in Africa.
Nigeria has been unable to deal decisively with the Boko Haram menace despite buying military equipment worth millions of dollars from the US. Its inability to wipe out Boko Haram has destabilised the West African region and caused a widespread refugee crisis.
Beyond the twin challenge of corruption and terrorism, Nigeria has been unable to fully benefit from America’s special economic growth and development initiative, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. This is because of structural bottlenecks like insecurity, sluggish economic growth, weak local capacity, and infrastructural problems.
The act gives selected sub-Saharan countries easier access, tax and duty free exports of selected products to the US market. But Nigeria’s performance has been dismal. Buhari’s wish list should therefore include support for private sector capacity building to meet international trade and export standards.
It should also include enhanced security cooperation and support and increased foreign direct investment.
Something else that could come up during Buhari’s visit are the human rights violations by the Nigerian military in its campaign against Boko Haram. The violations stopped the Obama administration from fully committing to Nigerian military support.
In fact, the lowest point in US-Nigeria relations came in 2014 when Nigeria cancelled a joint military exercise because the US refused to equip its military with helicopters.
From “shithole” to “deep respect”
Despite its challenges, Nigeria has long been a continental and regional power house that has supervised a vast security apparatus through the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Under Nigeria’s stewardship ECOWAS ensured that the Gambian strong man Jammeh Yahya was forced to step down in favour of his challenger who had been validly elected.
Nigeria’s role in the Gambia proved that, while it has a lot of other problems, electoral injustice is not one of them. Successive administrations have respected the constitutional norms that require an incumbent to step down after fairly losing an election. This kind of democratic leadership is strategically important to the US.
And as one of Africa’s largest economies Nigeria can boost economic growth in the region. The country is in a strategic position to take advantage of Trump’s promise to “increase free, fair and reciprocal trade” with Africa.
Finally, as Africa’s largest oil and gas producer Nigeria could become an important ally in Trump’s efforts to control the volatile oil prices fronted by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Benefits to both parties
In the final analysis, what should Africa make of Buhari’s visit to Washington? Is it a just reward for Nigeria’s continental leadership, or a carefully choreographed opportunity to make Trump popular again?
I argue that it is both. Despite claiming that he has a “deep respect” for Africa, Trump is still believed to be indifferent towards the continent.
This visit has the potential to reset the US-Nigeria dynamic. And at the end of the day, Buhari will have a White House photo op that will come in handy now that he intends to run for a second term.
And Trump will have the opportunity to showcase his “deep respect” for Africa.
Election manipulation is a hot story. In the last few days, Cambridge Analytica, which claims to use data to change behaviour including that of voters, has been accused of breaching Facebook rules in its efforts to collect personal data and use them to bring Donald Trump to power.
Cambridge Analytica is accused of interfering in elections on a very broad canvas. In Nigeria, it’s said to have used underhand tactics to try and secure the re-election of then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015.
Allegations in Kenya have focused on claims that Cambridge Analytica helped president Uhuru Kenyatta to retain power in 2017 by designing divisive campaigns that demonised opposition candidate Raila Odinga, bringing the country closer to civil conflict.
But caution is required, at least when it comes to the stories about interference in Nigeria and Kenya. The company’s impact has in fact been massively exaggerated as a result of claims made by Cambridge Analytica itself.
Speaking about the campaign of Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party, managing director Mark Turnbull has been caught on camera claiming to have “staged the whole thing”. Unsurprisingly, given the willingness of employees of the firm to talk about the use of underhand strategies such as honey traps and fake news, opposition leaders are up in arms. National Super Alliance official Norman Magaya has called for a full investigation into Cambridge Analytica’s role, accusing it, and the ruling party, of trying to
subvert the people’s will.
But while such investigations need to be conducted and questions raised by the opposition need to be answered, we should also ask a prior question: can Cambridge Analytica deliver on its claims?
The evidence from Africa is no.
This is not to say that Cambridge Analytica doesn’t present a threat to democracy, or that it should not be ashamed of itself or face investigation. But it is to say that its impact in Africa has been over-hyped because it serves a variety of interests to do so.
Failures in Nigeria and Kenya
In Nigeria, the company was brought in to save President Jonathan by wealthy supporters desperate for him to stay in power. It failed. In the 2015 elections, Jonathan became the first ever Nigerian leader to lose at the ballot box. In fact he didn’t only lose. He was soundly beaten by an opposition party competing with one hand tied behind its back in a political system that conferred massive advantages of incumbency.
