Nigeria: Elections, Boko Haram & the Future of US Relations

February 19th: PSA and USIP hosted an off-the-record congressional staff discussion with Amb. Johnny Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (2009-2013), and Susan Stigant, Director of Africa Programs at USIP. Speakers discussed U.S.-Nigerian relations in the face of recent political, economic, and security developments in Nigeria. Due to security concerns, the February 14th presidential and general elections have been postponed to March 28th. This news highlights the political tensions and security crises that plague Nigeria at a time when U.S.-Nigerian relations are rumored to be strained and oil prices threaten to damage the already fragile Nigerian economy. At the roundtable, Ambassador Johnnie Carson (former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs) and Susan Stigant (Director of Africa Programs at USIP) examined current developments in Nigeria, their potential impact on the country’s future, and options available for the U.S. to help improve Nigeria’s political and economic stability and its internal security.


Ambassador Johnny Carson, former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (2009-2013) and Senior Advisor to the President at the U.S. Institute of Peace

Susan Stigant, Director of Africa Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace

A week before Nigeria’s presidential and general elections were to happen, the government announced that voting would be pushed back to March 28th due to security threats from militant groups – namely Boko Haram – and the Nigerian military’s inability to protect citizens at polling places. Nigerian National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki has promised that by March 28th all of Boko Haram’s camps will be dismantled and that elections will not be postponed further. But this recent development has highlighted the deepening political and security tensions in Nigeria. Current president Goodluck Jonathan is facing off against Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Major General who governed Nigeria for two years in the 1980s after leading a military coup d’état. Both candidates aim to lead a country that has been plagued by violence associated with Boko Haram and other militant groups. Internal conflicts have killed approximately 30,000 people in three and a half years. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, since May 2011 more than 15,000 people have been killed in the state of Borno alone. Violence in the country has displaced nearly 3.3 million people – who, according to existing laws, are unable to vote in the upcoming elections unless they do so in their home precincts or the election commission makes alternative arrangements. Most of the violence has affected and displaced Nigerians in the northern part of the country that presidential candidate Buhari calls home. Amongst the political tensions and continuing violence, falling oil prices present a challenge to Nigeria’s economy, even more so given alleged shortfalls between January 2012 and July 2013 amounting to 20 billion USD. Amidst reports of strained relations with Nigeria, the U.S. faces the challenge of how to improve cooperation in a way that strengthens Nigeria’s democracy and economy while addressing the underlying drivers of conflict and the security threats from groups like Boko Haram. As Africa’s largest economy and most populous country, Nigeria’s successes and crises have the potential to reverberate not just across its region but also across the wider international community.

This was the 19th event in the USIP/PSA Congressional Briefing Series – Topics on International Conflict Resolution and Prevention, an educational program designed to provide congressional staff with opportunities to engage leading experts and fellow Capitol Hill staffers in bipartisan forums. The program aims to build cross-party relationships, encourage bipartisan dialogue, and equip staff with new perspectives on critical issues in the international conflict resolution and prevention field.