10 July 2014


Photo by Leena Koni Hoffmann.
Photo by Leena Koni Hoffmann.


With just seven months until Nigeria’s national elections, the fault lines and frustrations that led to widespread violence after the 2011 presidential election remain unresolved, with heightened regional and religious tensions, says a new paper published by Chatham House.

Who Speaks for the North? Politics and Influence in Northern Nigeria, by Leena Koni Hoffmann, analyses the current political and leadership dynamics in northern Nigeria.  The paper traces how the historical imbalance in power relations between northern and southern Nigeria have been reshaped since the transit ion to democracy in 1999.

While Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy in 2014, northern Nigeria is witnessing an upheaval in its political and social space, as frustrations grow over failure of successive leaders to deliver promised improvements to people’s lives, while power-brokers remain focused on the rotation of power between different regions.
In 15 years of democracy in Nigeria, elite pacts have been used to manage the balance of power between the federation’s diverse regions. But there are uncertainties about the long-term effectiveness of such deals.

Nigeria is witnessing a growing divide between its population and an affluent governing minority that is seen – regardless of ethnic or religious background – as becoming out- of-touch, self-serving and corrupt once elected into political office.

The paper argues that the north’s political leaders, particularly the state governors, must move quickly to deliver on repeated promises to invest in infrastructure, education and social services, and encourage new sources of income for the region. More than at any time in the past five decades of independence, the reversal of the north’s political and economic crisis will be central to Nigeria achieving true national cohesion for the first time in its history.

Leena Hoffmann says: ‘The everyday life of northern Nigerians is little profiled in the media and largely misunderstood.  There is a narrow focus on the north as a volatile and dangerous region. However, tales of violence and the emergency rule do not add up to half the north’s story.’

The security situation is a legitimate concern for engagement with northern Nigeria, but shutting the region out of foreign investment will exacerbate underlying drivers of conflict.  Northern Nigeria has vast agricultural potential, mineral resources, untapped oil deposits and human resources which can be harnessed to steer its way out of poverty.

If President Goodluck Jonathan were to seek and win another term in office, his legitimacy and national mandate would be weakened if popular participation were restricted in parts of the north because of ongoing insecurity.

With the May 2014 extension of the state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa – areas all controlled by the opposition All Progressives Congress - it is likely that political activity may become even more severely restricted there. Yet it is vital that the voices of vulnerable northern communities are heard and their opinions included.