There are also reasons to think that the company’s impact has been overstated in Kenya. It is true that Kenyatta was eventually declared the winner of the election – though the first contest was nullified by the Supreme Court for procedural irregularities and the opposition did not take part in the re-run – but there is little evidence that Cambridge Analytica’s much vaunted ability to manipulate “big data” was the reason for this.
Take the question of targeted social media campaigns. It is true that material was circulated attacking Odinga as a dangerous and irresponsible leader. Cambridge Analytica may have advised the government to adopt this strategy – although we know that some of the worst videos were actually made by another company Harris Media.
But even if they did, there are two reasons to doubt that it was a new or particularly effective tactic.
First, these messages do not appear to have been targeted. Ahead of the elections, and as part of a comparative research project on elections in Africa, we set up multiple profiles on Facebook to track social media and political adverts, and found no evidence that different messages were directed at different voters. Instead, a consistent negative line was pushed on all profiles, no matter what their background.
Second, the vast majority of Kenyans are not on Facebook, and so there is no reason to think that messages circulated in this way would swing the wider electorate. Instead, surveys show that radio remains the major source of information, and that Kenyans are highly sceptical of the reliability of social media.
In other words, the campaign led by Cambridge Analytica does not seem to have been that different to the ones that preceded it. For all the claims of a hi-tech innovative strategy, their real role appears to have been to advocate negative campaigning. But there is nothing new about this.
Back in 2007, when Raila Odinga’s opposition appeared to be on the brink of winning power, his rivals claimed that his victory would lead to the country’s collapse and circulated flyers with his head superimposed on Idi Amin’s body to drive the point home. This was well before Cambridge Analytica was even formed, and stands as proof that Kenyan leaders don’t need foreign consultants to tell them the value of ethnic scaremongering.
It is also important to keep in mind that you cannot simply use messaging to win votes in a system in which the ethnicity, patronage and credibility of candidates are major drivers of voter behaviour. To mobilise voters to the polls, leaders reinforce their support base by attending funerals and giving generously to the bereaved; attending church and contributing to building funds; turning up at parent-teacher meetings and paying school fees for poor children.
To show generosity at these events is to demonstrate that the candidate acknowledges the morality of voters’ claims and will not forget them once elected. If you don’t do this you will not win, no matter what your PR team is doing.
The tendency to exaggerate Cambridge Analytica’s powers is no accident. Exaggerated claims are part and parcel of the company’s marketing strategy. For journalists, the more powerful the company, the bigger the story. For opposition parties, the more effective Cambridge Analytica is seen to be, the more it can be blamed for an electoral defeat.
There is also something more profound at work: the suspicion that Africa is the victim of European or American schemes is a powerful one. Many, in Africa and elsewhere, will see this as further evidence of that eternal truth. And we are all increasingly suspicious of the power of big data, uneasily aware that we may not have fully grasped the small print of our deal with the tech companies.
We may have good reason for that suspicion – but we should beware of flattering those firms by exaggerating their power and reach.
President Muhammadu Buhari has said that time has come for Nigeria to take its rightful place again in Cocoa production; to reduce over reliance on already shrinking oil revenues, adding that the continued decline of the commodity will no more be acceptable.
Buhari noted that before now, cocoa was the second largest foreign exchange earner for Nigeria after crude oil where over two million direct and indirect jobs were created along the value chain.
He said: “It is unfortunate that the sector has suffered neglect as a result of over reliance on crude oil, this has also unfortunately led to decline in the country’s annual production from 420,000 metric tonnes in the 60s to 192,000 metric tonnes in 2015, a situation that is no more acceptable to government.”
The Nigerian President said this on Monday in his keynote address to the opening ceremony of the First International Cocoa Summit holding in Abuja.
Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbe, said government is very worried that the decline of Cocoa has moved the nation from her 4th position to 7th position in global Cocoa production.
He said that the country is long overdue to make the shift from being primarily an exporter of commodities and raw materials to becoming an industrial economy.
“Our Industrialisation ambition is hinged on the Nigerian Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) launched by the previous government of President Good luck Jonathan in 2014; it is now time to move that comprehensive document from the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) in view of current realities.”
He appealed to Nigerians to patronise made in Nigeria goods and services as a way of encouraging the industries to grow the economy.He called on the organisers of the summit to use it as a vehicle to instil confidence in local and foreign investors to invest in the Nigerian economy, and create a more robust and better competitive market for Cocoa subsector.
Earlier in her address, the Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, said the theme of the summit, “Cocoa a Strategic commodity for National Economic Development,” underpins the nucleus of the present administration’s change Agenda. This intends to continue with policies aimed at diversifying the nation’s economy away from a mono-economy dependent almost entirely on revenue from oil exports to Agriculture, solid minerals and services.
Efforts by the federal government to boost rice production in the country and discourage importation completely is yielding positive results as the nation’s annual rice production has increased to 5.7 million tonnes.
With this development, it is becoming obvious that the nation is inching towards self-sufficiency in rice production and will sufficiently start exporting the commodity to other nations in need of it. Unlike in 2015 when Nigerians spent not less than N1 billion daily on rice consumption, the spending has drastically reduced in the face of increased consumption due to increased local production.
A report released by Growth and Employment in States (GEMS4), a programme funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID), indicated that Nigeria has achieved a total of 5.7 million metric tonnes of milled rice, bringing the nation’s rice production closer to the 7 million projected milled rice requirement.
In the report titled, ‘Mapping of rice production clusters in Nigeria’, GEMS4 revealed that 18 states were selected based on their contribution to national production as per the 2015 Agricultural Production Survey (APS).
It said in the 18 states, rice farming was described as widely spread across 165 clusters and 2,812 sub-clusters. Considering the value of rice produced locally, it concluded that farmers in the 18 states under consideration have generated an estimated N102.6 billion as additional contribution to Nigeria’s economy through rice production.
The report obtained by LEADERSHIP noted: “The 2016 total paddy production estimate is put at 17.5 million tons with a marketing surplus (after post-harvest losses and domestic use) of 11.4 million tons (equivalent to 5.7 million tons milled equivalent), just below the total national demand for rice which was projected to reach 7 million in 2016. This implies that the country is progressing towards its goal of rice self-sufficiency.
“Kebbi State led at 3.56 million metric tons for the wet and dry seasons production combined, followed by Kano at 2.82 million metric tons. Kebbi produced 2.05 million metric tons in the wet season and 1.51 million metric tons in the dry season, while Kano produced 1.86 and 0.96 million metric tons during the wet and dry seasons respectively over the same period under review. However, only 10 of the 18 states were involved in the dry season production, adding the 26.57 per cent of the total production”.
GEMS4 said it embarked on a mapping exercise of rice production clusters through researchers’ and enumerators’ visits to rice production locations in 18 states namely, Bauchi, Benue, Ebonyi, Ekiti, FCT, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara.
“The researchers expressed optimism that information of paddy production clusters will support the development of supply chains from nearby rice clusters around existing commercial rice mills or proposed new plants in the country. The consumption rate now is 7.9 million tonnes and the production rate has increased to 5.8 tonnes per annum”, it added.
Recently, president of rice farmers association of Nigeria (RIFAN), Alhaji Aminu Goronyo, attributed the nation’s increase in rice production to the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), noting that there was a total of 12 million rice producers and 4 million hectares of FADAMA rice land.
Goronyo said that the programme, since inception, had created economic linkage between Small Holder Farmers (SHF) and reputable large-scale processors, thereby increasing agricultural outputs and significantly improving capacity utilisation of processors. The ABP was launched by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 17, 2015 in Kebbi with the aim of creating a linkage between anchor companies involved in the processing and SHFs of the required key agricultural commodities.
The fund was provided from the N220 billion micro, small and medium enterprises development fund. ABP evolved from the consultations with stakeholders comprising federal ministry of agriculture and rural development, state governors, millers of agricultural produce and smallholder farmers to boost agricultural production.
Goronyo said under the ABP, RIFAN in the next 24 months would commence rice importation to West African countries, just as the necessary arrangements had been put in place. “For self sufficiency, adequate and enough paddy for production, ABP which started in Kebbi state has been extended to 26 states. As a step further, RIFAN is in collaboration with some agencies to replicate the CBN APB programme in some states to increase production”, he said.
Credit: Leadership News Nigeria